Sanchez swoops to stage success

For second year running, stage 13 goes to Euskaltel rider

Last year fortune seemed to smile on Euskaltel rider Samuel Sanchez, with his victory on stage 13 to La Bien Aparecida owing a fair bit to luck. On that occasion Mauricio Ardilla looked set to take the honours, but the Colombian sprinted for the wrong banner and sat up 100 metres before the line. Sanchez and Oscar Pereiro both capitalised on this error, slipping by and taking first and second on the stage.

364 days later, Sanchez won again, but this time it was strength, timing and fearless descending which saw him race home first. He displayed his climbing ability when he bridged across to a crack group of riders including those of the calibre of Danilo di Luca (Liquigas), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step) which had gone clear on the tough ascent through the old part of Cuenca. Once past the summit, he then jumped at the right time - with 7 kilometers to go - to get a gap, and then used his remaining strength and the skills honed by an early background of moto cross riding to build a decent lead and hold off – just about – a fast-closing, 28 man group to the line.

“I think that the victory of last year was perhaps a little lucky,” he admitted. “One of my breakaway companions sat up 100 metres from the line. This year it was different – I had the strength to get the victory in another way and it is a very nice and emotional win for me.

“It was a difficult descent but not really one where you had to take many risks. I think if it was more dangerous it would actually have been better for me. I did take some risks on the last hairpin before entering Cuenca – it was necessary to do so in order to take the correct line around the bend. I made a huge effort to get this win.”

Sanchez had a lead of ten seconds with one kilometre remaining and even took a drink in that final run in to the line, but was very nearly overhauled by points leader Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) and continuing maillot oro Alejandro Valverde in the big sprint which happened behind him. “It was very hard in the last kilometre. I didn’t have much of a lead and I had to go very hard. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, I really had to dig in in the final three or four hundred metres,” he said.

He was asked about that gulp of fluid, something which could arguably have cost him a small amount of time due to the disruption in his rhythm. He felt it was necessary. “Well, I was feeling half dead and my mouth was really dry so I needed a drink,” the 28 year old stated. “I made a very big effort on the last climb against all the big favourites, and then especially on the descent, and because of that I didn’t have a lot of power near the end. I needed to drink.”

Taking one for the team

His win is the first of the race for the Euskaltel team, who started with high expectations but whose best result was Inigo Landaluze’s third on stage 11, plus Sanchez’ 14th place overall heading into today. Landing this result now relieves some pressure on the team, and also increases his own personal ambitions.

“We started in Malaga with three leaders and were looking to do something…maybe not in the overall, but to take a stage win. For me to get the victory here is something very special; the team will be very happy. Now the goal for me is to improve a bit in the overall classification [he is currently 12th overall, 5’21 back] and if I can finish in the top five, I would be very happy.”

Earlier on in the stage a group comprising Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Lars Ytting Bak (Team CSC), Frédéric Bessy (Cofidis) and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) went clear and, thundering along over the undulating terrain and past ghostly fields of dead sunflowers, built a near eight-minute lead. However it all came back before the third category ascent up to the old cliff-side part of Cuenca, where Danilo Di Luca and a few others blew the race apart.

Race leader Valverde was very prominent, showing well on the climb and taking third on the stage plus a eight second time bonus. He said that his confidence is high prior to tomorrow’s crucial time trial. “It is true that I feel very well”, he said. “Tomorrow morning we will go and see the course of the time trial. We already had the opportunity to see a part of it today in the final of the stage with the climb of El Castillo and the descent to the finish line.

“The course is a very hard one but personally I prefer that to a flat parcours. Everybody seems to expect a duel with Vinokourov but the one I fear the most is Kashechkin, for the very simple reason that he is closer in the general classification. As a result, he has a better chance of taking over the maillot oro. But I have faith in my abilities because in the time trial we rode in the Tour of Romandy, we had more or less the same time. That is a positive sign for tomorrow.”

His team-mate Oscar Pereiro will be holding back in the race against the clock due to his goal of helping Valverde in the race, and also because of a slight illness he felt today. “Since breakfast I suffered with my stomach,” he said. “I felt sick with and wanted to vomit, but then I recovered and could do the work the team requested from me to help Alejandro.

“Tomorrow I don’t think I will give it all in the time trial because the most important thing is to recuperate some forces to be able to help our leader during the last week. It will be a difficult one for everybody.”

Sanchez’ goal of taking a high placing in the final general classification means that he, along with Valverde, Sastre, Vinokourov, Kashechkin and others will be going flat out all the way. Although Spanish riders have traditionally done well in stage races, he is one of the rare breed who can do so while also thriving in the Classics. Past results there have included second in this year’s Fleche Wallone, fourth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and fifth in the Championship of Zurich; like Vinokourov and Valverde, he is able to change his focus and ride well in Grand Tours.

“My season is in two parts. Early on I prepare myself for the Classics as well as possible, and then I change my manner of training to get ready for the second half of the season. I think a Tour of three weeks requires a different type of training. I believe it is good to do things that way, the early part for the Classics and then, later on, target a strong ride in the Vuelta.”

How it unfolded

The riders of the 2006 Vuelta a España covered some intersting and notable terrain in stage 13; Luis Ocaña, one of the greatest Spanish riders of all time, was born in Priego (where the race passed at km 100) in 1945, won the Vuelta in 1970 and died in 1994. And the town of Cuenca has hosted the finish of stage several times in recent years. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) had won last year here.

Lorenzo Bernucci (T-Mobile) didn't sign in today at the start in Guadalajara, leaving 158 riders in the peloton; Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner), Andrea Moletta (Gerolsteiner), Sven Montgomery (Gerolsteiner) and Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval) had left the race yesterday.

Unlike the previous days, the race started calmly on Friday. It wasn't until km 57 that the peloton allowed a breakaway with five riders in it to escape: Frederic Bessy (Cofidis), Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Lars Bak (CSC), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) attacked at the second climb of the day in Alto de Corcoles. Landaluze inserted himself in his third breakaway of the Vuelta. At the summit of Corcoles, Boogerd rode first followed by Rebellin and Bessy.

At the second intermediate sprint in Priego (km 100), Iñigo Landaluze crossed the billboard first with Bessy and Bak, leading the peloton by 7:38 at this point. The Basque rider won the Luis Ocaña trophy for passing at first place at that point.

At 136-kilometers into the race, with a 3:36 gap still open between the break and the main pack, the peloton reacted and started taking back time. At km 155 (25 km to the end), the distance was very short, just 40 seconds as the peloton put a very fast tempo (around 70 km per hour) to reach them. Five kilometres on, the five leaders were caught.

At Alto del Castillo (summit at km 167.2 - 12.8 km to go) the real show began. Luis Perez (Cofidis) attacked; Alejandro Valverde reacted followed by Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas). Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) was behind and passed to lead the race at the descent.

Sanchez took risks on the descent to stay way and with just three-kilomneters to the line was still seven seconds ahead of the favourites - including race leader Valverde. The Euskaltel rider led by 10 seconds with just 1,000 metres to go. The last kilometre was a flat straight that didn't fit Sanchez well but he pushed hard, made a fantastic last effort, and won the stage. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) came behind with Alejandro Valverde in third place.

Stage 14 - September 8: Cuenca-Cuenca, individual time trial, 33.2 km

Stage 14 will be the second time trial after the team TT at stage one in Malaga. It will be a good chance to see how the favorites can do, especially Alejandro Valverde, against the clock. The route won't be flat as the riders will face Alto del Castillo (Cat. 3 - 1,120 m. - summit at km 20.7) in the middle of the course. It seemed not to be the key stage for the overall classification as there are three mountain stages yet left.

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