Sanchez stays in driving seat

Liberty Seguros dominate the key stage of the Tour Down Under, filling the first four places and pra

Liberty Seguros dominate the key stage of the Tour Down Under, filling the first four places and pra
PICTURE BY TDWSPORT.COM This was the day that pitted Stuart O'Grady and his Cofidis team against the unstoppable boys from Liberty Seguros. And in the end, the Aussie, who is a two-time winner of the Tour Down Under, had to settle for a chance at claiming third place as the sensational Luis Leon Sanchez again displayed the precocious talent which many are suggesting hides a future major stage race winner, writes Justin Davis. Sanchez, who had taken the overall lead of the race on Thursday when the 92-strong peloton was decimated by a 26-man breakaway that put 66 of the riders over 30 minutes in arrears, is now almost certain of winning his first major professional race. O'Grady admitted it was a bit soon to be calling the 21-year-old Liberty all-rounder the next Miguel Indurain, but the evidence was there to see on the only real climb of the day at Willunga. Sanchez, a runner-up in his national time trial championship last year, has the makings of a champion. After 127km of racing in which Robbie McEwen's attacks, and subsequent two victories at the intermediate sprints points, erased any chances O'Grady held of clawing back his 18-second deficit on Sanchez, the Spaniard applied some heat of his own. As eight riders, including Sanchez's team-mate and fellow race contender Allan Davis, Quick Step's Michael Rogers and O'Grady made their way up the four-kilometre climb above Willunga, Sanchez's climbing prowess was quickly demonstrated as he took off. He went over the summit just behind Liberty team-mate Alberto Contador, and the pair quickly went 20 seconds clear of their pursuers. This gap continued to grow as the Spanish duo sped towards the finish line 20km away. Contador came over the line victorious, with Sanchez just behind but pointing his two fingers in the direction of the 22-year-old winner, who is making his professional comeback after undergoing brain surgery last year following a sudden collapse while competing at the Tour of Asturias last May. A brave O'Grady came sixth, 25 seconds adrift of Contador, and with his deficit on Sanchez now expanded to 47 seconds after a tough day in the saddle. It was an emotional win for Contador, and he was quick to admit it. "It's an incredible moment, I can't believe it," said Contador, who this season is hoping he and Sanchez can combine in the same fashion to win Paris-Nice in March. "I had a really bad accident last year and not only was my career in danger but my life. "There was a blockage in the brain which caused the accident and, thank God, in November they said that I was healthy, so that's when I started training harder than ever so that something like this could happen. I had bleeding on the brain, which made me crash during that race. Fifteen days later the same thing happened again but when I was asleep. That's when they took me to the hospital, and 20 days later they operated. "I want to dedicate the stage to the team, who supported me during the difficult times." Going into Sunday's final stage, Sanchez has a 35-second lead over team-mate Davis, who added to Liberty's celebrations when he sprinted away from O'Grady 1.5km from the finish line to claim third place. O'Grady, a winner here in 1999 and 2001, was obviously disappointed but the 31-year-old pointed out the season is in its early moments yet. "Once again, it was just a numbers game. They (Liberty) had four riders up there, they sent two up the road and the other two sat back and they just smashed us in the end," he said. "I really didn't think my form was going to be up to scratch here. My head wanted to win, my body was saying otherwise, so I'll be really happy if I finish up on the podium. I'm really happy. Liberty won because they had a stronger team, not stronger riders." Sunday's final stage takes the form of a 81km criterium around Adelaide. Stage 5, Willunga-Willunga 1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Liberty Seguros 147km in 3.17.51 (44.58kph) 2 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Liberty Seguros 3 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros 0.22 4 Javier Ramirez (Spa) Liberty Seguros 0.25 5 David McPartland (Aus) United Water 6 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis 7 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Ag2r 0.36 8 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 0.42 9 Johan van Summeren (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 10 Mark Renshaw (Aus) La Francaise des Jeux 0.50 Overall 1 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Liberty Seguros 15.00.15 2 Davis 0.35 3 O'Grady 0.47 4 Van Summeren 0.48 5 Ramirez 0.51 6 McPartland 0.53 7 Gerrans 1.04 8 Paride Grillo (Ita) Panaria 1.14 9 Renshaw 1.18 10 Robert McLachlan (Aus) United Water
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