Samuel Sanchez feature, October 3, 2006
One year ago, Euskaltel-Euskadi's Samuel Sanchez finished fifth in the Züri Metzgete (Championship of Zurich). One year later he finds himself the winner of this event, along the way collecting two stage victories in the Vuelta a Pais Vasco, a stage in the Vuelta a Asturias, and a stage win and top ten overall in the Vuelta a Espana. Add to this list a fourth place at the worlds, and second at Fleche Wallonne, both times a place behind ProTour winner Alejandro Valverde to whom he is also second in the proTour standings with two rounds to go. Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez caught up with him last week in his hometown of Oviedo while he was preparing himself for the Championship of Zurich, a race in which he became the Basque team's first winner of a one day classic.
To sum up things up neatly, Sanchez is finishing what seems to be his very best season so far. In contrast to the trajectory of his career this year, Samuel is one of the best riders at descending in the international peloton together with Il Falco, Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) and others. He won in Cuenca in the Vuelta a Espana after an almost suicidal ride down through the streets of that city. Days later, he showed he was only getting stronger as the race continued by finishing second in the time trial on stage 20.
"I think I did very well in the Vuelta a España," said Sanchez. "I hoped to be maybe a little bit ahead in the general [classification], among the top five. I went to the Vuelta maybe to fight for the podium. What happens is that sometimes the race circumstances don't go like one wants. But I keep on being happy because I achieved one stage win."
"In the last time trial I was second and I think seventh position, one minute fifteen seconds, one minute twenty seconds behind the fifth put me very close to the goal with which I had arrived at the Vuelta a España." He performed better than Iban Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia, Euskaltel's more noted stage-race contenders. "Yes, Mayo and Zubeldia were the team leaders at the beginning in Malaga, but before the start of the race the three of us were going to try to do a good performance for the general classification and in the end the road put each other in the deserved position. It [the road] put me in the upfront and they didn't have their best condition and, in the end, I took the team leadership," stated the Spaniard. Asked if he surprised himself with his great TT in Rivas Vaciamadrid, he said, "Yes, I surprised myself because I thought I wouldn't be able to do such a good time trial. That showed I ended up in good condition. Then, we saw in the Worlds that I was very strong".
Former rider Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano works for Euskaltel and helped Samuel a lot in that TT. "In the Madrid time trial one had to be very careful with which gears to pedal with. One had to be careful not to push too hard. Igor managed me in the time trial in every moment; he guided me, he told me every moment what I had to do. He told me the times I had to stand up, sit down, how to take the roundabouts, which gear to use. So, I think he was one of the keys for my success in the time trial in Rivas Vaciamadrid," said the Spanish rider.
It seems he is now a more versatile rider, a more complete rider than ever before. "I thought I already was a complete and versatile rider, pretty polyvalent. The only thing I failed in a bit was in the time trials. Now, if I am able to maintain the same level I had in the last Vuelta time trial, I think that I can win many races that were beyond me before, especially because of the time trials," commented Sanchez. Maybe his cycling life had a turning point when he won one stage in last year's Vuelta. About that victory, he said "it changed my mentality a bit. I feel I distinguish myself as a rider by being hard working, and I knew wins were going to come sooner or later."
Asked if the fact that he was winning a lot in the amateur categories, but not when becoming professional was a load for him, he answered almost prophetically, "indeed it was a load because it cost me [physically and mentally] to win as a professional. I have so many second places but victories didn't come and this year, well, I have four victories and the season is not over yet. Let's see if I can get a win in one of the three races that remain in the ProTour."
His performance at the Worlds was also amazing. "I knew I was doing well because I had ended the Vuelta a España very strongly and at home I really took care of myself. I trained pretty much after the Vuelta and look, it became a very good world championship. I think I did my job perfectly for the national team, especially for Alejandro Valverde. And then, to end up fourth has been pretty good," stated Sanchez.
He was second in the last Fleche Wallonne, so maybe next year he will be among the top in the odds? "This year I was second," declared Samuel. "I did well too in the Vuelta a Pais Vasco which has a finale very similar with the Fleche Wallonne [he won the third stage in Lerin]. I think I will be among the candidates in that race [Fleche Wallonne] and in some others."
When Samuel Sanchez was a kid, he knew how to ride a motorcycle before riding bicycles. Incredible but true. "That was because of my father," commented the Spaniard. "My father had a motorcycle workshop and he had a small motorcycle in it and he put me in it. I learnt to have balance with the motorcycle and the accelerator before I began pedaling with the bike." However, he passed from the motorbike to the sport of cycling. "It was somehow because of my father too. My father also went biking and he had ridden as a kid. He went out by bike with friends on Sundays and I began liking it and I began riding with the school from here, from Oviedo, and look, in the end I was capable of getting the dream I had which was to become a cyclist."
Sanchez hasn't finished his breakthrough season just yet. In the next couple of weeks he will race Paris-Tours, Giro di Lombardia and the uphill time trial to Montjuic, Spain. He may not be able to overcome his countryman and win the ProTour, at least not this year, although he can secure his second place with a good ride in one the former two events. The form with which Sanchez is carrying into the close season, the odds of another win must be shortening dramactically.