I¤igo Landaluze had just enough gas left in the tank to hold off Santiago Botero in Sunday's thrilliPIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Phonak put Landaluze under pressure early in the 128km seventh stage to Sallanches that finished with seven climbs up the short but steep third category Cote de Domancy, but the gritty Basque rider hung on.
"This is the happiest day of my career," gushed Landaluze. "With the high level of racing here, this has been like the Tour, and I'm very proud to have won." Landaluze started the day with a 49-second lead to the reborn Botero, but Discovery Channel sent Yaroslav Popovych and George Hincapie up the road in the winning breakaway.
That took the pressure off Landaluze until the final four laps when Botero and Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) drove the lead group that also included Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) and Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel). Landaluze saw his jersey come under fire on the bell lap when he came through the start-finish some 25 seconds slower than the Botero group. He found some help in the form of Eddy Mazzoleni (Lampre) and Marzio Bruseghin (Fassa Bortolo) who helped him on the final lap.
"Sure, I was getting some help, but the others up front were collaborating against me. I don't see anything out of the ordinary about that," Landaluze said. "I gave it everything on that last lap. When I heard the differences, something like 30 seconds, I went as hard as I could on the descent."
Landaluze sneaked into the yellow jersey on Friday's stage to Grenoble and he was strong enough to keep the jersey in the epic climbing stage over the Joux-Plane. Incredibly, it's his first victory as a pro. "We went really hard in the final three laps, but he was getting some help from others," said Botero. "I gave all I could. It wasn't by luck that Landaluze won. He held on and he deserves it."
Now Landaluze goes back to his familiar role as helper to Iban Mayo. Up next, the Tour de France and one last chance to knock the crown off Lance Armstrong.
Stage seven: Morzine - Sallanches
1 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 128km in 3.07.10 (41.03kph)
2 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel
3 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 0.22
4 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile
5 Santiago Botero (Col) Phonak
Final classification 1 Inigo Landaluze (Spa) Euskaltel 28.24.46
2 Santiago Botero (Col) Phonak 0.11
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 0.38
4 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 0.59
5 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 1.02
Mountains: Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) Illes Balears
Points: Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel
Teams: Discovery Channel