A two-man escape brought victory for Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) on the sixth stage of Paris-Nice after he outsprinted Jens Voight (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek).
Sanchez saw off the challenge of his German rival at the end of a 176.5km stage from Suze-la-Rousse to Sisteron.
The pair had been part of a breakaway group but gained over a minute on their fellow escapees with just 10km to go.
“It was a killer of a day, but I wanted to go to the limit, because we still had much to make up for,” said Sanchez.
The Spaniard was referring to Rabobank’s failure to join the leading group after cross winds split the bunch on the second stage from Mantes-la-Jolie to Orléans on Monday (5).
“We started here with a good team and we are all in good condition, but we weren’t paying attention that day. That was our own fault and a big mistake. I’m really happy that I’ve now be able to put things right. This tour has ended up being a good one for the team as a result.”
A philosophical Voight refused to be disappointed, highlighting an impressive record in the race that had won him the green jersey in 2005.
“To go away with six or seven strong riders and be able to go with Sanchez when he attacked on the final climb and be able to follow him to contest a sprint was good. He was just a little bit stronger than me and he beat me fair and square. Maybe he had a little less pressure on him or maybe it’s that he’s younger than me. Maybe I have to finally admit that age makes a difference,” he said.
“I had it in my mind to go on the attack today or tomorrow as I knew these were good stages made for a breakaway. Of course to win would have been the icing on the cake. But there was no funny business, no tricks, he just was better than me and that’s how it goes in cycling.”
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) remains in yellow, retaining his six second lead over the Dutchman, Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) and a 10 second advantage of the American rider, Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
After finishing safely in the main field brought home by Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) 14 seconds behind Sanchez and Voight, Wiggins’ thoughts turned to Sunday’s closing time trial, a 9.6km ascent of the Col d’Eze from Nice.
He said: “You can’t hide on Col d’Eze so everyone has got to have the legs on that day.
“At the end of the day, I’ve just got to concentrate on myself on Col d’Eze if we get through tomorrow in the same position.”
He shrugged off the challenge presented by his rivals for the final yellow jersey.
“My biggest adversary that day is going to be myself and how I prepare and how I get into my zone. Other than that, I won’t think about anything else.
“We’ve come here with a good team and had a big hit with it, for me it’s not about coming here just to train or be part of the race it’s about gaining in confidence for the season.
“As a team as well, you can’t defend the jersey on the road in training so it’s certainly a massive learning curve for the team along with the Dauphine last year,” he said.
Paris-Nice stage six
1) Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (SPA) – Rabobank Cycling Team – 4:07.58 hours
2) Jens Voigt (GER) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek
3) Heinrich Haussler (AUS) – Garmin-Barracuda +14”
4) Elia Viviani (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale
5) Grega Bole (SLO) – Lampre-ISD
6) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha Team
7) Samuel Dumoulin (FRA) – Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne
8) Romain Feillu (FRA) – Vacansoleil-DCM
9) Koen De Kort (NED) – Project 1T4i
10) Jacopo Guarnieri (ITA) – Astana Pro Team
1) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Sky Procycling 22:31.52 hours
2) Lieuwe Westra (NED) – Vacansoleil-DCM + 6”
3) Levi Leipheimer (USA) – Omega Pharma-Quick Step + 10”
4) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar Team + 18”
5) Simon Spilak (SLO) – Katusha Team + 37”
6) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing Team + 39”
7) Maxime Monfort (BEL) – RadioShack-Nissan + 46”
8) Arnold Jeannesson (FRA) – FDJ-Bigmat + 1.06
9) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – Omega Pharma-Quick Step + 1.16
10) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) Astana Pro Team + 1.21