Carlos Sastre's cycling dream team

2008 Tour de France winner picks his nine-man team

In a new run of features, Cyclingnews sits down with some of the sport's well-known personalities as they pick their cycling dream teams. This week it's the turn of 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre.

The rules:

  • Dream teams must feature nine riders, one of which can be the rider selecting the team. In which case they pick eight riders to join them.
  • The riders picked must have all ridden with the person picking the team. That means you can’t just pick the eight or nine best riders of a generation.

Image courtesy of Pro Cycling Trumps

Team leader: Carlos Sastre

With myself as the team leader, these are the eight riders I’d like to see with me in my ideal squad for a Grand Tour.

Climber: José María Jiménez

I know I’m not officially allowed to have a rider who wasn’t on my team as a dream teammate, and it’s true we never raced together but José María and I were very close personally and for family reasons [ed. the riders were brothers in law] and we trained together for years and years on the roads around our area. There was a really deep degree of understanding between us.

When I started riding as a pro, he was already on top of his game and I was the new little kid on the block who’d just arrived, and I looked up to him a lot. But even when I got better on the climbs we never had a real battle in the mountains of the kind I’d really have liked, and that’s something I regret, even now.

The closest I can really claim to doing so was in the 2001 Vuelta a España when there was a stage to the Cruz de la Demanda summit finish [ed. stage eight]. That day he went for it right from the foot of the climb and I charged out of the pack and started trying to chase him down. It was going to be a right old battle, there were just the two of us ahead but then my teammate at ONCE, Joseba Beloki was going to be the overall leader so because of team orders I had to sit up and wait for him so I could take Joseba as far up the climb as possible.

And that was that, really. Afterwards he [Jiménez] won the stage and on the time trial to Pal [in Andorra] he won, again, although I got second. Then on the Vuelta’s stage with a summit finish to Aitana [stage 15] before the stage we both promised my wife [Jose Maria Jimenez’ sister] that if either of us won, then my wife and I’s [future baby] daughter would be named Aitana in honour of the climb. As it was, neither of us did win - I got third behind Claus Moller and Jose María blew completely almost as soon as the climb had started. Then the next day there was a really dodgy descent [off the Cresta del Gallo - Ed.] going into Murcia, I fell and hurt my back and had to withdraw from the Vuelta three days from the finish and pretty soon after that he retired from cycling altogether. So that was where it all ended, far too soon.

The best thing about him as a teammate would be that the way he attacked on the climbs was utterly unpredictable. Invariably, it would really upset the opposition’s game plans, whatever strategy they had would go up in smoke. He was not a good time triallist at all, apart from mountain time trials, but his sense of humour was really special as well. It didn’t matter how big or small the race was or how tense everybody was feeling, he had a knack for making people relax a little and have a bit of a laugh despite the stresss. And if races weren’t going so well, that was just what you needed at times to keep your spirits up, and as I know, that better atmosphere often leads, eventually, to a team working well and getting good results.

Climber: Juan José Cobo

Cobo was a hugely talented climber - he won on the Angliru. In fact he won the Vuelta there and he dropped both Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, half-way up the Angliru, in the process. How many riders were able to do that? As a leader, he wasn’t good at all, probably because he didn’t have a nasty enough side to him, and to be a good leader, sometimes you have to be very direct and take tough decisions about your team-mates. But as a climber, he was ideal.

Image courtesy of Pro Cycling Trumps

Sprinter: Stuart O’Grady

If I was fighting for a Grand Tour win, I wouldn’t want a sprinter like Mark Cavendish, because he needs a whole team based around him. Stuart, on the other hand, was not just able to race in sprints by himself, he was also a great guy to have there for doing the hard work on the flatter and hillier stages. He was a very intelligent, battle-hardened rider, who always knew how to be in the right place at the right time and who you could trust to guide you through the peloton in the fast sprint finishes. He could read races brilliantly and he could work well in breaks. Then there’s all the success he had in the Classics, but that’s another story…

Time Triallist/domestique: Fabian Cancellara

The same goes for Fabian as with O’Grady for the Classics, obviously, only more so. But my main memory of Fabian in a Grand Tour is how he could put aside his personal goals in the 2008 Tour de France and help me bring home the yellow jersey that year. Not just very professional, but somebody who will work his finger to the bone for his team-mates and I valued that in him - his willingness to sacrifice himself for his team-mates. And someone like Fabian, who not only could win huge races but also help others win - very few riders are capable of doing that.

One of my most enduring memories of Cancellara came from the Vuelta a España in 2006 and the opening team time trial in Málaga, which CSC won [by seven seconds over a 7km course from Caisse d’Epargne - Ed.] It was a very technical start, with two or three very difficult corners in the first part of the course and even a chunk over sanded-up roads, then it straightened out, but Cancellara was more than a match for all of it. If the rest of us were taking turns of 50 or 100 metres, he’d do a kilometre. He absolutely hammered it, leading for nearly half the course at the head of the line, and just before the finish, there were two little corners and he pulled off there. All the rest of us had to do was ride up the final straightaway and then we were home.

Domestique: Giovanni Lombardi

Brilliant at behind-the-scenes work. He knew everybody in the peloton and could get along with all of them. A very intelligent rider and not afraid of giving orders to anybody. I particularly remember Giovanni from the Vuelta a España [2005, where Sastre finished second - Ed.]. He did a really good job there, was always keeping me in a good position for the sprints and stayed calm, too. Having him there meant I could ease back a little - and that was true in any race.

Image courtesy of Pro Cycling Trumps

Domestique: Iñigo Cuesta.

Experienced and versatile. Powerful on the flat, powerful on the climbs, powerful in the team time trials and individual time trials. And an all-round good guy. Iñigo was always calm, too - he never seemed to get troubled by anything at all and if I was pretty much unfazed by most things, he helped calm everybody else down. Whatever happened, he’d react to it on the inside, not the outside, and that was really helpful for the team. Nothing seemed to shake him.

Team captain: Kurt Asle Arvesen

He knew how to listen to other riders and take on board what they wanted. He was so experienced that he had seen so many different types of riders and at the same time he was a very clear communicator so he knew how to get through to them, how to motivate them and get them to give that little bit extra which can sometimes make all the difference. Not only that, he wasn’t a rider who felt overly superior or inferior to anybody else, which again really helped him get his messages across.

Domestique: Michael Blaudzun

He never got many wins and not many people knew of him very well, but when he was on a good day, Michael was one of the best domestiques out there. I raced with him in several Vueltas and a Tour or two and he had a capacity to ride himself into the ground for his team-mates you very rarely came across.

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