Sanchez prevails on Luz-Ardiden

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) claimed the first Tour de France victory of his stellar career, winning the first high mountain summit finish on stage 12 atop Luz-Ardiden. The win comes 10 years after his former teammate Robert Laiseka was the last rider to win on this mountain.

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) retained his yellow jersey with an unexpectedly strong performance despite being caught up in a series of attacks by the big-name overall contenders.

Fränk Schleck (Leopard Trek) was the real winner in the first exchange of blows in this year's race, while the loser was Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) who was unable to handle the pace during the final part of the torturous Pyrenean ascent.

Sanchez and Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) had managed to get away from the favourites on the 13.3km climb to the finish and caught and passed breakaway heroes Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ), who had been away since the start of the 209km stage.

The Beijing Olympic champion turned on his speed with about 250 metres to go to take the win ahead of Vanendert, with Schleck taking third just ten seconds behind. The overall contenders were a further 20 seconds back, although Contador had lost contact and finished a psychologically damaging 13 seconds down on Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) and Cadel Evans (BMC)

Voeckler surprisingly held on to his yellow jersey, clutching teammate Pierre Rolland's hand in gratitude as the crossed the line 50 seconds after Sanchez. He now leads Fränk Schleck by 1:49, with Evans third at 2:06.

"It's a very emotional and exciting win for us because there was a lot of support out there for us. For me it’s a dream come true,” Sanchez said.

“It’s a very important victory. We are not a big-budget team but a modest, all-Basque team. It's our biggest victory of the season. I’ve worked very hard to be at my very best for the Tour de France and I've sacrificed more than ever before: I’ve spent time away from my family and from people who I’ve lost. But now it's worth it."

Voeckler was overjoyed to keep the yellow jersey on Bastille Day.

“Today I was surprised to be here 10km to the final,” he said. “After I saw the last klometer I said to myself 'you're still here, don't give up'. Today the Europcar team really helped me all day, especially Rolland in the final. Even if I crashed after the first climb, it's a good day, but it's been a hard day.”

Voeckler kept the yellow jersey but the polka-dot jersey of the best climber and the white young rider’s jersey both changed hands.

Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil-DCM put in a brave effort in the high mountains but faded and so Sanchez took the jersey thanks to his stage win atop the hors catégorie Luz-Ardiden summit finish, his 40 points means he leads Vanendert (32) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ) at 24 points.

Robert Gesink (Rabobank) lost not only his hopes for a top placing but also the white jersey when he cracked on the Tourmalet. Arnold Jeannesson of FDJ took it, and leads Estonia's Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) by 1:37.

Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) kept the green points jersey by taking the field sprint behind the early six-rider breakaway at the day's intermediate sprint in Sarrancolin.

Another early break

The weather was significantly better after several days of rain which seemingly inspired the riders.

As always, the day's escape group got away early. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun), Blel Kadri (Ag2R) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ) were up and gone within minutes of the start.

The Frenchmen took the intermediate sprint points on Bastille Day, as Mangel crossed the line ahead of Roy. Nine minutes behind them, things got serious for the top sprinters before they formed the gruppetto to survive in the mountains.

Movistar took the middle of the road in the sprint, HTC-Highroad the left and Omega Pharma-Lotto the right, but HTC-Highroad had things easily in hand and brought the green-clad Mark Cavendish to the line as seventh, with Mark Renshaw eighth and Goss tenth. Only Jose Joaquin Rojas of Movistar was able to break the HTC-Highroad dominance, placing ninth. The seventh place finish at the intermediate sprint gave Cavendish another nine points, for a total of 260, 18 more than Rojas.

The lead group started up the category one Hourquette d'Ancizan with a reduced lead of seven minutes. Movistar set a high pace on the climb, and not surprisingly the first to attack was mountains classification leader Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil-DCM, who seemed to have recovered well from his barbed wire cuts. He was almost immediately joined by French champion Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), and then by Roman Kreuziger (Astana).

The descent off the Hourquette d'Ancizan caused problems for the riders as Geraint Thomas fell out of the lead group when he slipped on the damp roads. Fortunately he found a gap between parked vehicles, falling, sliding and miraculously coming to a stop only inches from the cliff side. Back on the bike, he soon shot onto the grass again on another curve due to mud still stuck on his tires, but ultimately again joined the lead group.

The peloton topped the first climb and almost immediately went down – literally. On the same turn that caused Thomas's initial crash, a handful of riders hit the asphalt. Voeckler braked into a parked car, and Andreas Klöden of RadioShack was once again involved, as was HTC-Highroad's Peter Velits. Fortunately all of them got up and back on their bikes.

The Tourmalet was next and its most prominent victim was Robert Gesink of Rabobank. HTC-Highroad's Tony Martin also fell back, along with Jakob Fuglsang of Leopard Trek. With Velits and Klöden being thrown back by the crash, massive changes in the GC were expected.

With still five kilometres to go to the top, the lead group finally fell apart for good, with Thomas remaining alone in the lead. Behind them, Leopard Trek veteran Jens Voigt pulled the increasingly smaller yellow jersey group up the mountain. Roy moved back up to the front and arrived first at the fog-enshrouded Tourmalet summit ahead of Thomas. Behind them, escape groups of various compositions formed and faded. The Tourmalet, as ever, caused attrition.

Thomas and Roy then headed to the final climb, the legendary Luz-Ardiden, with a lead of just over three minutes but it was quickly down to only 1:43 into the final 10 km.

Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) were the first to make it up to the leaders, with eight kilometres to go. The duo moved on into the lead as Thomas and Roy faded. Their long day off the front would be worth it, however, as Roy took the special Souvenir Jacques Goddet for cresting the Tourmalet first while Thomas was awarded the combatif or most aggressive rider prize.

The overall contenders battle begins

The battle between the Tour de France contenders began when Sylvester Szmyd and Ivan Basso of Liquigas-Cannondale took over the lead work in the group which got increasingly smaller and smaller, with even Gilbert unable to hang on. The Schlecks stayed almost within touching distance of Contador as they went up the final climb, almost trying to psyche the Spaniard out.

Contador dropped back at one moment, and Andy Schleck moved quickly to the front. The Spaniard went with him, but it was all a feint. Fränk Schleck shot up the other side, and although he didn't really get away, the first shot had been fired. Other surges and chases followed but it they were all jabs rather than knockout blows.

Frank Schleck’s third try was his best, and with 2.5 kilometres to go, he got away in a solo effort. He pursued Vanendert and Sanchez up the narrow, fan-lined road but was just unable to catch the two leaders before the finish.

Basso and Evans led the chase and that snapped the elastic holding the big name contenders together. First Voeckler and then Contador fell off the pace and lost precious seconds. Voeckler was happy to hold into to yellow but the verdict of the first mountain finish had exposed Contador’s weaknesses and confirmed that this year’s Tour de France is going to be a fight all the way to Paris.

Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi6:01:15
2Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto0:00:07
3Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek0:00:10
4Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale0:00:30
5Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing TeamRow 4 - Cell 2
6Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard TrekRow 5 - Cell 2
7Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD0:00:35
8Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard0:00:43
9Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar0:00:50
10Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team EuropcarRow 9 - Cell 2
11Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo0:01:03
12Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ0:01:19
13Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling0:01:25
14Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioShackRow 13 - Cell 2
15Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:01:56
16Yuriy Trofimov (Rus) Katusha TeamRow 15 - Cell 2
17Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale0:02:02
18Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:02:10
19Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quickstep Cycling TeamRow 18 - Cell 2
20Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack0:02:53
21Jerome Coppel (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:03:06
22Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank SungardRow 21 - Cell 2
23Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Katusha Team0:03:08
24Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto0:03:19
25Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne0:03:25
26Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:03:38
27Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ0:03:54
28David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne0:03:55
29Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Team Garmin-Cervelo0:03:57
30Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:03:58
31Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Highroad0:04:15
32Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 31 - Cell 2
33Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi0:04:21
34Andrey Zeits (Kaz) Pro Team Astana0:04:23
35Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Katusha Team0:04:57
36Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling0:05:20
37Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-CannondaleRow 36 - Cell 2
38Rob Ruijgh (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team0:06:13
39Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team0:07:06
40Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling TeamRow 39 - Cell 2
41David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Movistar Team0:07:34
42Xabier Zandio Echaide (Spa) Sky ProcyclingRow 41 - Cell 2
43Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Saxo Bank SungardRow 42 - Cell 2
44Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack0:08:26
45Yannick Talabardon (Fra) Saur - SojasunRow 44 - Cell 2
46Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard TrekRow 45 - Cell 2
47Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ0:08:56
48Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad0:09:03
49Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team EuropcarRow 48 - Cell 2
50Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi0:09:56
51Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek0:10:04
52Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team0:10:12
53Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo0:10:20
54Rémy Di Gregorio (Fra) Pro Team Astana0:11:13
55Julien El Fares (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En LigneRow 54 - Cell 2
56Jesús Hernandez Blazquez (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard0:13:16
57Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:13:47
58Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi0:14:54
59Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel-EuskadiRow 58 - Cell 2
60Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team0:15:03
61Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel-EuskadiRow 60 - Cell 2
62Laurent Mangel (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:15:51