Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez outsprinted his breakaway companions to win the 176.5-kms eighth stage of the Tour de France between Andorra and St Girons on Saturday.
The Caisse d’Epargne rider, winner of a Tour stage last year in Aurillac, surged in the last stretch to beat France's Sandy Casar and fellow Spaniard Mikel Astarloza.
The three had been on their own since the last climb of the day, accompanied by Russia's Vladimir Efimkin, who finished fourth.
Italy's Rinaldo Nocentini retained the yellow jersey earned in the previous stage in the ski resort of Arcalis despite numerous attacks on the two first category climbs of the day. Such skirmishes had been expected from the rivals of the all-conquering Astana team of Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, the race favourites.
Cadel Evans, who squandered nearly three minutes in the first week, was the first to try his luck in the 2,400-metres-high Port d'Envalira, separating Andorra from France.
The 2007 and 2008 Tour runner-up gave up on the descent after holding a lead of 90 seconds at one stage.
At the Col d'Agnes, 45 kms from the finish line, Luxembourg's Andy Schleck surged twice but the Astana were keeping a close watch and easily hauled him back. When the hostilities ceased between the favourites, the four escapees had taken a solid 2:35 lead which was enough for them to battle it out for stage victory.
The 160.5-kms ninth stage from Saint Gaudens to Tarbes on Sunday will start without 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro after he called it quits after the first climb of the day.