SANCHEZ Luis-Leon (GCE)Â© Presse Sports
COLOM Antonio - CONTADOR AlbertoÂ© Presse Sports
COLOM Antonio - CONTADOR AlbertoÂ© J.C. MOREAU
Revealed as the best young rider in the Race to the Sun in 2006, Luis Leon Sanchez won the 67th Paris-Nice on Sunday, proving he had come of age and reached a new stage in his career.
The 119-kms final stage around Nice, with its three classic climbs â€“ Col de la Porte, La Turbie and Col dâ€™Eze -, was as exciting as the race had been since the start in Amilly thanks to Alberto Contador, who launched a brave but unsuccessful attempt to salvage his pride after losing the yellow jersey to Sanchez the previous day.
The 2007 Paris-Nice and Tour de France attacked at the foot of the Col de la Porte and stayed in the front until the Col dâ€™Eze. In the long descent towards Nice, he was joined by Antonio Colom, who won the final stage ahead of him, and Frank Schleck, whose Saxo Bank team-mates led the chase all day.
Winner of the first and 6th stage, Contador was the main animator of this edition but Sanchez amply deserved his victory with a one-minute lead over Schleck and 1:09 over Chavanel, who was unlucky to see his chain snap in the last descent.
Twenty five break
The start was given at 11:56 to 119 riders. The first sprint in Plan du Var (km 18.5) was won by Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank). At kilometre 25, 25 riders parted with the bunch: Nocentini (AG2R), Flecha, Garate and Tjallingii (Rabobank), Lowe and Peterson (Garmin), Van Impe (QuickStep), Dyachenko and Popovych (Astana), Pereiro and Lopez Gacia (Caisse dâ€™Epargne), Casar (FD Jeux), Kolobnev and Kroon (Saxo Bank), Kuschynski (Liquigas), Taaramae (Cofidis), Hernandez, Perez and Verdugo (Euskaltel), Bonnaire (Bbox Bouygues), Eskov (Katusha), Bandiera (Lampre), Knees (Milram), Haussler (Cervelo) and De Kort (Skil Shimano) and held a maximum lead of 1:25 (km 30).
With the Col de la Porte nearing, Alberto Contador surged and parted with the peloton. The winner of the 1st and 6th stages quickly joined the leading group and then tackled the first turns of the climb with Casar, Taaramae, Hernandez and Lopez Garcia.
Race leader Luis Leon Sanchez punctured twice within ten kilometres as Contador increased his lead and reached the Col de la Porte in first place. At the top (km 51), a first chasing group including Oroz, Garate, Popovych, Haussler, Nocentini, Peterson and Verdugo
were 1:20 adrift, while the peloton with Sanchez was 2:05 off the pace.
Ups and downs
The maximum lead of the five was 2:12 in Luceram (km 59) but Saxo Bank helped Caisse dâ€™Epargne with the chase in the descent to protect Frank Schleckâ€™s third place and the gap melted. It went down to 18 seconds at the foot of La Turbie but went up again as Contador led the group on the second climb.
Aitor Hernandez and Reine Taarramae lost touch, leaving the Astana team leader, Casar and Lopez Garcia lead the way on La Turbie.
Colom wins stage
On the Col dâ€™Eze, sensing the peloton was bridging the gap, Contador went on his own, while Casar and Lopez Garcia were quickly swallowed by the peloton. Shortly before the summit, Antonio Colom (Katusha), Cadel Evans and third-placed Frank Schleck surged.
Schleck and Colom joined forces with Contador in the long descent towards Nice and maintained their lead until the finish, when Colom outsprinted Contador to complete the Spanish triumph with a last stage victory.
The peloton crossed the line 18 seconds behind, allowing Luis Leon Sanchez to win the 67th Paris-Nice. Thanks to his third place in the stage, Schleck took the overall second place off Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), who was hampered by a chain snap in the last descent.
SANCHEZ Luis-Leon (GCE)Â© Presse Sports
I owe this victory to my team-mates, who helped me a lot. I always remained calm and collected. I had a great morale throughout and this win is also theirs.
Everybodyâ€™s main objective in cycling, whether youâ€™re a rider or a sponsor, is the Tour. In the team, we have riders who can win it. Today, Iâ€™m the Paris-Nice winner, but in July, Iâ€™ll become a team-mate again, trying to help Oscar (Pereiro) or Alejandro (Valverde) win the Tour.
Alberto Contador is a great rider, but his goal is also the Tour more than Paris-Nice. Iâ€™m glad this was my turn and todayâ€™s my day.
Luis Leon Sanchez finishes in the peloton, 18 seconds behind Colom, and wins the 67th Paris-Nice.
Antonio Colom wins the 8th and final stage of Paris Nice ahead of Alberto Contador and Frank Schleck.
Schleck attacks under the red flame.
With two kilometres to go, Schleck leads the trio, hoping to upstage Chavanel for second place.
Contador, Colom and Schleck are three kilometres from the finish. The peloton, in which Chavanel is back, are 20 seconds adrift.
Every morning before the start, Bernard Hinault gives his views on the dayâ€™s stage and the riders to keep an eye on:
What happened yesterday proves that even a great champion can have a bad day. And when that happens, you can like Contador lose three minutes in five kilometres. I suppose thatâ€™s what happened to him. He should have seen it coming and eaten something at the right time, but in the midst of the action, you sometimes forget about it. I donâ€™t think Sanchez had gambled on Contadorâ€™s failure, he simply tried his luck to go for stage victory and took advantage of the situation.
When you saw what happened yesterday, everything is possible today. If he has recovered and is at his best at the start, nothing will stop Contador from attacking again. And it could be harmful. But he can just as well accept his fate and be content with what he has got. What is obvious is that in every key moment of the race, the leaders found themselves on their own. No team seemed solid enough to defend their positions. Thatâ€™s why we could see another showdown between the leaders in the Col dâ€™Eze. Unless theyâ€™re all shattered!