Sanchez hands Spain a welcome cycling gold
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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sanchez hands Spain a welcome cycling gold

by Agence France-Presse at 9:38 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Spanish climber Samuel Sanchez claimed his biggest ever career win when he claimed gold in the men's gruelling Olympic road race, held over 245km here on Saturday.

Italian Davide Rebellin finished a close second to take the silver medal with Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara placing third to take the bronze.

Pre-race favourite and reigning champion Paolo Bettini of Italy was left trailing after a decisive attack on the final climb by Australian Cadel Evans.

That move also dropped his fellow favourite Alejandro Valverde of Spain, and ultimately led to a six-man finish after a tough 6hr 23min 49sec of racing in 26 degrees celsius and 90 percent humidity.

Valverde finished 22sec down in a group containing Evans, with Bettini at 35.

"I can't quite believe I've won the gold medal," said Sanchez, who was quick to share out the plaudits to his dominant Spanish team. "My biggest fear was whether we'd be able to control the race as a team, and in such humid, and tremendous heat. But we raced to perfection."

A thrilling end to the first big endurance test of the Games bore witness to a tough race of attrition that proved too much for some of the 143 starters, 53 of whom dropped out during the seven laps of a hilly 23.8km circuit.

The decisive move of the day came from Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans on the final race over the 9km climb. The Australian's move left Bettini and Valverde behind and created a leading bunch of around 13 riders which included compatriot Mick Rogers, American Levi Leipheimer, Rebellin and Sanchez among others.

Bettini admitted that was where his Olympic title hopes were dashed. "I knew on the last lap that my chance had gone," said the Italian, who is still the two-time reigning world champion. "I got stuck behind watching Valverde. I'm disappointed, but I can't complain. The race was very tough."

Another attack, this time from Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, split the leaders, allowing Rebellin, Rogers, Russian Alexander Kolobnev and Sanchez to break free. Schleck put in another fierce turn of pace on the climb with around 14km to race, whittling the group down further. It ultimately left the 23-year-old Luxemburger with Rebellin and Sanchez on his wheel and also proved too much for Rogers, who was left struggling to follow with Kolobnev, the Russian gasping for air.

On the long flat section leading to the uphill finish line, however, Kolobnev and Rogers did well to close the gap and soon caught sight of the leading trio with 4km to race.

Further behind, Cancellara had jumped out of Evans' group and produced a huge effort worthy of his three world time trial crowns to close the gap to Rogers. Together, they caught the leading trio with barely a kilometre to race. C

ancellara was racing alone due to a training ride crash of his sole teammate Michael Albasini. He admitted he'd had to form a special tactic. "I told my small team before the race to follow the big countries!" quipped the Swiss. "I had no choice, I just had to try and follow. I took a risk at the end by attacking, and it turned out to be the good choice. Otherwise I wouldn't have the bronze medal."

On the final 250 metres Sanchez stunned Rebellin with a move up the right hand side which allowed the Spaniard to cross himself - after a hellish day in the saddle - just as he crossed the finish line. Rebellin was gutted, but admitted: "Today the strongest rider was Samuel. But I've got the silver medal, and that's like a prize in itself."

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