Caisse d'Epargne fires on all cylinders at Sarthe
Lance Armstrong wasn't the only ill rider at the Circuit de la Sarthe-Pays de la Loire - even the race leader isn't 100 percent healthy. It hasn't stopped his team from working very well together, however.
Luis Leon Sanchez revealed after the time trial that he didn't have a very good night after winning stage one, waking up at 4am. "I didn't vomit or anything but I felt a stomach upset and I wondered how I would go today," the Spaniard said after losing the time trial by just two seconds to Portuguese champion Tiago Machado of RadioShack.
"It could have been better but I'm happy that it went alright at the end and I kept the lead."
"Luis is a very reliable team captain," said Caisse d'Epargne teammate Mathieu Drujon (right) after three stages of the race held in the Loire valley. The Frenchman explained what happened during stage one: "Our directeur sportif Yvon Ledanois told us one hour before the finish, 'Luis and Mathieu, please talk to each other'.
"Logically, I would have gone for the sprint and he would have saved his energy for the time trial but we chose another strategy together. He said he wanted to try and win the bunch sprint. He asked me to lead him out. I was happy to do so because I also felt a bit sick after the Tour of Flanders.
"After we passed the finishing line with three laps to go, Luis said, 'We'll change the plan; you stay behind me and leave a gap'. We chose to have Arnaud Coyot in first position, Luis on his wheel and myself in third. I've had some results in bunch sprints before, like third at a stage of the Tour of the Mediterranean, so it looked to the other teams that Arnaud and Luis were leading me out. They couldn't guess it was a different strategy."
Coyot led Sanchez out and Drujon made a gap. "It took ages before I'd see somebody passing me," Drujon recounted. "The gap was big. When I saw Luis crossing the line in first position, I couldn't prevent myself from putting my arms up in the air. I was so happy!
"It's such a pleasure to work for the world's number one! To him, we could look like little Frenchmen with no importance but he trusts us as teammates. He's a good boss. We've worked for him at the Tour Down Under and it went well too."
With two days to go in the Circuit de la Sarthe, the Caisse d'Epargne team is left with one rider less as their captain José Ivan Gutierrez was sicker than anybody else and pulled out during the first stage. "It's not going to be easy when Bbox Bouygues Telecom will attack flat out in the coming hills," Drujon explained. "But we're ready to take up the challenge."
Sanchez leads the current world rankings, for which the Circuit de la Sarthe doesn't carry any point since it's a Europe Tour event. The winner of the 2009 Paris-Nice could consider it as a training race only but he loves his job. "Any race he can win, he does his best for it," Drujon added.