Sánchez held on to win the four-day Circuit de la Sarthe, earning him his first GC win of the year after a handful of close calls that included seconds at the Tour Down Under and Volta ao Algarve, third at Paris-Nice and fourth at Volta a Catalunya.
Sánchez won Tuesday’s opening stage along France’s Loire valley and then stopped the clock second to Tiago Machado (RadioShack) in Wednesday’s decisive time trial before wrapping up the overall Friday.
“My intention when I took the decision to race the Circuit de la Sarthe was to not be too much without competition ahead of the spring classics, but when I won the first stage, I had to defend the leader’s jersey all week long,” said Sánchez, who thanked his teammates for their support.
“You never know what can happen in a race,” he continued. “I went to the Catalunya tour to try to win and it didn’t happen. And the goal here was to race quietly and it turned out to be completely the opposite. The most important thing is this victory gives me a lot of confidence ahead of the classics.”
Another rider who earned just desserts was Portuguese sensation Tiago Machado (RadioShack), who won the time trial and finished second overall at 14 seconds back.
Machado has been nibbling at the edge of a breakout since joining RadioShack this season, with second at the decisive mountaintop finish behind Alberto Contador at the Volta ao Algarve and third overall at the Critérium International.
RadioShack boss Johan Bruyneel was impressed and suggested the 24-year-old has a bright future.
“This shows that Tiago has the potential to grow as a big Tour rider,” Bruyneel said. “He is young, he’s a good climber and a good time trialist. Longer and more mountainous time trials are better for him, but now he wins on a 6.8km flat TT. That is very promising.”
RadioShack’s Lance Armstrong dropped out of the race before stage 2, citing a stomach virus. Armstrong also is expected to skip the upcoming Ardennes classics.
French racing continues Sunday with the mack daddy of them all, Paris-Roubaix.