Hushovd wins Tour stage; Voeckler keeps lead

Posted July 15, 2011, at 5:09 p.m.
Last modified July 15, 2011, at 6:09 p.m.

LOURDES, France — Norway’s Thor Hushovd won the 13th stage of the Tour de France and France’s Thomas Voeckler kept the yellow jersey Friday on a ride through the Pyrenees that ended in the home of one of the most famous Catholic shrines.

Jeremy Roy nearly captured a Tour stage for the first time with his attack at the foot of the huge climb to Col d’Aubisque. But the Frenchman couldn’t hold off Hushovd and David Moncoutie, who overtook Roy near the line and finished second.

“I really didn’t think I would win this stage,” said Hushovd, who was also part of the Garmin-Cervelo team that won the team time trial early in the race. “I did things right tactically.”

Voeckler was part of the main pack that lagged nearly nine minutes behind Hushovd. He held the overall lead for another day heading into a mammoth climbing stage. Defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain and two-time runners-up Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans, did not chase as they conserved energy for Saturday.

“I was pretty tired from yesterday and tomorrow’s a big day,” Evans said. “There’ll be fireworks, don’t worry.”

None of the main rivals took any time off each other, and there was no repeat of Thursday’s attacks in which a weary Contador lost 13 seconds to Schleck and Evans.

Frank Schleck is second overall — 17 seconds ahead of Evans, 28 seconds ahead of younger brother Andy and 2:11 clear of Contador. Contador has been nursing a sore right knee after hitting it twice in separate crashes.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Frank Schleck said. “I’m convinced that I’m not going to have any regrets tomorrow.”

Hushovd, a two-time winner of the Tour’s green jersey for best sprinter, won the 95-mile stage in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 36 seconds. He is more used to dashing to the finish line than grinding uphill, but he has worked hard on his climbing ability to become a more complete rider.

“It’s the best stage I’ve ever won on the Tour de France,” said Hushovd, who has nine individual stage victories and two more from team time trials. “To win on my own is even more special. It’s very emotional for me.”

Having done his hard work climbing, Roy played it safe descending the 26 miles to the finish. He had a nervous moment when a fan brushed him with a flag, causing him to swerve. But he still seemed set for victory until Hushovd — a world champion rated among the best in downhills — started attacking on the descent.

“It’s true that I descend very well,” Hushovd said. “I knew I had to. It was super.”

Hushovd had caught Moncoutie with about 15 miles remaining, and they took turns trying to close the gap on Roy, who led by 70 seconds with 12 miles to go. That was cut to 18 seconds with six miles remaining, and Hushovd caught him with a mile left.

Roy’s previous best on the Tour had been a second-place stage finish in 2008.

“The disappointment is too big. It will be hard to take in,” Roy said. “It’s too hard for me. Only victory counts.”

Hushovd sympathized, but not too much.

“It’s a shame for Roy — he is young, he rode a very good stage,” Hushovd said. “But I really wanted to win, too.”

Hushovd had worn the yellow jersey earlier in the race after team time trial in the second stage. Voeckler has worn it since taking it from him on the crash-marred ninth stage. Voeckler was quick to praise Hushovd, who has also won stages on the Giro d’Italia and Spanish Vuelta.

“Thor is the best climber among the sprinters,” Voeckler said. “I’m not surprised by his performance.”

Hushovd is surprising even himself with his climbing.

“I gave it all during the first week. I suffered yesterday but today I had stamina,” he said. “I lost weight (this season), that’s true. And I’m working differently. I’m riding a lot of climbs at training.”

Germany’s Andreas Kloeden, struggling with a stiff back and sore elbow, quit the race, reducing the battered RadioShack team to five riders.

Saturday’s 14th stage is the third consecutive day in the Pyrenees, and the most grueling yet. The 105-mile ride from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille starts with a sharp climb up Col de Portet d’Aspet followed by two ascents up Col de la Core and Col d’Agnes. It finishes with a nearly 10-mile climb to Plateau de Beille.

A flat stage follows on Sunday before the Tour’s second rest day on Monday.

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