Romandie: Sanchez wins again and takes Yellow from Wiggins

With only a time trial to go, Bradley Wiggins and Michael Rogers are poised to bring Team Sky the victory they are targeting

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After the second consecutive stage victory from Luis Leon Sanchez, the Tour de Romandie has proved to be a great success for the Rabobank team. The Spaniard was the fastest in a group sprint again on Saturday’s Queen stage. While the profile of the stage billed as the Queen stage was a bit disappointing, the bonus seconds won by Sanchez saw him take over the lead in the overall from Bradley Wiggins.

Sanchez will now start Sunday’s final climb-time trial of 16.5 kilometres (just over 10 miles) with a nine-second head start on the British time-trial specialist.

Sanchez initially seemed to miss his chance in the final when a group of twelve riders, including Bradley Wiggins, broke away from the rest during the descent of the last first-category climb. Bauke Mollema of the Rabobank team managed to join them, but the other Rabobank riders were hindered by a motorcycle crash and were forced to leave a gap.

Wiggo in the 10 mile champs last year … Romandie sees another chance to make the most of his ability in the time trial.

During the final ten flat kilometres, Wilco Kelderman and Stef Clement closed the gap for their Spanish captain. Nico Verhoeven: “With Bauke, we weren’t badly off at the front, but Luis Leon was and remains our man for the stage.”

The Spaniard subsequently delivered the goods in full. His three teammates brought him back to the front in the last few hectic kilometres. In the very last kilometre, the Rabobank train looked to be in danger of being boxed in, but Sanchez himself found a gap. He hit the lead three hundred metres before the finish line and the competition were blown away by the powerful Luis Leon. In the background, his Rabobank teammate Bauke Mollema raised his arms in jubilation.

Can Sunday’s party still be ruined by a setback? Nico Verhoeven: “Of course this could still happen. If all of them are pushed out of the time trial tomorrow, we will still go home with hangovers, but in all honesty I don’t expect that.” The sports director is also realistic enough not to name Sanchez directly as the big favourite for the overall victory.

“Wiggins hasnt won the time trial yet, on the contrary! We’ll just have to wait and see how tomorrow will go for Luis Leon. He has ridden very strongly on a similar course in the past, but it so happens that this season his time trial is not yet optimal. It’s exactly the opposite for Bauke, however. But even if we don’t win this race, it’s already been very successful for us. And naturally we are all hoping for a surprise.”

Team Sky
Team Sky’s Rogers and Wiggins both finished in the front group to stay in contention for the overall in the time trial. Sanchez takes a nine second advantage into the undulating 16.5km time trial around Crans-Montana, with world TT silver medallist Wiggins his closest challenger and three-time world champion Rogers just a further seven seconds back in third.

It sets up an absorbing finale as only 41 seconds separates the top 35 riders on the general classification, with Richie Porte one of those in 32nd place.

Team Sky’s whole squad had to once again work hard to defend Wiggins’ yellow jersey. A group of six riders escaped the peloton after 25 kilometres on the ascent of the Col des Mosses and, despite a block headwind, Team Sky made sure their advantage never went much above three minutes.

Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas, winner of the opening prologue, did much of the work on the front and with their job done, they dropped out of the race before the final 50km which featured two category one climbs.

Their team-mates had to be vigilant throughout that testing finale and they reacted quickly when a dangerous-looking group of four riders broke clear of the main group just as the original escape group was splintering.

That quartet forced Team Sky to really put the hammer down between the 40km and 30km mark, with Danny Pate, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Chris Froome and Rogers combining to reel them in ahead of the final climb up to St-Martin. The pace meant that only 50 riders or so were left by that point and a succession of attacks off the front were kept under control superbly by Porte who set the perfect tempo at the front of the main group.

Heading down the sweeping descent before the flat run-in to Sion, Wiggins was perfectly positioned in a 12-man selection up front and he was soon joined again by Porte and Rogers who helped keep it all together. Rabobank were also there in numbers and they were rewarded with the stage win as Sánchez notched a clear-cut triumph in the sprint from Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) and Branislav Samoilav (Movistar).

Sean Yates labelled the day a “fantastic” team performance, telling the Team Sky website “It was a bloody hard day and the team had to ride so hard. It was a fantastic display from them, possibly the best I’ve seen. Every single one of them did their role perfectly, starting with Cav and G on a hellishly windy section up the valley earlier on.”

“All the other guys then did their bit to a ‘T’; other teams tried to throw everything at us but we controlled it so well and I think we’ll have earned plenty more respect. It’s not a bad position to be in going into the time trial, that’s for sure, and if Sánchez wins on the GC then he’ll have deserved it.”

Final word — Sanchez
Saturday was his fourth victory of the season which have all be won in a sprint but he hasn’t given up hope of the overall either. “It will be very difficult to beat Bradley Wiggins but I am not alone. Bauke, Stefan and Wilco are well-positioned too.”

The fourth victory of the season and the second one in a row. Is this a dream run for you?
“Last year was my first year ever with a foreign team. It took time to get used to it. But now I feel at home here at last. These results are the logical conclusion to that. It also means a lot that my team mates work so hard for me. Today we had a slight problem in the descent of the final climb. Because of a crashed motorcycle I lost touch with the group with Wiggins but Stefan (Stef Clement) and Wilco were great in the pursuit. After their effort I couldn’t lose anymore.”

You now hold the leader’s jersey but Wiggins is an accomplished time trialist. How do you look at the time trial on Sunday? “That it will very difficult. It’s a time trial with a first-category climb. Short and steep. I have no idea to whose advantage it will be. Bauke will do a recon today. I will do that Sunday morning.”

“We will only decide then if I am going to take my road bike or the time trial bike. Four of our riders are very well-positioned in the overall. Of course. I do want to win this race but when you already have two stage victories under your belt, a good position in the overall is great too. I still think Wiggins is the favourite but there are more possibilities. The morale is very high and I will try to win.“

1 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil Rabobank Cycling Team 04:56:13
2 Rinaldo Nocentini Ag2R – La Mondiale @ same time
3 Branislau Samoilau Movistar Team @ same time
4 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui Euskaltel – Euskadi @ same time
5 Paolo Tiralongo Astana Pro Team @ same time
6 Pierre Rolland Europcar @ same time
7 Andr̩as Kl̦den RadioShack РNissan @ same time
8 Cadel Evans BMC Racing Team @ same time
9 Roman Kreuziger Astana Pro Team @ same time
10 Fabrice Jeandesboz Saur – Sojasun @ same time

15 Daniel Martin Garmin – Barracuda @ same time
18 Bradley Wiggins Sky Procycling @ same time
32 Michael Rogers Sky Procycling @ same time
33 Ivan Basso Liquigas – Cannondale @ same time
37 Richie Porte Sky Procycling @ same time
59 Johnny Hoogerland Vacansoleil – DCM Pro Cycling Team @ same time

1 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team 17:36:35
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:09
3 Michael Rogers (Aus) Sky Procycling 0:00:16
4 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:18
5 Stef Clement (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
6 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Barracuda 0:00:20
7 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
8 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team 0:00:21
9 Rui Costa (Por) Movistar Team 0:00:22
10 Tiago Machado (Por) Radioshack-Nissan
11 Branislau Samoilau (Blr) Movistar Team 0:00:23
12 Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team
13 Jer̫me Coppel (Fra) Saur РSojasun 0:00:24
14 Thomas Rohregger (Aut) Radioshack-Nissan 0:00:25
15 Daniel Navarro (Spa) Team Saxo Bank
16 Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 0:00:27
17 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Radioshack-Nissan
18 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
19 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Movistar Team 0:00:28
20 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana

23 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:30
26 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Barracuda 0:00:32
30 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:35
32 Richie Porte (Aus) Sky Procycling 0:00:37
39 David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Barracuda 0:01:56
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