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Vanendert wins tough stage as Voeckler stays in yellow

Jelle Vanendert collects his best-ever victory after crossing the line first on the summit of Plateau de Beille.
Jelle Vanendert collects his best-ever victory after crossing the line first on the summit of Plateau de Beille.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jelle Vanendert of Belgium claims victory in the 14th stage of the Tour de France
  • Vanendert comes home ahead of Samuel Sanchez with Andy Schleck third
  • Thomas Voeckler finishes with leaders to surprisingly keep yellow jersey

(CNN) -- Jelle Vanendert of Belgium claimed victory in Saturday's arduous 14th stage of the Tour de France from Saint-Gaudens to the summit of Plateau de Beille, with Frenchman Thomas Voeckler hanging onto the race leader's yellow jersey.

The toughest stage of this year's race was expected to shake up the general classification, but all the favorites marked each other out, allowing Omega Pharma-Lotto rider Vanendert to secure his first-ever Tour stage victory.

The 26-year-old Vanendert finished second to Samuel Sanchez in Thursday's first mountain top finish to Luz-Ardiden -- but he made amends by breaking clear of the leading group with 7km remaining and holding on to cross the line 21 seconds ahead.

Ironically it was Sanchez who led the rest of the field home, with two-time runner-up Andy Schleck taking two seconds out of his rivals by finishing third, 46 seconds behind.

A group of eight riders, including defending champion Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Schleck's elder brother Frank, Ivan Basso and crucially Voeckler came home 48 seconds behind Vanendert.

The result means there is no change in the top three overall with Voeckler still 1:49 ahead of Frank Schleck with Evans 2:06 back in third place.

Andy Schleck stays fourth, but is two seconds closer to Voeckler at 2:15, while Basso remains fifth at 3:16.

Sanchez is the big mover of the day, rising from eighth to sixth at 3:44 with Contador still seventh, four minutes behind, and Damiano Cunego now eighth after losing 39 seconds to the leaders.

Vanendert moves up from 30th to 20th overall, 12:06 behind, and his efforts also saw him take over the polka dot jersey as the race's top climber.

After last year, when I didn't race for seven or eight months because of two knee injuries, I think my career has now started
--Jelle Vanendert
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"It's like a dream come true. After last year, when I didn't race for seven or eight months because of two knee injuries, I think my career has now started," Vanendert told the official Tour de France website.

"Two mountain top finishes -- one time second, one time first. I've tried twice and luckily I now have two things, a prize jersey and a stage win, so I'm very glad," he added.

The stage marked the end of three days in the Pyrenees, leaving the very real possibility that the unfancied Voeckler will now hold onto the yellow jersey until Thursday's mammoth 18th stage to the top of the giant Alpine climb, the Galibier, which will see the highest-ever finish to a Tour stage.

In truth, Saturday's stage proved something of an anti-climax, with the peloton allowing 24 riders to break clear soon after the start.

That group enjoyed a lead of over nine minutes at one stage leaving one of its members, Frenchman Sandy Casar, as the virtual Tour leader on the road.

However, the Schleck's Leopard team helped reel the breakaway group back on the 15.8km ascent of Plateau de Beille, with Casar the last man to be caught, when he was overtaken by Vanendert with 6.5km left.

The Plateau de Beille had featured on four previous Tour finishes, with the winner of the race taking the stage on each occasion. However, Vanendert's win has ended that particular statistic.