Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) believes that the Vuelta a España will be “the most interesting of all three Grand Tours this year because there is no stand-out favourite” - and although the veteran Spaniard has not named himself as a main contender, the former Olympic road-race champion is widely tipped to be in that category.
After an uneven Giro in which he came within a whisker of winning the uphill time trial in the third week, and a timely victory in the toughest stage of the Criterium du Dauphine, Sánchez will take part in his sixth Vuelta a España this year - a race in which, as he told Spanish sports daily Marca on Thursday, he has come consistently close to hitting the bulls eye.
“Only the overall victory is missing from my palmares, I’ve been third, second and won five stages,” Sánchez, who has never finished worse than 15th overall in Madrid [in 2004, since when he has steadily improved on his placings, finally reaching his runner’s-up spot in 2009], said. And after “almost the whole of July in Sierra Nevada [at altitude in southern Spain]” his form for his first Vuelta in five years should be good.
“I’m going to go for it day by day,” he told Marca, “because all the stages have something about them that’s a challenge and you can’t ever let your guard down. We start off with a team time trial and then the day after we’ve got the first mountain-top finish.”
“It’s going to be a fun race for fans to follow, but really tough on the riders.”
“The two toughest stages will be [stage 15] to Peyragudes, which is the hardest in terms of length and climbing, and then [stage 20] to the Angliru.”
Samu’s overall finish in Madrid is one question mark which will be hanging over Sánchez all the way through the next three weeks - and should he win, it would be Euskaltel-Euskadi’s first and last Grand Tour victory in their 17 year history. But another incognito, given the Basque team’s imminent disappearance is what Sánchez plans to do for next season - and with which team he will be racing.
“I can’t discuss that,” he said, although it is widely known he had two more years on his contract, through to the end of 2015, with Euskaltel-Euskadi. “My lawyers have advised me just to concentrate on the Vuelta. It’s not easy, but that’s what I’m trying to do.”