So Alberto Contador is not invincible after all. The imperious climber of yesterday's mountain-top finish was put to the sword today by Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) who not only took two minutes fifty seconds from the Astana rider, but also relieved him of the leader's yellow jersey too.
Yesterday's ride on the Montagne de Lure suggested that there was no one in this field who could touch him, but today Contador blew up in spectacular style on the descent and run in from the day's big climb, the Col de Bourigaille. Contador was attacked by Luis Sanchez, Antonio Colom (Katusha), who finished second, Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step). Sanchez now leads the overall by 1:09 from Chavanel, with Schleck a further 12 seconds back and Contador back in fourth 29 seconds behind Schleck and a full 1:50 behind Sanchez.
The day had started so differently for Contador with yesterday's mountain display seeming to confirm his pre-eminence as the stage race specialist of his generation. Today he looks mortal again as do his Astana team who had no-one in place to help their man in his hour of need – Armstrong in his pomp surrounded himself with riders who, if they had not been riding for him would have been contenders in their own right, that wasn't the case with this Astana lineup. It will take a mighty effort on Contador's part to overturn the lead his main rivals have established, but before we all write him off let's remember that it will have taken a mighty effort by those rivals to beat him today.
For most of the stage things looked to be going to plan for Astana and Contador, early on the German climber, Tony Martin (Columbia - High Road) broke to mop up the early climbing points on offer, but he was safely back in the back within a few kilometres. The big break didn't come until the 61st kilometre, when the Milram rider Martin Velits attacked he was quickly joined by Christophe Riblon (AG2R), Juan-Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Sebastien Joly (FD Jeux), Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank), Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), Stephane Auge (Cofidis), Alexandre Pichot (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Joan Horrach (Katusha) and Maxime Bouet (Agritubel).
Initially Columbia tried to chase down the break because Auge was a threat to their man, Martin in the KoM competition, but Auge failed to score points on any of the next three climbs and so Columbia lost interest chasing the break.
The race hit the finish town of Fayence for the first time at the 150km mark, celebrated with a sprint, immediately after which the original escapee of the day, Velits broke to tackle the day's big climb, the 1st category Col de Bourigaille on his own. The Slovak rider made it to the top first 10Km later.
It was on the Bourigaille that the day's real fireworks began, the Spanish rider, Antonio Colom (Katusha) attacked and only his compatriots Contador and Leon Sanchez were initially able to respond. The three caught Velits on the descent. They were in turn chased by the Saxo Bank riders Jens Voigt and Frank Schleck and former race leader Sylvain Chavenel (Quick Step). With 20Km to go these three caught the Spanish trio.
Sanchez then made his move and with nobody willing to help Contador respond Sanchez made good his escape. That was bad enough for Contador, but on the run in to Fayence things got worse as the final climb into the town (a mere 3rd category effort) proved a hill too far for the young Spaniard – he cracked and was dropped by the breakaway group. Ignominy was to follow when the main peloton proceeded to catch and then drop him also.
Tomorrow's stage is a 119Km loop of Nice starting and finishing on the Promenade des Anglais and with the matter of three 1st category climbs in between. On such days champions show their true mettle. Contador may be down, but his not out yet…
Check out Graham Watson's pics from the stage here
Top 10 Paris Nice Stage 7
1. Luis-Leon Sanchez Caisse D’Epargne 4h 43' 34"
2. Antonio Colom Team Katusha 4h 44' 24" + 00' 50"
3. Frank Schleck Team Saxo Bank 4h 44' 24" + 00' 50"
4. Sylvain Chavanel Quick Step 4h 44' 24" + 00' 50"
5. Jens Voigt Team Saxo Bank 4h 44' 30" + 00' 56"
6. David Moncoutie Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne 4h 45' 05" + 01' 31"
7. Hubert Dupont AG2R-La Mondiale 4h 45' 05" + 01' 31"
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck Silence - Lotto 4h 45' 05" + 01' 31"
9. Christophe Moreau Agritubel 4h 45' 05" + 01' 31"
10. Amaël Moinard Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne 4h 45' 05" + 01' 31"
Top 10 Overall Paris Nice after Stage 7
1. Luis-Leon Sanchez Caisse D’Epargne 28h 05' 45"
2. Sylvain Chavanel Quick Step 28h 06' 54" + 01' 09"
3. Frank Schleck Team Saxo Bank 28h 07' 06" + 01' 21"
4. Alberto Contador Astana 28h 07' 35" + 01' 50"
5. Jens Voigt Team Saxo Bank 28h 07' 44" + 01' 59"
6. Antonio Colom Team Katusha 28h 08' 01" + 02' 16"
7. Kevin Seeldrayers Quick Step 28h 08' 14" + 02' 29"
8. Jonathan Hivert Skil - Shimano 28h 08' 42" + 02' 57"
9. Yury Trofimov BBOX Bouygues Telecom 28h 09' 22" + 03' 37"
10. Christophe Le Mevel Francaise de Jeux 28h 09' 45" + 04' 00"
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