PLATEAU DE BEILLE, France — French cyclist Thomas Voeckler retained the lead of the Tour de France on Saturday after the last stage in the Pyrenees, which was won by Jelle Vanendert of Belgium and failed to be as significant as expected for the main contenders.
Vanendert clinched the 14th stage - the first Tour stage win of his career - after finishing 21 seconds ahead of Samuel Sanchez of Spain and 46 seconds in front of third-place Andy Schleck of Luxembourg.
"I never imagined this would happen to me on my first Tour de France," Vanendert said. "I have been feeling good in the mountains."
The contenders were expected to launch attacks in the most grueling stage of the Pyrenees so far - which featured a 10-mile climb to Plateau de Beille - but Schleck only gained 2 seconds on defending champion Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans despite several attempts from the two-time runner-up.
Evans crossed the line fourth ahead of Colombia's Rigoberto Uran and Contador. They all were 48 seconds behind Vanendert.
"It wasn't possible to make a big difference, I need a steeper stage than this," said Schleck, who rides for the Leopard Trek team with his older brother Frank. "We worked hard, we climbed well. But when you attacked today, you could only get 50 meters ahead because there was a bit of wind. But still, I got a few seconds at the end."
Voeckler is 1 minute, 49 seconds ahead of Frank Schleck, 2:06 clear of Evans, 2:15 ahead of Andy Schleck and 4:00 in front of Contador, who is seventh behind Sanchez and Italy's Ivan Basso.
"I'm not interested who is stronger than who," Voeckler said. "My objective was to keep the jersey."
Voeckler keeps predicting he will lose the yellow jersey and is stunned by his impressive form.
"It's hard for me to believe that I'm in yellow after the Pyrenees," he said. "It's like a dream."
Contador praised Voeckler but does not expect him to keep going at this rate for much longer.
"We know he's a great rider, but if he ever cracks one day he will really lose a lot of time," Contador said.
The 105-mile trek from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille finished with a famed and tortuous ascent.
Schleck kept shooting glances at Contador when next to the three-time champion early in the last climb, looking to see if the Spaniard was struggling. Contador beat Schleck to win the Tour the past two years.
With about 6 miles remaining, Schleck, Contador and Evans accelerated ahead of the main pack.
"I tried to keep things under control," Evans said. "It was a long but not a steep climb. It's at this point in the race that the contenders are pretty evenly matched, so it's really hard to make a big difference."
Schleck launched another attack soon after, with Contador struggling to follow until he sat on Frank Schleck's wheel and caught up a few seconds later.
"I am satisfied because I didn't lose any time today," Contador said. "I can't say I was good, because good means winning."
Contador banged his knee twice in crashes on Stages 5 and 9 but feels he can hit top form when the race reaches the high Alps on Wednesday.