By Monika Prell
When Samuel Sánchez plummeted to victory on stage 15 of the Vuelta a España on Sunday, he took home a prize coveted by all Spanish racers - a home tour stage win. His first stage win of the Tour didn't come in the first week when the race passed through his home region of Asturias, but Sánchez was nonetheless riding high after his triumph, which also served to move him up one spot in the overall classification.
Sánchez attacked to make his way up to what remained of the 20-man breakaway that disintegrated on the eight kilometre ascent of the Alto de Monachil, but it was his kamikaze descent which really earned him the win. "On the ascent of the Monachil I did not go for broke," Sánchez said following the stage. "I could have climbed faster, but we saw in 2006 that the descent was very technical at the beginning, but it requires more power during the last final kilometres. The last part is all pedalling, and if you don't save something for that section, you can't do anything."
The 29 year-old Euskaltel-Euskadi rider had an important ally in his bid for the stage win: his team-mate Igor Antón. "I attacked shortly before the last breather of the ascent, at three kilometres before the summit. Before that, Igor and I tried to escape, but the others did not let us go. When they caught up with us, I recovered and tried it again," Sánchez explained. "Immediately after the summit I launched into the descent, I gained on [Damiano] Cunego, I saw that I went well and so I accelerated again."
His effort sent him blasting past Cunego, who faded from the efforts of working in the day-long breakaway, and gaining Manuel 'Triki' Beltrán as his sole companion into Granada. "We worked well together and I could try to beat him in the sprint. I knew that I had a chance, but Beltrán is a great rider with a lot of experience, and I had to fight until the end," Sánchez described.
Sánchez dedicated the win his team, who worked hard to help their leader to victory." Above all, I want to thank my team-mates for the great work they did for me during the entire day. They trusted in my abilities and gave it their all. Haimar [Zubeldia] was in the breakaway, and Igor Antón had to save power for the Monachil, but the other ones burned out themselves as they made the tempo in the peloton to reduce the advantage of the escaped riders. The victory was something the team needed."
Sánchez declared that he would continue to chase a higher position in the general classification, where he now sits in fifth place behind some stiff competition: Carlos Sastre (CSC), Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) and current leader Denis Menchov (Rabobank). "We will try to get closer to the podium," Sánchez said. However, knowing that there are really only two decisive days - stage 19 to Alto de Abantos and the stage 20 time trial, he admits that it won't be easy. "It's very difficult; the riders who are ahead of me in the general classification won't give way. However, I feel great and even if there are not many days to try it, we will figure something out."