Portugal's Sergio Paulinho offered the ailing RadioShack team their first ever Tour de France success when he pipped Belarusian Vasil Kiryienka to victory on the 10th stage Wednesday.
Paulinho was one of several riders who got into an early breakaway and which built a maximum lead of 12 minutes on the peloton as they finally raced out of the high Alps.
The group was reduced after Belgian Mario Aerts raced away as the road rose briefly with around 25km to go, although the Omega Pharma rider's move ultimately left Paulinho and Kiryienka in front on their own.
Despite struggling to shake Kiryienka on the final descent towards the finish, the Portuguese timed his sprint to perfection inside the final 300 metres to beat the Caisse d'Epargne rider by only centimetres.
"I've been dreaming of this since I was a little child," said Paulinho, who despite having only six career wins finished a remarkable second place behind Italian Paolo Bettini at the Athens Olympic road race in 2004.
"I haven't seen my teammates yet but I'm sure we're going to celebrate this win because it's the first for us on the race."
Another stunning day in the Alps
The remnants of the earlier breakaway finished 1min 29sec later, with the main peloton, including all the race favourites and Luxembourg's race leader Andy Schleck, coming over the finish line over 14 minutes later.
Saxo Bank leader Schleck, the runner-up in 2009, retained his 41sec lead on Astana's reigning champion Alberto Contador with his fellow Spaniard, Samuel Sanchez, in third at 2:45.
Schleck said he'd expected French riders to join the breakaway in the hope of celebrating the stage win on the national holiday of Bastille Day.
Although that did not happen, the 24-year-old was happy to spend the day riding with relative ease among his team behind a breakaway which contained no potential threats to his yellow jersey.
"It was very, very hot and I think most of the guys are still feeling the effects of yesterday's stage," said Schleck, who took the race lead from Cadel Evans on Wednesday when the Australian struggled on the Madeleine climb.
"A lot of the French guys were motivated today, since it's the national holiday.
"But we were happy to let the breakaway go. That allowed us to ride at an easy pace for most of the day."
RadioShack suffered several setbacks in the first week when Armstrong crashed several times and lost precious time to rivals due to a puncture on stage three.
The American's dream of an eighth yellow jersey then virtually ended during Saturday's seventh stage when he finished almost 12 minutes behind most of his rivals.
Paulinho said he hoped it boosts team morale.
"After all the bad luck we had in the first week of the Tour, this comes at the right time. I hope it gives a bit of morale back to the team," said Paulinho, who dedicated his victory to his eight-month old daughter Beatrice.
Prior to this stage Paulinho's biggest victory was the 10th stage he won at the Tour of Spain in 2006. And he said it pipped his Olympic silver medal in the value stakes.
"It's more important to win a stage in the Tour de France than a silver medal at the Olympics -- it's the biggest race in the world and I think any rider would agree," he added.
Thursday's 11th stage is a 184.5km ride from Sisteron to Bourg-les-Valence which should see the return of a bunch sprint.
© AFP 2010