Samuel Sanchez could have started his Tour of Beijing under better auspices. Euskaltel-Euskadi's leader finished the stage 1 time trial in 133rd position, 1:57 down on Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad). “It was a disaster, I’ve been sick since I arrived," he told Cyclingnews. In fact, four riders and the team doctors have been affected by fever and digestive troubles since their flight to China: Sanchez, Igor Anton, Igor Astarloza and Mikel Nieve.
Understandably, Sanchez didn’t train on Sunday or Monday, and rode only for an hour and a half on Tuesday. At dinner after the time trial, he forced himself to eat a dish of spaghetti and meatballs.
“Cycling is strange, perhaps I will be much better tomorrow,” he said.
Despite his illness, Spaniard looked tranquillo and gave some of his time to the local media who made him the mascot of the race and reminded him every minute that he became an Olympic champion in the same city. “I have a lot of good memories and I'm really happy to be here."
There is nothing tired or flat in Sanchez's voice when he is asked to recall August 9, 2008. While some other riders are not entirely happy to have travelled to Beijing, he seems to be enjoying his time here, a burst of good cheer in the bunch.
The Chinese branch of bike factory Orbea, Euskaltel's supplier, travelled from Shanghai to Beijing in order to follow the team almost the whole week, take pictures and launch PR events. “Cycling China” magazine also did an interview and photo shoot with Sanchez on Wednesday night.
Sanchez said he “wanted to come here to remember some very big personal moments and also to see this big country again.”
In contrast with 2008, when he had to skip the opening ceremony which took place only one day before the race, Sanchez is taking time to enjoy the Olympic Village near his hotel.
Suddenly, Sanchez drew his smartphone out of his pocket. “Look!” He showed a picture of a statue built in his town, Oviedo, to pay tribute to him. “There is a street with my name too!” he said. “There are two streets actually: one for Fernando Alonso and one for me.”
One of the pictures shows the statue wearing a polka-dot jersey, in reference to another of Sanchez' successes, at the last Tour de France. When asked which is the bigger victory in his eyes, the “maillot à pois” or the Olympic gold medal, he hesitated for ten seconds. “It's hard to say. The Olympic title is surely a bit more important, as it gave me the public and media's recognition. Plus it's the supreme goal for any athlete."
Besides, Sanchez admits that he didn't target the polka-dot jersey until his victory at the top of Luz-Ardiden, and won it “thanks to the new ranking which favours the pure climbers.” In 2012 he says it won't be a goal to capture it again.
“To be honest I don't know what my schedule will be,” he said. “There are a lot of things to do, including the world championships, as the course suits me. I will go to the Tour for sure, perhaps to the Giro or the Vuelta, but the recovery time won't be big enough between the Tour and Vuelta.”
Almost as an afterthought, Sanchez adds: “There are the Olympics too...”
Although the parcours is less hilly than in Beijing, Euskaltel's leader thinks he has got some chance of winning again. “The race will be long, the circuit's climb is quite difficult and Cavendish won't have as many teammates as in Copenhagen. So it's not impossible to win again. The best thing for me would be a confusing and complicated race.”
More than ever while he competes in Beijing, Sanchez isn't ready to lose his Olympic crown.