Samuel Sánchez gave Euskaltel a much sought-after triumph, and surely one of his most emotional ever, in the seventh stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné on Saturday.
An ecstatic Sánchez pointed towards the sky as he crossed the line ahead of Astana's Jakob Fuglsang atop the summit of the Superdévoluy, the duo having escaped the clutches of the group of favourites in the final 10 clicks of the race's queen-stage starting out in Le Pont-de-Claix and finishing atop the cat.3-climb in the Hautes-Alpes-region.
A visibly exhausted and out of breath 'Samu' appeared to have the odds stacked against him as the duo struggled to open up a big gap on the likes of Froome, Contador, Valverde et al. in the group behind, but as they opened up a 30-second lead inside the last pair of kilometres it became clear the two would duke it out, mano-a-mano, for stage honours.
Sánchez, appearing to be riding right on the edge of what a human body could possibly handle, somewhat surprisingly outwitted and out-sprinted the strong Dane with apparent ease, leaving him time to celebrate his 29th career win and only his team's third of the current campaign.
Important it might be for his team, but the win carried a much greater significance for the 35-year-old.
"This win means a lot to me", Sánchez, struggling to keep the tears at bay, said upon crossing the line. "I'm thinking of my friend Víctor Cabedo, who died not long ago. And I'm also thinking of another friend of mine, Alejandro, who left this world less than two weeks ago. This win is for them".
Sánchez, of course, won't be in France to lead his orange-clad team-mates come late June, but not surprisingly he thinks his win will do his companions the world of good after a sustained period without the desired results.
"I'm very pleased - it's important to get rewarded for efforts like these and such determination", he stated. "It'll be very good for the team to start the Tour de France after such a prestigious win like this. I won't be there, as I'll be taking a break from competition, but I knew the group needed a result like this. We haven't won much this year, so it's great to get this triumph".
In a further boost to the team's Tour prospects, Mikel Nieve showed glimpses of form by staying with the lead group for large parts of the day. The featherweight climber eventually crossed the line in 13th place, ahead of a number of strong GC riders and only 45 seconds down on Froome and Contador.
What's more, Gorka Izagirre showed budding form by doing his part in the break of the day before 'Samu' lit the famous blue touch paper on his way to glory.
- 1, Samuel Sánchez, 5:26:14
- 13, Mikel Nieve, 1:00
- 34, Mikel Astarloza, 4:19
- 43, Egoi Martínez, 8:42
- 70, Romain Sicard, 16:06
- 115, Ricardo García, 19:45
- 118, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
- 119, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
- (1, Chris Froome (Sky), 25:00:13)
- 12, Samuel Sánchez, 3:45
- 22, Mikel Nieve, 9:08
- 40, Mikel Astarloza, 23:43
- 49, Gorka Izagirre, 28:26
- 58, Egoi Martínez, 31:19
- 95, Peio Bilbao, 54:53
- 106, Romain Sicard, 1:02:09
- 124, Ricardo García, 1:13:55