By Jean-François Quénet in Nice
Sunday in the south of France, Luis León Sánchez achieved the goal he has pursued for the past three years: to win Paris-Nice.
"It's great, I've really moved one step forward in my cycling career," said last year's Tour de France stage seven winner.
Despite the possibility that comes with his Paris-Nice win, Sánchez ruled out the option that he might race for a win at the Tour de France.
"It's impossible. In the Caisse d'Epargne team, we all have our respective programs and goals well established. At the Tour de France, our captains will be Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro. I'll be there for the purpose of helping my teammates."
"In particular, the Tour de France is Valverde's only goal for this year, and I'll gear up exclusively for that."
Should Valverde's chances be compromised for any reason, Sánchez offered a second explanation why a Tour de France win is not an option for him. "It's almost impossible to beat the Astana team. Its riders will have all the responsibility of the race on their shoulders."
That doesn't mean he'll never get the chance to beat his good friend Alberto Contador, who was loyal enough to warn buddy Sánchez that he would attack him during the final stage of Paris-Nice.
"Within two or three years, I hope I'll fight for the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, too."
Some have drawn analogies between Sánchez and Miguel Indurain, the five-time Spanish winner of the Tour de France. Indurain collected a win in Paris-Nice at age 25 on the way to what would be his first Tour de France win at age 27.
"I'm proud to be compared to him, but winning Paris-Nice like him doesn't mean I'll achieve everything he did after that," said Sánchez. "I'd be more than happy with one Tour de France win. I can only promise that I'll work hard to get more results."
After his triumph at Paris-Nice, Sánchez will stay on the French Riviera for a recovery period, and then he'll prepare for Milano-Sanremo with Oscar Pereiro. After the Vuelta a País Vasco, he'll take a month and a half off racing before resuming again at the Dauphiné Libéré in June.