Spain's Samuel Sanchez won the Tour's twelfth stage after an enthralling finish, in the first mountain climb of this year's edition.

The Olympic champion triumphed in the 211km effort from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden, as the Tour entered the Pyrenees for the first time. But the real battle occurred behind Sanchez, as Luxembourg's Frank Schleck and his younger brother, Andy battled with other Tour favourites, including Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans, as the riders entered the final kilometres of the gruelling trek.

The oldest of the Schleck brothers eventually established a gap with 2km to go and finished third, with Evans and Andy Schleck close behind, as Thomas Voeckler's lead was cut in the overall standings.

"I wanted to win this stage after losing five minutes in a crash on the first day. I did not want to return home empty-handed," said Sanchez, who finished fourth in Paris a year ago.

"Now I'm going to try not to lose time and make it back gradually up the overall classification," said Sanchez."

It was a mixed day for the Spanish riders though, as Alberto Contador lost ground on his rivals for the yellow jersey. Troubled by the knee injury which has hindered his performance in the past week, the three-time Tour champion couldn't hold on to the climb as Sanchez peeled away and finished eighth.

"I was not able to deliver as much as I would have loved to, but I'm still satisfied by this result," Contador told reporters.

"It was a special day because I was still recovering from those crashes. But I will be getting better and better day by day," he added.

The Spaniard currently sits seventh in the overall standings, four minutes behind Voeckler, who retained the yellow jersey to give France something else to celebrate on Bastille Day.

"The yellow jersey gives you motivation to go beyond suffering," the Frenchman told reporters.

Stage 12
The pack rides during the 12th stage of the Tour de France 2011 cycling race