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An interview with Samuel Sanchez, August 15, 2007
Racing to win
Spain's Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) has had a relatively quiet year after a stellar 2006 season where he ended the year with a solo victory in the one-day classic, the Championship of Zurich. Always an animator of the races, Sanchez is back in action at the Vuelta a Burgos as preparation for September's Vuelta a España. Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez finds out how the Euskaltel-Euskadi star has been preparing for his main goal, the Vuelta.
Sanchez spent last season as one of the most attacking riders in the peloton, using his power to nab stage wins in the Vuelta a España, a second place in La Flèche Wallonne and the Tour of Lombardy. He also took two stages of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and wore the leader's jersey until the final stage time trial. This season he's scaled back his calendar a bit, but still managed stage wins in the Basque Tour - this time in the final time trial - and a mountain top win ahead of Alexander Vinokourov on the final day of the Volta a Catalunya.
Cyclingnews caught up with the Spaniard in his hometown of Oviedo where he was busy training for the Tour of Spain. "I'm in a preparation phase right now," said Sanchez. "I have to race the Vuelta a Burgos to start getting into the rhythm of competition. I hope to reach the Vuelta in good condition in order to do it well. Now I still have to face the Vuelta a Burgos as part of the preparation to reach Vigo in good condition at the start of the Vuelta."
Before Burgos, Sanchez took part in the Clasica a San Sebastian, but only to gain form. He limited himself to finishing the competition, coming in 105th place among 117 riders. "It was positive for me," he said of San Sebastian. "I was able to finish the race. It was a good 230-kilometer training to start getting the rhythm. [This kind of race] makes you know where your place in race is and know your weak points in order to keep on training for the next races."
Sanchez started the Vuelta a Burgos still with the goal of gaining fitness and building race speed. "I have expectations to get into the rhythm of competition and gain fitness little by little. Not more. I won't go for any stage win or personal achievements. I think the goal is clear, it is the Vuelta a España. And we must go easy up to there - accumulating racing kilometres and nothing else. We won't put engines at full speed there in Burgos."
A versatile rider, Sanchez has had success on just about every type of parcours, and this kind of talent just isn't something that can be trained. "I think it is a bit innate," Sanchez said. "I think it is in your genes. Riders of my style are very profitable for any kind of team in Europe, because I can win climbing, going down, in a flat finish, in a bunch sprint, in a time trial."
Despite being the kind of rider who can perform throughout the year and who would be a desirable acquisition for just about any team, Sanchez has remained loyal to the Basque Euskaltel-Euskadi team since the start of his professional career in 2000. His loyalty to Spain has also translated into a preference for the Vuelta over the Tour de France - a race which he hasn't started since 2003.
"I think that doing two Grand Tours in one year is to much one's body much," Sanchez explained why he prefers to sit out the sport's biggest race. "This way I have time to be able to rest during the Tour de France and to prepare myself well with good workouts thinking of the Vuelta a España. So indeed I reach (Vuelta) a bit more rested than the ones who raced the Tour."
Two of the men who were on the podium in last year's Vuelta have been excluded from the race, both Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin have tested positive for blood transfusions, leaving room for Sanchez to improve upon last year's seventh place overall. "Yes, I hope to do at least as well as I did last year or even better. It is one of the main goals of the year and we will see if there is luck. If we have good legs, if we stay healthy, then we will see how our rivals are and try to do the same we did last year - trying to get a good place in the overall standings and some stage wins."
Sanchez was seventh in the overall classification in the 2006 Vuelta, but his biggest success of the Tour was a gutsy stage win on stage 13 where he attacked out of the field and used a combination of daredevil descending and determination to hold off the charging peloton by just metres at the line. His result was the best one of his Euskaltel-Euskadi team, and earned him the role of team leader for this year's Vuelta.
While he may be team leader, Sanchez isn't one to get a big head about his role. "One should always manage this with meekness. One should keep both feet on the ground, and remember where he comes from. I know that I am what I am because of work, and that if I get the leadership role, it is because of that. Because I always reach races well prepared, with many training hours behind me," Sanchez insisted. "I get full respect inside the team. Knowing this, I can go into races happy."
Sanchez has altered his training plan for the Vuelta just a bit, scaling back on a few races in the Spring. "I had fewer competition days because the Euskal Bizikleta was just three days instead of five and I noticed that. The only races I didn't start were Milan-Sanremo and the Vuelta a Asturias. The rest of the calendar is the same as last year," stated the Spaniard.
Now that he's building toward a three week race as opposed to shorter stage races and one-day events, Sanchez has a varied training plan uniquely designed to prepare him for the rigors of a Grand Tour. "Every day is different. The training plan is always different. Depending on every day's training duties, I always look for different parcours. I look for climbs that fit with the kind of training I am assigned to, and I try to do it the best I can. Training sessions last from three to six hours. Then I come back home, try to be careful with food, take a nap, start again and then the same thing the next day," explained Sanchez.
Sanchez finds that his hometown of Oviedo is a perfect region for cycling and for professional riders to enjoy their sport. "It is truly a paradise for riders. It is a region with many secondary roads and with much variety. It has long climbs, short climbs, hard climbs. It has a fantastic topography for riding bikes," commented Sanchez.
The 29 year-old will have the unique honour of racing his country's biggest bike race through his hometown region of Asturias, something which will be a special motivation for Sanchez. "They will be very nice stages overall because here one can see very green mountainous views and the topography will invite a real battle. There are two stages that are very exciting which are the one to Lagos [de Covadonga -stage 4] and the one that we do coming from Galicia [stage 3]. I think fans will enjoy watching the riders fight over this terrain," Sanchez expressed. A win in his home region is obviously high on his list of things to do. "I would like to win in Lagos. I know it is hard, there will be very good climbers."
Coming into Madrid on September 23rd, only one man can take home all the glory, and Sanchez has a strong opportunity to be that man. At 29, he's at the perfect age to win a Grand Tour, having matured and honed his skills to win on every type of terrain. After a long pause, he described how he would like to arrive in Madrid, "Truly, clad in gold." Sanchez' winning mentality is apparent from his attacking style, and his ambitions for the Vuelta are no less than any other race. "I go into every race willing to win. The race puts you in your place, but I always start with the maximum goal - to win. In my opinion, I am a winning rider and for me cycling's goal is to win. I think we can be there fighting for the golden jersey in the Vuelta."
While his main focus has been on the Vuelta for years, Sanchez followed the Tour de France on television and might be inspired to focus on the French Tour now that the racing has changed. "I saw a Tour a little bit tainted with controversy," he said. "That is truly no good for cycling. But on the other hand, the race was very exciting. We hadn't watched such a exciting Tour for many years. We had always watched the supremacy of one team and one rider who was [Lance] Armstrong. Now we have started a new era with new riders and new faces. It has become a very open race for many riders. Personally, I will have to sign in that race to try and see how I do."
Spanish cycling gained a big boost with Alberto Contador's win in the Tour, and Sanchez thinks this will help the sport in his home country. "Of course. It is a big push for Spanish cycling. I think it is very good for companies to support world and Spanish cycling. Such a young rider winning the Tour de France shows there is a future in our sport. So I think it is good that Alberto Contador won the 2007 Tour de France."
Looking forward to the rest of the season after the Vuelta, Sanchez is likely to target the World Championships to try and improve upon last year's fourth place which he took after leading out Alejandro Valverde. "I am eager to be selected for the national team for the World Championships," said Sanchez. "If I have a good condition, I would like to have the freedom agreed with the rest of the riders in order to look for a honour position or for the podium. I was fourth last year [Valverde finished third two seconds ahead -ed.]; I ended without any prize which was to get a medal. I think this year if I have the same condition, we can look for the win or the podium which would be something very nice to end up the season. Indeed it is a competition in which I want to do well and I am inside a team that is the national team. We will see what says our director in that race."