Defending Tour de France champion calls race "boring"
On a sun-drenched Monday morning in Martigny, the start town of the sixteenth stage of the 96th Tour de France, it was a miffed Carlos Sastre who presented himself to the media.
What was he angry about?
"Because the first question I got about this Tour de France was, 'What do you think about Armstrong and Contador?'" he told reporters in Martigny, his brown eyes appearing to blaze a certain anger.
Asked Sastre rhetorically: "Do you think that is respectful? I don't know."
Sastre said he hasn't been treated like a defending Tour de France champion from the Spanish media in particular. "I have more respect from the spectators than all of you," he said to the entire media contingent who gathered at the Mercure hotel in Martigny.
Instead, the 34-year-old from Madrid says he's been continually asked to feed comments to the press to fuel the rift – if there actually is one – between Astana team-mates Alberto Contador, the new race leader after Sunday's fifteenth stage to Verbier, and seven-time Tour champion, Lance Armstrong, who is second overall, 1:37 behind the maillot jaune.
Furthermore, while he said he's content with how he's ridden so far – he's currently 11th on the overall classification, 3:52 behind Contador – and happy with his team, the 2009 Tour de France has been lacklustre and uninspiring for him. So much so, that as he grows older, Sastre says he continues to understand less about racing today than before.
"The race has been like it is since the beginning. It still is the same fight – the rest of the riders are out [of contention to win]. It's a boring race, from outside and inside," he said.
Prodded what he means by "boring", Sastre replied: "What is boring? There's no attacks, no tactics, nothing… Just a strong team, one rider – one of the best in the world – will win the race, that's all.
"When you see the tactics on television, I don't know if you like that. Yesterday [Stage 15], it was one rider [Contador] in front, two teammates pulling behind [Klöden and Armstrong]; another rider from another team attacking [Andy Schleck], the other rider of the same team [Fränk Schleck] attacking behind him. I don't understand anything about cycling. This is my twenty-first Grand Tour, but every year I understand less about cycling.
"Maybe this is the Tour de France they [the organisers] want, and this is what you have now."
Sastre: "The Tour is over in Paris" – but there's always Ventoux
So is the winner of the 2009 Tour de France decided for sure, then? "I said so the first rest day. The Tour is over in Paris," said Sastre.
"I didn't have big goals in this race. I'm not here to beat Contador, I'm just here to be in this race.
"The owner of Cervelo [Gerard Vroomen] said before this Tour de France that we have already won, because we are in the Tour de France. Of course, we had two goals, but nobody asked me to get results; this is a team that grows with a different philosophy. They are happy with the image of the team. It's a boring race, but I'm happy because I have all my teammates close to me, and that is more important than what is going on outside."
With Sastre's words, there appeared to be a disconnect. On one hand, he was saying he was enjoying his time immensely among his teammates, but on the other, he found the media to be disrespectful based on his previous achievements and the Tour boring, according to how his rivals were racing.
If there was no race like the Tour de France, the media would not attend, nor would there be reason to create an outfit like the Cérvelo TestTeam. It is true: the media has overplayed the potential Armstrong-Contador rivalry – but one could also argue that on certain occasions, what we have seen out on the road the past fortnight has been a product of having two champions capable of winning the Tour on one team.
And whether one likes it or not, most teams with a rider or two capable of winning the Tour choose a line-up and strategy with the purpose of winning, as success often guarantees their continued existence. The majority of sponsors look for a result.
"You create a competition between two riders," explained Sastre, referring to what he regards as a faux-rivalry between Contador and Armstrong. "When you cannot talk more about that fight, you ask Carlos Sastre to do something.
"Since the first rest day, I said to my teammates, 'Okay boys, you have freedom, you can do whatever you want in this race. If you want to fight for a stage victory, you can do it. Feel free.'
"I know my limits, and know my limits of just about every one of my rivals. I'm not frustrated with anything," he insisted.
After much to-ing and fro-ing with the Spanish journalists present, Sastre was finally asked if there's a stage he'd like to win, now that he believes winning overall is no longer possible.
"I said before the most important stage for me is the Ventoux [on Stage 20]. I would like to try and win that one, because on September 9 this year, people in Belgium and Holland have organised an event to help raise money for people with cancer, and I will be at that event.
"I think it's more important [to help people in need] than to win the Tour de France. When I won the Tour de France, it was like… nothing. But when you do something for a person who needs help, they give you a lot of things. You don't need to be a star – you need to be just a person. I feel happier doing something for people who really need something than for people who don't need anything. That is the difference," he said.
By the end of the press conference, and after forty minutes of questions and answers, many of the journalists were wondering what they did that was so wrong, or whether Carlos Sastre really wants to be at this Tour de France. Still, he has declared his intentions to triumph atop Mont Ventoux – so expect a fight.
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"The race has been like it is since the beginning... It's a boring race, from outside and inside."
-Sastre questions the tactics of other teams.