Sánchez shows how to win in break as Tour de France rolls through Pyrénées
July 11, 2009 —
Winning in breakaways is perhaps the most difficult way to win at the Tour de France.
The sprinters have trains to set them up, the mountain goats can drop all but a handful on the steeps and the time trial specialists are experts in the art of racing against the clock.
So take away the sprints, the TTs and the summit finishes, and that leaves about a half-dozen opportunities for the rest of the pack in the three-week battle that is the Tour.
Luís León Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne) gave an exhibition in Saturday’s 176.5km, three-climb stage across the Pyrénées on how to win in a breakaway.
The spindly Spanish rider out-kicked a four-man break that held off the main pack by nearly two minutes, out-dueling his fellow escape artists to claim his second career Tour stage win.
“Finding the right combination riders is always a challenge. You have to have the legs, but you also have to be lucky,” a happy Sánchez said. “I knew this course was good for me. I studied this route when I was here training in June, so I had it marked on my calendar. I knew it was perfect for me.”
Sánchez worked into a promising early move that cleared on the Cat. 1 Port d’Envalira in the opening 30km, but the presence of GC threat Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) nearly derailed the effort.
Evans is a two-time Tour runner-up and was trying to find some allies in a daring raid, but the escape artists knew that the Australian’s presence would doom their chances.
Evans found himself getting attacked by the group at the front and then being chased from behind by the GC favorites and he finally sat up on the descent, giving legs to the attackers.
Even without Evans in the break, the group never gained more than three minutes as Ag2r kept it close to defend yellow.
With the break taking their chances up the road, the overall favorites slogged their way over three challenging climbs in the run from Andorra to Saint-Girons, but there wasn’t anything steep enough to trouble the top GC riders.
Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) gave it a stab on Cat. 1 Col d’Agnès with 45k to go that stretched out the pack, but a group of nearly 60 riders came in together.
Despite getting gapped under the Schleck attacks, overnight leader Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) regained contact with the front group to maintain his six-second lead to Alberto Contador to defend the yellow jersey. Lance Armstrong (Astana) also finished safely in the pack to remain third at eight seconds back.
Among the day’s abandoning riders was 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro, who pulled out in the stage. The Spanish rider was awarded the 2006 yellow jersey after winner Floyd Landis was disqualified for doping.
The 96th Tour de France will wave goodbye to the Pyrénées in Sunday’s 160.5km ninth stage from Saint-Gaudens to Tarbes. The relative lack of distance will be compensated with two of the most difficult climbs during three days of racing across the Pyrénées.
The course tackles the first-category Col d’Aspin before approaching the eastern side of the famous beyond-category Col du Tourmalet at 90km. After a long descent, the final 45km are down a long, wide-open valley to the finish in Tarbes.
Former Vail Daily editor Andrew Hood now lives in Spain and covers cycling. His reports on the 96th Tour de France will appear daily on RealVail.com. Also follow him on twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody.
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