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Luis Leon Sanchez (Blanco)
Spaniard repays Blanco with victory in first race of 2013
Included in the team's roster for the Tour of Belgium after sitting-out the first part of the year on 'non-active' status, Luis Leon Sánchez wasted no time in returning to his usual winning ways by taking a stunning solo victory on the final day on racing. The five-day race marked Sánchez's first competitive outing since being suspended by his Blanco team for his apparent links to Eufemiano Fuentes.
Sánchez reported filed an appeal to the UCI insisting that his suspension from racing was impeding his right to work. The team told Cyclingnews in late February that the team was investigating one of their star riders "very thoroughly" after media reports linked the former Spanish road and TT champion with the Fuentes codename 'Huerto'. The team is yet to disclose the findings of its investigation, only with a release stating "Luis Léon Sanchez will race the Baloise Belgium Tour".
Sánchez's return to Belgium was a near perfect start to the season for the 29-year-old, who eventually finished second-overall to Tony Martin (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) by 36-seconds.
"I'm very happy", Sánchez said on his team site. "It was a tough stage, and not only because of the parcours. The wet and cold weather didn't help either. I knew I had to attack to win. In a sprint, I wouldn't be able to defeat men like Francesco Gavazzi and Philippe Gilbert. This victory is very important for me and the team. I trained hard for this race, because it's my first of the year. I'm very motivated to do well throughout the rest of the season."
Having broken clear in the later part of the stage Sánchez added that he was not thinking about trying to overcome his deficit to the reigning time trial champion Martin, but that he was simply aiming for the stage win.
"I wasn't looking to the rankings. I just wanted to win the stage. I knew that Tony Martin's lead was too big."
Blanco team manager Erik Dekker said that it took a little twisting of the truth to encourage his rider all the way to the finish before adding that he wasn't at first confident that Sánchez would be able to hold off the world road and TT champions.
"Luis was only thirty seconds ahead, and so I said that Gilbert was chasing," said Dekker. "That was, of course, not entirely true, but through that, he could again find the strength to ramp it up once again and he did manage to re-extend his lead.
"At first I did not think it was a smart move that he made his attack so early, but when he told me he felt strong, I knew it was alright. At that point, there was no turning back. It was all or nothing. I feel it's a very strong showing how he kept the world champion and the world time trial champion behind him."