Samuel Sanchez (BMC) took his first individual victory since 2013 in what was a thrilling final at stage 4 of Pais Vasco on Thursday. The Spaniard acknowledged his success by saying in a team press release that "the victory is really amazing. It's a victory for my mind. It's more important for me, for my mind and for the team."
Sanchez chased back up to a dwindled front group following a series of challenging climbs throughout the day’s 165km race. He made his way to the front of what was left of the small field and sat closely behind overall favourites Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Sergio Henao (Team Sky), watching as they marked one another.
Contador made one strong move but Henao brought it back, and that’s when Sanchez made his winning move over the top of a small kicker with one kilometre to go.
Once over the top, he raced in a tuck position toward the finish line until the road flattened out and powered his way to the stage win, nearly caught by chasers Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), who ended up placing second, and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) in third.
"For me it was a really, really beautiful day," Sanchez said. "For BMC Racing Team today was a hard day because at the beginning of the stage, six of my teammates and I split from the peloton so we worked a lot to catch the first group. Then we caught the group before the final and I won the stage for my teammates.
"The stage was really hard. A lot of rain, a bit dangerous, a lot of big climbs and the pace of the race was so high. There were a lot of attacks at the final. When Contador attacked I stayed in his wheel and counter-attacked in the last 200 meters of the climb. And then I went full gas to the finish and I could raise my hands as I crossed the line."
Sanchez, who has been a part of BMC winning team time trial squad, celebrated his victory wholeheartedly realising that his last individual victory was stage 7 at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2013. He almost retired from professional bike racing at the end of 2014, but he was able to reach a contract agreement with BMC in the last minute.
"It's my first individual win with BMC Racing Team," Sanchez said. "My last individual win was at the Dauphine in 2013 and this is too many years for me. Now it is a really, really beautiful day for me and for my mind it is a super important victory."