Luis Leon Sanchez continues Astana's romp through the Tour of the Alps as he claimed victory on stage 4. It is the third win for the Kazakh team this week after Pello Bilbao and Miguel Angel Lopez won the opening two stages.
Ben O'Connor (Dimension Data) is the only rider so far to break the stronghold that Astana has on this year's race after he launched a move similar to Sanchez's on stage 3. The Spaniard had been there but says he waited too long when the Australian attacked and was determined to make up for it on the hugely aggressive stage.
"It was a really short stage and really nervous. It started really quickly and it was difficult to control. There are lots of strong teams like FDJ and Team Sky, who are also preparing for the Giro d'Italia," said Sanchez. "Yesterday, things didn't go that well for us. It was my plan to go for the win, but maybe I hesitated a bit too much and then the Dimension Data rider got away. Today, we were determined to do our race and we sent Davide Villella into the breakaway. Then, in the final, after yesterday's mistake, I was determined to try to attack from distance and this time it worked out well."
Astana has been conspicuous by their presence in large numbers at the pointy end of all of the stages thus far. As the race broke apart on the final climb of stage 4, Astana had some five riders amongst the first 14, with Davide Villella, who had spent the early part of the day in the breakaway, their last rider home 5:55 behind Sanchez. The Tour of the Alps is the final preparation for the Giro d'Italia team and their performance certainly sends a message to their rivals ahead of the race next month.
"We are almost the Giro team here. We are working really well and the team is very motivated. Last year it was very different and we weren't able to win until Michele won the first stage of the Tour of the Alps and this year we have this very positive dynamic and that is something that we are trying to use. Now, we have to try and continue this and finish the race off really well tomorrow, and then we will go back to recuperate and save our energy ahead of the Giro d'Italia."
Stage 2 winner Lopez will be the team's general classification hope at the Corsa Rosa in May. It is only his third Grand Tour after riding the last two editions of the Vuelta a España. He finished eighth in last year's Vuelta, along with two stage victories, and Sanchez believes he has the form necessary to win the maglia rosa.
"I think that he has all he needs to win a Grand Tour. This is going to be the first time at the Giro d'Italia, but last year when he did the Vuelta a España he performed very well and won two stages," said Sanchez. "He's got every chance; he's got the determination, the guts and the grit. Although, he lacks some experience and he will be confronted with some very experienced riders such as Chris [Froome] or [Tom] Dumoulin. We will try to keep calm and attack when the chance is there."
Friday is another chance for the team to add another win to the three they have this week. Lopez is just 15 seconds back in the overall classification and also stands a chance of taking home the leader’s jersey at the end of the day. A win would be a good way to close out the race for the squad, but Sanchez says that they are not taking their eyes off their primary goal of the Giro d’Italia.
"The Tour of the Alps is a big challenge, with a view to the Giro d'Italia. We are here to be competitive. If we win the race then it is fine, if we don't win the race then that’s fine too," he said. "The team is working in the best possible way. Lopez is going well, and he's very close [to the lead]. We will see what happens tomorrow, but anything can happen in this race."
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