Frank Schleck, who was thought to be a contender, had no gas for the climb.
Former podium finisher Frank Schleck was among the big names licking his wounds as the first climbing stage of the Tour de France took an unexpectedly heavy toll Saturday. Schleck came into the time trial-laden 99th edition playing down his victory chances due to his comparative lack of power in the race against the clock. But after the first, small climbs of the race the Luxembourger, third overall last year, is already in 26th place overall at 3min 43sec behind new race leader Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky. A day after the crash-marred sixth stage, after which 13 riders abandoned, Schleck's team were among the biggest losers at the end of the 199 km seventh stage to La Planche des Belles Filles.
Only three small climbs featured, but on the last, extremely steep hike to the summit the Luxembourger was one of several big names to find the going too tough. As Wiggins's Sky team forged on with defending champion Cadel Evans in tow, Schleck struggled before rallying to finish 1min 09sec adrift. He was not the day's only loser.
Belgian Jurgen van den Broeck of Lotto suffered a puncture on the way to the climb, got back into the lead group but trailed back on the steep pitches to finish 1:52 down on stage winner Christopher Froome and 1:50 behind Evans and Wiggins. He is now 13th overall at 2:11 behind Wiggins.
Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, hopeful of an eventual podium spot when he lined up at the Tour for the first time since 2008 last week, may have to focus now on a stage win. A day after his Movistar team lost their third rider to injury, Valverde trailed home 2:19 down to slip to 35th overall at 4:50 behind Wiggins.
Dutchman Robet Gesink had already lost time to Evans and Wiggins before Saturday, but his reputation as a strong climber deserted him as he finished 2:53 adrift. The Rabobank team leader is 39th overall at 6:57.
Denis Menchov, however, has emerged as a possible podium threat for Wiggins and Evans after the Katusha team leader limited his losses on the day to 48secs. A strong time trialler and a former winner of both the Tour of Spain, twice, and Tour of Italy, the experienced Russian is now fifth overall at 54.