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Surprising himself, Frenchman still first

PLATEAU DE BEILLE, France — Thomas Voeckler took the lead in the Tour de France after Stage 9 on July 10 but wasn't expected to keep it when the event headed into the Pyrenees.

But after Saturday's Stage 14, the last and most grueling in the mountains, the Frenchman still leads.

"It's hard for me to believe that I'm in yellow after the Pyrenees," he said. "It's like a dream."

Voeckler sat 1 minute, 49 seconds ahead of Luxem­bourg's Frank Schleck and 4:00 in front of defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain, who is seventh.

Belgium's Jelle Vanendert won the stage, the first of his career, by finishing 21 seconds ahead of Spain's Samuel Sanchez.

The contenders were expected to attack during the stage, which featured a 10-mile climb. But Andy Schleck, Frank's brother who sits fourth, gained only two seconds on Voeckler, and Contador gained none.

"It wasn't possible to make a big difference. I need a steeper stage." Schleck said. "We climbed well. But when you attacked, you could only get 50 meters ahead because there was a bit of wind. But still, I got a few seconds."

Contador praised Voeckler but does not expect him to keep up the pace for much longer.

"We know he's a great rider," he said. "But if he ever cracks one day, he will really lose a lot of time."

.Fast facts

Tour de France

Saturday: Stage 14, 104 miles from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille. Belgium's Jelle Vanendert broke away on the last climb to win in 5 hours, 13 minutes, 25 seconds, 21 seconds faster than Spain's Samuel Sanchez.

Yellow jersey: France's Thomas Voeckler kept the lead, 1:49 ahead of Luxembourg's Frank Schleck.

Today: A 120-mile ride along mostly flat ground from Limoux to Montpellier

TV: 8 a.m., Versus

Surprising himself, Frenchman still first 07/16/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 16, 2011 6:51pm]
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