Basque fans might have hoped for a Clasica San Sebastian win for local hero Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) on Saturday but instead they had to settle for another Sanchez – Luis Leon – claiming the win in Spain’s biggest bike one-day Classic.
Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) outsprinted Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Tour de France 2008 winner Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) in a tense three-way battle that decided a fast and furious edition of the race.
The completely re-vamped final part of the route, featuring two ascents of the eight kilometre Jaizkebel climb rather than the usual single assault of previous years, made a huge difference to the outcome of the Clasica.
After a series of lacklustre editions, the double ascent of Jaizkebel meant that only the biggest favourites – with the notable exception of Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), who abandoned after 120 kilometres – were at the front by the time the race reached the Jaizkebel for a second time.
Around 400 metres from the summit, Luis Leon Sanchez launched a blistering attack and just two riders, Vinokourov and Sastre were able to get across.
For nearly 40 kilometres the trio worked flat out to keep the break clear of seven chasers, with a gap that never rose above 40 seconds and which dropped to below 20 at times.
Barring one late attack by Vino – a predictable move given how fast Luis Leon Sanchez can sprint – the breakaway worked well together. Consequently, even if the three race leaders were almost always within sight of an equally determined chase group, it was a group of three riders and not 10 who came into San Sebastian’s Boulevard Donostia to fight for the win.
Whilst Sastre was already fading, Vinokourov was forced to lead out the sprint, and when Luis Leon came round the veteran Astana rider the Kazakh had no strength left to respond.
The result was a much-needed victory for Caisse d’Epargne as they desperately search for a new sponsor for 2011, although Luis Leon Sanchez – their most successful rider after Alejandro Valverde was banned this spring – will be leaving them for Rabobank.
A former winner of Paris-Nice and two Tour de France stages, Sanchez dedicated the twentieth victory of his career to his elder brother, who died in a traffic accident five years ago. It was also Spain’s sixth victory in seven years in the Clásica, but Sanchez’s win was arguably the most impressive of them all.
Clasica San Sebastian 2010: 234km
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne in 5-47-13
2. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana
3. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo at same time
4. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) RadioShack at 33sec
5. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 37sec
6. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Transitions
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
8. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r-La Mondiale
9. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
10. Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank at same time
DNF Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank
DNF Russell Downing (GB) Team Sky
Luis Leon Sanchez takes the win
San Sebastian podium (l-r): Alexandre Vinokourov (second), Luis Leon Sanchez (winner) and Carlos Sastre (third)