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Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel - Euskadi) rides the cobbles.
Olympic champion relieved to survive Arenberg stage
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) limited his losses on the stage to Arenberg that took out an important general classification contender in Saxo Bank's Fränk Schleck. The Basque rider, inexperienced on the cobbles, was relieved the stage was over and happy to have finished it in 37th position, 2:08 minutes down on stage winner Thor Hushovd.
Sanchez may have lost the same amount of time to his overall rivals Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans but the Spaniard is satisfied with his result. "The stage to Arenberg went OK," he told Cyclingnews. "I had a little mechanic problem as I also got caught in the crash that took out Fränk Schleck, and then my rear wheel broke. I went until the finish like that. But overall, it was fine. I lost two minutes to Andy Schleck, but my position now is OK with guys like Carlos Sastre, Robert Gesink and Ivan Basso behind me on general classification. I am satisfied with the outcome."
The Olympic champion did not suffer any injuries in the tumble that broke the elder Schleck's collarbone and was happy that the stage was behind him. "I must admit that I was afraid of this stage, yes,” he said. “I'm relieved. I did reconnaissance of the stage in May, but I was very afraid of crashing on the cobbles."
Sanchez' objectives at this Tour are clear. "I always like to improve my previous performances," he said. "In 2008, I finished sixth on general classification, and got second behind Carlos Sastre in the stage leading to Alpe d'Huez. This year, I would like to win a stage and improve on that overall sixth placing. I know it is going to be difficult, but you just have to fight and have confidence."
The leader of Euskaltel-Euskadi is starting the three-week race in perfect condition, hoping to realise his goals. "I feel good. I raced the Dauphiné, which was good. Then, the training sessions I did afterwards also went fine. Now, I only lack that final percentage of fitness that will come during the race. I will improve step by step and I hope that I will peak just at the right time."
For the climber, this will be the third week of racing, when the Tour will lead over the Pyrenees and its most difficult mountain peaks. "The Pyrenean stages are very hard, very challenging," he said. "The stage leading up to the Tourmalet will decide the podium, together with the 50km-time trial. As a result, the Pyrenees will be much more difficult than the Alps, and there will certainly be a lot of spectacle.
"I like this Tour route, as the most difficult parts are in the final week, where I always feel very good," he added.
But for now, Sanchez is taking one day at a time, hoping to get through this week's fast finishes without crashing. "The Tour, like every three-week race, is a race of elimination. You have to be regular and avoid any bad days. In the end, it's the rider that failed the least that is at the top of the general classification. There are still so many stages to go, including the mountains and the time trial. I'm confident."