It's been a rough week for Rabobank at Paris-Nice. They came to the race with hopes for a high finish in the general classification for Luis León Sánchez. That plan came to nothing when the Dutch team missed the split in the crosswinds on the road to Orléans.
Today, Luis León Sánchez put that disappointment behind him and celebrated stage victory in Sisteron. Sánchez beat Jens Voigt of RadioShack-Nissan in a two-up sprint after the two emerged as the only survivors from a seven-rider break. Sánchez now has four career stage victories at Paris-Nice. Heinrich Haussler of Garmin-Barracuda won the bunch sprint for third.
The top riders in the general classification arrived safely in the field. With two stages remaining, Bradley Wiggins still holds the race lead by 6 seconds over Lieuwe Westra and 10 seconds over Levi Leipheimer. Alejandro Valverde missed an early race split, but managed to rejoin the main field, thanks to some strong work by his Movistar team. Valverde sits fourth at 18 seconds.
The stage departed Suze-la-Rousse at full speed today. The high speed and early climbing split the field and a 26-rider group went free. Bradley Wiggins, Levi Leipheimer, Lieuwe Westra, and Tejay van Garderen all made the front group. But Alejandro Valverde missed the split, and on the Côte du Pas de Ventoux, Valverde sat nearly 1:00 behind the front group. Movistar, they had some work to do.
While Movistar set about the work of towing Valverde back to the front, Fredrik Veuchelen, mountains leader, and Jens Voigt attacked the lead group of 26. Simon Geschke of 1T4i soon joined the fun on the descent from the Côte du Pas de Ventoux. Then, Luis Leòn Sánchez, Mikael Cherel of AG2R-La Mondiale, and Anthony Geslin of Français des Jeux-BigMat came across. Daniel Navarro of Saxo Bank did not want to miss out on the party in front, and he joined the move to make it seven at the front.
The main field, perhaps weary from the early stage hijinx, decided they liked the break and let the clock run up. After 65 kilometers of racing, the seven rider break held just over 4 minutes advantage. Hopefully, they savored the moment, because it didn't last. As the break crossed the finish line for the first time in Sisteron, they had lost all but one minute of their advantage.
With the gap falling all the time, Veuchelen attacked to pick off the mountain points on the first trip up the Côte des Marquises. On the final lap, it was go time for Luis León Sánchez. The Rabobank rider attacked on the climb, and only Voigt and Cherel could follow.
Cherel soon found the going too tough, and with 9 kilometers left to race, only Voigt and Sánchez remained out in front. The two riders worked smoothly together and with their two strong engines working in tandem, Voigt and Sánchez held just over a minute as they passed under the Red Kite.
At 300 meters to go, Voigt made the first move for the sprint. But Sánchez had the answer. The Rabobank rider crossed the line just inches ahead of Voigt and Sánchez celebrated his fourth career Paris-Nice stage victory. Just 14 seconds later, Heinrich Haussler of Garmin-Barracude won the bunch sprint for third ahead of Ella Viviani of Liquigas-Cannondale. Bradley Wiggins finished safely in the field to maintain his race lead.
Tomorrow, the riders face another hilly stage which runs from Sisteron to Nice. The main climb of the day, the Col de Vence, summits with around 60 kilometers to go. The stage finishes on the flat Promenade des Anglais after a long descent. The general classification should remain unchanged, but you never really know with bike racing.