By Julien Pretot
Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez won the 12th stage of the Tour de France, a gruelling trek in the Pyrenees as Chris Froome retained the overall lead after holding off his rivals on the final climb on Thursday.
Rodriguez, who like many top names saw his hopes of winning the Tour evaporate after cracking in the first mountain stages, dropped his breakaway companions one by one and snatched a solo victory on the Plateau de Beille, a 15.8-km ascent at an average gradient of 7.9 per cent.
It brought the diminutive climber, third in the 2013 Tour, some consolation after he lost hope of overall victory in the first two Pyrenean stages.
Dane Jakob Fuglsang was second, one minute 12 seconds behind and France’s Romain Bardet took third place, 1:49 off the pace, ending their 195-km ride from Lannemezan in driving rain after riding through a hailstorm.
Briton Froome finished in the group of favourites 6:47 behind to retain his 2:52 overall lead over American Tejay van Garderen.
The Team Sky rider was attacked several times in the second part of the ascent to the Plateau de Beille, one of the most demanding climbs in France.
Spaniard Alberto Contador, Colombian Nairo Quintana and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Italy jumped away but were reined in either by Froome himself or his team-mate Geraint Thomas.