Spanish climbing specialist Samuel Sanchez won Thursday’s 12th stage of the Tour de France and Thomas Voeckler of France 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 pre-race favourites for the overall victory.
Frank Schleck vaulted into second place, only 1min 49sec behind Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, who survived a fall to retain the yellow jersey.
Evans completed the 211km stage in fifth place, 30 seconds behind, but is now only 2min 6sec out of yellow – and just 17 seconds behind Frank Schleck.
Andy Schleck remains 11 seconds behind Evans – but Contador conceded valuable time to his main dangers as he laboured to the finish.
The triple Tour champion lost 23 seconds to Frank Schleck and 13 seconds to both Evans and Andy Schleck.
Evans downplayed the signficance of the stage, but it was clear he was still satisfied with the outcome.
“You’re never particularly comfortable in the Tour,” he said.
“It’s still early in the mountain. It’s still early in the Tour.
“We’ve already put ourselves in a great position and if we keep working, we’ll put ourselves in a great position in Paris.”
Post race interview Samuel Sanchez:
Stage 13 preview and who to watch:
Although still in the high mountains, the downhill finish of this stage will give ideas to breakaway riders who can climb, and perhaps those inspired by the king of the mountains polka dot jersey – the Aubisque mountain pass comes halfway through the stage. Yellow jersey contenders who have lots of time to make up could also be tempted. Watch out for the likes of Frank and Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador, Luis Leon Sanchez, Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans.
Video of Stage 13 route:
Overall standings after Stage 12:
1. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/EUC) 51h54min 44sec
2. Frank Schleck (LUX/LEO) at 1:49.
3. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) 2:06.
4. Andy Schleck (LUX/LEO) 2:17.
5. Ivan Basso (ITA/LIQ) 3:16.
6. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM) 3:22.
7. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) 4:00.
8. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/EUS) 4:11.
9. Tom Danielson (USA/GRM) 4:35.
10. Nicolas Roche (IRL/ALM) 4:57.
11. Kevin De Weert (BEL/QST) 5:07.
12. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/OLO) 5:24.
13. Arnold Jeannesson (FRA/FDJ) 5:50.
14. Peter Velits (SVK/HTC) 6:03.
15. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP/RSH) 7:17.
16. Rein Taaramae (EST/COF) 7:27.
17. Levi Leipheimer (USA/RSH) 7:51.
18. Rigoberto Uran (COL/SKY) 7:55.
19. Jean Christophe Peraud (FRA/ALM) 8:20.
20. Sandy Casar (FRA/FDJ) 8:47.
21. Jerome Coppel (FRA/SAU) 8:51.
22. Vladimir Karpets (RUS/KAT) 9:12.
23. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) 9:20.
24. Andreas Kloden (GER/RSH) 10:19.
25. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 10:21.