PLATEAU DE BEILLE, France, (Reuters) – Belgian Jelle Vanendert took advantage of the waiting game by the main contenders to snatch victory in the 168.5-km 14th stage of the Tour de France from St Gaudens yesterday.
He parted from the leading group with 7 km to go and crossed the line on his own at the top of Plateau de Beille, avenging his second place in Luz-Ardiden two days earlier.
Spain’s Samuel Sanchez, who had beaten Vanendert in the 12th stage, finished 21 seconds behind.
Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck sprinted to the line in the final stretch to take third place, 46 seconds off the pace, but only two seconds ahead of the other big names who finished together.
Frenchman Thomas Voeckler also seized his chance to retain the overall leader’s yellow jersey, unexpectedly putting in as strong a showing in the final climb as the pre-Tour favourites.
The Frenchman even attacked in the finale, showing he had the means to keep the Tour lead much longer than expected.
In the final climb to the ski resort of Luz-Ardiden, Andy Schleck, the Tour runner-up for the past two years, and Italy’s Ivan Basso, second in 2005, were the most aggressive but their repeated attacks failed.
Three-time Tour champion Alberto Contador finished in the same group as his main rivals but appeared unable to raise the tempo and attack to make up for the four minutes he lost at the beginning of the race.
“I recover better and better. It would have been better to be able to win. I don’t like to race like that, it’s not my style. I will try to gain some time in the Alps,” said the Spaniard, hampered by a knee injury for the past week.
Andy Schleck’s brother Frank summed up the general disappointment when he said: “We tried to race but the others just looked at each other.”
Voeckler will take his 1:49 race lead over Frank Schleck and his 2:26 advantage over Australian Cadel Evans into today’s 193-km flat stage to Montpellier and probably up to the Alps next week.