The good news for 2008 Olympic road-race champion Samuel Sánchez this Christmas is that his contract with the soon-to-be-defunct Euskaltel-Euskadi, which technically had him racing for the Basque squad until 2015, has been formally declared null and void. The bad? He still doesn’t know where he’s racing next year.
“A new contract would be the ideal Christmas present,” Sánchez, 35, told Cyclingnews on Monday, “but for now there’s nothing.”
As leader of Euskaltel-Euskadi, Sánchez has been at the centre of the will-they-won’t-they soap opera over whether the team will continue all year. “One minute there was good news, the next there was really bad news. Ever since the Giro, there’s never been a quiet moment. But you have to learn to roll with the punches,” he said.
“In a sense I’ve hit on a perfect storm: the sponsorship crisis in Spain, Euskaltel ending and then things not working out for a new team. It’s been a real emotional rollercoaster of a year.”
Nonetheless, that did not stop him taking the squad’s biggest victory of 2013, the toughest mountain stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné, as well as a frustrating near miss in the uphill time trial of the Giro d’Italia at Polsa, where he was only beaten by Vincenzo Nibali. Despite the extra pressure brought about by the uncertainty over his professional future, Sánchez also secured eighth place overall in the Vuelta a España, and twelfth in the Giro.
A Vuelta and Tour podium finisher who won the King of the Mountains prize in 2011 as well as a mountain stage to Luz Ardiden, Sánchez was 22 when he joined Euskaltel-Euskadi and will be 36 next February, making him the longest-standing pro with the Basque team – one season more, even, than another emblematic Euskaltel rider, Roberto Laiseka, whose entire career was with the squad. But as Sanchez says, that chapter is now over and he has to look forward.
“I no longer have anything to do with Euskaltel-Euskadi, we reached an agreement to end the contract and now I have to move on, and look for a team if there’s one free and, hopefully, with a calendar that would suit me.”
Sánchez has been training normally near his home town of Oviedo as if he was going to start the 2014 season as usual. “It’s pretty odd to be riding with no sponsor on your jersey or on your bike for the first time ever, and also not to know where you’ll be racing the following year,” he said.
“But the situation is what it is and you have to adapt to that. I’m training so that at least if a team decides that I should sign for them, I’m in good shape. I was in Dubai for a week, training there, and since Friday I’ve been back here in Spain.”
Sánchez has no date set for a possible retirement should that become his only option, nor indeed is he at all willing to contemplate the idea of ‘dropping down a level’ and racing as an amateur in order to try to form part of Formula One star Fernando Alonso’s much-heralded new squad in 2015: “no way would I do that, at my age that's not possible.”
“The only ‘reality’ at the moment is that I don’t have a team for 2014. Nothing is signed and I’m still looking. I would love to be able to say I’ve signed with Saxo or Omega or Orica or Astana or any team, but that’s not the case. It’s as bad as it sounds.
“The last thing I want to do is retire like this, stop racing because I’ve got no choice, and as a result of circumstances that had nothing to do with me.”
He freely admits that signing for Tinkoff-Saxo, as the team will be called in 2014, would “be great. Alberto [Contador] is the best bike rider of the last decade and anybody would like to race alongside him. Not only that, but he was with me when I won in Beijing, and that’s special. We get on well, too.”
While Contador is focusing on the Tour, Sánchez has his own objectives that he would like to achieve before retiring, which include adding to his 28 victories and three Grand Tour podium finishes.
“It’s the same with any bike rider, you’re always thinking about what other objectives you might have. In my case, I’d still like to win a Grand Tour and the World Championships road race. I know it’ll be hard, but hey, dreaming is free.
“Seriously, though, my big dream right now is to go on racing. Let’s hope the Three Kings” – Spain’s equivalent of Father Christmas – “bring me a nice present.”