"For me, it's been a really hard race; every day, it's been full gas. Sometimes, it's been a race without control - nobody wants to control the race, because many riders are racing the Tour de France, and these riders are racing with the Tour [in mind]. And when you're not in the best condition, it's really difficult just to follow the group, y'know."
It's been a difficult year for CSC's Carlos Sastre. Not only was the Dauphiné Libéré a race without control for him, so too were the events that took place prior to that, which saw the 30 year-old break his elbow on the first stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco back in April, leaving him unable to ride at all for three weeks.
"It was 15, 18 kilometres from the finish line in the first stage," he begins to recall. "Ivan [Basso] also crashed at that moment, but nothing happened to him. I don't exactly what happened, but I saw some riders crash and lying on the road, and I thought I passed the crashed riders, but I came down. I don't know if someone hit me from behind, or maybe my bike got stuck with someone [lying] on the road; I don't know exactly, but it happened."
Importantly, the Tour of the Basque Country was the first race Sastre wanted to do well at. It was part of a gradual build-up to what will hopefully still be a successful Tour de France for him and his team. But ever since he found he way back on the bike in May, the Spaniard has found himself in a race against time, cramming in as many training and race miles as he can.
"[After the crash], I had to start again from zero. Now, I need to train more to get the best preparation in order for me to reach a high level at the Tour de France," he said to Cyclingnews, and there's more than a degree of urgency in his voice.
Asked how far off he is from his best form, Sastre isn't quite sure. "Ah, I don't know... it's difficult, because you never know [the fitness] the other riders," he said. "Many guys are at the top now in their best condition; other guys are not super but OK - but until the Tour de France, you never know. Until you are there, but never know exactly."
Come July, Team CSC has stated their goal is to challenge Armstrong, Ullrich et al. for the overall title with their rider Ivan Basso. However, with Basso faltering through ill health midway through the Giro d'Italia, and Sastre's proven performance at the Tour, where he was a mountain stage winner in 2003, the quietly spoken individual is hoping both form and opportunity will soon come his way.
"With Ivan we have a good chance; if he is the best guy for the team, I'll help him as much as I can. But normally in the Tour de France, I have a lot of freedom, but we work as a team; the most important thing is the team.
"For me, the most important thing is to reach a high level in the Tour de France, and afterwards, always follow my feelings. I would like to get the same results as I had last year," he said.
In between now and the Tour, Sastre's immediate concerns are the ProTour team time trial in Eindhoven this coming Sunday, and the Spanish championships the following week, where he only intends to ride the individual time trial. So, with time trials and making up for lost time encompassing his mind, how does Carlos feel about the lack of TT kilometres in the Tour compared to previous years?
"I don't know, but what I do know is that with or without time trials, the Tour de France is always hard!" he said with a chuckle.