Euskaltel-Euskadi has made no bones about the fact that the Tour de France stage that presents the biggest obstacle to its chances of putting team leader Samuel Sánchez onto the podium in Paris is the second-day team time trial at Les Essarts.
But the Basque squad has taken steps to mitigate its potential losses on that stage by bringing its nine Tour riders together for a day of team time trial training near Logroño, in Spain’s northern province of Rioja.
The training day required Sánchez to fly in from a high-altitude training camp in the Sierra Nevada to join his eight teammates. The nine riders then spent two-and-a-half hours working with team manager Igor González de Galdeano and DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia. As well as establishing the best positions for each rider in the Euskaltel line for the Les Essarts test, the team also attempted to work out how long each rider should lead the line and tinkered with the set-up on the Orbea time trial bikes.
Even though the test only extends to 23km, Sánchez has acknowledged that he could lose 90 seconds and perhaps even two minutes to some of his key rivals. Euskaltel’s last place finish in the equivalent test at the Giro d’Italia suggests the Olympic champion could be right, given that Euskaltel’s nine riders that day lost 1:13 over 19.3km.
González de Galdeano, who once formed part of ONCE’s formidable team time trial line-up, played down concerns about the team time trial. “It’s a tough test, but I’m not worried,” he told El Correo. “We’ll be able to see what kind of potential we have as a team. I hope that we can finish about halfway up the standings. Leopard, Saxo Bank, Astana, Garmin, Rabobank and RadioShack are well ahead of the rest. But over 23km there won’t be big differences, at least I hope there won’t be.”
González de Galdeano also explained that the team will be divided into two halves designed to support Sánchez’s quest for a podium place and stage win. “For the first 10 days of the race, we will be looking to Gorka Izagirre, Alan Pérez, Rubén Pérez and Pablo Urtasun to cover him. Then, in the mountains, he will have the support of Egoi Martínez, Amets Txurruka and Gorka Verdugo.”
The Euskaltel boss also suggested that the first half of this year’s Tour will not follow the norm. “You could get the impression that the first 10 days are flat, but they are not at all. We start with a finish on a fourth-category climb, then there’s the team time trial and on the fourth stage we finish on the Mûr de Bretagne. Then on the sixth stage, we head into the Massif Central, and the sprinters aren’t going to have much of a chance there.”
He added that the identity of the Tour winner should become clear in the Pyrenees, while the stages in the Alps will decide the places below the champion. More than a podium finish, he said his team’s goal will be “to win a stage. The podium might then become an option as a consequence of this possible victory.”