Taking advantage of a perfect lead out by Janez Brajkovic, Team RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden out sprinted Euskaltel’s Olympic Road Champion Samuel Sanchez at the line to take Stage 5 at the mid-point of the 8-day/stage ‘Race-to-the-Sun.’ The day’s win put Andreas in the leader’s yellow jersey, and in excellent position to be on the podium in Nice, France come Sunday’s finishing stage.
Thursday’s win came after a long mountain stage finishing in Vernoux-en-Vivarais that duly tortured many of the flat-landers that had been steeling headlines till now. Though the routes had started getting bumpier the last couple of days, this was a true mountain stage that started to identify the all-arounders from the specialists and gave everyone a glimpse of who might be in condition to contest the overall GC. With 193 kilometers (120 miles) containing 7 classified climbs (four category 3s, one cat 2, and two cat 1s) the peloton was strung out on the final climb of the day up the 765 meters of the Col de la Mûre, leaving only 7 riders with a real chance at taking the stage. Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel, Tony Martin of HTC-Highroad, Robert Kiserlovski of Astana, Xavier Tondo Volpini of Movistar, Matteo Carrara of Vacansoleil, TRS’s own Janez Brajkovic, and Andreas found themselves in a small, tight bunch some 18 seconds ahead of the next group of riders after that last climb and knew at that point one would be the victor.
Team RadioShack was the only squad that had two riders in this lead group and they took every advantage of it with the textbook teamwork they employed. Janez, realizing his teammate had the better chance, told Andreas toward the finish to hang onto his wheel. At about the 400-meter mark, looking like an old experienced lead-out specialist, Janez vacuumed Andreas towards the finish in a final burst of speed. Andreas sling-shotted around his wheel with expert timing and held his speed to nip Sanchez by just a couple wheel lengths at the line. A very rare stage win and even rarer sprint victory for the former T-Mobile rider whose been riding professionally for over 13 years.
A two-time runner-up in the Tour de France and a previous winner of Paris-Nice in 2000, Andreas has no illusions about what it will take to podium after the March 13th finale. He says that he’s in better condition at this time of year than he’s been in awhile, and Stage 6 is a Time Trial. Interestingly enough, prior to this, the last stage Andreas won was the Time Trail at the 2009 Giro del Trentino. Go Andreas Go!!
And don’t think the peloton hasn’t noticed that last year’s winner of the Dauphiné – Janez Brajkovic – is now in 6th place overall, lurking just 10 seconds back. While it’s still almost anyone’s race among the top 8 or so riders, Team RadioShack has 2 real ‘Danger Riders’ closely bunched on the current leader board. Keep your fingers crossed.
At 35-years old with volumes of experience at the highest levels of this sport, Klöden is not known for demonstrative outbursts these days and sure enough there was no fist pumping or hands-in-the-air gestures at the finish line of the day’s stage. In later interviews, he did confess that he was pleased and a bit surprised to have beaten Samuel Sanchez in a sprint and very happy for the whole team. However, I think I detected a little glint in his eye and the hint of a smile on his face as he donned the leader’s yellow jersey on the podium. This may be as close to a display of exuberant jubilation as Andreas ever gets and it was as pleasing to see as any ear-to-ear, tooth-flashing grin you’ve ever seen.
By George Hurst, staff writer