(CNN) -- Luxembourg's Andy Schleck dramatically revived his Tour de France hopes with a stunning victory on an epic 18th stage which finished at the summit of the imposing Col du Galibier.
At 2,645 meters, it was the highest-ever stage finish on the Tour, and Leopard Trek's Schleck certainly hit the heights with a brave solo victory.
He broke clear of a group of favorites on the Col d'lzoard with 60km remaining, reeling in the fragmented remains of a breakaway, before crossing the line alone over two minutes clear of his chasers.
Schleck, written off after muted performances in the Pyrenees and the first stage in the Alps, said he had decided to take his courage in his hands.
"I don't want to finish fourth in Paris, and I said to myself 'I'm going to risk everything, it'll work or it'll fail'," he told Eurosport.
"That's the way I am, I'm not afraid of losing. And if my legs were hurting out in front I knew the others would be hurting to catch me up."
But he failed by 15 seconds to take the yellow off the shoulders of French hope Thomas Voeckler, who again performed heroics to take fifth on a stage which effectively marked the end of Alberto Contador's chances of retaining his crown.
The three-time winner from Spain struggled on the upper slopes of the Galibier and now trails Voeckler by four minutes 44 seconds in seventh place.
To complete a superb day for the Schlecks, Andy's brother Frank took second on the stage to move up to third overall, one minute eight seconds down.
He gained precious time on Australia's Cadel Evans, who slipped to fourth at one minute 12 seconds.
Friday's 19th stage, the third in the Alps, could well hold the key to the eventual winner with the finish on the famous Alpe d'Huez after another climb on the Galibier.
Both the Schlecks will be looking to pick up further time on Evans, who is a stronger time trialist, ahead of Saturday's individual test against the clock over 42.5km in Grenoble.