Spanish climber Samuel Sanchez is looking forward to next season and already eyeing the defence of his 2011 polka dot jersey at the Tour de France. Speaking to Biciciclismo, the Euskaltel-Euskadi leader said that the most important asset in the sport was to aim for realistic objectives, using precise planning and the experience he's accumulated over the years.
"I think that you have to fight for real objectives. We know that winning the overall Tour is complicated for us because there are riders that just have a little bit more than we do. But I can continue to fight for stage victories, a top overall placing close to the podium and the mountains jersey," Sanchez said.
The Olympic champion has had his most successful year at the Tour de France, winning at Luz-Ardiden and receiving the honours on the podium in Paris for having been the race's best climber. Although he admits that there is always room and a will for improvement, he said: "It may be impossible to do better. This year our outcome was excellent. Of course you always want more, but this year's Tour was very, very good for us."
He cited seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and 2011 overall winner Cadel Evans as examples for his realistic policy. "You have to plan things really well. The perfect example is Armstrong, who knew how to plan and how to win the Tour. This year for example the guy that's done it the best was Cadel Evans: every race that he did he won, or finished in the top three. But he knew how to set up a plan, and moreover showed that at more than 32 years of age, you can be at the top. Cadel did an impressive season and you have to follow his line: to know how to choose your goals and set up a plan, do things with more and more commitment, without changing - but of course trying to improve at the same time," said Sanchez, who also called on experience as another key factor to success.
"Experience is fundamental in today's cycling, it is what makes you win or lose races. Every year you gain some more knowledge and that's something that you can't pay for with money."
Despite his considerable experience at the Tour de France, the 33-year-old echoed other contenders' sentiments that the 2012 race route disadvantaged the climbers, making his bid for the podium in Paris more difficult. "Sometimes, the route benefits some riders more than others," he said. "It clearly disadvantages the climbers next year, there's no team time trial and in the individual time trial you can lose a lot. Moreover, there are other riders that continuously improve."
Sanchez also commented about the Olympics in London next year, where he will line up in defence of his gold medal from Beijing in 2008. "There's a lot of controversy about the Games. They say it's flat, and if Cavendish already wins the pre-Olympic test event omens are there... but I think that all one-day races above 200 kilometres are difficult and there are nine laps on the final circuit. I spoke to José Luis [De Santos, the Spanish team coach] and he told me that it would be hard and that the weather could be to our advantage, with a little rain and not too warm," he said.
A possible return to the Vuelta a España was also discussed. Sanchez hasn't raced his home Grand Tour for two years, even though he has finished on the podium in Madrid twice and won a total of five stages at the Vuelta. He explained that if he went back to the Vuelta, it would be with the aim of winning the overall classification - and it may not be in 2012. "I cherish the Vuelta most of all races, it has given me everything as a cyclist," he said. "I would love to go back, but I don't know when because I don't have a lot of years left at the top level. But I would like to come back to it one year to try and win it. The objective would be the victory because I've already completed all the previous steps like being second, third, win stages...
"But we are lucky enough to have Igor Anton in the team, who also has a soft spot for the Vuelta, and I think it is up to him now to fight for the big prize. I don't know if I'll go this year, at the moment it is up in the air."