Belgian rider Jelle Vanendert won Saturday’s 14th stage of the Tour de France, and French cyclist Thomas Voeckler retained the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Vanendert finished 21 seconds ahead of Samuel Sanchez of Spain, who beat the Frenchman to win Thursday’s 12th stage, and 46 seconds in front of third-place Andy Schleck of Luxembourg.
The contenders were expected to launch attacks in the most grueling stage of the Pyrenees so far, but Schleck only gained 2 seconds on defending champion Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans despite several attempts from the two-time Tour runner-up.
The 168.5-km trek from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille finished with a 15.8km climb to Plateau de Beille, a famed and tortuous ascent.
Schleck kept shooting glances at Contador when next to the three-time champion early in the last climb, looking to see if the Spaniard was struggling. Contador beat Schleck to win the Tour the past two years.
With about 10.5km remaining, Schleck, Contador and Evans accelerated ahead of the main pack.
Schleck launched another attack soon after, with Contador struggling to follow until he sat on Frank Schleck’s wheel and caught up a few seconds later.
When Andy Schleck attacked for the third time with 9km left, he could not get away from Contador and Evans, who was Tour runner-up in 2007 and ’08.
Having waited for his moment, Vanendert timed his attack perfectly with 6.4km kilometers left, and Sanchez left it too late to reel him in.
As the small group of contenders and outsiders jostled for position, Italian rider Ivan Basso and Voeckler tried to slip away from the Schleck brothers and Contador, but their attacks kept petering out.
It was Sanchez’s turn to attack about 4km from the top, and they all let him go as he is not a Tour contender.
With 400 metres left, Andy Schleck sprinted clear on his fifth attack of the stage, but the two seconds he gained on Contador and Evans will feel hollow after all the efforts he made during the day.
Sunday’s 15th stage to Montpellier is a flat route for sprinters. A rest day follows on Monday before the riders head to the Italian and French Alps for three more days of climbing, before a time trial on the next-to-last stage. — Sapa-AP