Luis Leon Sanchez saved Rabobank’s dismal Tour de France by soloing to an impressive victory in Foix this afternoon.
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The Spaniard broke clear from a strong five-man group that contained points competition leader Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Phillipe Gilbert (BMC Racing) 11km from the finish to take his second win in the Tour in as many years.
This result will come as a welcome relief for his team, who go into the final week of the race with only four riders remaining.
However, Sanchez’s victory is likely to be overshadowed by a day of drama in the peloton, after reports of tacks being placed deliberately on the top of the day’s final climb, the Mur de Péguère.
Defending champion Cadel Evans almost paid the price for this act of sabotage, as he punctured at its summit and was left waiting for a replacement wheel. However, a slowing of pace ordered by race leader Bradley Wiggins allowed him to rejoin the peloton before the finish. As a result, the general classification remains the same as it was before the stage.
Once again, Sagan was again active throughout, with his attack 35km in to the stage leading to the day’s winning breakaway. The Slovak – who had unsuccessfully attempted to break clear in the opening 15km – was one of 11 riders in the lead group, which also included Gilbert, Sanchez and Sandy Casar (FDJ-Big Mat).
Sagan took maximum points in the sprint at Tarascon-sur-Ariege after 99km, and with no rider any threat on the GC, the escapees were allowed a maximum advantage of 16-05 with 40km remaining.
Sanchez, Gilbert, Casar and Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Gorka Izaguirre attacked from the leaders on the third and final climb of the day, the first-category Mur de Péguère. Sagan bridged the gap having initially been distanced by the leading quartet towards the top of the narrow and steep 9.3km-long climb, which was making its debut in the Tour de France.
At the top of the climb, Evans punctured, and was left to watch the peloton race away as he waited on the roadside for a replacement rear wheel. The next BMC rider up to the Australian was Brit Steve Cummings, who himself also had suffered a flat. With team cars not permitted on the climb, Evans was initially left stranded. Andreas Kloden (RadioShack-Nissan) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) also punctured at the top of the climb.
Maillot jaune Wiggins – who himself changed his bike shortly after the punctures occured – called a truce in the peloton on the descent in an attempt to allow BMC to get their team leader back on. However, Europcar’s Pierre Rolland did not obey, and launched a short-lived counter attack on the descent into the finish.
Ahead, Sanchez launched a brilliantly-timed move a few miles out of Foix and, despite the strength of the chasing four, stayed away to take his fourth victory in the race.
Sagan predictably won the sprint for second to edge ever closer to victory in the points classification, while the peloton – thankfully now free of any problems – rolled across the line a shade over 18 minutes after Sanchez.
Tour de France 2012, stage 14: Limoux to Foix, 191km
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Rabobank in 4-50-29
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale at 47 sec
3. Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
4. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing
5. Gorka Iziguirre (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi all at st.
6. Sergio Paulinho (Por) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank at 2-51
7. Sebastien Minard (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale at st.
8. Martin Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 3-49
9. Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Katusha at 4-51
10. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank at 4-52
General classification after stage 14
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky in 59-32-32
2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 2-05
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 2-23
4. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 3-19
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 4-48
6. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Radioshack-Nissan at 6-15
7. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 6-57
8. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana at 7-30
9. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar at 8-31
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-BigMat at 8-51
Sanchez heads the escape group
Luis Leon Sanchez takes a solo win
Bernhard Eisel heads Sky
Bradley Wiggins maintains the overall lead
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Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Stage 13: Greipel survives climb and crosswinds to win third Tour stage
Stage 12: Millar wins Tour stage nine years from his last
Stage 11: Wiggins strengthens Tour lead as Evans slips back
Stage 10: Voeckler wins and saves his Tour
Stage nine: Wiggins destroys opposition in Besancon TT
Stage eight: Pinot solos to Tour win as Wiggins fights off attacks
Stage seven: Wiggins takes yellow as Froome wins stage
Stage six: Sagan wins third Tour stage
Stage five: Greipel wins again as Cavendish fades
Stage four: Greipel wins stage after Cavendish crashes
Stage three: Sagan runs away with it in Boulogne
Stage two: Cavendish takes 21st Tour stage victory
Stage one: Sagan wins at first attempt
Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins second
Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs
Analysis: What we learned at La Planche des Belles Filles
Analysis: How much time could Wiggins gain in Tour’s time trials
CW’s Tour de France podcasts
Blog: Tour presentation – chasing dreams and autographs
Comment: Cavendish the climber
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Stage 14 gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 13 by Graham Watson
Stage 12 by Graham Watson
Stage 11 by Graham Watson
Stage 10 by Graham Watson
Stage nine by Graham Watson
Stage eight by Graham Watson
Stage seven by Graham Watson
Stage six by Graham Watson
Stage five by Graham Watson
Stage four by Graham Watson
Stage three by Graham Watson
Stage two by Andy Jones
Stage two by Graham Watson
Stage one by Graham Watson
Prologue photo gallery by Andy Jones
Prologue photo gallery by Roo Rowler
Prologue photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2012: Team presentation
Sky and Rabobank Tour de France recce
Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage
Stage 10 live coverage
Stage nine live coverage
Stage six live coverage
Stage five live coverage
Stage four live coverage
Stage three live coverage
Cycling Weekly’s live text coverage schedule
Tour de France 2012: Related links
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
Brief history of the Tour de France
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index
1989: The Greatest Tour de France ever