- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

FAYENCE, FRANCE (AP) - Spanish rider Luis-Leon Sanchez took the lead of the Paris-Nice race on Saturday, pulling away from the pack about 9 miles from the finish to win the seventh stage.

Overnight leader Alberto Contador tried to keep up but ran out of steam 2.2 miles from the finish and was then passed by the main pack.

Sanchez completed the 119-mile trek in 4 hours, 43 minutes, 34 seconds, with fellow Spaniard Antonio Colom 50 seconds back in second place. Frank Schleck of Luxembourg was third.

Sylvain Chavanel of France climbed to second place in the overall standings, 1:09 behind Sanchez, while Contador slipped to fourth place, 1:50 off the pace.

“I don’t know what went wrong with Alberto,” Sanchez said. “But it goes to show great champions can have their bad days and there is room for the others.”

Contador, the 2007 Tour de France champion, unexpectedly faltered Saturday after having outclassed his rivals in Friday’s uphill finish. He said he failed to eat and drink properly during the race.

“It was so hard,” the Astana rider said. “Due to the speed, I neglected my nutrition. At 15 kilometers (from the finish) it was over. I had no forces left any more. My only aim was to arrive at the finish.”

Lance Armstrong, who is also racing for Astana this season but has yet to compete alongside Contador in a race, called it an “unfortunate day” for the Spaniard.

“Amazing talent but still a lot to learn,” the seven-time Tour winner said on his Twitter blog. “Appears Alberto ‘bonked.’ Not that uncommon in endurance sports. It’s miserable. He’ll be back fightin’ tomorrow.”

Since Armstrong came out of retirement over the winter there has been speculation that he and Contador would be rivals for victory at the Tour de France this summer.

Both will compete together for the first time at the Tour de Castille-Leon later this month.

Contador, who won the Tour of Algarve last month in Portugal, is considered the best climber in the world and one of only five men to win cycling’s three premier races: the Tour, the Giro d’Italia and the Spanish Vuelta.

The Spaniard will have one last chance to win the Paris-Nice in Sunday’s final stage, a 73.9-mile run around Nice featuring three category 1 climbs.

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