Sánchez bags Vasco hat-trick
Tony Martin moves right into contention with top six finish
Last Updated: 04/04/12 5:41pm
Samuel Sánchez: Won the stage into Eibar for the third year in succession
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) powered to victory on the queen stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco for the third year in succession to take the overall lead in the WorldTour event.
The Spaniard made his move on the final climb of the Alto de Usartza at the end of the 164 kilometres route from Vitoria-Gasteiz, bridging the gap to Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) and Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) who had jumped clear of what was left of the peloton with 4.5km remaining.
The front trio then established a lead of 15 seconds going over the top with 2km remaining and always had just enough in reserve on downhill run into the finish.
Showing his trademark kick before the final corner, Sánchez comfortably claimed the stage win in Eibar, with Rodríguez taking second and Horner third - and the trio now occupy the same positions on the general classification.
There were 12 seconds back to a group of 17 riders which contained world time trial champion Tony Martin who will fancy his chances ahead of an 18.9km race against the clock which rounds off the event on Saturday.
Also in that group were Team Sky duo Sergio Henao in eighth and Lars-Petter Nordhaug in tenth.
The remnants of an early break - Movistar's José Herrada and Katusha pair Giampaolo Caruso and Ángel Vicioso - had been hoovered up on the slopes of that late climb as huge crowds lined the roads for a pivotal stage.
And the climbers should again be to the fore on Thursday on another crucial day in the fight for the general classification which finishes with the climb to Bera-Ibardin.