March 18, 2007
Contador takes Stage 7, Paris-Nice, ProTour lead
Photo: Graham Watson/VeloNews
Davide Rebellin had taken every punch that Discovery Channel threw this week, but every day, he found himself with fewer supporting teammates, and on Saturday, survived by reeling in Contador with less than 2 kilometers to ride.
Sunday's Stage 7 was reminiscent of Discovery Channel's Lance Armstrong days: Everybody knew what they were going to do, and they went out and executed to perfection. With Rebellin down to 3 teammates in the race, Discovery put Sergio Paulinho and Stijn Devolder in a break with just 5 kilometers ridden.
Thomas Voeckler was also in that break, nailing down the overall climber's jersey, and leading the field over the day's first two climbs. Just behind him over the Col de la Porte, setting a torrid pace, were the Discos, with Danielson, Leipheimer and Popovych leading Contador, and Caisse d'Epargne's survivors and Rebellin just behind.
On the day's third climb, La Turbie, Discovery whittled the field to less than 50 riders, reeling in Voeckler, and setting up a Rebellin-Contador showdown on the day's final climb, the Col d'Eze. When Contador launched, no one could match him, and he quickly opened up 30 seconds on Rebellin.
But Rebellin wasn't giving in, taking help where he could find it, and driving the pace himself where he couldn't. With less than 10 kilometers to ride, Contador had 25 seconds in hand, and Rebellin, working with Frank Schleck of CSC, closed the gap to about 17 seconds. If Contador took the stage, bonus time would guarantee a win, so with about 2 kilometers to ride, Rebellin soloed out of his little group riding all-out for the victory.
But Contador wasn't going to be caught today, and in the end, he finished 19 seconds ahead of Caisse d'Epargne's David Lopez and Joaquim Rodriguez, who overtook an exhausted Rebellin before the line. Rebellin finished 8th on the day to take 2nd overall, but all eyes were on the 24-year-old Contador.
“The key for my victory was the team work,” he continued. “The other days I was struggling in the last kilometers. Today I was well. I won with a lot of rage. I finished the job that was unaccomplished yesterday. I knew I had only one occasion to break away. With 1.5km, I saw the victory more clearly than before. Only when I passed the red flag was I sure that no one would catch me anymore.”
Contador also won the race's young riders competition. Voeckler takes the climbers jersey, Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas the points jersey, and Caisse d'Epargne the team competition.
Given the current state of ASO-UCI relations, it's no surprise there was no ceremony recognizing Contador as the first leader of this year's ProTour, but so he is.
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