As he fought out the finishing sprint with the Ukrainian Sergei Outschakov and the Italian Carlo Finco, the Frenchman's path was sudden blocked by Outschakov. He finished first with an exultant show of raised arms, while Desbiens' right arm shot up in protest. Officials sided with Desbiens , leaving his rival to claim: "My advantage was good. He had room to come past."
Desbiens took the bouquet, for his biggest victory in his third Tour for which he was not a candidate until two weeks before it began. "I knew I could do something in this Tour," the Cofidis rider said. "Because there was no pressure on my shoulders."
As is the custom with many riders Desbiens dedicated his victory, this time honouring team-mate Tony Rominger, who broke his collarbone last week.
Britain's casualty, Chris Boardman gritted his teeth over Port d'Envalira and two other lesser mountains. He is taking pain-killing tablets for his neck injury as well as acupuncture and physiotherapy. He plans to continue when the race resumes after today's rest day in St Etienne.
Boardman was 18 seconds behind the sparring trio who had escaped 15km from the finish, and so too was the race leader Jan Ullrich and 134 other riders. The German is expected to extend his 2min 38 sec advantage over the Frenchman Richard Virenque in Friday's mountain time trial.
Virenque has his limitations in sprints. He prefers his roads sloping and yesterday piled 50 more points on to his lead in the mountains category. He is 74 points clear of FES team-mate Laurent Brochard, with the Alps looming on Saturday.
Support among the sweating thousands on the route to Perpignan was split between Virenque and Bjarne Riis. Danish flags were painted on the road and hung across the route. The French however found a novel way of saluting their hero - eight fans stripped to the waist, each bearing a letter of the rider's name on his torso. All were covered in large red spots, the colours of the king of the mountains.
The crowds were not so numerous in the years when Anton Magne won his Tours, but they still had their heroes. Rene Vietto, a waiter from the Cote d'Azure, twice answered the call to save Magne in the 1934 race.
On the road to Perpignan he gave his wheel to replace one Magne had smashed. The next day, Vietto was leading the race when he was told that Magne was again in trouble with a broken chain and a damaged wheel. He turned back to ride towards his pursuers, and on finding his stranded team leader gave Magne his bike. Magne won the Tour, but Vietto won the hearts of the French. He was acclaimed as the moral winner of that Tour.
Ullrich does not face such threats to his jersey. Team cars are just a radio call away from any rider in trouble.
TOUR DE FRANCE 11th stage (192km, 119 miles, Andorra to Perpignan): 1 L Desbiens (Fr) COF 5hr 05min 05sec (av speed 37.760 kmh); 2 C Finco (It) MAG, same time; 3 S Outschakov (Ukr) PLT, s/t (finished 1st but placed 3rd for not holding line); 4 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN; 5 E Zabel (Ger) TEL; 6 M Traversoni (It) MER; 7 F Baldato (Ita) MAG; 13 A Tchmil (Ukr) LOT; 14 R McEwen (Aus) RAB; 15 E Dekker (Neth) RAB; 16 O Rodrigues (Por) BAN; 17 P Chanteur (Fr) CSO; 18 V Ekimov (Rus) USP; 19 C Lamour (Fr) MUT; 20 C Mengin (Fr) FDJ, all +18sec. Selected: 34 R Virenque (Fr) FES; 37 A Olano (Sp) BAN; 49 J Ullrich (Ger) TEL; 51 C Boardman (GB) GAN; 52 M Sciandri (GB) FDJ; 64 B Riis (Den) TEL; 134 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE, all s/t.
Overall standings: 1 Ullrich 60hr 06min 17sec; 2 Virenque +2min 38sec; 3 Olano
+4:46; 4 Riis +4:53; 5 M Pantani (It) MER +5:29; 6 F Escartin (Sp) KEL +5:46; 7 L Dufaux (Swit) FES +6:02; 8 O Camenzind (Swit) MAP +7:00; 9 F Casagrande (It) SAE +7:20; 10 C Vasseur (Fr) GAN +7:31; 11 P Lino (Fr) BIG +7:41; 12 P Luttenberger (Aut) RAB +8:02; 13 J Jimenez (Sp) BAN +9:33; 14 D Nardello (It) MAP +10:01; 15 R Conti (It) MER +10:20; 16 A Elli (It) CSO +10:41; 17 J Laukka (Fin) FES +11:15; 18 L Madouas (Fr) LOT +12:19; 19 B Zberg (Swit) MER +12:47; 20 F Simon (Fr) GAN +13:58. Selected: 29 Jalabert +24 min 32sec; 79 Sciandri +1hr 1min 54sec; 91 Boardman +1:10:42.
Points: 1 Zabel 272pts; 2 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN 191; 3 J Blijlevens (Neth) TVM 168; 4 M Traversoni (It) MER 126; 5 N Minali (It) BAT 121.Reuse content