By Nigel Wynn
Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) made an unexpectedly strong late attack in today's seventh stage of Paris-Nice to take the win and sensationally steal the yellow leader's jersey from Alberto Contador (Astana) in the process.
After yesterday's dominant performance in the mountains, it looked like Contador had the 2009 race nicely wrapped up - instead, he paid dearly for the effort. And Sanchez was there to spoil the party for Contador when he launched a stinging late attack that his rivals could not answer at the end of a stage that featured no less than 10 categorised climbs.
Sanchez finished the stage 50 seconds ahead of fellow attackers Antonio Colom (Katusha), Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) and former race leader Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step).
Contador eventually rolled home in a lowly 33rd place, some two minutes 53 seconds adrift of Sanchez. The result has meant that Contador has been relegated to fourth in the overall classification, effectively ending his hopes for the overall win.
On his Twitter feed, Contador's team-mate Lance Armstrong claimed that Contador had 'bonked' on the stage: "Appears Alberto "bonked". Not that uncommon in endurance sports. It's miserable. He'll be back fightin' tomorrow." Before that though, Armstrong had left the withering message: "Unfortunate day for Alberto. Amazing talent but still a lot to learn."
Britain's David Millar (Garmin-Chipotle) finished the stage in 28th, and is in 19th spot in the general classification.
One stage remains in the race, a circular 119km route starting and finishing in Nice tomorrow (Sunday). Three first category climbs will give any break a chance of sticking, but it is unlikely that Contador will be able to claw enough time back on Sanchez.
Paris-Nice stage seven results
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 191km in 4-43-34
2. Antonio Colom (Spa) Katusha at 50secs
3. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank
4. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step at same time
5. Jens Voigt (Ger) Saxo Bank at 56secs
6. David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis at 1-31
7. Hubert Dupont (Fra) Ag2r
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence-Lotto
9. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel
10. Amael Moinard (Fra) Cofidis all same time.
33. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 2-53
28. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 2-36
119. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervelo at 21-33
Overall classification after stage seven
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
2. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step at 1-09
3. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 1-21
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 1-50
5. Jens Voigt (Ger) Saxo Bank at 1-59
6. Antonio Colom (Spa) Team Katusha at 2-16
7. Kevin Seeldrayers (Bel) Quick Step at 2-29
8. Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Skil-Shimano at 2-57
9. Yury Trofimov (Rus) BBox Bouygues Telecom at 3-37
10. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Francaise Des Jeux at 4-00
19. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 7-03
94. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervelo at 49-43
Luis Leon Sanchez launches a devastating solo attack
Sanchez looked overjoyed to be in the yellow jersey
Not happy: Alberto Contador at the finish
Stage six: No surprises as Contador goes solo
Stage five: Roy takes solo win, Chavanel still leads
Stage four: Vande Velde takes trong lone win for Garmin
Stage three: Chavanel sweeps into power
Stage two: Haussler blasts to stage two win
Stage one (prologue): Contador wins, Wiggins second
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Prologue analysis: Contador the unstoppable?
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