Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) claimed his fourth win of the year with the overall classification of the Circuit de la Sarthe-Pays de la Loire on Friday, adding to his stage 5 victory in the Santos Tour Down Under, the time trial at the Tour of Algarve and the opening stage of the French stage race held in the Loire valley.
The Murcian was no stranger to this event as it was one of the first races of his pro career back in 2004 with Liberty Seguros. "I remember it very well," Sanchez said with a large smile. "I always tried to win a stage but I realised I had a lot of work to do to become a successful pro rider."
He referred to stage 2 of the 2004 Circuit de la Sarthe from Vallet to Montreuil-Juigné where he went away with Ukraine's Yuriy Krivtsov - who was the king of the mountain this year while Sanchez claimed the yellow jersey - after only 20 kilometres into the 198km long race. With 35km to go, Krivtsov dropped him.
"He was riding at the limit of his capacities, it's admirable how much he has progressed since," Krivtsov (Ag2r-La Mondiale) told Cyclingnews at the start of the final stage at the Abbey of Epau in Le Mans.
A double stage winner of the Tour de France and the current world's number of the UCI ranking, Sanchez could have taken the Circuit de la Sarthe as a training ride. "Initially I came here for training for the Ardennes classics," the Spaniard said. "I didn't want to remain for too long without racing. But I happened to be in the lead after stage 1, then I was happy to honour the competition. But it was hard. I want to give big thanks to my teammates. The race was very difficult to control and they've done a great job."
Following an early three-man break containing Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) and Maxime Médérel (BigMat-Auber 93), two riders of the next move were a threat for Sanchez's lead: French champion Dimitri Champion (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Rémi Cusin (Cofidis) who were only 28 seconds down on GC. "Fortunately other teams also wanted to ride for the stage win," said Sanchez who took second place behind Anthony Ravard.
"Cycling is strange sometimes," the Caisse d'Epargne rider added. "I went to the Tour of Catalunya for the win and it didn't work out. I came here to take it easy and I was busy all the way trying to win. It's good though. It gives me motivation and confidence for the classics. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the race that inspires me the most but we also have Alejandro Valverde in the team. He won it twice already. We have to speak before I set any goal. I have to take a rest first."
Sanchez is often compared to Miguel Indurain, the five-time winner of the Tour de France, because of their similar build and skills as a time triallist and climber. Indurain won Paris-Nice at the age of 25 and his first Tour de France at 27. Sanchez will turn 27 at the end of November this year and he won Paris-Nice last year. Indurain also took part in the Circuit de la Sarthe the year he won his first Tour de France (1991).
"I know the time is right but I don't want to talk about winning the Tour de France," Sanchez said. "There is Alberto Contador, now! What I'm doing here after taking the first position of the world ranking just shows that I've done a good work during the off-season and my team trusts me. I'll take a long rest after the Ardennes classics and I'll resume racing at the Tour de Suisse prior to the Tour de France."