Friday, April 06, 2012

Samu closing in
















Samu took advantage of the last climb of today's fifth and penultimate stage to put more time into his main rivals in the race for the GC. While he lost the stage in a tight mano-a-mano duel with Joaquím Rodríguez, he more importantly emerged as the odds-on favourite to take home the big prize tomorrow afternoon.

The unexpectedly tough finish to the stage paved the way for the GC aspirants to have a go at each other - and completely messed up my predictions for the race. Rodríguez and Sánchez were in a league of their own up the final climb, and the duo put paid to Kiserlovski's brave breakaway attempt that at one time threatened to turn the overall standing on it's head. The Astana rider headed into the stage in fourth place and with 4 kilometres to go held a 40-second advantage. One click later and he was reeled in by Samu and 'Purito'. The trio held off the chasing group behind and went on to sprint for the win in downtown Oñati. Purito somehow emerged victorious despite starting his sprint a long way out, beating the Euskaltel leader by few centimetres. Vasili Kiryienka brough home an elite four-man group five seconds later, while a slightly bigger group, involving the likes of Horner and Martin, crossed the line 23 seconds in arrears.

Watch how it all unfolded here.

Going into tomorrow's deciding 18,9km ITT in Oñati, Samu trails Rodríguez by nine seconds, while he holds a 17-second advantage over third-placed Kiserlovski, 26 seconds on Van den Broeck, 35 on Horner and 47 on Martin. What with Rodríguez's lack of pedigree in the discipline and the course's hilly nature, it's pretty much Samu's race to lose tomorrow. No wonder he was happy upon crossing the line.

"I'm very pleased with today's outcome", Samu said to www.fundacioneuskadi.com. "We succeeded in distancing some potentially big rivals ahead of tomorrow's decider. So far in this race we've got reason to be satisfied: we won the stage to Arrate, we've been in the overall lead and, importantly, the team as a whole have performed."

For an extensive photo gallery, click this link.

The time trial recorrido is widely thought to favour the strongest riders over the specialists, something which, on the back of his performances this week, bodes well for what's to come tomorrow. Samu refuses to get carried away though.

"It's a technical course, and it'll favour those with the most strength left in their legs after five days of racing rather than the specialists. I'll keep my feet on the ground though, as I know it'll be hard to come away with the victory. I've got strong rivals, so I hope to bring my a-game in order to secure a good result".

To read Samu and Igor Antón's take on the course, click here.

Despite holding the yellow jersey with only one day remaining, Rodríguez doesn't harbour hope of keeping it 'till the end. The amiable Katusha climber told reporters post-race that he'd like to see Samuel win the overall, and that he'd be happy simply to finish on the podium.

Considering the leader counts himself out of the running for the win, seventh-placed Van den Broeck (0:26 back), eight-placed Hesjedal (0:31 back) and tenth-placed Horner (0:35 back) look to be the men most likely to challenge the Olympic champion. They've all got quite a bit of catching up to do though, so it'll be fair to say this is Samu's best chance yet at taking the trophy home where it belongs.

Stage results:
  • (1, Joaquím Rodríguez, Katusha)
  • 2, Samuel Sánchez, s.t.
  • 39, Egoi Martínez, 5:19
  • 51, Gorka Verdugo, 6:35
  • 73, Gorka Izagirre, 12:56
  • 75, Jorge Azanza, 14:03
  • 76, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 77, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 104, Juan José Oroz, 18:44
General classification:
  • (1, Joaquím Rodríguez, Katusha)
  • 2, Samuel Sánchez, 0:09
  • 49, Egoi Martínez, 17:51
  • 61, Igor Antón, 23:13
  • 64, Gorka Verdugo, 23:50
  • 77, Gorka Izagirre, 30:11
  • 91, Jorge Azanza, 37:44
  • 106, Juan José Oroz, 46:07
Samu will set off at 16:43 tomorrow, two minutes ahead of leader Rodríguez. To access the complete start list for the time trial, click here.

For stage details, click here.

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