Luis León Sánchez outsprints Jens Voigt to take Paris-Nice stage six
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Friday, March 9, 2012

Luis León Sánchez outsprints Jens Voigt to take Paris-Nice stage six

by Ben Atkins at 10:34 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results, Paris-Nice
Powerful breakaway pair holds off a determined peloton in Sisteron

luis leon sanchezLuis León Sánchez (Rabobank) took his fourth career Paris-Nice stage victory by outsprinting German veteran Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) in the ancient city of Sisteron. The two riders were the last of a seven-man breakaway group that escaped in the first 50km of the stage, which broke up on the final climb with 12.5km to go. Both worked well together, holding off a determined chase from a number of teams, until they were well inside the final kilometre, where the cat and mouse games began.

Voigt launched his sprint first, within 200 metres of the line, but Sánchez - who won the race overall in 2009 - was just able to force his front wheel ahead of the German’s.

The peloton was led across the line, just 14 seconds later, by Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda); with all of the overall contenders present, Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) holds onto his race lead by six seconds over the previous day’s stage winner Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), and ten seconds over Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).

“It was a hard day,” said Sánchez at the finish. “It started very fast when a group of strong riders led the way. The peloton rode at a fast pace but I really wanted this stage badly. I thought about it from the start. I kept trying and thinking about my brother [who died in 2006 - ed] and I made it.”

As a former winner of Paris-Nice, Sánchez and the Rabobank team came to the race with ambitions overall, but the weather in the first week put paid to that.

“The goal at first was to get a good GC with a very competitive team” he explained. “But we were trapped in the echelon on stage 2 and were looking for a stage win since. I won but it was a team effort. I’m sorry for Jens, but only one man could win. He deserved it too.”

“I would love to see Alejandro [Valverde (Movistar), who is currently 4th - ed] win because he’s a friend and we train together often,” Sánchez added. “But it’s complicated for him and Wiggins is very strong.”

In the first 50km of the 178.5km stage, between Suze-la-Rousse and Sisteron, there was a split in the peloton. The front group contained Wiggins and a number of the overall favourites, but it was from this split that the seven-man break got clear.

With Sánchez and Voigt were mountains jersey wearer Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM) - who was on the attack for a second straight day - Simon Geschke (Project 1t4i), Mikäel Cherel (AG2R La Mondiale), Anthony Geslin (FDJ-BigMat) and Daniel Navarro (Saxo Bank).

The presence of Sánchez - who was 17th overall, just 3’51” behind Wiggins - meant that the Sky team only allowed them a maximum of 3’50” though, before pulling them back in the second half of the stage. Once Sky had the seven-man group within a reasonable distance however, it sat up and dared the other teams to chase them down. Omega Pharma-Quick Step was the last team to take up the challenge, as they hit the final climb, but left it too late to deliver Tom Boonen a second stage victory.

The Mistral has her say as the race enters the south of France

After a tough mountainous day on stage five, the race continued its path west, taking a hilly, rolling course from the Centre region into the southern region of Provence.

In the first few kilometres of the stage, the Mistral - the strong north-westerly wind that often hits the region - struck the peloton, causing a group of 26 riders to detach from the front. Present in the front group were Wiggins, Westra and Leipheimer, but not Valverde, who was trapped in the third group on the road.

On the 3rd category Côte de Buisson after 15.5km, as Veuchelen took the points over the top, the second and third groups came together again; it was still 40 seconds behind the 26 leaders however, as they approached the second climb of the day.

As the leaders hit the 2nd category Côte du Pas du Ventoux, which was to top out after 40.5km, Voigt attacked with Veuchelen. The two of them were soon joined by Geschke, then Sánchez, Cherel and Geslin, and finally Navarro, to form the seven-man break, while the rest of the first group was caught by the peloton behind them.

Over the top of the 3rd category Côte d'Aurel after 66.5km, the seven riders were 3’51” ahead, Team Sky was organised on the front of the peloton by now however, and was not keen to allow Sánchez too much time.

As Veuchelen led over the top of the 3rd category Côte des Mourres after 120.5km, with 58km to go, the gap was down to three minutes, and continued to fall steadily as they crossed the rolling plateau that followed. With 40km to go however, Team Sky had cut the gap down to two minutes, and the British team sat up at this point and it began to go out again.

Wiggins’ team sits up and dares the sprinters to chase

With Team Sky no longer chasing, it was up to the sprinters’ teams to do so, but with 30km to go it was almost up to 2’30” again. Liquigas-Cannondale, Astana and Europcar were clearly not happy about this, and it was the Italian, Kazakh and French teams that came through to start closing things down again.

Voigt led the break over the intermediate sprint on the first crossing of the finish line in Sisteron, with just the 19km finishing loop to ride; despite the peloton now gaining there was still co-operation within the seven riders, but the peloton crossed just 1’10” behind them.

Cofidis pushed more men to the front of the peloton, but the gap was still 1’08” as they passed the 15km to go banner.

As the seven leaders neared the top of the 3rd category Côte des Marquises Sánchez attacked; the rest of them managed to pull their way up to the Spanish rider, but Veuchelen was now struggling. Cherel, Voigt and Sánchez managed to gap the rest as they crested the top of the climb, with the veteran German taking the points.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step had joined, the taken over from, Cofidis at the front of the peloton, and began to shell riders out the back. Australian champion Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE), still feeling the effects of a crash on stage four, was among the early casualties, along with Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis), who’d just finished a huge turn on the front.

Sánchez and Voigt push on as their companions crack

The trio was still 1’05” ahead as the peloton crested the climb with just 12.5km to go. Voigt was pushing himself on the rolling descent, which put Cherel into trouble and he was forced to sit up. There were now just two riders in the lead, racing against the power of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, which was beginning to pick up Veuchelen and the other stragglers.

Voigt was now on a mission though, with the lead stretching out to 1’12” as they entered the final 8km. Sylvain Chavanel was leading the Omega Pharma-Quick Step train at the front of the peloton though, stringing it out into a long line behind him.

The cohesion of the break was briefly shattered as Sánchez dropped Voigt for a few seconds, but they were soon back together, and were still 1’05” clear with 6km to go.

With 3km to go the two leaders still had almost a minute over the peloton, and Omega Pharma-Quick Step sat up. Just outside the final 2km Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) attacked, just as Veuchelen gave up the struggle to stay with the back of the peloton, but the Irishman was not to stay away for long.

As Voigt and Sánchez entered the final kilometre they were still co-operating well with one another, but as it became plain that they were safe from the peloton they began to sit up and watch each other. With 500m to go, the peloton had them in sight, but there was no way that the two were going to be caught.

Voigt finally cracked and opened up his sprint first, but Sánchez was straight onto his wheel. The Spanish rider waited patiently and then came around the German inside the final hundred metres; he won by little more than a wheel, sitting up to put his thumb in his mouth in tribute to his baby that was born last year.

Häusler led the peloton across the line just 14 seconds later, outsprinting Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Slovenian champion Grega Bole (Lampre-ISD).

Result stage 6
1. Luis León Sánchez (Spa) Rabobank
2. Jens Voigt (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan
3. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin-Barracuda @ 14s
4. Elia Viviani (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
5. Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre-ISD
6. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha Team
7. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis
8. Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil-DCM
9. Koen De Kort (Ned) Project 1t4i
10. Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Team Astana

Standings after stage 6
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky
2. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM @ 6s
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step @ 10s
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 18s
5. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team @ 37s
6. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team @ 39s
7. Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan @ 46s
8. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ-BigMat @ 1’06”
9. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step @ 1’16”
10. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Team Astana @ 1’21”


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