His eyes on the Pyrenees, Lance Armstrong saved his strength on a day the Tour de France belonged to Spain.
David Etxebarria captured the 12th stage today, the first time in two years a Spaniard won a leg of cycling's premier race. The victory also helped banish memories from last summer when all of Spain's teams withdrew to protest handling of the drug scandal.
"This is one of the most beautiful moments of my life," Etxebarria said.
Armstrong finished 19th but extended his overall lead by two seconds to 7 minutes 44 seconds. The contenders presumably are conserving their energy for next week's racing in the Pyrenees mountains.
Armstrong stayed tucked in the front of the pack with his U.S. Postal Service teammates. He and the rest of the pack came in 12:35 behind the winner.
This was the first victory for a Spaniard on the Tour since 1997, when Etxebarria's team leader, Abraham Olano, won a stage.
Etxebarria started the day more than 28 minutes behind Armstrong, in 27th place.
"This shows we have a place on the Tour, and maybe will even get one on the podium," he said of the ONCE team.
In second place for the stage was French champion Francois Simon, 25 seconds behind the leader. In third was Italy's Alberto Elli.
The 126-mile stage began in Saint-Galmier in southern France and ended in Saint-Flour, a picturesque town perched on a huge rock and boasting a 15th-century cathedral.