Haussler breaks away early for big push

PARIS: Australian-born German Heinrich Haussler claimed his maiden stage win on the Tour de France as rainy conditions put a dampener on an anticipated battle for the yellow jersey.

Haussler was part of an early breakaway on the 200km stage from Vittel to Colmar in the Vosges region before he took off with two climbs to negotiate.

After coming over the summit of the category one-rated Col du Platzerwasel in the company of Sylvain Chavanel, the Cervelo team rider attacked on the descent to quickly open up a gap on the Frenchman.

Quick Step all-rounder Chavanel battled on the Col du Bannstein, but the gap grew as Haussler''s steady rhythm took him up and over the 2.1km hill and then over the 8.7km long Col du Firstplan.

Although victory was virtually assured, Haussler decided not to risk his chances on a technical descent made even more hazardous by the rain.

Haussler''s win handed his Cervelo team their second stage win on their debut after Thor Hushovd''s victory in Barcelona.

"This is such a big day for me," said Haussler. "I didn''t know what to expect in the mountains and didn''t think I would stay ahead of Chavanel."

Spaniard Amets Txurruka of the Euskaltel team was second, at just over four minutes behind, while Frenchman Brice Feillu of Agritubel was third at 6:13.

The peloton with all the main favourites, and yellow jersey wearer Rinaldo Nocentini, arrived 6.43 behind Haussler.

Nocentini, who has now spent a week in the race lead, still has a six and eight second lead on Astana''s race favourites Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong.

With today''s 14th stage set for a possible sprint finish, or a successful breakaway, the yellow jersey battle could now resume on tomorrow''s 207.5km 15th stage from Pontarlier to Verbier.

It is there that Astana may find out the cost of losing Levi Leipheimer, an experienced helper in the mountains who pulled out with a fractured wrist yesterday.

Nocentini is hopeful of keeping the jersey for another day but the AG2R rider said defending it in the Alps will be more difficult.

"On paper the stage looks okay for us and we should be able to keep the lead," he said. "But after that it will be difficult. Contador and Armstrong are not far behind me. It was difficult going from 30-odd degrees yesterday into the rain and the cold of today, but for me personally it was okay."

Norwegian Thor Hushovd went for the line sprinting, his efforts giving him the points necessary to take back possession of the sprinters'' green jersey from Briton Mark Cavendish.

Cavendish, of the Columbia team, came in with the ''grupetto'' - the non-climbers who ride together to try and limit their losses - over 24min down.

Haussler, born in Australia to a German father and Australian mother, went to Germany as a 15-year-old to pursue his dream of becoming a professional cyclist.

It is the biggest win of his career, although earlier this season he finished runner-up in the Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders one-day classics.