Samuel Sanchez yesterday won the first mountain stage of this year’s Tour de France as three-time champion Alberto Contador lost time to Andy and Frank Schleck, two of his main rivals.
Sanchez, a Spaniard with the Euskaltel team, accelerated to beat Belgium’s Jelle Vanendert at the end of the 131-mile ride from Cugnaux to the Pyrenees ski resort of Luz-Ardiden. Thomas Voeckler of France kept the race lead.
Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, Andy’s older brother, attacked with 1.5 miles left to finish third in the stage, moving up to second overall. Cadel Evans of Australia is third and Andy Schleck fourth, 2 minutes 17 seconds behind the leader.
Contador, who hurt his knee in falls in the first week, defended attacks by the Schleck brothers with 2.5 miles left before they managed to break away from him. The Spaniard finished the stage eighth.
“I can tell Alberto wasn’t feeling good,” Levi Leipheimer, an American rider with the RadioShack team, told Eurosport television. “You can’t crash four or times like Alberto has and feel good. Unfortunately the crashes are deciding the race, not the legs.”
Today’s stage travels 152.5 kilometers (95 miles) between Pau and Lourdes, and climbs the 1,709-meter-high Col d’Aubisque.
Yesterday, Contador rose to seventh from 16th overall and is 4 minutes behind Voeckler, who retained the lead on Bastille Day, France’s national holiday.
Sanchez took the polka-dot jersey from Johnny Hoogerland. The Dutch rider carried on racing even after he needed 33 stitches on July 10 when a car veered into cyclists and he was catapulted into a barbed wire fence.
“It’s very emotional for me” to win the stage, Sanchez told Eurosport with tears in his eyes, adding the victory could help keep the Basque team in business.
Scores of fans waving Basque and Spanish flags cheered on Sanchez during the final climb.
Earlier, Voeckler skidded and crashed into a car by the roadside on a preliminary climb, La Hourquette d’Ancizan. After stopping to change bikes, he caught up with his Europcar teammates and finished in ninth place.
Jeremy Roy of Francaise des Jeux was first over the Col du Tourmalet, overtaking Geraint Thomas of Team Sky near the top. With temperatures at 6 degrees Centigrade (42 degrees Fahrenheit) at the peak, some riders put on extra clothing or stuffed newspaper into their jerseys before the descent to protect against the wind chill.
Sanchez and Vanendert passed the leading duo with five miles left and the Spaniard pulled away for the win with a few hundred meters remaining.