Sánchez climbs to victory
Voeckler remains in yellow after brave display
Last Updated: 14/07/11 6:39pm
Sanchez: Kicked clear on the final climb before netting an impressive victory
Samuel Sánchez won an epic 12th stage of the Tour de France as reigning champion Alberto Contador's yellow jersey hopes suffered another blow.
Olympic champion Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) got the better of Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) after the pair had surged clear on the final climb up to Luz-Ardiden as the race hit the high mountains for the first time this year.
But more significant as far as the overall picture is concerned was the eclipse of Contador (Saxo Bank) as he was unable to respond to a late attack from Fränk Schleck (Leopard Trek) and lost more time to both him and his fellow GC contenders.
Schleck crossed the line in third, 10 seconds behind Sánchez, with Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek), fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, a further 20 seconds back, with Contador another 13 seconds behind.
Two of the rides of the day came from Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), who retained the yellow jersey after a superb ninth place, and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), who animated the stage when powering clear of his breakaway companions on the Col du Tourmalet, the first of the hors categorie climbs in this year's race.
Voeckler is 1:49 ahead of Fränk Schleck on the general classification, with Evans at 2:06 in third, Andy Schleck 2:17 in fourth and Contador now 4:00 adrift in seventh.
"I was very happy that I was managing to stay on the pace of the best," said Voeckler.
"I am surprised a little bit [by myself] but in the last climb I said to myself when I saw the final ten kilometres: ‘Okay keep going, stay here and don’t give up’ and today the Europcar team was very strong.
"Each of the eight riders helped me at one moment of the day and that was really important for me, especially to have [Pierre] Rolland in the final."
Thomas meanwhile was the first to throw down the gauntlet to his rivals on the 211 kilometres stage from Cugnaux as he and five other riders - José Iván Gutiérrez (Movistar), Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale), Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun), Rubén Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Jérémy Roy (FDJ) - broke clear after just 2km.
The six riders opened up an advantage of around nine minutes going through the intermediate sprint midway through the stage before Thomas, the virtual leader on the road as the highest-ranked rider in the escape group, kicked clear of his breakaway companions with a phenomenal climb of the Tourmalet.
The Welshman, who was awarded the day's combativity prize for his efforts, kept the tempo high and his companions dropped off one by one apart from Roy who stuck with him and just crested the summit in front. The two then maintained their advantage of just over three minutes to the yellow jersey group to the base of the final 13.3km climb up Luz-Ardiden.
They held off their pursuers until there was 8km remaining, at which point Sánchez and Vanendert went past and took centre stage in a fascinating finale.
"We only had about two and a half minutes at the bottom of the final climb so I didn't really fancy my chances to be honest but I kept plugging away and kept on trying," Thomas said afterwards.
"I thought that being caught with seven kilometres to go wasn't too bad but it seems as though there was another half hour of pedalling after that!"
Still in green
Meanwhile fellow Brit Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad), who won his third stage of this year's race 24 hours earlier, remains in the points classification leader's green jersey.
Cavendish led the peloton over the intermediate sprint line in seventh place to add nine points to his haul and strengthen his hold on the standings.