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An interview with Mario De Sarraga, September 1, 2006
Mixing it with the big boys
Mario De Sarraga's 140-kilometre solo breakaway failed close to the finish on stage 2. The Spaniard rides for Relax-Gam, the only non-ProTour outfit in the Vuelta a España. The boys in red must deal with the handicap of a much smaller budget than other teams. However, they are mixing it with the best in the Vuelta. De Sarraga instigated the first long breakaway of the Vuelta and compiled enough points to put himself into the lead in that competition. He spoke to Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez Macias about how he is coping with the early stages of the Vuelta.
Despite the failure of his long solo break on stage 2, Mario De Sarraga was able to accumulate enough points to claim the lead in the mountain's competition. "It was a planned tactic on the stage. I had thought of getting in a breakaway that day. I was lucky to make the breakaway at the beginning and got the mountain classification points and that was what I was interested in. After that I tried to get as far as I could," he said.
He rode solo for 140 long kilometres, but he was caught with 34 kilometres to go. "I expected that the sprinters' team were going to catch me," said De Sarraga. "When you are [alone in the breakaway] you can dream of reaching the finish line in first place but… what made me happy was to get the mountain jersey; that was what I aimed for. If something else came, it would have been another additional joy."
After he was caught by the peloton, he amazingly moved from first position to last as he finished 189th. He lost 6 minutes and 39 seconds to stage winner Paolo Bettini. "The stage was very, very hard," said De Sarraga.
De Sarraga, from the relatively cool climes of Oviedo, Asturias, has been struggling with the baking heat in the Vuelta, "I'm not very used to heat," he commented.
"It was very hot and where I came from is very cold and wet. I have a bad time with heat. I arrived at the finish line with very little strength left. At the end of the stage I slowed the pace in order to recover my strength for the other stages. I didn't care about the general classification at all.
"The goal was to get the mountains jersey and to stay in a breakaway as long as possible," he said. "It was a little contradictory [to finish last on the stage after having led for so long]. Some friends laughed at me for that but I didn't care at all. I got what I wanted and my mission was accomplished."
The Relax-Gam riders are at a disadvantage being part of the only non-ProTour team in the Vuelta. "Overall, the difference between us and the big teams is the infrastructure and also the budget. The difference gets noticed. They have a better calendar and many more chances [of winning] races. The main difference, however, is the budget."
Referring on how to cope with such handicap in relation with teams like Rabobank or T-Mobile, De Sarraga said, "You cope with the [budgetary constraints] by putting in a lot of effort. We do our best. It is the only thing you can do. They [the riders of the ProTour teams] have two legs like us and they don't scare us. On the road, we are all the same."
"I didn't do as well this season as I expected," said De Sarraga about his season. "I got mononucleosis in the first race in Majorca and I didn't realise it until the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. So, I spent three months when I didn't do well and I didn't know why. Later on I was recovering little by little.
"In Catalonia I did better, and in the Vuelta a Asturias I was close to winning one stage when I finished second. At that time, I was a bit better but not as good as I expected. Then I began the preparation for the Vuelta and in Burgos and San Sebastian I felt much better. I arrived here [at the Vuelta] in better shape."
Now the goal for him will be to stay competitive among the riders fighting for the mountains jersey. He lost the jersey on the mountainous stage 5, dropping to eighth position in the mountains competition. "It was difficult to stay on the top in the mountain classification. I will try to get back into the lead but I don't know how far I will be able to go. We will try to look for breakaways."
De Sarrago has marked out a stage where he will take his chance at another breakaway. "I like the Altamira stage [stage 10] because it ends uphill," he said. "We will go for breakaways in the last week that could be able to reach the finish line."