FAYENCE, France, March 14, 2009 (AFP) – Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez, riding for the Caisse d’Epargne team, won the seventh and penultimate stage of the Paris-Nice cycling race here on Saturday to take the leader’s yellow jersey.
Overnight leader Alberto Contador of the Astana team suffered over the final four kilometers, the 2007 Tour de France winner losing almost three minutes, admitting later he had forgotten to eat and drink properly.
Sanchez broke away 15km from the finish line and eventually came home 50sec ahead of Spaniard Antonio Colom, Frank Schleck of Luxembourg and French rider Sylvain Chavanel.
Sanchez said afterward that everything had gone as expected.
“We had planned to attack and everything went smoothly,” he said. “I know the course well, as the same roads are used as in the Tour of the Mediterranean and the Tour du Haut-Var, and it suits me well.”
A 10-rider breakaway had built up a three-and-a-half minute lead after splitting from the peloton at the 60km mark of the 191km stage.
The final one of this group, Slovakia’s Martin Velits, was hauled back 30km from the end by the Spanish trio of Contador, Colom and Sanchez, the latter biding his time before pulling clear.
Sanchez, 25, now stands 1:09min clear of Chavanel in the overall standings, with Contador, last year’s Tour of Italy and Tour of Spain winner, at 1:50min.
In sunny conditions, the stage was marked by a large number of riders pulling out, including reigning Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez of Spain.
And on Contador, Luis Leon Sanchez added: “Contador? I don’t know what happened to him. When we were riding together in the final climb he didn’t tell me anything which indicated a problem.
“We get on well but we are also adversaries. It’s good to have the leader’s jersey but the race is not over yet.”
Contador cleared up the question mark over his lack of power in the closing kilometers, blaming a misjudged dietary approach.
“It wasn’t an easy race to control and I had put a lot of effort in early on,” the Spaniard said.
“The pace was very fast right from the start and I forgot to eat and drink correctly. My body just had nothing left and my sole aim was to get across the line.”
Sunday sees the riders attacking the 8th and final stage, a 119km run which starts in the mountains north of Nice.
Photo by: CorVos Pro