By Monika Prell
The Basque Euskaltel-Euskadi team has plenty to be happy about in this year's Vuelta a España. For the first time ever, one of its riders has climbed on the podium of the country's home Tour: Samuel Sánchez. Barring a mishap on the final stage, Sánchez will finish this year's edition in third overall after pulling off a superb effort in the 20 kilometre stage 20 time trial, where he edged Australian Cadel Evans out of the podium berth.
It was the third stage win for the 29 year-old Asturian whose performance has only improved throughout the Vuelta while Evans, feeling the effects of his efforts to take second in the Tour de France, faded. Sánchez took his first win on stage 15, and then another on the Alto de Abantos on stage 19.
"In the Clásica de San Sebastián and in the Vuelta a Burgos I was very bad," Sánchez admitted of the races leading into the Vuelta, and went on to add that he was under-prepared for the start of the Tour of Spain. "I did not come into the Vuelta with the best form, and in Los Lagos [stage four -ed.], I was more than a minute behind [Denis] Menchov."
However, the lack of form wasn't unintentional, and paid off with a strong third week. "This was all planned like that because the idea was that I should finish at the top. And we reached this goal: we won three stages and two of them in the last three stages of the Vuelta. For me this has been a great joy because in addition to this I could climb on the podium", stated a very pleased Sánchez.
The technical director of the Basque team, Igor González de Galdeano, was extremely satisfied with the performance of his team. "Three stage wins and for the first time a rider on the podium is really a reason for us to be happy. I am very ambitious, but not even I would have demanded so much from my team. In any case, I believe that the best thing of this Vuelta is that we presented a squad from Euskaltel that excites the fans," affirmed González de Galdeano.