Spanish rider Luis Leon Sanchez of the Caisse d'Epargne team won a dramatic 7th stage of the Tour de France, a 159km ride from Brioude to Aurillac on Friday.
Luxembourg's Kim Kirchen retained the overall leader's yellow jersey, six seconds ahead of Australian Cadel Evans.
A tumultuous stage saw a number of retirements and crashes including former French champion Christophe Moreau, who was fourth overall in the 2001 edition.
Sanchez was hugely aided by team-mate Oscar Pereiro, the 2006 champion after Floyd Landis was disqualified for doping, and was able to celebrate metres from the finish punching the air in delight while the first chasing peloton failed to get to him.
A disciplined start to the second day in the medium mountains eventually gave way to a thrilling day of tactical racing once Scotland's David Millar was eventually reeled in by the chasing bunch. The peloton seemed in no mood to allow escapes to go early on but Millar, of the Garmin team, attacked one kilometre from the summit of the category four climb at Villedieu and eventually found himself with company.
A four-man break formed but because Millar began the stage in fifth overall at just 47secs behind Kirchen, he was never going to be given much rein. A 24sec lead on the chasing bunch was quickly reduced after several teams joined Kirchen and his Columbia team in upping the pace. The quartet were caught minutes later, and a solo attack by Sanchez soon gave way to a mass acceleration by the CSC team of yellow jersey hopeful Carlos Sastre.
Italian Damiano Cunego fell victim to a crash, although it was unclear whether CSC's move - which caused mayhem and left several bunches in their trail trying to hang on - was a consequence of the Lampre rider falling. Around 25 riders - including all the yellow jersey favourites - were in front as CSC forced the pace, however they were soon joined by a larger group with 70km and three of the day's most difficult climbs to race.
Sanchez then launched his second big attack of the day on the lower slopes of the Col d'Entremont, prompting fellow Spaniard Josep Jufre Pou of Saunier Duval to follow. The pair were joined by David de la Fuente and Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas and they went over the summit of the category two Pas de Peyrol with a lead of 1min 30sec on the peloton.
The descent, however, proved far trickier. De la Fuente's downhill skills were exposed as he was forced to brake on the humid roads on several occasions while approaching tight corners. He finally caught up with the leading trio and with 20km to the finish they held a lead of one minute on the peloton but in the end Sanchez was the only one capable of holding on.
Suspect blood samples story downplayed
Drugs reared its ugly head to a certain extent as the agency charged with carrying out anti-doping controls at this year's Tour de France played down a report that 10 riders are about to be issued warnings for "suspect" blood samples.
A report in Le Monde newspaper suggested that the riders were being specifically targeted by the AFLD, France's national anti-doping agency, because of suspected doping. But a statement by the AFLD, issued on Friday, poured cold water on the claims.
The AFLD said it had merely informed the doctors at the teams concerned that some riders "risked health problems" due to deficiencies relating to certain biological parameters.
"The blood samples taken from the entire Tour de France peloton on July 3 and 4 have been analysed by the anti-doping laboratory in Lausanne, which is accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Cycling Union (UCI)," said the statement issued on the AFLD website.
"In accordance with current rules, the results of these analyses will be handed over to the riders this weekend. This in no way suggests that the riders concerned have been given a warning. However, for medical reasons and because of values of certain parameters, it will be suggested to those riders that they hand over the results to their team doctors."
A report on Friday by Le Monde, which rarely reports on cycling unless doping is involved, claimed the AFLD was about to issue "warnings" to the riders.
The report said that their blood test results revealed "quite worrying" parameters, which would lead to further, "targeted" tests.
The race finishes on July 27 and has yet to reach the mountains, the first real stage of which is on Sunday.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008