Euskaltel team leader Samuel Sánchez is set to return to race action this weekend at the Vuelta a Andalucía after an off-season when he underwent surgery to repair a nagging hip injury and, more recently, was promoted to third place in the 2010 Tour de France as a result of his friend Alberto Contador’s disqualification from that race.
Speaking to La Voz de Asturias as the prepared for Andalucía at a training camp in Alicante, the 2008 Olympic road race champion laid out his plans for the season, which he hopes will include the defence of his Olympic crown in London this summer. “I can’t wait to get back to racing because this winter seems to have been especially long due to the bad weather. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling to southern Spain in order to train and now it’s time to see if I’m on the right track again,” he said.
Sánchez is confident his winter preparation will set him up for another good season, especially having recovered particularly quickly from his mid-November surgery. “The surgeons managed to cut down the post-recovery period quite incredibly. Just 10 days after the operation I was able to get back on the home trainer,” he explained. “I hope that the first win isn’t too far away because this is going to be a complicated year and I want tackle it in the same positive way as usual.”
Following Andalucía, the Euskaltel team leader, who turned 34 last week, is scheduled to ride the Vuelta a Murcia, the Volta a Catalunya and Vuelta al País Vasco, then rest for a time before starting his build-up to the Tour, which is set to include an appearance at the Critérium du Dauphiné. His hope is that this will set him up for a summer at least as good as last year’s, when he took a stage win and the King of the Mountains title at the Tour.
“The first thing I need to do this year is to achieve the same condition I had last year. Once the races start to come I will begin to think about objectives. We are starting the season with the idea of improving on last year, but that is going to be very complicated,” he admitted. “But the least we can do is try.”
He added that receiving the mountains jersey on the Tour podium in Paris last year was a moment that he will never forget. Another highlight of his career was that Olympic win in Beijing. He knows selection for the Spanish team will be tough, but hopes he can make the cut. “The selector knows that he can count on me and I hope to be among the five riders who will be going out to defend the title, but it’s still too soon to talk about that,” he said.
One rider who definitely won’t be in London is Sánchez’s good friend Alberto Contador, whose ban runs until August 6, effectively sidelining him from the Games. The imposition of that ban also resulted in Sánchez being promoted to a podium finish in the 2010 Tour with Contador stripped of the victory, but the Spaniard says he is not happy with the situation.
“I think that the penalty imposed on Alberto was unjust and excessive, especially when they recognized that he had not doped. Finishing third in that way does not make me happy, as I’ve got no memories and emotions of the moment. It’s come out of the blue without me being able to savour it,” he admitted.
Looking further down the line, Sánchez said he is unlikely to line up in the Vuelta a España this season, but said that the two stages in his home region of Asturias are likely to be decisive. He expects the stage to the new Cuitu Negro summit to be particularly tough. He added that he expects to return to the Vuelta in future seasons with the goal of going for the title.