Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) held his nerve on stage 3 of the Tour Down Under, waiting patiently and sticking to the wheel of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) before looking to surge past the three-time world champion in the final metres into Uraidla. Despite the impressive showing, however, he was unable to match Sagan's speed and superior bike throw, losing the sprint by half a wheel length on the line to finish second on the stage.
Speaking after the race, Sanchez understandably had mixed feelings.
"I'm both content and disappointed. Of course, you want to win and I was very close, but when you're sprinting against a guy like Peter Sagan, you know it's almost impossible. He has such finishing speed. The team did a great job to keep me in position,” Sanchez said.
"I knew Sagan was faster than me but it was different in today's sprint. Today's sprint, in the end, is more power and also a good position but the final is always the same with Sagan, it was close but it was not possible, he's just faster."
The Tour Down Under has been a successful hunting ground for Sanchez over the years. The Spaniard won the race overall back in 2005, alongside two other second-place finishes on general classification.
Sanchez was already at the front of the race on Wednesday’s stage 2 with a late attack before Patrick Bevin (CCC Team) jumped on his wheel to win the stage and take the overall lead with Sanchez sitting up and settling for a top ten finish.
"It's always difficult. This is the third race of the season and today was really hard and also warm. I think it's more difficult because we were only here one week before the start of the race, I got to the final because of the different temperature but for me, it's a really good feeling. Day after day I get better, today it was close and maybe I'll be luckier,” he said.
"I know I'm close to a win but it's still no win, it's different. Ok, I think it's good work from my team today, it was really nice. [Manuele] Boaro was out in the front and [Laurens] De Vreese was working. Davide Ballerini was also out in the front on the attack and the other guys working for me in the peloton, it's good. It's better to win but we were very close to Sagan. Hey, yeah Astana is a good team."
Sanchez's second-place finish and the related time bonus moves him up the general classification to third place overall, nine seconds behind Bevin, who retains his overall lead at the mid-point of the race. With three stages to come and fourteen years after his Tour Down Under victory, Sanchez could well be in contention for the overall at Willunga Hill on Sunday.
"It's encouraging because I missed part of last season with injury and I finished off the year strong, so I am coming into the Tour in good shape. The overall? We'll see how it goes tomorrow."