Tour de France 14: Sanchez saves Rabobank's Tour

Punctures plague the peloton en route to Foix

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Luis Leon Sanchez saved Rabobank's honour at the Tour de France, taking a solo win in Foix. He had taken off out of an escape group to take the win, with Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) second and Sandy Casar of FDJ-BigMat third. The peloton with yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins finally came in more than 18 minutes after the Spaniard joyously crossed the finish line.

An early break roared to a huge lead on the first Pyrenees stage, and with a lead of 15 minutes on the climbs, there was no doubt that they would go for the win. It broke down to a group of Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), Peter Sagan (Liquigas), Sandy Casar (FDJ-Big Mat), Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC). With 11.5km to go, Sanchez took off and soloed in to the win.

The main drama of the day came at the top of the final climb, the category one Mur de Peguere. Cadel Evans of BMC punctured, and had to wait an agonizing 1:15 before help arrived. He had to not only stop again later to change bikes, but also subsequently had another puncture. Yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins tried to keep the tempo down, to allow the defending champion to catch up, and, accompanied by virtually the entire BMC team, he rejoined the field before the finale.

Evans was not the only one who punctured, and in fact, there so many problems that suspicions arose. It was soon being said that tacks had been tossed onto the road. “We don't know,” said BMC's George Hincapie. “There was clearly something on the road, probably on the climb or just after. Everyone was flatting. I've never seen anything like it.”

Photos of tacks pulled from tyres soon made the rounds. They claimed one victim, as well. Robert Kiserlovski of Astana crashed just after the summit, apparently due to the tacks, and had to leave the race with suspected fractures.

Sanchez' victory saved the Tour for Rabobank, which had been devastated by injuries and was down to only four riders. It was the fourth stage win for the 28-year-old.

Stage winner Luis-Leon Sanchez of Spain celebrates on the podium of the 14th stage of the Tour de France

"I had three stage wins in other Tours and this year the race turned hard from the first day and it looked like it would be impossible,” he said, according to “But when you fight you can get things done. We have only four riders in the race but when you want it, in the end, you can get the victory."

Sanchez, who had tears in his eyes after his win, knew who to fear. "Sagan can win any sprint in the Tour, so today, in a break with so few people, he would have won easily. I attacked from far out and everything went right.

“Fortunately, I have a family that supports me in everything, me and my brother. My daughter will have seen it on television. And I'm very happy. "

Sagan acknowledged the better man had won the stage.“Luis Leon attacked and we couldn't go with him." And he also note that he had only himself to blame, as he was eating when Sanchez attacked. "Yes, I should have kept a better eye on him. In the last few kms I needed to eat. I wasn't expecting him to attack me at that point. He is experienced and I am not bitter about it. Even if I'd managed to stay with him I might not have won."

“We tried to attack Sagan on the last climb because we knew he was the fastest, but in the end Luis Leon made his jump and we just had nothing left to respond,” Casar said after the stage. “I'm very disappointed. I really wanted to win today.” Sagan “is incredible – we tried on the climb but we couldn't shake him off.”

Large break group on the first day in the Pyrenees

The day's group took some 50km to form, but it turned out to be a potent one, with Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Philippe Gilbert (BMC-Racing Team), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sebastien Minard (AG2R-Le Mondiale), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Sandy Casar (FDJ-Big Mat), Sergio Paulinho (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Steven Kruijswijk and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and Martin Velits (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). The gap quickly skyrocketed and there was no doubt as to their making it to the finish.

With an impeccable sense of bad timing, the rain started as the leaders went up the first of the day's two category one climbs, the Port du Lers at km 126.5. The break group went over together, and the fans were treated to the unusual sight of world champion Mark Cavendish leading the field on the climb.

Things changed on the second climb, the Mur de Peguere. Three kilometers from the summit, Sanchez attacked, followed by Gilbert. Izagirre and Casar caught them, and Sagan showed his strength to stay in touch with them.

At almost the same time Casar led the way over the top, Evans attacked out of the field – or at least, tried to. He was unable to get away, as has so often happened in this Tour. But worse problems were to come for him.

Cadel Evans of Australia acknowledges overall leader Bradley Wiggins of Britain as he crosses the finish line

He pulled over at the top of the climb, with a punctured rear tyre, and had to wait, gesturing furiously, for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually his teammate Steven Cummings appeared, but - amazingly - he also had a puncture. Finally, two more teammates arrived almost simultaneously with the neutral material wagon, and the Australian was finally underway again. Although it seemed to be forever before he was able to do so, it was only 1:15.

But more problems awaited, as he had to stop and change bikes and later even punctured again. Nor was he the only one to suffer, as the punctures rapidly became too numerous to count. It was later confirmed that “something” had been strewn on the road.

Ahead, Wiggins held the tempo down as a gesture of fairness, but Pierre Rolland of Europcar took advantage of the slower pace to take off. Lotto Belisol and Liquigas showed no mercy in hunting him down, and the pace went down again.

Sanchez, Gilbert, Izagirre, Casar and Sagan were all together with 14 km to go, but with 11.5km left Sanchez took off. Rabobank's Spaniard slowly built out his lead and was able to cross the finish line 47 seconds ahead of his former companions.

The peloton was about 15 minutes back by then, but kept things slow enough that Evans and BMC were able to catch up with them.


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