Sastre – Champion with a heart

In the saddle, Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre is tough against his rivals, offering them...

In the saddle, Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre is tough against his rivals, offering them beatings like in Alpe d'Huez in this year's Tour de France. Off the saddle, however, Sastre reveals his social side, and often talks about his family and engages in a few charities. His social awareness helped develop the only fan club he has. Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake took a look at the Amigos Carlos Sastre.

A day after winning the criterium in Aalst, Belgium, Carlos Sastre visited the University of Gent hospital to meet with children who have cancer. Sastre gave out T-shirts, hats and other things that made the children's eyes light up. It was Sastre's fourth visit to the hospital, but his involvement in this institution in Belgium stems from a curious fact. His only fan club – besides one of close family members – Amigos Carlos Sastre, is in Aalter, near Gent.

The club counted 500 members before the Tour de France. Barely a week after the race had concluded, the membership, which is based on donations, was up to 700. As little as five euro will do the trick, with no upper limits. The club was founded by Freddy Plehiers, who is friends with CSC's team doctor Joost De Maeseneer.

Maeseneer introduced Plehiers to Sastre in 2002. Plehiers and Sastre crossed paths several times after that at races. Sastre started to recognise Plehiers and his friend, Roland Schautteet. Schautteet had the added advantage of speaking Spanish.

Schautteet now serves as the president of the Amigos Carlos Sastre, and has helped to push the charitable aspect of the club. At the Six Days in Gent in November 2007, Plehiers and Schautteet were able to present a check of 5,000 euro to the foundation. The club had raised 2,500 euro and Sastre doubled the money. Sastre presented the check to the president of the University.

At the criterium in Aalst, a day after the 2008 Tour de France had concluded, members could be seen walking around the course. They enjoyed the racing, but always had one watchful eye for potential new members. Dieter Dullaers and Christoph Eeckhout were two of those that signed up new donors on the spot. "We signed up quite a few people this afternoon, when Sastre was in Aalter. There were lots of people and the press was there, too."

Sastre pitched in even more this time. From the money he received in Aalst, he donated 10,000 euro. Another 7,500 euro came from the criterium in Holland. And he equipped the club with 150 T-shirts, with the sale's proceeds also going to the foundation.

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