Voeckler takes yellow as Sanchez wins crash-fest


Frenchman Thomas Voeckler pulled on the Tour de France yellow jersey after a dramatic ninth stage won by Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez and marred by nearly a dozen crashes Sunday.
Voeckler, of Europcar, had been part of an early breakaway that made it to the finish line of the 208km ride from Issoire unchallenged after a mass pile-up in the peloton caused mayhem and delayed the chase.
Two of Voeckler’s breakaway companions, Johnny Hoogerland and Juan Antonio Flecha, were then taken out of the equation for the win after they were hit by a television car 35km from home.
It left Rabobank rider Sanchez, Voeckler and his compatriot Sandy Casar contending the win, with Sanchez launching an unassailable sprint 250 metres from the uphill finish to leave Voeckler in second.
“Last year Casar beat me in a two-up sprint (at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne) but that time it was my fault because I hadn’t checked out the finish,” said Sanchez after taking his first win of the season for Rabobank.
“This time I did my homework. I knew the finale and it suited me well.”
Casar, of FDJ, was third with Belgian Philippe Gilbert of Omega-Pharma leading home a peloton containing a somewhat reduced bunch of yellow jersey favourites 3min 59sec later.
Voeckler took over the race lead from Norwegian Thor Hushovd and now leads Sanchez by 1:49 in the general classification, with Australian Cadel Evans third at 2:26 followed by Frank Schleck (2:29) and Andy Schleck (2:37).
Reigning champion Alberto Contador, who earlier in the stage suffered his fourth crash in eight days, is 16th at 4:07.
Contador later revealed a knee pain he has felt since a crash on Wednesday had flared up.
“Today I had a few problems and I’m a little bit anxious about my knee,” said Contador.
“After I crashed I began feeling the pain again but I hope with some ice and some rest it will get better.”
On the second day in the hilly Massif Central, and after several failed attempts, Voeckler was determined to open his account.
He jumped into a breakaway early and played a leading role in helping to distance the peloton over the first few climbs.
But he admitted he was stunned to be wearing the yellow jersey again.
“I didn’t want to have any regrets on the Tour this year, but I have to say I didn’t expect to be pulling on the yellow jersey again,” said Voeckler, who famously wore the yellow jersey for nine days in 2004. “I really didn’t think I’d have it a second time in my career.”
But while he will get to savour his feat on Monday’s rest day many other teams will be taking stock of the damage.
Belgian Jurgen van den Broeck became the second yellow jersey contender after Bradley Wiggins, to crash out when he got caught up in a mass pile-up on the descent of the Col du Pas de Peyrol as the peloton trailed by 3:25.
In the same spill Alexandre Vinokourov, racing what was his eighth and final Tour, found himself in the trees and out of the race with a fractured femur in the same crash.
It also took out van den Broeck’s teammate Fredrik Willems and American David Zabriskie.
The shock of the crash caused the peloton to slow the pace, giving Voeckler’s breakaway group a lead which, with over 80km to race, would soon reach over seven minutes.
The five would go on to be unchallenged, but further drama would unfold 35km from the finish when Hoogerland was sent somersaulting into a fence and Flecha hit the deck at full speed.