History sugests that the man who wins on the Plateau de Beille goes on to win the Tour de France. That's unlikely to happen this year, though, with Omega Pharma Lotto's Jelle Vanendert, 30th in the GC this morning, able to get away on the final climb to claim a famous victory from Samuel Sanchez, the man who beat him at Luz-Ardiden two days ago. Andy Schleck outsprinted his rivals to finish third. Another great performance from Europcar's Thoams Voeckler, helped by team mate Pierre Rolland, sees the Frenchman head out of the Pyrenees with his lead at the top of the GC intact.
It’s by far the biggest win of the 26-year-old Belgian’s career, and with double points on offer for the summit finish as there were on Thursday, it puts him into the polka dot jersey, two points ahead of Sanchez.
The day’s other change of jersey sees Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran take the lead in the best young rider’s classification after the Colombian rode impressively up the final 16.5 kilometre ascent with the group of riders from which the winner of the 98th Tour de France will emerge.
Just who that will be is, for now, unclear. Marco Pantani, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador all won here on their way to claiming overall victory, but this year’s race is intriguingly poised as it heads out of the Pyrenees, with perhaps half a dozen riders harbouring realistic ambitions of winning it.
Today, with the exception of Sanchez who gained 21 seconds, none of the big names in the GC was able to put in significant time on their rivals. Even then, the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider only lies sixth overall, having lost time after being held up behind the same opening day crash as Contador.
As for the defending champion, the best that can be said is that unlike on Thursday, he didn’t lose time today, although on today’s final climb, Andy Schleck did test him with a series of attacks.
While at Luz-Ardiden, the Saxo Bank-SunGard rider had faded within the final kilometre, losing more time to his rivals, today if anything he looked more comfortable as the climb went on, able to respond, like the others, to subsequent attacks from the likes of Liquigas-Cannondale’s Ivan Basso and maillot jaune Voeckler.
The latter had been expected to lose the maillot jaune today, just as it had been thought likely that he would surrender it on Thursday’s first Pyrenean stage, but the Europcar rider still leads the race by more than 2 minutes from everyone bar Andy Schleck, who lies 1 minute 49 seconds down.
With a rest day following what is likely to be a stage for the sprinters tomorrow from Limoux to Montpellier, Voeckler is set to head into the final week of the race in the overall lead, just as he did in 2004. Seven years ago, Lance Armstrong took the jersey off him immediately after the rest day on his way to his sixth Tour de France victory.
Voeckler’s cushion over his rivals means that he may well keep the maillot jaune for longer this time, something no French rider has done since the late Laurent Fignon in 1989, the year in which he wore the famous jersey on the final day's time trial in which he lost the race to Greg LeMond by the narrowest ever margin.
Needless to say, the hugely popular 32-year-old will be carrying the entire hopes of the French nation on his shoulders. Few outside the host country may see him becoming the first Frenchman to win the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985. Then again, few saw him coming out of the Pyrenees with a lead of nearly two minutes.
The maillot jaune’s hopse lie in his being able to keep within reasonable contact with the likes of the Schleck brothers, Contador and Cadel Evans as they play out the battle for the GC is between themselves.
Likewise it was the game of cat-and-mouse they played away that allowed Vanendert, due to his relatively lowly overall position, to get away with 8 kilometres to go today.
The 25-year-old Belgian quickly reached and passed the only man on the road ahead, FDJ’s Sandy Casar, the last survivor of a 20-man breakaway group that had established itself early on in the 168-kilometre stage from Saint-Gaudens.
Unlike on Thursday, the Omega Pharma-Lotto rider had enough on the pursuing Sanchez to solo to victory unopposed, and in the approach to the line, Andy Schleck nipped ahead of his rivals to clinch third.
Today’s stage had been eagerly anticipated ever since the route of the 2011 Tour was announced in Paris last October, with the summit finish preceded by five big climbs, the Col de Portet d’Aspet, the Col de la Core, the Col de Latrape, the Col d’Agnes and the Port de Lers.
The cumulative effect of those five ascents was that as the group containing those with pretensions to the overall victory began the 16.5 kilometre climb to the summit, it was already a pretty select group following a day on which Leopard Trek set the pace at the front of the group, as they had done on Thursday’s Stage 12 to Luz-Ardiden.
The Luxembourg-based team had also managed to infiltrate two riders, Jens Voigt and Linus Gerdemman, into an early breakaway of 20 riders, though the size of the group ebbed and flowed as various of its members tried to get clear.
On the way up to the Col de la Trape, Germin Cervelo’s David Millar, the Cofidis rider Julien El Fares and FDJ’s Sandy Casar had attacked off the front, a lead of nearly nine minutes on the main group making the latter virtual maillot jaune, albeit temporarily.
Later, on the day’s penultimate climb, the Category 3 Port de Lers, the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider Gorka Izagirre Insausti was out in front on his own, the 23-year-old cresting the summit a minute or so ahead of his closest pursuers and nearly six minutes up on the group containing the maillot jaune, but he was caught 25 kilometres out.
Three other members of the original breakaway group, Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel, Rabobank’s Luis Leon Sanchez and another Euskaltel-Euskadi rider, Ruben Perez Moreno then tried to get clear, the latter hitting the final ascent to Plateau de Beille first, a few seconds ahead of a group of seven riders.
By now, with Leopard Trek led by Maxine Montfort still controlling things at the front, the main group arrived at the foot of the climb just two and a half minutes behind the leaders, with riders including Rabobank’s Robert Gesink and HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen immediately getting shelled out of the back as the pace refused to relent.
Ahead, Casar attacked again, pursued by two other members of the breakaway group, AG2R’s Christophe Riblon and Team Sky’s Xabier Zandio, but with the gap coming down all the time, their advantage was never going to be enough as one by one the escapees were caught and passed by the Tour’s big names.
One of today's breakaway group, Laurens Ten Dam of Rabobank, suffered what looked like a bad fall on the way down from the Col d’Agnes, running wide on the way out of a hairpin and landing hard, face first, as he went over the handlebars on the grass verge.
Voigt was another rider to come off, in his case shortly after beginning the descent from the Port de Lers, heading off the road and into the Pyrenean shrubbery, and although he remounted quickly following a rear wheel change, the German was down again moments later, his bike sliding from under him as he braked while going through a hairpin.
Once more, he got back on, shrugging off his woes by helping tow his team mates up the early part of the day’s last climb.
Tour de France Stage 14 Result 1 VANENDERT Jelle OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO 5h 13' 25" 2 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 00' 21" 3 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 46" 4 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 00' 48" 5 URAN Rigoberto SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 48" 6 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD + 00' 48" 7 VOECKLER Thomas EUROPCAR + 00' 48" 8 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 48" 9 PERAUD Jean-Christophe AG2R LA MONDIALE + 00' 48" 10 ROLLAND Pierre EUROPCAR + 00' 48" 11 BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 48" 12 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD + 01' 27" 13 DANIELSON Tom GARMIN - CERVELO + 01' 59" 14 DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP + 01' 59" 15 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS + 02' 23" 16 ZEITS Andrey ASTANA + 02' 38" 17 RUIJGH Rob VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 02' 38" 18 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK + 03' 01" 19 VERDUGO Gorka EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 03' 39" 20 SORENSEN Chris Anker SAXO BANK SUNGARD + 03' 39" Tour de France Overall Standings after Stage 14 1 VOECKLER Thomas EUROPCAR 61h 04' 10" 2 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 01' 49" 3 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 02' 06" 4 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 02' 15" 5 BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 03' 16" 6 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 03' 44" 7 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD + 04' 00" 8 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD + 04' 01" 9 DANIELSON Tom GARMIN - CERVELO + 05' 46" 10 DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP + 06' 18"