It's been a bittersweet Tour de France thus far for Luis León Sánchez. The Caisse d'Epargne captain has lost two teammates - Oscar Pereiro and Rui Alberto Faria da Costa - but the Spanish rider also captured a stage win in Saint-Girons, taking his Tour tally to two victories.
As the race heads into the Alps, he reflected on his Tour so far and what lay ahead on the road to Paris. Sánchez didn't get off to an ideal start, admitting that he couldn't correctly gauge the rhythm necessary to ride well and was unhappy with his opening time trial performance. It wasn't long before that was rectified, albeit whilst losing co-captain Oscar Pereiro, the 2006 champion forced to abandon on July 11, the day of Sánchez's success.
"At the beginning of the second week I felt much better and the victory arrived at the very beginning of the week on the occasion of the eighth stage," he said. "It is true that I suffered a lot during the first days. I did not manage to increase the rhythm and it was very hard, also from a psychological point of view. The fourth day - the team time trial - things went rather well for us. I noted that my heart rate could go higher and that I was able to maintain the rhythm much easier.
"From there on my feelings improved each day more until the day of Saint-Girons which turned out to be the perfect day," he added.
Sánchez was a fancied candidate for a stage win in this year's Tour, the team pinning its hopes on the 25-year-old and Oscar Pereiro ahead of the start in Monaco. Despite the less-than-smooth opening week his victory was a massive boost to his morale.
"It goes without saying it has been very important,” he said. “On a personal level, it was further confirmation of the fact that when you work very hard you can obtain great victories and also that self-confidence is a fundamental point."
"For my team it as very important too because with the absence of Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro's abandon that same day, it would have been easy to be discouraged. Victory arrived at the best possible moment," he added.
Despite a parcours that may suit another attack from Sánchez, he doesn't believe today’s stage from Vittel to Colmar will determine much on the general classification. "I don't think there will be changes in the general classification but that we will have to wait till next Sunday before the favorites decide to attack each other," he said.
That may well suit the Spaniard, who sits in 11th overall, 2:16 behind race leader Rinaldo Nocentini. Another daring escape while the favourites are watching each other could bear him more fruit in this year's Tour, although he's not looking too far ahead, preferring to focus on the immediate tasks at hand.
"I want to go day-by-day, to concentrate on each stage and we will see which place will be mine in Paris," he explained.
"The most important thing for me is to see what I am able to achieve in a three-week race and if my legs can be alright until the last day. That is the most important for me, for my future in this race,” he added. “The point is that the Tour is a very hard race and every day it becomes more difficult because you're increasingly tired. We will see how I feel the last week. I hope to maintain the level which is mine today and if I can improve it, it will even be better."