Pantani, Armstrong, Contador and... Jelle Vanendert

In the Tour de France, it's Jelle Vanendert of Limburg province who won the third and hardest mountain stage in the Pyrenees after a successful solo effort. The 26-year-old advanced Samuel Sanchez and Andy Schleck on the Plateau de Beille to take his first career win and snatch the polkadot jersey as the best climber from France's Jérémy Roy. It's 30 years since a Belgian last won a mountain stage in the Tour de France.

It's only the fifth time that a Tour de France stage finished on the Plateau de Beille in the Pyrenees. The previous winners were Marco Pantani, Lance Armstrong (twice) and Alberto Contador - all of them were able to take the yellow jersey home from Paris, but for Jelle Vanendert this will probably not be the case.

Jelle Vanendert rides for the Belgian Omega Pharma-Lotto team and was supposed to assist Jurgen Van den Broeck, who eyed a podium place, in the mountains. However, as Van den Broeck crashed out of the Tour last Sunday, Vanendert could try his luck.

This resulted in a nice second place on Thursday, when he was only beaten by Spain's Samuel Sanchez on Luz-Ardiden, in the first stage in the Pyrenees. However, this time Vanendert reversed the situation, advancing Sanchez in the 14th stage. It's also Lotto's third stage win, after Philippe Gilbert and Germany's André Greipel.

Vanendert, an athlete from Hamont, was part of the small group of favourites when he attacked some 7 kilometres from the end on the final climb. As all the favourites were watching each other, nobody jumped to his wheel which allowed him to start a solo effort. The Fleming steadily widened the gap. A counter-attack by Samuel Sanchez 3.5 kilometres from the end put the pressure up, but Vanendert kept the Spaniard at bay.

Jelle Vanendert also took the polkadot jersey as the best climber of the Tour de France. He will have to defend the jersey in some gruelling mountain stages in the Alps next week.

Vanendert is not so well known in the peloton, but this is because he had been very unfortunate in his career until this year, battling several injuries and physical woes. Insiders have always pointed to his big potential if he is completely fit.

"The mountains are really my cup of tea"

Vanendert completed the 168 km stage in 5 hours and 13 minutes. Sanchez was 21 seconds behind, with Andy Schleck taking third place, 46 seconds behind. Schleck won the sprint of the group of favourites before Cadel Evans, who was 2 more seconds behind.

"The team gave me all the time I needed to prepare myself for the Tour de France", Vanendert told reporters. "After the classics, I could take take some time off and next take part in the Dauphiné to prepare the Tour. I am in a super form. The mountains fit me very well. But to be honest, I never thought I would win this stage. I also dedicate this stage to Jurgen Van den Broeck, who crashed out of the Tour and who is now at home." (photo: Vanendert with the jersey for best climber)

France's Thomas Voeckler keeps the yellow leader's jersey after a tactical battle between the main favourites like Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans.