Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) won today’s very tense, sixth stage of Paris-Nice in a two-man sprint against Jens Voigt (Radioshack-Nissan). Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) finished third.
Britain’s Bradley Wiggins retained the race leader’s yellow jersey with a 6sec lead on Dutchman Lieuwe Westra, with American Levi Leipheimer in third at 10sec, two days from the finish in Nice.
Sanchez, who won Paris-Nice in 2009, was 3:51 down to Wiggins at the start of the day.
The 28-year-old Rabobank rider who won the race in 2009, and Voigt then got themselves into a seven-man breakaway that built a 4min 30sec lead on the peloton at the halfway stage.
In the closing 10 km they took command of their own destiny by pulling away on the final climb to virtually set up a victory duel.
The pair lost time coming into the finish, where discussions were briefly held before 40-year-old Voigt launched his sprint in the last few hundred meters. Sanchez, however, came out from the RadioShack rider’s wheel, taking victory by a wheel-length at the line.
“I pencilled this stage in a while ago,” said Sanchez. “We came here hoping to challenge in the overall but after the stage where the peloton was split to pieces (Monday) we’ve had to review our objectives. All I wanted was to win this stage so I could thank the team for their work.
“I wasn’t that far off (Alejandro) Valverde when he won (on Tuesday), but it still wasn’t enough for me. So I had to get into a breakaway.”
The depth in quality of the seven-man group, Sanchez admitted, was crucial to their eventual success.
And the Spaniard had a word of praise for Voigt, whose power riding skills are known across the peloton. “He was also deserving of the win. It’s never by chance that he ends up in breakaways.”
The main peloton, which had meanwhile swallowed up the stragglers, was led over the finish 14secs later by Australian Heinrich Haussler.
At 219.5 km long, Saturday’s penultimate stage is the longest of the race. The race concludes on Sunday with a 9.6 km uphill time trial from Nice to the Col d’Eze.
Wiggins, who is expected to duel with Leipheimer for the overall crown if things stay the same after Saturday’s stage, said he is leaving nothing to chance.
“I’m taking it day by day,” said the Englishman, whose big objective this season is to triumph in the Tour de France following his early exit from the three-week epic in 2011. “I know the Col d’Eze but it’s always useful to go and see it again. I might go tomorrow after the stage, and definitely on Sunday before the race.”