With multiple stage wins in the Tour de France as well as two victories in the Clásica San Sebastian and overall triumphs in the Tour Down Under, Tour of the Mediterranean and Paris-Nice already in his palmares, a level of success that no other rider in Caja Rural-RGA has yet come close to achieving, the 30-year-old will almost automatically be the leader of the Pamplona-based squad in 2014.
The last-minute signing of Sánchez, widely rumoured but only confirmed just before Christmas, represents a major step up for the team both in terms of potential results and expectations.
During a press conference in Pamplona on Monday, Sánchez argued that “if I stay healthy and I don’t crash, then the wins should, hopefully, come along. But the main reason for being satisfied right now is being able to represent this team.”
Sánchez aims to hit the ground running in January, taking part in the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon and following that up with a solid diet of Spanish races from February onwards, including the Mallorca Challenge, Vuelta a Andalusia, Vuelta a Murcia – his home race, and in 2014, for the second year running, a one-day event – and the Clásica de Almeria.
After that, he is hoping that Caja Rural RGA will obtain a wild-card entry for Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, before he goes on to the Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta al País Vasco, the Clásica San Sebastian, Vuelta a Burgos and Vuelta a España.
“I like my race calendar,” Sánchez said, according to biciclismo.es, “[but] I’m not going to concentrate on a single race. Instead, I’ll take things step by step. Right now my first aim is to do well in Gabon.”
Referring to his complicated exit from Belkin, a team with which he barely raced in 2013, Sánchez recognised that his tenth year as a pro had been a tricky one. Sánchez was temporarily suspended by the team early in the season as they investigated his alleged links to Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, and he was released from his contract in October.
“When you only race for 30 days in a season you feel as if you’re anything but a pro. There have been difficult moments and it’s been a special winter in that sense. There were lots of stories out there [about potential new squads] but no team seemed to want to place its trust in me,” Sánchez said.
“[But] Caja Rural-RGA have done that, which is what any [professional] cyclist needs to feel like he’s a [professional] cyclist.”