Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel-Euskadi) won the first high mountain stage of this year’s Tour de France when he beat Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) to the line at Luz Ardiden.
The pair had gone clear together on the lower slopes of the Pyrenean ascent but Sanchez was able to accelerate away from his companion with 300m to go.
While Sanchez took the spoils of the stage, the Schleck brothers got the upper hand in what is expected to be the competition for the yellow jersey.
Getting away from the main group of contenders with 2.5km to go, Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) finished in third place, 20 seconds ahead of a group comprising Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Cadel Evans (BMC) and brother Andy (Leopard-Trek).
Damiano Cunego trailed in just behind this trio, while Alberto Contador lost ground in the final kilometre. Finishing eighth, he conceded 30 seconds to Frank Schleck and 10 seconds on Andy Schleck, Basso and Evans.
Thomas Voeckler put up a dogged defence of his yellow jersey, coming across the line with team mate Pierre Rolland at 50 seconds to retain the lead.
Thomas on the Tourmalet
The stage saw a fantastic ride by Geraint Thomas (Team Sky). The Welshman joined the early break of six then attacked alone when the race hit fever pitch on the Col du Tourmalet. It was an impressive comeback after he’d crashed on the descent of the previous climb – La Hourquette d’Ancizan.
Jeremy Roy (FDJ) joined the Welshman just before the top of the Tourmalet and took the 5000 euro Souvenir Jacques Goddet on the summit. The pair then led onto the final ascent with a lead of over three minutes but were caught and passed by Sanchez and Vanendert.
The latter pair had escaped from the main group on the descent of the Tourmalet in a small move that also included green jersey contender Philippe Gilbert.
Having lost time early in the race, Sanchez’s winning ride put him up to eighth place overall and landed him in the King of the Mountain’s jersey. Frank Schleck is now second overall, 1-49 behind Voeckler.
Schlecks play the numbers game
While Sanchez and Vanendert ploughed ahead on the final climb, the Schleck brothers made what is perhaps their best ever attempt at exploiting their numerical superiority.
Although that may not be saying much, their tactic eventually paid off.
With their Leopard-Trek team already having done a fair bit of damage on the Tourmalet, Andy went first with a half-hearted dig at 4km to go. Frank then gained a little more distance on the counter before Contador led the group up to them.
Ivan Basso was looking strong and took up the pace before Frank made a second dig, a little bit harder. This was again brought back by Contador, but all he could do was watch when Frank went once more with 2.5km to go.
As well as putting Contador onto the back foot, Leopard-Trek’s efforts ruled a lot of potential contenders out.
Amongst those to lose significant time today were: Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack), Andreas Kloden (Radioshack), Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo) and Roman Kreuziger (Astana). But Robert Gesink was the contender who had the biggest stinker of a day. The white jersey wearer got dropped early on the Tourmalet and finished over 17 minutes back in 77th place.
FDJ’s Arnold Jeannesson is now the best young rider.
Tour de France 2011, stage eight: Cugnaux-Luz Ardiden, 211km
1. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 5-41.44 hours
2. Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 7 sec
3. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 10 sec
4. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas at 30 sec
5. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC
6. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek all at st
7. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre at 35 sec
8. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank at 40 sec
9. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar at 50 sec
10. Pierre Roland (Fra) Europcar at same time
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar
2. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 1-49 min
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC at 2-06 min
4. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 2-14 min
5. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas at 3-16 min
6. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre at 3-22 min
7. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank at 4-00 min
8. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel Euskadi at 4-11 min
9. Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Cervelo at 4-35 min
10. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R-La Mondiale at 4-57 min
Geraint Thomas head the day-long escape group
Mark Cavendish in green
Fabian Cancellara takes charge for Leopard-Trek
Samuel Sanchez wins
Another hard-earned day in yellow for Thomas Voeckler
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