FOIX, France (AFP) — Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez handed his stricken Rabobank team a welcome boost by soloing to victory on Sunday in stage 14 of the Tour de France.
Sanchez, whose team has been decimated by crashes, had been part of an 11-man break that built a 16-minute lead on the peloton well before the end of the 191km stage from Limoux to Foix.
And after counter-attacking Sandy Casar (FDJ-Big Mat) on the 38km descent towards the finish, the Spaniard made a decisive move with just over 11km to race.
Sanchez went on unchallenged to finish 47 seconds ahead of Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)) with Casar in third. The main peloton, including race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky), finished 18 minutes in arrears.
“I started the day with victory in mind but given the company I was in I knew I’d have to attack from far out to have any chance,” said Sanchez, whose team has only four remaining members from nine starters.
Although the early breakaway had built a significant lead that never looked under threat, they were given further room by the dramatics going on in their wake —and which showed Wiggins’ sense of fair play.
Defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) started the day three minutes and 19 seconds adrift, but could have finished it far worse off after falling victim to a series of flats caused by tacks on the road.
First, he was left waiting at the summit of the last, brutal climb, the Peguere, for nearly two minutes. Looking flustered and gesturing in despair as he held his bike minus its back wheel, a teammate pulled alongside — but he, too, had a flat. After Evans finally got a serviceable wheel he suffered another puncture on the descent, during which time the yellow jersey group sat up and waited for him to catch back on as his BMC squad ran a team time trial to regain the bunch.
Wiggins, who took the yellow jersey after stage 7 last Saturday, will take a 2:05 lead over teammate Chris Froome into Monday’s mainly flat stage from Samatan to Pau.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) is still third overall at 2:23 with Evans fourth at 3:19.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the 2012 Tour de France.