Samuel Sánchez predicts no major time gaps on Planche des Belles Filles

Last year’s King of the Mountains winner Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) says he believes that although one or more of the favourites could lose time in the six-kilometre Planche des Belles Filles climb Saturday when the Tour de France hits the mountains for the first time this year,  it will not produce any race-winning moves or major differences.

“Maybe somebody could lose time unexpectedly and get dropped, but it’s not the kind of finale that will cause big gaps,” said Sanchez,  sixth overall in 2011 – and winner of the Tour’s first major summit finish at Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees that year -- and a top five finisher in 2010.

“It has an average gradient of 8.5 percent, so it isn’t so hard, unless somebody cracks. For big differences you have to be climbing for at least an hour like in the Alps and Pyrenees, that’s what does the damage. This is much shorter.” “Frankly, though, I don’t think the Tour will be decided this year before the final time trial.”

One of the few overall favourites not to have been affected whatsoever by crashes, Sanchez -- who has been kept close to the front by teammate Egoi Martinez – is currently lying in 20th spot, just 40 seconds behind Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack). As such, he is one of the best placed climbing specialists.

“So far the team has supported me perfectly, and that’s meant I’ve been able to take things calmly, without getting stressed out. I’ve always been close to the front.”

Sanchez was talking before Friday’s stage, where Euskaltel had a disastrous day. Mikel Astarloza abandoned with a broken elbow, Amets Txurruka,with a suspected broken collarbone, was close to following suit and Gorka Verdugo had a huge cut in his lower left leg, so deep that his tibia bone was visible. Both Txurruka and Verdugo finished, fifth and second last, but there are big question marks over whether they will start Saturday.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.