By Antonio J. Salmerón
Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) has had a good year so far, winning the stage races Paris-Nice and the Tour Méditerranéen. Come Tour de France time he will however be 100 percent loyal to his team captain, Alejandro Valverde.
Despite his good year, Sánchez doesn't see himself at the top yet. "I return to the Tour for the learning experience and to help our team leader, Alejandro Valverde, as much as I can. We are convinced that this season he is in the best possible form and that he can fight for the overall win."
Sánchez has no problem playing the domestique "for Valverde or any other teammate considered by [Team Manager] Eusebio Unzúe. I need a couple of more years to mature and then I can start contesting for the Tour win." He knows there are no guarantees in the biggest bike race in the world. "I can't say I will win the Tour, as there can only be one and he has to be a great cyclist, but I am not ruling out contesting for victory in the future."
Sánchez knows what a good teammate is worth and he was definitely happy to have Oscar Pereiro at his side in Paris-Nice. "He has a lot of experience and can read the races very well. For example, he really calmed me down when Contador attacked from far our in the last stage of Paris-Nice. I punctured right then, and Pereiro took control [of the chase]," said Sánchez.
Despite downplaying his overall options in the Tour de France, he has already achieved a stage win last year. It is for his victory salute that he now received the Mejor Gesta Deportiva ("best sports gesture") award from the Association of the Sports Press in Murcia, his Spanish home region. You can discuss this and other great victory salutes in our forum thread " Victory Salute Like A Pro".
Sánchez knows where his recent success were coming from. "It is thanks to the hard work that I did in the last few seasons that weren't rewarded then." He already felt in optimal form at his season start in Australia and realised he was up for a good first third of the season. "I usually like to start the season out strongly and I do the same programme to be at 100 percent in those races that I now won."
His recent racing left him a bit tired and he had no desire to touch his bike until after the Vuelta al País Vasco, but reason quickly settled back in. "It's a race where I know the route very well and which usually fits my characteristics, especially since there is a time trial."
He essentially won Paris-Nice by time trialing away from his competitors in stage seven and it is a form of racing he thoroughly enjoys. "I will ride the Dauphiné Libéré and then the Spanish National Championships, where I want to defend my time trial title from last year."