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Sánchez takes Pais Vasco opener

Luís León Sánchez continues on his spring rampage, winning the opening stage and donning the leader’s jersey of the Vuelta al País Vasco in Spain. But it almost didn’t happen. The 25-year-old Caisse d’Epargne rider was gapped on a fierce second-category climb with 8km remaining in the 142.5km opening stage and only regained contact with 3km to go.

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By Andrew Hood

2009 Vuelta al País Vasco: Luís León Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne) takes the first stage and the overall lead

Photo: Graham Watson

Luís León Sánchez continues on his spring rampage, winning the opening stage and donning the leader’s jersey of the Vuelta al País Vasco in Spain.

But it almost didn’t happen. The 25-year-old Caisse d’Epargne rider was gapped on a fierce second-category climb with 8km remaining in the 142.5km opening stage and only regained contact with 3km to go.

The recently crowned Paris-Nice winner held off Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez from hometown team Euskaltel-Euskadi to win for the fifth time this season, taking a sprint victory out of an elite group of two dozen riders. Jerome Pineau (Quick Step) rounded out the podium with third in the explosive eight-climb stage over the green hills of Basque Country.

“I wasn’t feeling so good on the last climb and I wasn’t thinking I was going to be able to win the stage. When I re-entered the lead group, I began to believe in my chances of victory,” León Sánchez said. “The wheel to watch in the spring was Samuel Sánchez, because he’s the fastest in this type of finish. I was lucky that everything went well.”

León Sánchez missed the attacks on the Cat. 2 Alto Lazkoamendi in the closing kilometers, but teammate Joaquin Rodríguez marked moves by Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Olympic champion Sánchez that allowed him to rejoin the lead group.

Sánchez tried in vain to encourage an elite group of five that also included Toni Colom (Katyusha) and defending champion Alberto Contador (Astana), but the others were interested to see who could come up from behind. Eventually, a pack of 23 regrouped to challenge for the final sprint.

Without time bonuses during the six-day race, everyone is already looking ahead to Wednesday’s summit finish and Saturday’s individual time trial.

“Today was important to be with the leaders today because it was an explosive finale. The next decisive stages will be Wednesday’s summit finish and the final time trial on Saturday,” Sánchez said. “I’ve had some tendonitis in my knee, so we’ll see if I can last until Saturday to be among the favorites. Today was a good sign; the team worked well and I was in contention for victory. I only missed it by a half-wheel length.”

Blowup over Basque hills

A four-man breakaway featuring Aitor Hernandez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Bingen Fernandez (Cofidis) and Jose Herrada and Gorka Izagirre (both Contentpolis-Ampo) held court over six of the day’s eight climbs.

2009 Vuelta al País Vasco: The peloton winding its way through Basque Country.

Photo: Graham Watson

Saxo Bank, Lampre and Astana collaborated to minimize the damage and the break was reeled in on the Cat. 2 Abaltziketa at 121km. Euskaltel-Euskadi upped the tempo over the day’s penultimate climb at the Cat. 3 Alto Gaintza, causing the first important fracture in the group with 20km to go.

The day’s final climb up the short but steep Cat. 2 Alto Lazkoamendi proved decisive, and riders were fighting to be at the front.

An elite group of favorites formed midway up the climb, with Cunego, Rodríguez, Alberto Contador, Antonio Colom, Cadel Evans, Robert Gesink, Frank Schleck and Sánchez. Among those gapped were Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam).

Euskaltel’s Sánchez encouraged his fellow escapees to work together to drive the gap, but there was a lack of cooperation as others wanted to wait for chasing teammates to catch back on, especially with Rodríguez waiting for teammate León Sánchez.

Riders such as Michael Rogers (Columbia-Highroad), Chris Horner (Astana) and León Sánchez regained contact to set up the sprint and keep their GC hopes alive.

“It was fast all day, but just as we expected, it wasn’t overly decisive. We expected a small group to arrive at the top of the last climb and that’s how it happened,” Contador said. “Practically none of the favorites were eliminated. We also had luck that it didn’t rain, so we’ll wait to see how the strength is in the coming days.”

Tomorrow’s stage

The 49th Vuelta a País Vasco continues Tuesday with the 164km second stage from Ataun to Villatuerta.

The route features six climbs, including a second-category and a first-category climb in the opening 40km that should produce an important breakaway.

Four more third-category climbs carry the peloton south toward the finish line in Villatuerta, with the day’s final climb, the Cat. 3 Alto de Lezaun, some 27km from the finish.

Photo Gallery


Stage and overall
1. Luis León Sánchez Gil (ESP), Caisse d’Epargne, 142.5km in 3:28:43
2. Samuel Sánchez (ESP), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
3. Jérôme Pineau (FRA), Quick Step, s.t.
4. Christian Knees (GER), Team Milram, s.t.
5. Alexandr Kolobnev (RUS), Team Saxo Bank, s.t.
6. Joaquín RodrÍguez (ESP), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
7. Michael Rogers (AUS), Team Columbia-High Road, s.t.
8. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA), Liquigas, s.t.
9. Dries Devenyns (BEL), Quick Step, s.t.
10. Cadel Evans (AUS), Silence-Lotto, s.t.
11. Chris Horner (USA), Astana, s.t.
12. Damiano Cunego (ITA), Lampre-N.G.C., s.t.
13. Alberto Contador (ESP), Astana, s.t.
14. Antonio Colon Mas (ESP), Team Katusha, s.t.
15. Sandy Casar (FRA), FranÇaise Des Jeux, s.t.
16. Frank Schleck (LUX), Team Saxo Bank, s.t.
17. David López GarcÍa (ESP), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
18. Robert Gesink (NED), Rabobank, s.t.
19. Roman Kreuziger (CZE), Liquigas, s.t.
20. Egoi MartÍnez (ESP), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
21. David Arroyo Duran (ESP), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
22. Gorka Verdugo (ESP), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:12
23. Alberto Losada Alguacil (ESP), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:12
24. Andrea Noe (ITA), Liquigas, at 0:40
25. Daniel Moreno (ESP), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:40
26. Fredrik Kessiakoff (SWE), Fuji-Servetto, at 0:40
27. Paul Martens (GER), Rabobank, at 0:40
28. Bauke Mollema (NED), Rabobank, at 0:42
29. Philip Deignan (IRL), Cervelo TestTeam, at 0:42
30. Juan José Cobo Acebo (ESP), Fuji-Servetto, at 0:42
31. Alexandre Botcharov (RUS), Team Katusha, at 0:42
32. Dario Cataldo (ITA), Quick Step, at 0:42
33. David Zabriskie (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 0:42
34. Vladimir Efimkin (RUS), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 0:42
35. Jesús Hernández (ESP), Astana, at 0:42
36. Julien Loubet (FRA), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 0:42
37. Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (ESP), Astana, at 0:42
38. Morris Possoni (ITA), Team Columbia-High Road, at 0:42
39. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN), Team Saxo Bank, at 0:42
40. Amaël Moinard (FRA), Cofidis, at 0:42
41. Nicolas Roche (IRL), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 0:42
42. Julián Sánchez Pimienta (ESP), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 1:27
43. Fuente David De La (ESP), Fuji-Servetto, at 1:27
44. Paolo Tiralongo (ITA), Lampre-N.G.C., at 1:27
45. Manuele Mori (ITA), Lampre-N.G.C., at 1:27
46. Manuel Vázquez Hueso (ESP), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 1:27
47. Carlos Sastre Candil (ESP), Cervelo TestTeam, at 1:27
48. Hubert Dupont (FRA), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 1:27
49. Pierrick Fedrigo (FRA), Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 1:27
50. Francesco Gavazzi (ITA), Lampre-N.G.C., at 1:27
51. Luca Mazzanti (ITA), Team Katusha, at 1:27
52. Broeck Jurgen Van Den (BEL), Silence-Lotto, at 1:27
53. Fabian Wegmann (GER), Team Milram, at 1:27
54. Gustav Larsson (SWE), Team Saxo Bank, at 1:27
55. Chris Sörensen (DEN), Team Saxo Bank, at 1:27
56. Juan Manuel Garate (ESP), Rabobank, at 1:27
57. Rémy Di Gregorio (FRA), FranÇaise Des Jeux, at 1:27
58. Pieter Weening (NED), Rabobank, at 1:27
59. Matthew Lloyd (AUS), Silence-Lotto, at 1:27
60. Christian Vandevelde (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 1:27
61. Andy Schleck (LUX), Team Saxo Bank, at 1:27
62. Daniel Navarro GarcÍa (ESP), Astana, at 1:27
63. Kanstantsin Siutsou (BLR), Team Columbia-High Road, at 1:27
64. Thomas LÖvkvist (SWE), Team Columbia-High Road, at 1:27
65. David Moncoutie (FRA), Cofidis, at 1:27
66. Mauricio A Ardila (COL), Rabobank, at 1:27
67. Mikel Nieve Ituralde (ESP), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:27
68. Linus Gerdemann (GER), Team Milram, at 1:27
69. Brian Vandborg (DEN), Liquigas, at 2:16
70. Ivan Santaromita (ITA), Liquigas, at 2:16
71. Francis De Greef (BEL), Silence-Lotto, at 2:16
72. Walle Jurgen Van De (BEL), Quick Step, at 2:16
73. Xavier Florencio Cabre (ESP), Cervelo TestTeam, at 2:16
74. Marco Pinotti (ITA), Team Columbia-High Road, at 3:26
75. óscar Freire Gómez (ESP), Rabobank, at 3:57
76. Michael Albasini (SUI), Team Columbia-High Road, at 3:57
77. Rein Taaramae (EST), Cofidis, at 3:57
78. Iñigo Cuesta López (ESP), Cervelo TestTeam, at 3:57
79. Francisco PÉrez Sánchez (ESP), Caisse d’Epargne, at 3:57
80. Francesco Reda (ITA), Quick Step, at 3:57
81. Addy Engels (NED), Quick Step, at 3:57
82. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN), Garmin-Slipstream, at 3:57
83. Maxime Monfort (BEL), Team Columbia-High Road, at 3:57
84. Peter Velits (SVK), Team Milram, at 3:57
85. Johannes Fröhlinger (GER), Team Milram, at 3:57
86. Janez Brajkovic (SLO), Astana, at 3:57
87. Jelle Vanendert (BEL), Silence-Lotto, at 3:57
88. Dionisio Galparsoro (ESP), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 5:15
89. Ricardo Serrano (ESP), Fuji-Servetto, at 5:15
90. Jérémy Roy (FRA), FranÇaise Des Jeux, at 5:15
91. Mikael Cherel (FRA), FranÇaise Des Jeux, at 5:15
92. Yukiya Arashiro (JPN), Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 5:15
93. Mickaël Buffaz (FRA), Cofidis, at 5:15
94. Marco Marzano (ITA), Lampre-N.G.C., at 5:15
95. Timothy Duggan (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 5:15
96. Nicki Sörensen (DEN), Team Saxo Bank, at 5:15
97. Alán Pérez Lezaun (ESP), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 5:15
98. Iñaki Isasi Flores (ESP), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 5:15
99. Aitor Hernández (ESP), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 5:15
100. Rubén Pérez Moreno (ESP), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 5:15
101. Grischa Niermann (GER), Rabobank, at 5:15
102. Javier Echarri MarÍn (ESP), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 5:15
103. Iker Camaño Ortuzar (ESP), Fuji-Servetto, at 5:15
104. Volodymir Gustov (UKR), Cervelo TestTeam, at 5:15
105. Alexandre Efimkin (RUS), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 5:15
106. Yury Trofimov (RUS), Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 5:15
107. José Luis Arrieta Lujambio (ESP), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 5:15
108. Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 5:15
109. Simon Gerrans (AUS), Cervelo TestTeam, at 5:15
110. José Herrada López (ESP), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 5:15
111. Christophe Le Mevel (FRA), FranÇaise Des Jeux, at 5:15
112. Jussi Veikkanen (FIN), FranÇaise Des Jeux, at 5:15
113. Thomas Dekker (NED), Silence-Lotto, at 5:15
114. Charles Wegelius (GBR), Silence-Lotto, at 5:15
115. Johann Tschoop (SUI), Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 5:15
116. Danny Pate (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 5:15
117. Christian Pfannberger (AUT), Team Katusha, at 6:54
118. Björn Schröder (GER), Team Milram, at 9:41
119. Joan Horrach Rippoll (ESP), Team Katusha, at 9:41
120. Valerio Agnoli (ITA), Liquigas, at 9:41
121. Christian Meier (CAN), Garmin-Slipstream, at 9:41
122. Vasili Kiryienka (BLR), Caisse d’Epargne, at 9:41
123. Dominik Roels (GER), Team Milram, at 9:41
124. Alessandro Vanotti (ITA), Liquigas, at 9:41
125. Oliver Zaugg (SUI), Liquigas, at 9:41
126. Montes Jesús Del Nero (ESP), Fuji-Servetto, at 9:41
127. Ronny Scholz (GER), Team Milram, at 9:41
128. Jurgen Van Goolen (BEL), Team Saxo Bank, at 9:41
129. Allan Davis (AUS), Quick Step, at 9:41
130. Ben Swift (GBR), Team Katusha, at 9:41
131. Joaquín Novoa (ESP), Cervelo TestTeam, at 9:41
132. Javier MegÍas Leal (ESP), Fuji-Servetto, at 9:41
133. Olivier Bonnaire (FRA), Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 9:41
134. Mario Aerts (BEL), Silence-Lotto, at 9:41
135. Laurent Lefevre (FRA), Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 9:41
136. Francis Mourey (FRA), FranÇaise Des Jeux, at 9:41
137. Oscar Pujol MuÑoz (ESP), Cervelo TestTeam, at 9:41
138. Bingen Fernández (ESP), Cofidis, at 9:41
139. Craig Lewis (USA), Team Columbia-High Road, at 9:41
140. Maryan Hary (FRA), Cofidis, at 9:41
141. Christophe Kern (FRA), Cofidis, at 9:41
142. Julien Belgy (FRA), Bbox Bouygues Telecom at 10:42
143. Christophe Riblon (FRA), Ag2r La Mondiale at 10:42
144. Mikel GaztaÑaga (ESP), Contentpolis-Ampo at 10:42
145. Roman Kireyev (KAZ), Astana at 10:45
146. Gorka Izagirre (ESP), Contentpolis-Ampo at 10:45
147. Trent Lowe (AUS), Garmin-Slipstream at 10:45
148. Mauro Santambrogio (ITA), Lampre-N.G.C. at 10:45
149. Marzio Bruseghin (ITA), Lampre-N.G.C. at 10:45
150. Enrico Gasparotto (ITA), Lampre-N.G.C. at 10:45
151. José Luis Rubiera Vigil (ESP), Astana at 10:45
152. Thomas Danielson (USA), Garmin-Slipstream at 10:45
153. Evgeni Petrov (RUS), Team Katusha at 10:45
154. Eros Capecchi (ITA), Fuji-Servetto at 10:45
DNF: Aitor Pérez Arrieta (ESP), Contentpolis-Ampo
DNF: Nico Sijmens (BEL), Cofidis, Le Credit E
DNF: Evgeny Sokolov (RUS), Bbox Bouygues Teleco