Rabobank rider Sanchez sprinted clear of Europcar’s Voeckler on the finishing straight in Saint-Flour to win the 208km stage by five seconds, while Sandy Casar was a further 10 seconds back.
But the stage was marred by an incident which saw a French television car, trying to overtake the five-strong break, hit Team Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha, who in turn sent Vacansoleil-DCM rider Johnny
Hoogerland flying off the road and into a barbed wire fence.
Both bloodied men were able to continue but finished more than 16 minutes down, although Dutchman Hoogerland regained the polka dot King of the Mountains jersey after contesting the points on six of the stage’s eight categorised climbs.
But that was not the only crash on an incident-packed day. A huge pile-up saw Omega Pharma-Lotto’s general classification contender Jurgen van den Broeck and four-time stage winner Alexander Vinokourov retire, with the peloton briefly calling a truce to let the bunch regroup, allowing the break to extend its lead to more than seven minutes.
Thor Hushovd, who had previously held the yellow jersey since his Garmin-Cervelo team won the stage two team time trial, finished six minutes, 47 seconds behind Sanchez to finally let go of his grip on the maillot jaune.
“I know it’s impossible for me to keep it 10 days like 2004 but one thing I know is that I’ll keep it tomorrow because it’s a rest day,” said Voeckler.
Stage one winner Philippe Gilbert won the peloton sprint for fourth to extend his lead at the top of the points classification, with Mark Cavendish, who has two stage wins to his name this year, 64 points adrift of the Belgian national champion in third.
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (SPA/Rabobank) 5h 27m 09s
2. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/Europcar) +5″
3. Sandy Casar (FRA/FDJ) +13″
4. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/Omega Pharma-Lotto) +3:59″
5. Peter Velits (SLO/HTC-Highroad) – same time
6. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC Racing)
7. Andy Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek)
8. Tony Martin (GER/HTC-Highroad)
9. Frank Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek)
10. Damiano Cunego (ITA/Lampre-ISD)
1. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/Europcar) 38h 35m 11s
2. Luis Leon Sanchez (SPA/Rabobank +1:49″
3. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC Racing) +2:26″
4. Frank Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek) +2:29″
5. Andy Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek) +2:37″
6. Tony Martin (GER/HTC-Highroad) +2:38″
7. Peter Velits (SLO/HTC-Highroad) – same time
8. Andreas Kloden (GER/RadioShack) +2:43″
9. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/Omega Pharma-Lotto) +2:55″
10. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/Leopard-Trek) +3:08