Samuel Sanchez third stage win of the Vuelta finally got the Spaniard what he wanted most of all – a place on the Tour of Spain’s final podium on Sunday in Madrid.
The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider edged out Australian Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) from third place overall with victory in the 20 kilometre time trial in Collado Villalba, a dormitory town north-west of the Spanish capital.
Sanchez finished 19 seconds faster than Evans to secure what will be Euskaltel-Euskadi?s first ever podium in a major Tour in their 14 year history.
Seventh overall last year, the Spaniard recognised that he had ?improved a lot in time trialing in the last 12 months. Having said that, I won the Tour of the Basque Country time trial and I also finished second in the last time trial of the Vuelta last year.?
?But I wasn?t optimistic about my chances: I?d too much respect for Evans for that, he?s finished second in the Tour and I thought it wouldn?t be possible.?
Sanchez said that his key to success had come with ?trying to go all out early on to put the wind up Evans.?
?Then I eased off slightly so I could hit the final false flat at the end of the course at full strength. That put me in a position for the stage win.?
Menchov had tried – and failed – to take the stage victory, finishing 12 seconds behind Sanchez, but his second place on the stage confirmed that the Russian fully deserved his overall win in the Tour of Spain.
?It?s going to be the biggest victory of my career.? Menchov said. ?The key has been – as usual – not to have a single bad day throughout, just stay consistently on top of my game.?
?My best moments were in the Pyrenees and in Zaragoza. Since then I?ve jsut been controlling the race, not trying to go in too deep. And it?s worked out.?
Denis Menchov came second on stage and consolidated his race lead. Photos by Graham Watson.
Tour of Spain stage 20 Collado Villalba – Collado Villalba 20km
1 Samuel Sanchez (Spain) Euskatel-Euskadi 22-11
2 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 12sec
3 Stef Clement (Hol) Bouygues at 14sec
4 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step at 16sec
5 Santos Gonzalez (Spa) Karpin-Galicia at 18sec
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor-Lotto at 19sec
7 Jason McCartney (USA) Discovery Channel at 25sec
8 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse D?Epargne at 26sec
9 Maximi Monfort (Bel) Cofidis at 28sec
10 Adam Hansen (Aus) T-Mobile at 34sec
13 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas at 40sec
Overall classification after 20 stages
1 Denis Menchov (Russia) Rabobank 78-21-40
2 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC at 3-31
3 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3-46
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor-Lotto at 3-56
5 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Karpin-Galicia at 6-34
6 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) Caisse D?Epargne at 7-07
7 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse D?Epargne at 8-09
8 Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 8-44
9 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Liquigas at 9-38
10 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step at 10-12
128 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas at 2-38-46
TOUR OF SPAIN 2007: STAGE REPORTS
Stage 21: Menchov reigns in Spain
Stage 20: Third stage win gives Sanchez third overall
Stage 19: Evans cracks, slides to third overall
Stage 18: Sastre stirs up Tour of Spain
Stage 17: Bennati leads Italian sprint fest
Stage 16: Duque takes transition stage
Stage 15: Menchov stays on top
Stage 14: Almost goodbye, but Discovery still winning
Stage 13: Klier ends four-year gap with win
Stage 12: Petacchi racks up the wins
Stage 11: Petacchi puts troubles behind him for stage win
Rest day review
Stage 10: Menchov proves he’s the boss
Stage nine: Menchov takes control
Stage eight (TT): Devolder soars to race lead
Stage seven: Zabel surprise winner
Stage six: Freire outguns Petacchi for stage hat-trick
Stage five: Freire takes second bunch sprint victory
Stage four: Efimkin upstages favourites in Vuelta
Stage three: Bettini bounces back with Vuelta stage win
Stage two: Freire nets stage win and Vuelta lead
Stage one: Bennati takes race lead in bunch sprint
Tour of Spain preview, including stage and team list
Official site: www.lavuelta.com.