SANCHEZ Luis-Leon (GCE)Â© A.S.O.
SANCHEZ Luis-Leon (GCE)Â© A.S.O.
Attacked by all sides, race leader Alberto Contador suffered a spectacular setback in the 191-kms 7th stage of Paris-Nice on Saturday, handing his yellow jersey to Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse dâ€™Epargne), who also won the nail-biting battle of Fayence.
Seemingly invincible after his victory on the Montagne de Lure on Friday, Contador cracked completely in the descent from the top of the Col de Bourigaille to the finish, losing ground dramatically after being systematically attacked by Sanchez, Antonio Colom (Katusha), who finished second, Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step).
The hard-fought battle finally went Sanchezâ€™s way as the Caisse dâ€™Epargne leader took his third stage victory in the Race to the Sun and his first leaderâ€™s spot.
Sanchez now leads Chavanel by 1:09 in the overall standings, with Chavanel third, 1:21 behind. Contador is now 1:50 off the pace with a revenge to take.
Sundayâ€™s 119-kms final showdown around Nice looks more exciting than ever.
Martin defends jersey
The start was given at 11:01 to 139 riders. In the first two climbs of the day (km 6.5 and km 32), German Tony Martin (Columbia) added eight points to his tally to strengthen his polka-dot jersey.
In the first sprint (km 29) Heinrich Haussler took three points to take the provisional lead in the points classification.
In the descent of the Cote de Riez (km 33), the peloton split up and green jersey holder Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre) was trapped at the back, like Cadel Evans (Silence Lotto). But the pack reformed and the break of the day took shape at kilometer 61, when Martin Velits (Milram) surged. He was joined by Christophe Riblon (AG2R), Juan-Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Sebastien Joly (FD Jeux), Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank), Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), Stephane Auge (Cofidis), Alexandre Pichot (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Joan Horrach (Katusha) and Maxime Bouet (Agritubel).
Ten in the lead
Columbia team riders first chased to protect Martinâ€™s polka-dot jersey as Auge could have been a threat and the break failed to gain momentum. But Auge did not score any points on the Cote de Taradeau (km 96), Cote des Tuillieres (km 110.5) or on the Col de St Andrieux (km 118.5) and the break was allowed to make a difference.
The pace since the start (41.2 kph after three hours) was too fast for Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), who gave up like Mickael Cherel (FD Jeux), Thomas Fothen (Milram), Marcel Sieberg (Columbia), Tom Veelers (Skil) , Mickael Buffaz (Codidis), Javier Aramendia (Euskaltel) and Romain Feillu (Agritubel).
Magic trio in the lead
After the sprint in Fayence (km 150), won by Auge, Velits went to tackle the Bourigaille climb on his own. The Slovak was first at the top of the 1st category climb (km 160.5) on which the big fight took place with the Caisse dâ€™Epargne leading the way.
Two strikes by Antonio Colom (Katusha) shattered the bunch. Only race leader Alberto Contador and second-placed Luis Leon Sanchez managed to stay with their compatriot and the three caught Velits in the descent.
The Spanish trio were chased by Frank Schleck and Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), who were joined by Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) with 20 kms to go. Voigt brought his companions back on the three leaders. A group of six, including the top five riders in the overall standings, took shape.
Luis Leon Sanchez strikes
In the finale, Colom, twice, Chavanel, once and then Sanchez, hit out at Contador, who was forced to fight back each time. But the yellow jersey holder was unable to react on Sanchez last strike, 15 kms to the finish. With 10 kms to go, the Caisse dâ€™Epargne leader left his rivals trailing by 22 seconds.
While nobody helped Contador chase, Sanchezâ€™ lead steadily increased and with three kilometres to go, the race leader was even dropped by his four companions, before being caught and dropped by the main pack.
Exhausted, the 2007 Paris-Nice winner finished 2:50 off the pace and is now 1:50 behind Sanchez, who leads Chavanel by 1:09 overall before the final stage around Nice.
Sanchez won the stage with a 50 seconds lead over Colom and Schleck. Chavanel took the green jersey while Martin retained his polka-dot one.
SANCHEZ Luis-Leon (GCE)Â© Presse Sports
I knew this stage from the Tour of the Mediterranean and the Tour du Haut Var. We had planned our move and everything worked according to plan. The profile suited my qualities and style.
I donâ€™t know what went wrong with Alberto. But it goes to show great champions can have their bad days and there is room for the others. We remain good friends but this is competition and what matters is that the yellow jersey remains in Spain.
Contador has lost more than 2:50 on the line. He is now 1:50 behind overall.
Colom is second and Schleck third.
Luis Leon Sanchez won the 191-kms 7th stage of Paris-Nice.
Contador has now been caught and dropeed by the peloton!
Sanchez is under the red flame. He is about to win the stage and take the yellow jersey.