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FOIX, France — Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain used his time-trial experience to win the 14th stage of the Tour de France on Sunday as the three-week race entered the Pyrenees.
Tour leader Bradley Wiggins of Britain was expected to keep the yellow jersey. He and the other contenders were trailing a group of breakaway riders by more than 15 minutes.
Sanchez, hampered by a wrist injury during the first week of the race, crossed himself and pointed toward the sky as he hit the finish line.
The Spaniard was among the cyclists who broke away in the day’s final ascent, the Mur de Peguere. He then made his decisive move less than seven miles from the finish. It was the fourth time in his career he has won a Tour stage.
Peter Sagan of Slovakia finished second, 47 seconds behind Sanchez. Sandy Casar of France was third in the same time.
Sagan and two other riders managed to escape from the pack after 22 miles on the descent of the first climb of the day. The 3.3-mile ascent split the bunch in two as RadioShack stars Andreas Kloden and Frank Schleck were dropped with a group of about 60 riders.
With Orica-GreenEdge cyclists organizing the chase to keep their sprinter Matt Goss in contention for the top sprinter’s green jersey, Sagan, Sergio Paulinho and Steven Kruiswijk were kept on a leash and struggled to build their lead.
But eight riders, including Philippe Gilbert, Casar and Sanchez broke away in pursuit of Sagan’s trio and bridged the gap. The second pack caught up with the yellow jersey’s group after 34 miles.
With none of the 11 escapees posing a threat in the overall standings, they were given the freedom to continue and established a 10-minute lead at 45 miles.
Sagan added 20 points to his green jersey tally by winning the intermediate sprint uncontested.
Despite rain and cooler weather on the climb, the ascent was uneventful. Wiggins’ teammates set the tempo at the front of the pack while the Briton’s rivals did not dare a move.
Paulinho led the breakaway group over the summit. After a tricky and challenging descent on slippery roads, the riders increased their lead to 15 minutes before the Mur de Peguere.
Sanchez stayed on the wheel of Rabobank teammate Kruiswijk in the first miles of the ascent then accelerated on the steepest part. Sanchez knocked a few riders out of the leading group, with Casar, Gilbert, Sagan and Gorka Izaguirre the only ones able to stand the pace.
Defending champion Cadel Evans tried to break away from the main pack in the Mur de Peguere but his attack lacked punch, and Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali responded immediately. Wiggins’ teammates Christopher Froome and Richie Porte then moved in front to re-establish control.
A punctured tire slowed Evans at the top of the climb. The Australian was on his own and lost about two minutes before a teammate could reach him to give him his rear wheel.
Wiggins didn’t attempt to use Evans’ misfortunes to his advantage. He asked the peloton to slow to allow the defending champion to return to the pack.
Casar, Sagan, Izaguirre, Gilbert and Sanchez regrouped on the descent and increased their lead as the main contenders agreed to wait for Evans.