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Sanchez wins 12th Tour de France stage in Pyrenees as Voeckler keeps overall lead
LUZ ARDIDEN, France (AP) ' Spanish climbing specialist Samuel Sanchez won the 12th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday and Thomas Voeckler retained the overall lead as the race entered the high mountains for the first time.
After a string of setbacks earlier in the race, defending champion Alberto Contador struggled up the main climb and lost crucial seconds to other prerace favorites for overall victory.
The 131.1-mile run from Cugnaux to the Luz-Ardiden ski station featured three tough climbs in the Pyrenees ' including two that are among the hardest in pro cycling.
Sanchez and Jelle Vanendert of Belgium overtook a group of breakaway riders in the final climb and held on, with the Spaniard winning their two-man sprint in the last several hundred yards. Vanendert crossed 7 seconds later.
After leading a string of attacks on the other prerace favorites, Frank Schleck of Luxembourg surged away and finished third ' 10 seconds back ' to vault into second place overall.
Italy's Ivan Basso was fourth, Cadel Evans of Australia was fifth, and Schleck's younger brother Andy was sixth, each 30 seconds behind Sanchez. Contador placed eighth, 43 seconds back.
Voeckler gave the home crowd a delight for France's national Bastille Day holiday, clinging to the yellow jersey that he had expected to lose in the punishing climbs.
Overall, he leads Frank Schleck by 1 minute, 49 seconds, and Evans trails third, 2:06 back. Contador is seventh overall, 4 minutes back.