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Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) at the finish in Gap.
Spaniard will fight to take polka dot jersey from Vanendert
If stage 18 was the Tour's first true race of attrition, then Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) became the first of the favourites to fall as the riders took on the might of the Agnel, Izoard, and finally, the Galibier.
The 2008 Olympic champion sat 1:37 away from the podium at the beginning of the stage, only to see the possibility slip away – Sanchez finished 4:42 back on winner Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) on the stage and is now 5:20 off the yellow jersey of Thomas Voeckler. The pursuit of the Luxembourger began to prove too much for Sánchez around 20 kilometres from the summit of the Galibier.
"I was struggling a little on the Galibier," the Spaniard said. "But when you give everything you have and you can not ask for anything more. It's what cycling is – it's not an exact science... it is unpredictable. "
Still, Sánchez is pleased with the team's Tour so far, with a stage win to his name at Luz-Ardiden and the ever-present sight of the Basque team's orange kit in most of the breakaways.
"I think we should be very satisfied with the race we are completing, this remains a formidable Tour for us and that cannot be understated. We won a stage and we still have objectives in this Tour, like trying to win another stage or fighting for the King of the Mountains jersey," he explained. Sánchez is two points behind Omega Pharma-Lotto's Jelle Vanendert in the fight for the polka dot jersey and the pair are set for a showdown en route to Alpe-d'Huez.
Team manager Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano praised the work of his leader: "He [Sánchez] has given everything on the bike and you cannot ask for more. Although the result has not been the best, I'm happy because the team has put up a challenge. This Tour has been exceptional for us and we have to put things in perspective."