Russia’s Denis Menchov (Rabobank) won the big mountain stage in the Pyrenees to Val d’Aran on Thursday as Floyd Landis (Phonak) snatched the yellow jersey and the real overall contenders finally emerged.

Menchov went clear with Landis and Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) near the top of the climb to the finish and then powerfully won the sprint to take his first Tour stage success. Leipheimer is no longer an overall contender after losing six minutes in the time trial and was angry with himself for missing out an a prestigious stage victory. Landis finished third and was happy to have taken the yellow jersey and gained time on many of his rivals.

Frenchman Cyril Dessel (Ag2r) rode his heart out during the stage to try and hold onto the yellow jersey for Friday’s Bastille Day celebrations but finished 4-45 behind Menchov and lost the yellow jersey to Landis because the American got an eight second time bonus for third place. Dessel is now second at eight seconds, with Menchov third at 1-01.

Cadel Evans (Davitamon) finished fourth on the stage, 17 seconds behind Menchov and is now fourth overall at 1-17, while Carlos Sastre (CSC) finished with Evans and is fifth at 1-52. T-Mobile worked hard for Andreas Kloden throughout the stage but he was dropped on the final climb and finished 1-31 behind. He is sixth at 2-29 but will be able to pull back some time in the final time trial on the likes of Evans, Sastre and Menchov.

David Millar was dropped by the leader on the Col d’Aspin, the second climb of the stage and eventually finished 91st at 35-47. Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) suffered on the climbs but finished just behind Millar, 112th at 40-32. Millar is now 73rd overall at 43-10, while Wiggins is 143rd at 1-14-49.

It was definitely a big day for Landis, who rode with composure and was rewarded with his first ever yellow jersey.

?I couldn?t be happier with how things went. I didn?t expect it go so well but I?ll take it,? Landis said after pulling on the yellow jersey.

?Now we?ll what happens. You never know what will happen because this was only the first big mountain stage and things can change. It?s perhaps early to get the jersey but I wouldn?t have ridden slow not to get it.?

As expected the string of tough climbs position throughout the 206.5km stage showed who are the real contenders for final victory in the Tour de France. Landis, Menchov, Evans and Sastre (CSC) showed they are all up there, while Kloden cannot be ruled out.

Surprisingly the Discovery Channel team now seem completely out of contention after George Hincapie, Paolo Savoldelli and Yarloslav Popovych were all dropped from the leading group. Iban Mayo also struggled and retired mid-way through the stage, blaming a sore knee and a cold for his problems.

Official Results

1 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 206.5km 6.06.25 (33.813 km/h)
2 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner
3 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 0.17
5 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC
6 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank 1.04
7 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 1.31
8 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC
9 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile
10 Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance 2.29

Overall standings after stage 11

1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 49.18.07
2 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance 0.08
3 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 1.01
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 1.17
5 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC 1.52
6 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile 2.29
7 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 3.22
8 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Agritubel 3.33
9 Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance 3.44
10 Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 4.17