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
Tour de France 2011: Related links
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index
Tour de France 2011: Latest news
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Tour de France 2011: Stage reports
Stage 11: Cavendish moves into green after winning in Lavaur
Stage 10: Greipel beats Cavendish in Tour stage 10 sprint
Stage nine: Sanchez conquers day of crashes and climbs
Stage eight: Costa wins first mountain stage of 2011 Tour
Stage seven: Cavendish wins but Wiggins crashes out of Tour
Stage six: Boasson Hagen takes Sky’s first Tour de France win
Stage five: Cavendish wins in Cap Frehel
Stage four: Evans edges out Contador on the Mur-de-Bretagne
Stage three: Farrar sprints to first Tour victory in Redon
Stage two: Garmin win team time trial to put Hushovd in yellow
Stage one: Gilbert blasts to victory as Tour gets off to spectacular start
Tour de France 2011: Highlights videos
Stage 11 video highlights
Video: Feeding the riders at the Tour
Stage 10 video highlights
Stage nine video highlights
Stage eight video highlights
Stage seven video highlights
Stage six video highlights
Video: Erik Zabel’s role as Cavendish’s sprint advisor
Stage five video highlights
Video: The ride of Philippe Gilbert at the Tour de France
Stage four video highlights
Stage three video highlights
Stage two video highlights
Stage one video highlights
Tour de France 2011: Photo galleries
Stage 11 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 10 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage nine photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage eight photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage seven photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2011 wallpaper gallery
Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four photo gallery by Andy Jones
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two photo gallery by Andy Jones
Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2011 team time trial training photo gallery by Andy Jones
Tour de France 2011 team presentation by Andy Jones
Tour de France 2011 team press conferences by Andy Jones
Tour de France 2011 team presentation by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2011: Live text coverage
Tour de France 2011 LIVE: CW’s text coverage schedule
Stage seven live text coverage
Tour de France 2011: Archive videos
Video: 2003 Centenary Tour
Video: Lance Armstrong retrospective
Video: Behind the scenes at the Tour
Video: Guerini’s 1999 stage win
Video: Thrills and spills at the Tour
Video: Armstrong in 1999
Video: The Indurain years
Video: Ladies of the Tour
Video: Best of bizarre
Tour de France 2011: Archive articles
1999 Tour de France stage two: Passage du Gois causes chaos
Tour de France 2011: Related links
Tour de France: The jerseys, what they are and what they mean
Potted history of the Tour de France
The closest Tours in history
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Wiggins
Tour de France 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index