Luis Leon Sanchez won a sprint finish in the first stage of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe-Pays de Loire in Varades on Monday, but explained afterwards that the French race had been added to his race programme to ease the pressure of an already busy season.
The Spanish leader of the International Cycling Union's (UCI) world rankings had originally been slated to compete at ProTour event, The Tour of the Basque Country. The Basque race would have been a natural destination for Sanchez, rather than a 4-day UCI 2.1 event in France, where there are no UCI points to be collected for either himself or his team.
Sanchez has already made a solid contribution to his team's UCI points tally. He started his season at the Santos Down Under in January, where he showed good form and took a stage win on the race's hardest day in Willunga. Most recently, he finished fourth overall at the Tour of Catalunya; his third top-five general classification result of the year so far.
"I’ve already done 31 days of racing this year," said the Murcian, after his victory in Varedes on Tuesday. "Had I done the The Tour of the Basque Country, it would have been too much.
"After the Tour of Catalunya, I trained very little and recovered a lot. But I needed a race for the rhythm of competition before the Ardennes Classics, where I have ambition to perform well. The Circuit de la Sarthe was there at the right time on the team’s calendar. And you see how well Alejandro [Valverde] is going at the Tour of the Basque [Valverde has won the first two stages and currently holds the overall race lead – ed.]. We can’t always be together targeting the same races."
Caisse d’Epargne clearly has the capacity to win both stage races this week. The Circuit Cycliste Sarthe-Pays de Loire is often decided by the individual time trial that takes place on Wednesday in Angers, on a flat, 6.8 kilometre course.
"I don’t know if I’m the favourite but I’ll give it my all," said Sanchez. "There’s always someone who can beat me."
The Caisse d’Epargne team had some reason for concern after the loss of José Ivan Gutierrez, who was forced to pull out of the race due to allergies. It means the squad will have just four members to protect Sanchez in the 97 kilometre morning stage, prior to the afternoon time trial.
"They have done a great job to lead me out today," Sanchez said of his teammates. "I’m not a pure sprinter but in a small group I can do well. This wasn’t a small group but the whole bunch. I spoke with Mathieu Drujon who is normally our sprinter but he said he wasn’t feeling too good and he was keen to help me win instead. Arnaud Coyot led me out at 500 metres and Drujon was behind me, he left a gap and that was it. I got 50 metres lead and that was enough."
The Circuit Cycliste Sarthe-Pays de Loire might not contribute any points towards the UCI's world ranking, but the current world number one is keen to add a few more wins to his record book as he gears up for Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.