Tour de France - Sanchez wins as Contador suffers

Thu, 14 Jul 16:27:00 2011

Samuel Sanchez won the opening mountain stage of the Tour de France on a day that saw Alberto Contador suffer and Thomas Voeckler shine.

Tour de France - Sanchez wins stage 12

Spaniard Sanchez of the Basque-based Euskaltel team dropped fellow escapee Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) on the final straight to win atop the fabled Pyrenean climb of Luz Ardiden after just over six hours in the saddle.

There was more woe for defending champion Contador (Saxo Bank), who succumbed to a series of attacks from the Schleck brothers on the final climb, and eventually lost 13 seconds to his rival Andy, the younger Schleck, at the finish of stage 12.

But the performance of the day came from Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, who defended his yellow jersey on Bastille Day with gusto - thanks to a combination of sheer determination and grit, and the selfless hard work of his Europcar team-mates.

Voeckler even had to pick himself up off the floor after crashing on the descent of the opening climb, the first-category Horquette d'Anzican, 80km from the finish of the long 211km stage from Cugnaux.

The former French national champion now leads Leopard Trek's Frank Schleck, who finished the stage in third, by one minute and 49 seconds, with Australian Cadel Evans (BMC) in third at 2:06.

Andy Schleck is poised in fourth place, 2:17 down, while Spaniard Contador is exactly four minutes off the pace in seventh place.

Under sun and blue skies, a six-man breakaway broke clear of the 176-strong peloton moments after the start of the Tour's first real day in the mountains. The group - which comprised Spaniards Ruben Perez (Euskaltel) and Jose Gutierrez (Movistar), Welshman Geraint Thomas (Sky) and French trio Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun), Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and Biel Kadri (AG2R) - built up a large lead of nine minutes over the flat opening 118km section of the stage.

The lead dropped to around five minutes on the Horquette d'Anzican climb as three riders jumped out of the peloton in chase of the leaders. Polka dot jersey Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) and French national champion Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) instigated the attack, and the pair were soon followed by Roman Kreuziger (Astana).

Hoogerland, clearly still hurting from his frightful run-in with a barbed wire fence on Sunday, lost contact before the summit while Sky's Thomas left the road twice on the tricky descent.

As the peloton hit the downhill section, a crash occurred in the exact same spot where Thomas lost control, with a handful of riders hitting the deck - including Voeckler, who was forced off the road before hitting a parked car. The yellow jersey quickly remounted and regained the peloton, although he was forced to swap his custom-made yellow bike in favour of his usual regulation model in the valley below.

The legendary Col du Tourmalet saw the Leopard Trek team of the Schleck brothers come to the front of the peloton to set a fearsome pace. Ahead, both Chavanel and Kreuziger cracked, while Thomas pulled away from his fellow escapees.

Thomas looked a good bet for crossing the summit of the Tourmalet in pole position, but Roy found his legs and just managed to catch and pass the Welshman to take the Souvenir Jacques Goddet prize (and 5,000 euro) over the top.

On the long descent, Belgian Philippe Gilbert broke clear of the chasing pack and was soon joined by his Omega Pharma-Lotto team-mate Vanendert as well as Sanchez. Gilbert tired on the nursery slopes of Luz Ardiden, but Sanchez and Vanendert caught Thomas and Roy with 10km left to ride.

Back in the main chasing group a fierce pace was being set by Sylvester Szmyd, the Liquigas team-mate of Ivan Basso. With Voeckler still being protected by his compatriot and team-mate Pierre Rolland, Contador looked increasingly nervous as he stuck to Andy Schleck's wheel.

With 4km left to the summit, a series of attacks from both Schlecks finally got the better of Voeckler, with Garmin's Tom Danielson and FDJ youngster Arnold Jeannesson also losing contact with the group of race favourites.

Frank Schleck managed to drop his rivals 2km from the finish, leaving Evans, Basso, Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Andy Schleck and Contador to do battle amongst themselves.

With the older Schleck approaching the leading duo, Vanendert made his move - but was easily foiled by Sanchez, who rode over the line to secure his first ever Tour stage victory. It was a memorable victory for Sanchez's team Euskaltel, whose maiden win on the Tour came on the very same climb back in 2001 when Spaniard Roberto Laiseka took the spoils in stage 14 of the race.

Venendert came home seven seconds back, with Frank Schleck crossing the line just three seconds later. Basso led Evans and Andy Schleck over the line 30 seconds down, with Cunego finishing 35 seconds down and Contador 43 seconds in arrears, just ahead of Europcar pair Voeckler and Rolland.

Sanchez takes the polka dot jersey from Hoogerland's brave shoulders while the new white jersey as best young rider is Jeannesson after a day to forget for Rabobank's Robert Gesink, who finished almost 18 minutes off the pace.

Green jersey Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad), who picked up some more vital points in the intermediate sprint, came home with the "autobus" 33:05 down on winner Sanchez but on the right side of the cut-off time.

The Tour continues on Friday with the 152.5km stage from Pau to Lourdes, which features the HC climb of the Col d'Aubisque.

Stage 12 finish

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

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