By Shane Stokes
Temporarily delayed due to bad weather in Madrid, Carlos Sastre is heading to the US to meet up with his Cervélo team-mates and prepare for the Tour of California. February 14 will see the Tour de France champion begin his first race of the season, after which he will ride the Vuelta Castilla y León in March, then the Vuelta a Pais Vasco, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne in April.
Sastre will line out alongside his former teammate Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Lance Armstrong (Astana) in the American event, and will later join them in what will be a strong lineup for the Tour of Italy.
He said that being at a good level in this race is his first target of the year. "My goal is to be ready for the Giro. To be ready for the Tour. And to be ready for the Worlds," he told Cyclingnews. "If I am ready for it, I will aim for the overall classification in the Giro. The Tour too, of course. And the world championship is on a more difficult course this year. It is possible that a small break can go, maybe it is possible for me to finish higher than ever in that race."
This year's Tour de France will be very different to that of 2008, due to the expected participation of the Astana team. Not invited last summer, the Kazakh-sponsored squad will most likely be led by Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Klöden and Armstrong.
It's hard to say if Sastre personally agrees with the American's return or not; his answer is brief, to the point. "It is his decision," he said. "It is good for the media because the media is talking about cycling because of him. But nothing more."
"It won't change the way I will ride the Tour this year," he added. "I will focus on myself and my team. We have the number one through to nine [race numbers], and they have to try to take it from us, if they want."
Should things follow the pattern of recent years, the third week of the race should see him hit his best form. "That is how I am…that is one of my characteristics," he said of his ability to grow stronger as a Grand Tour progresses. "But it is also because I have enough experience to know what I have to do to do to arrive at the Tour de France in my best condition. All these things together, plus knowing the race as I now do, helps me to take decisions and to grow in strength during those three weeks."
Cyclingnews will have a complete interview with reigning Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre later today.