Menchov wins stage thriller

DENIS MENCHOV won the 11th stage of the Tour de France by pipping Levi Leipheimer and Floyd Landis in a thrilling sprint finish.

There was a consolation for Landis, though, with the American rider taking the overall lead as Cyril Dessel missed out on retaining the yellow jersey by just eight seconds.

Menchov’s victory in the first mountain finish of the Tour — a 206.5-kilometre route from Tarres to Pla-de-Beret in Spain — took him third overall standings. The stage included the legendary 18.3km Col du Tourmalet, which has been a Tour regular since its first appearance in 1910, and four category one climbs.

Landis, who will undergo hip replacement surgery after the race finishes, admitted he was thrilled to become the new overall leader.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I didn’t want to do all the work, but I didn’t really have a choice. Cadel (Evans) helped a lot, but unfortunately he was dropped at the end. I didn’t expect it to go quite so well, but I’ll take it.

“I would just as soon wait to get it, but you can’t turn down the chance and race easy just to let someone else do the work.”

David de la Fuente holds the polka dot jersey, 18 points ahead of Dessel, after dominating the day’s climbs and winning the second of the two sprint stages.

Robbie McEwen leads Tom Boonen by 29 points in the battle for the green jersey after beating Gert Steegmans to win the first sprint. De la Fuente then broke along with fellow Spaniard Iker Camano 31km in.

They were soon joined by Fabian Wegmann and Juan Antonio Flecha in the lead group while the peloton was pushed along by Dessel’s AG2R team.

De la Fuente was the first over the summit of the Tourmalet, while Wegmann pipped him over the Col d’Aspin.

Camano fell away and De la Fuente then returned to the front over both the Col de Peyresourde and the Col du Portillon, with last year’s King of the Mountains Mickael Rasmussen and Michael Boogerd high among the points.

Landis and Leipheimer made their move towards the top of the Col du Portillon, and soon after Menchov joined his Rabobank teammates Boogerd and Rasmussen at the front of the chasing group.

The leading trio were caught with 23km remaining, and with 10km to go there was a lead group of seven — Christophe Moreau, Carlos Sastre, Andreas Kloden, Evans and the top three finishers.

Leipheimer, Landis and Menchov broke with 3km remaining, and although Leipheimer tried to sprint clear with 500 metres to go, Menchov came back to win.

Boogerd tipped teammate Menchov as one of the Tour favourites “if he keeps riding like this”.

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