Spain’s 2008 Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez won the seventh and penultimate stage of the Criterium du Dauphine on Saturday, a 187.5km ride from Pont-de-Claix to Superdevoluy, France, and dedicated it to two friends who died in the past year.
The 35-year-old veteran’s stage win did not affect the overall lead as British rider Chris Froome retained the maillot jaune and was looking to collect another major win this season yesterday and bolster his chances of winning the major prize, the Tour de France, which begins later this month.
Sanchez burst into tears on crossing the line and revealed that this victory was an extra special one.
“I have been awaiting for this win, which has eluded me since the beginning of the season,” he said. “I haven’t been able to train in good conditions because of the weather and I haven’t therefore been in the right sort of form. This win will allow the team [Euskaltel-Euskadito] to confront the Tour de France in a serene frame of mind. I dedicate this win in memory of Victor Cabedo, my former teammate who died last year aged 23. Then, last week I lost a personal friend. The best tribute I could pay to them was by winning.”
Froome, born in Kenya and brought up in South Africa, but who has ridden with a British license since 2008, said that overall victory could still elude him.
“It is not finished yet, we quickly lost a few minutes on the climbs today,” said the 28-year-old, who was second in last year’s Tour de France. “However, I am confident as Richie Porte [his Sky Pro Cycling teammate who is second overall] is well-placed, too. Today, it was important to experience the route [one of the stage’s of this year’s Tour de France], especially the descent from the Col de Sarenne. We weren’t going very fast up the Alpe d’Huez and it was already difficult. In the Tour, with two climbs, it will be even more difficult that is for sure.”
Sanchez, who failed to defend his Olympic title last year because of injury, shook off his fellow escapee Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang as they approached the climax of the stage at the alpine ski station.
A group of 20 riders had broken away soon after the start of the stage.
However, the last of the group, Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel and Alessandro de Marchi of Italy, were swept up inside the final 16km on the climb of the Col du Noyer.
Sanchez and then Fuglsang seized their chance approaching the summit of the climb and had a lead of about 20 seconds over the chasing peloton, led by Spain’s two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, heading toward the stage finish.
In the overall standings, Australian Michael Rogers moved into the final podium placing at the expense of his compatriot, Rohan Dennis, while Porte, who was third on the stage, is protecting Froome’s back in second spot.
Yesterday’s final stage was a grueling 155.5km ride from Sisteron, which includes the Col de Vars, and climaxes at the ski station of Risoul after a steep climb of 13.9km.
TOUR DE SUISSE
Australian Cameron Meyer won the opening 8.1km time trial around Quito, Switzerland, at the Tour de Suisse on Saturday.
The Garmin-Sharp rider beat Dutchman Niki Terpstra by 10 seconds in the Tour de France warm-up event.
Gusty winds hampered later starters on the course, notably time-trial specialist Fabian Cancellara, who finished 16th, losing 22 seconds.
Meyer, the 25-year-old Orica-GreenEdge rider, who enjoyed a stellar track career before switching to the professional ranks, acknowledged he had been fortunate.
“Obviously, I had some help with the weather as the wind was favorable for me, being one of the first riders off,” the former six-time track world champion said.
Last year’s winner Rui Costa of Portugal finished 40 seconds back, 5 seconds ahead of American contender Tejay van Garderen.
Other contenders Andreas Kloden and Peter Sagan lost 43 seconds and 35 seconds respectively, but Ryder Hesjedal, last year’s Giro d’Italia winner, was only 19 seconds off the pace.
Former Tour de France winner Andy Schleck lost more than a minute, while 2011 Giro winner Michele Scarponi lost exactly 60 seconds. Saxo-Tinkoff’s Roman Kreuziger finished 44 seconds back.