Spain’s 2008 Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez won the seventh and penultimate stage of the Criterium du Dauphine on Saturday, the 187.5km ride from Pont-de-Claix to Superdevoluy and dedicated it to two friends who died in the past year.
The 35-year-old veteran’s stage win didn’t affect the overall lead as British rider Chris Froome retained the yellow jersey and will look on Sunday to collect another major win this season and bolster his chances of winning the major prize, the Tour de France in July.
Sanchez burst into tears on crossing the line and revealed that this victory was an extra special one.
“I have been awaiting this win which has eluded me since the beginning of the season,” he said.
“I haven’t been able to train in good conditions because of the weather and I haven’t therefore been in the right sort of form.
“This win will allow the team to confront the Tour de France in a serene frame of mind.
“I dedicate this win in memory of Victor Cabedo, my former team-mate who died last year aged 23.
“Then last week I lost a personal friend. The best tribute I could pay to them was by winning.”
Sanchez, who failed to defend his Olympic title last year because of injury, shook off his fellow escapee Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang as they approached the climax of the stage at the alpine ski station.
The gruelling stage, which embraced the climb of the legendary Alpe d’Huez and the descent of the Sarenne, like the peloton will do in this year’s Tour de France, saw a group of 20 riders break away shortly after the start.
However, the last of this group, Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel and Alessandro de Marchi of Italy, were swept up inside the final 16km on the climb of the col du Noyer.
Sanchez and then Fuglsang seized their chance approaching the summit of the climb and had a lead of around 20 seconds over the chasing pack, led by Spain’s two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, heading towards the stage finish.
In the overall standings Australian Michael Rogers moved into the final podium placing at the expense of his compatriot Rohan Dennis while Froome’s Team Sky team-mate and another Australian, Richie Porte, is in second spot.
Sunday’s final stage is a gruelling 155.5km ride from Sisteron, which includes the col de Vars, and climaxes at the ski station of Risoul after a steep climb of 13.9km.