In a dramatic finale to Paris-Nice, Discovery Channel?s Alberto Contador succeeded in blasting away from overnight leader Davide Rebellin on the Col D?Eze to take both stage win and the overall of the race.
Normally the last stage of Paris-Nice changes little overall, but with just six seconds separating Contador and Rebellin prior to the stage start, Discovery Channel opted to play for double or quits.
Team-mates Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson laid down a ferocious pace to the foot of the eight kilometre Col D?Eze, the last climb of the race, to soften up the opposition for Contador. Then the Spaniard, knowing it was a question of now or never, charged away.
Rebellin chased hard but alone and at the head of the field, Contador was simply unstoppable, steadily forging an ever-wider gap on the veteran Italian. By the summit, the 24-year-old?s advantage was approaching a minute, but the pursuit behind was far from over.
On the long, but not excessively fast descent back into Nice, Rebellin once again found some allies, amongst them CSC?s Frank Schleck and Euskaltel-Euskadi?s Samuel Sanchez, to help keep him in the race. With three kilometres to go, the gap was down to less than 30 seconds - and dropping.
Contador was clearly running out of gas and concentration, almost misjudging one left-hand corner. In the flat final kilometre through the streets of Nice, he knew it was going to be a close run-thing.
Fortunately for the Spaniard, Rebellin was equally on the rivet and Contador finally crossed the line with a 19 second advantage - more than enough to seal him the biggest win of his career.
"It's a great honour to be the first Spaniard to win this event since Miguel Indurain." Contador said in a press conference afterwards. "The key to victory, though, has been in team-work. They took me to the foot of the climb each day and after that it was all up to me."
"This is definitely a landmark in my career. You just have to look at the past winners of Paris-Nice to see how important a race it is."
?There was nothing I could do.? an exhausted Davide Rebellin, who even tried a lone charge in the final kilometre, told CW afterwards. ?Contador was simply too strong for me to beat him.?
Britain?s David Millar finished 15th on the stage, a minute back. Badly placed at the foot of the Col de Porte, he then suffered to stay with the group of favourites on the Col D?Eze, and lost contact early on. Overall the Saunier Duval pro finished 13th, 1-46 back.
Belgian Tom Boonen did not start the stage, but his team were quick to reassure journalists that his quitting Paris-Nice had been planned and in no way affected his objectives for the Classics.
Stage seven: Nice - Nice Alberto Contador (Spain) Discovery Channel 129km in 3-15-47, 2, D. Lopez (Caisse D?Epargne) at 19sec; 3, J. Rodriguez (Caisse D?Epargne) at st; 4, S. Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) at 22sec; 5, A. Botcharov (Credit Agricole) at st; 15, D. Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) at 1-00; 66, R. Hammond (T-Mobile) at 13-33.
Final Overall:-Alberto Contador (Spain) Discovery Channel 29-55-22; 2, D. Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) at 26sec; 3, L.L. Sanchez (Caisse D?Epargne) at 42sec; 4, T. Valjavec (Lampre) at 49sec; 5, F. Pellizotti (Liquigas) at 57sec; 13, D. Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) at 1-46; 48, R. Hammond (T-Mobile) at 24-33.
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