Samuel Sánchez finished second in Alpe d'Huez in stage 17, behind an unstoppable Carlos Sastre. He came closer to one of the team's goals, a top 10 finish in Paris. Sánchez is currently ranked eighth in the overall standings. But once again the team came up short on a stage win. Sánchez' second place is quite a change from his past experience up the famous climb in the Alps, though
"In the last five years I never thought of coming back to Alpe d'Huez and today I finished second – that's not a bad turnaround. In the 2003 Tour I went through hell and I was outside the time limit. Today the feeling was very different, and even though I really suffered, it was worth the pain."
In Euskaltel's quest for a stage win and a top 10 in the final standings, the odds are even. Sánchez looks set to finish within the first ten riders in Paris. But the stage win eluded them once again and Sánchez was realistic about it. "I know that a second place will not be remembered, but for me it was an important event and I am very satisfied. In the general classification I moved up one spot and I am now in eighth."
Nothing much was to be done today against an outstanding Sastre. His tactics were very simple, according to Sánchez. "Carlos Sastre was by far the strongest. He attacked right at the bottom and made the most of the lack of strengths of his rivals to win the stage and get yellow."
Sánchez is now looking to survive the final hilly, but not mountainous, stages before the time trial on Saturday. "Tomorrow [Thursday] will be a nervous stage. I suffered a lot today and I don't know how my body will respond. The most important is to recover now."
The second rider within a chance of a top 10 was Mikel Astarloza, but he had a jour sans. Astarloza lost more than a quarter of an hour. He dropped from 13th to 18th. "That's the Tour. You have one bad day and you lose it all. But frankly, I didn't expect that. I couldn't go with a large group in the Croix de Fer. That demoralised me a bit. I lost a minute over the top. Now, I don't feel like thinking about much."
The lead of Sánchez over tenth placed Vladimir Efimkin is 2'32. But danger does present itself from even outside the top 10. Kim Kirchen in 11th is 2'43 back. Sánchez lost 1'13 over the Luxemburger, who finished stage four in second place. The time trial on Saturday is 53 kilometres long, compared to the relatively short 30.5 kilometres of stage 4.