The 67th edition of Paris-Nice wrapped up Sunday, March 15, with Luis-Leon Sanchez of Caisse d'Epargne maintaining his first place standing to the end, after three years of trying for the win but coming up short.
Sanchez's yellow jersey, though, was not won without a fight. Alberto Contador (Astana) had told Sanchez before the last stage that he was going to attack and try to gain some time back. That may not seem professional, but Contador and Sanchez are lifelong friends and it was a fair statement to make.
And attack the yellow jersey Contador did, lighting up the race once again on the first categorized climb of the day and building up an advantage, but not without Toni Colom (Katusha) and Frank Schleck (Saxobank) in tow.
In the sprint for the line, Colom managed to outkick Contador to spoil the Astana-man's goal of a third stage victory.
For the final overall classification, Sanchez reigned supreme after the week of racing, with Frank Schleck clawing back some time thanks to his mountain attacks to come in second, one minute back. Sylvain Chavanel (QuickStep), clad in the green jersey for points leader, rode tactically smart in the last couple stages to secure third overall, 1:09 behind.
Contador finished fourth overall, and this is the first stage-race he has contested in over a year that he has not won.
Some may see this as a failure. Even his own teammate, Lance Armstrong, wrote on his Twitter account the day Contador lost the yellow jersey due to a hunger bonk, "Amazing talent, but still a lot to learn."
Many, especially his competitors, look at Contador's performance at this year's Paris-Nice with absolute terror. Yes, he did not win the race despite being in great position to do so.
But not having the overall lead secure brought out the fighting beast within the Spaniard. He put in devastating attacks on the peloton on Stage Six, where he first secured the jersey, and again on Stage Eight to try and claw back time on Sanchez.
Not only did Contador impress the fans and devastate the competition with his mountain assaults, it is important to remember the first stage of this race, where Contador won the fast, flat, 10-kilometer time trial. The Astana rider beat Olympic pursuit champ Bradley Wiggins (Garmin) by seven seconds and put the Brit into a bit of a depression, as he was unable to be found for interviews after the stage.
These performances show the peloton that Contador means business this year for the Tour de France, and he will not be afraid to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to attacking on the high mountains and finishing well in the time trials.
To all those who think Lance is going to light up this year's Tour, be warned. Contador definitively showed this week that he will be the man to beat come July.
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