x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Vanendert scales new heights

The Omega rider wins his first stage, while Schleck fails with several attacks on arduous climb as Sunday's layout favours the sprinters.

PLATEAU DE BEILLE, France // The Belgian rider Jelle Vanendert said he had been "feeling good" when winning yesterday's 14th stage of the Tour de France as the French cyclist Thomas Voeckler retained the race leader's yellow jersey.

Vanendert clinched the first Tour stage win of his career, finishing 21 seconds ahead of Samuel Sanchez of Spain, and 46 in front of the third-place rider Andy Schleck, of Luxembourg.

"I never imagined this would happen to me on my first Tour de France," Vanendert, the Omega rider, said. "I have been feeling good in the mountains."

Big attacks from the Tour contenders were expected in the most gruelling stage of the Pyrenees so far. But Schleck gained only two seconds on the defending champion Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans despite several attempts.

Evans crossed the line fourth, ahead of Colombia's Rigoberto Uran and Contador, all 48 seconds behind Vanendert.

"It wasn't possible to make a big difference. I need a steeper stage than this," said Schleck, who rides for the Leopard Trek team with his older brother, Frank. "We worked hard, we climbed well. But when you attacked today, you could only get 50 metres ahead because there was a bit of wind. But still, I got a few seconds at the end."

The 168.9-kilometre trek from Saint-Gaudens finished with a 16km climb to Plateau de Beille, a famed and tortuous ascent.

Early in the last climb, two-time Tour runner-up Schleck was next to the three-time champion Contador, and kept looking over at the Spaniard to see if he was struggling. Contador beat Schleck to win the Tour the last two years.

With about 9.6km remaining, Schleck, Contador and Evans accelerated ahead of the main pack.

Schleck launched another attack soon after, with Contador struggling to follow until he got on Frank Schleck's wheel and caught up a few seconds later.

When Andy Schleck went on the attack for the third time, with 8km left, he could not leave behind Contador and Evans, who was the Tour runner-up in 2007 and 2008.

Having waited for his moment, Vanendert timed his attack perfectly with 6.4km left, and Sanchez left it too late to reel him in.

As the small group of contenders and outsiders jostled for position, the Italian Ivan Basso and Voeckler tried to slip away from the Schleck brothers and Contador.

Finally, it was Sanchez's turn to attack, some 3.2km from the top, and they all let him go as he is not a Tour contender.

The 15th stage today to Montpellier is a flat stage for sprinters.

Tomorrow is a rest day, and then the riders head to the Italian and French Alps for three more days of climbing. The penultimate stage is a time trial.