Luxembourg rider Andy Schleck blew apart the challenge of three-time champion Alberto Contador on the Col du Galibier, as he outclassed his Tour de France rivals with a majestic climb to win the 18th stage on Thursday.

The younger of the two Schleck brothers, approached the top of the 2,645m Galibier pass - the highest finish to a Tour stage - on his own to finish just over two minutes ahead of his nearest rivals.

However, his hard work was not enough to replace Thomas Voeckler as the holder of the yellow jersey. Scheck's victory takes him to within 15 seconds of the French rider, who remains top of the overall leader's classification.

"I warned that I had this stage at the back of my mind. I did not want to finish the Tour in fourth place. I decided to go for a make or break move. I made it today," Schleck told reporters.

This stage of the Tour featured the highest point of the race, as riders passed over the 2,774m Col d'Agnel before approaching the 2.360m Col d'Izoard and the imposing Galibier. The riders battled against headwinds throughout the day and Schleck surprised the rest of the field with an attack 60km before the finish, easing swiftly away from the peloton.

"It's in my character. I'm not afraid to lose. I knew that if they wanted to close the gap, they had to suffer as much as me," Schleck said.

"I felt great today. Tomorrow is another stage and maybe I can take the yellow [jersey]."

For the moment, it remains with Voeckler, with hopes of a first French victory in over 20 years increasing exponentially as the Tour nears Paris.

"Today Schleck did his thing and I did mine. In the finale I was completely breathless with the altitude," Voeckler said.

"When I saw Andy go, I didn't try to go after him, I based my race on Cadel Evans."