Leader Alejandro Valverde struggled but finally came through smiling on the Dauphine?s toughest mountain stage on Saturday, won by Dane Chris Sorensen.
The last survivor of the early break, Sorensen?s victory was just one of the big surprises of the 233 kilometre mammoth stage, featuring two big climbs, the Hors Categorie Croix de Fer and a first category summit finish on the Toussuire.
But the 23-year-old Dane attacked at exactly the right point – just as the bunch were closing on the break at the foot of the Toussuire, He then paced himself perfectly and kept calm despite having a lead of barely two minutes for most of the 18 kilometre climb.
?I really didn?t think I?d won until I was within 500 metres of the line.? Sorensen said afterwards. ?It was very tough when I attacked, my legs felt terrible, but then gradually I got my act together and just went steady.?
A certain Michael Rasmussen was the last winner on the Toussuire, back in the 2006 Tour, and Sorensen was asked a slightly loaded question – if, being Danish, he had anything in common with ?Chicken.?
?No!? came his resounding answer. ?We?re better off forgetting Rasmussen. My ambitions are simple, to be the next big Danish climber.?
Back in the main bunch, the first 12 kilometres of the Toussuire were positive sleep-inducing, with no attacks even though Valverde was looking much more isolated than usual.
Rabobank and then Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto) kept the pace fairly high, but the unwritten truce was suddenly shattered by an attack by Evans, five kilometres from the line.
When Valverde failed to react, it was Leipheimer?s turn to go clear, but the Australian and American then failed completely to colllaborate. There was applause amongst spectators at the finish as the gap between the duo and Valverde yawned from 100 metres to 20 then back up to 100 again.
For a moment it looked as if Valverde was going to crack completely. However, he managed to dig deep just as the gradient eased slightly again – and rejoin his two gc rivals.
Leipheimer charged off again in the final kilometre for third place, but it was more symbolic than anything else, and Valverde even accelerated for the line, dropping Evans for fifth.
?I was on the point of cracking, but fortunately I knew the climb.? Valverde told Cycling Weekly afterwards.
?Two years ago, Iban Mayo dropped me in exactly the same place in the Dauphine, but I knew that if I kept going at the same speed, then the last part was flatter and I could accelerate a bit to get back on.?
?I was going to blow, and finally I ended up getting a couple of seconds on Evans – not bad! But I?m really tired, I haven?t done this sort of distance, over 200 kilometres, since April.?
With just one stage to go, has Valverde got the Dauphine wrapped up?
?There?s a lot more mountain climbing to go, and for sure Evans and Leipheimer will attack me again. But I?m one step closer to victory now, and that?s what counts.?
DAUPHINE LIBERE STAGE SIX: RESULTS
1 Chris Sorensen (Denmark) CSC 233km in 6hrs 15min 53sec
2 Pierrick Fedrigo (Franc) Bouygues Telecom at 1min 02 sec
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 1min 10sec
4 Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Lampre at 1min 15sec
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne same time
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 1min 17sec
7 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi same time
8 Robert Gesink (Hol) Rabobank at 1min 26sec
9 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Quick Step 2min 11sec
10 Daniel Navarro (Spa) Astana 2 min 13sec
88 Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas 31min 50sec
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 6
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne 24hr 14min 58sec
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 39sec
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 1min 24sec
4 Robert Gesink (Hol) Rabobank at 2min 47sec
5 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3min 19sec
6 Cyril Dessel (Fra) Ag2R at 4min 01sec
7 Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 4min 25sec
8 Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Lampre at 4min 29sec
9 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis at 4min 45sec
10 Michael Rogers (Aus) High Road at 5 min 33sec
56 Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 37min 50sec
DAUPHINE LIBERE 2008: STAGE REPORTS
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