Australian-born German Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) claimed his maiden stage win on the Tour de France Friday as rainy conditions put a dampener on an anticipated battle for the yellow jersey.
Haussler was part of an early breakaway on the 200km stage 13 from Vittel to Colmar in the hilly Vosges region before he went off on his own with two climbs still to negotiate.
After coming over the summit of the category one-rated Col du Platzerwasel in the company of Sylvain Chavanel, the Cervelo team rider attacked on the descent to quickly open up a gap on the Frenchman.
QuickStep all-rounder Chavanel battled in vain on the Col du Bannstein, but the gap grew and grew as Haussler's steady rhythm took him up and over the 2.1km hill and then over the 8.7km long Col du Firstplan.
Although victory was virtually assured Haussler made sure not to risk his chances on a technical descent made even more hazardous by the rain.
Smiling on the way in, Haussler's grins made way for a deluge of tears as he crossed the finish line to hand his Cervelo team their second stage win on their debut after Thor Hushovd's victory in Barcelona.
"I don't really know what to say. This is such a big day for me," said Haussler, who admitted he was surprised at distancing Chavanel so easily. "I didn't know what to expect in the mountains and didn't think I would stay ahead Chavanel like that.
"On the last Col I had to stay concentrated, and I kept telling myself 'don't crash'. After that it was just an unbelievable feeling going to the line knowing I was going to win."
Spaniard Amets Txurruka of the Euskaltel team was second, at just over four minutes behind, while Frenchman Brice Feillu of Agritubel was third at 6:13.
The peloton -- with all the main favourites, and current yellow jersey wearer Rinaldo Nocentini -- arrived 6:43 behind Haussler.
Nocentini, who has now spent a week in the race lead, still has a six- and eight- second lead on Astana's race favourites Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong.
With Saturday's 14th stage set for a possible sprint finish, or a successful breakaway, the yellow jersey battle could now resume on Sunday's 207.5km 15th stage from Pontarlier to Verbier in Switzerland.
It is there that Astana may find out the cost of losing their American teammate Levi Leipheimer, an experienced helper in the mountains who pulled out with a fractured wrist on Friday.
Nocentini is hopeful of keeping the jersey for another day but the AG2R rider said defending it in the Swiss Alps will be more difficult.
"On paper tomorrow's stage looks okay for us and we should be able to keep the race lead," he said. "But after that it will be difficult. Contador and Armstrong are not far behind me. It was difficult going from 30-odd degrees yesterday into the rain and the cold of today, but for me personally it was okay.
"There were no real attacks, I had my team's support and Astana didn't take any risks so that was fine with me."
Norwegian Thor Hushovd went for the line sprinting, his efforts giving him the few points necessary to take back possession of the sprinters' green jersey from British rival Mark Cavendish.
Cavendish, of the Columbia team, came in with the 'grupetto' - the non-climbers who ride together to try and limit their losses - over 24 minutes down.
Haussler, known as the "Racing Kangaroo", was born in Australia to a German father and Australian mother but went to Germany as a 15-year-old to pursue his dream of becoming a professional cyclist.
© AFP 2009
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