SISTERON, France (AP) -Former champion Luis Leon Sanchez just beat veteran Jens Voigt in a sprint finish to win the sixth stage of the Paris-Nice race on Friday, while Bradley Wiggins kept his overall six-second lead with two stages remaining.
Sanchez and Voigt were part of a seven-man breakaway group that opened up a comfortable lead on the chasing pack.
The 28-year-old Sanchez and Voigt then dropped the other five and held off the peloton in the closing stages of an undulating 178.5 kilometers (100.7-mile) trek from Suze-la-Rousse to Sisteron, featuring five small climbs.
The 40-year-old Voigt made his move first, but the Spaniard countered in the last 10 meters (yards) and just got his wheel ahead.
“The pace was very fast from the start, and Jens was very strong,” Sanchez said. “It was hard to go all the way. I wanted to go flat out on this stage, it was a very tough sprint and I’m glad I managed to win it. I won, but it’s a collective victory for the (Rabobank) team.”
Sanchez, who won the race in 2009, secured his first stage win this season.
Sanchez and Voigt took it in turns to drive the breakaway in a bid to increase the speed, with the main pack closing their lead to 1:30 with 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) remaining.
The peloton split into three groups as some struggled to keep up with the frenetic pace set by the yellow jersey group around Wiggins.
The last of the day’s five minor climbs was a category 3 ascent up Cote des Marquises as the breakaway led by just over one minute with 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to go.
Voigt and Sanchez then decided to increase the speed, and made light work of the others, as they both surged ahead to go for the stage win. Sanchez rolled his bike over to speak to Voigt with about 500 meters to go.
“I congratulated him, because he also deserved to win,” Sanchez said. “He raced very well, and we both deserved to win it.”
The pack was too far back to catch them up, the 40-year-old Voigt made his move first, but Sanchez countered in the last 10 meters and just got his wheel ahead.
Australian rider Heinrich Haussler finished the stage in third place, 14 seconds behind, with Wiggins the same distance back from Sanchez, cruising over the line in 41st.
The top four places were unchanged from Thursday.
Wiggins leads from Dutchman Lieuwe Westra, with American veteran Levi Leipheimer 10 seconds behind Wiggins in third place, and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde 18 seconds back from the Brit in fourth.
“I really hope Valverde wins, because he’s my friend and I train with him,” Sanchez said. “But it will be very hard to beat Wiggins.”
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