Reigning Olympic road-race Champion Samuel Sanchez claimed Euskaltel-Euskadi’s first victory of the season with a gutsy last-minute solo dash for the line in the Tour of Catalonia on Saturday.
On a stage widely predicted to bring about the race’s first full-scale bunch sprint, Sanchez sheered off the front on a slight rise with two kilometres to go, at what was virtually the one point available for a late breakaway move to make an impact.
Garmin-Barracuda spearheaded the bunch’s effort to bring back the solo attacker but there was no stopping Sanchez, who has made several fruitless breaks in the past few stages. Finally, though, his first win in the Tour of Catalonia since he captured an uphill finish on stage seven of the race way back in 2007 (and all but fainted afterwards) was in the bag.
Rather more importantly, this was also the first victory of the 2012 season for Euskaltel-Euskadi, one of the smallest WorldTour squads that nearly always takes some major victories in the season, but which invariably has a tough time netting their first win.
Sanchez’s move has also gained him two seconds on the large clump of overall contenders all grouped at 1-32 behind race leader Michael Albasini (GreenEdge), which means the 34-year-old Euskaltel-Euskadi is now second overall, with just one day remaining.
Racing was delayed by nearly 40 minutes mid-stage after a spectator’s car and a police motorbike at the head of the stage were involved in a collision. Fortunately, earliest reports say that nobody was too seriously injured.
Sunday’s last stage of the 2012 Tour of Catalonia from Badalona to Barcelona is only 119 kilometres long, but it is anything but ceremonial. The stage has barely a metre of flat, four classified ascents and a third category climb just six kilometres from the finish. With so many opportunities for springing a late ambush, former Tour of Britain winner Albasini will not be sure he has claimed his biggest career triumph to date until he has crossed the final finishing line.
Tour of Catalonia 2012, stage six: Sant Fruitós de Bages to Badalona Centre Comercial Màgic, 169.4km
1. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
2. Allan Davis (Aus) GreenEdge at 2 secs
3. Julien Simon (Fra) Saur-Sojasun
4. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank
5. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD at same time
Overall classification after stage six
1. Michael Albasini (Swi) GreenEdge
2. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1-30
3. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 1-32
Samuel Sanchez celebrates as the bunch helplessly look on
Tour of Catalonia 2012: Stage reports
Stage five: Simon pips Uran to stage win, Albasini holds on
Stage four: Uran takes Tour of Catalonia stage for Sky
Stage three: Brajkovik wins shortened stage; Albasini remains leader
Stage two: Albasini claims second stage win
GreenEdge win again as Albasini takes Catalunya opener
Tour of Catalonia 2012: Coverage index