Olympic Champion Samuel Sanchez Climbs to Stage 12 Victory in Tour de France 2011
Spanish climbing specialist Samuel Sanchez of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team won Thursday's 12th stage of the 2011 Tour de France and Thomas Voeckler of France and Team Europcar retained the overall lead as the race entered the high mountains for the first time this year.
Spanish climbing specialist Samuel Sanchez of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team won today's 12th stage of the 2011 Tour de France and Thomas Voeckler of France and Team Europcar retained the overall lead as the race entered the high mountains for the first time this year.
After a string of setbacks earlier in the race, defending champion Alberto Contador (Team Saxo Bank-SunGard) struggled up the last of three major climbs in today's stage and lost crucial seconds to other pre-race favorites in the battle for the overall Tour de France victory.
The 211-kilometer (131.1-mile) trek from Cugnaux to the Luz-Ardiden ski station featured three tough climbs in the Pyrenees - including two that are among the hardest in pro cycling.
Sanchez and Belgian rider Jelle Vanendert (Team Omega Pharma-Lotto) overtook a group of breakaway riders in the final climb and held on, with the Spaniard winning their two-man sprint in the last several hundred meters. Vanendert crossed 7 seconds later.
"It's incredible," Sanchez said of his first Tour de France stage win, after finishing fourth overall last year.
After leading a string of attacks on the other pre-race favorites together with Ivan Basso, Frank Schleck of Luxembourg and Team Leopard-Trek surged away and finished third - 10 seconds back - to vault into second place overall.
Italy's Basso (Team Liquigas-Cannondale) was fourth, former World Champion Cadel Evans of Team BMC Racing was fifth, and Schleck's younger brother and teammate Andy Schleck was sixth, each 30 seconds behind Sanchez. Contador came eighth, 43 seconds back.
Voeckler gave the home crowd a delight for France's national Bastille Day holiday, clinging to the yellow jersey that he had expected to lose in the punishing climbs.
"I'm glad I was wrong," Voeckler said, with a smile. "It clearly wasn't expected. Keeping the jersey was far from expected as the stage started today."
"You have to believe that the yellow jersey gives you a bit of added inspiration on the Bastille Day," he added.
Overall, Voeckler leads Frank Schleck by 1 minutes, 49 seconds, and Evans trails third, 2:06 back. Contador is seventh overall, 4 minutes behind.
"The first real mountain top finish in the Tour there's always something you don't expect and something you do expect," Evans told Roadcycling.com and our mobile sister site Roadcycling.mobi after crossing the finish line and added "It's still early in the mountains and it's a long way to Paris. If the (BMC) team just keeps going as it has done every day so far, we'll really put ourselves in a great position and get ourselves in a great position in Paris."
"You're never particularly comfortable in the Tour de France at any moment, right now included. We just have to stay calm for now and see how things go in the coming days," Evans concluded.
"I was a bit careful," three-time Tour champion Contador commented after the stage and continued "I saw the Schlecks were discussing together and that they were going to play their cards. Frank was the stronger - and both of them attacked."
"But I'm nevertheless happy with this first mountain stage. Each day, I feel better ... I still don't have my best legs. I'm not riding with the same rhythm, but it's encouraging," Contador added.
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Click here for complete results and more photos from today's stage.