By Jesper Johannesen, Feltet.dk
Carlos Sastre is one of the stage-race specialists on Team CSC, but despite victories like his 2003 Tour de France stage win in Plateau de Bonascre, he's often been in the shadow of the team's other stars - Laurent Jalabert, Tyler Hamilton and lately Ivan Basso. But there's no doubt that team manager Bjarne Riis rates the diminutive Spaniard highly.
Sastre says that for 2006 the pressure certainly hasn't decreased with the new signing of the new riders, in fact it has probably just increased. As top ProTour team in 2005 Team CSC is expected to get results. "We're a group of good riders, and the season is long. We have to get out and win some races, because we're such a big team", he says. "We will have a lot of pressure on ourselves in the next season too."
Sastre's own preparation for the season is focused very much on the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. "I'm going to ride the Tour de France year, where the goal will be to help Ivan Basso," he says. The role as a helper for the Tour captain isn't new for the Spanish climber, but will be different from with his role as a helper for, say, Tyler Hamilton, where Sastre also had the opportunity to take his own chances. This time it looks like everything will be focused on a victory for Ivan Basso. Bjarne Riis has previously said that a team shouldn't be focused on only one captain unless there's a clear opportunity for an overall victory. With Ivan Basso's strong performance last year the situation is clear.
On the other hand Carlos Sastre will get the same support in his home country's grand tour as Ivan Basso in the Tour de France. Sastre finished a very fine third place in this year's Vuelta a España. "I've had a good season this year, where I reached the podium in the Vuelta, and I want to do that again," he says.
Both Sastre and Basso will ride two Grand Tours in 2006 and be expected to perform well in both - not necessarily by the team, but as an Italian Basso will be in the spotlight in the Giro d'Italia. But Sastre doesn't think double grand tours will be a problem.
"Normally I should be capable of doing that," he says. "I did that last season, and actually I've done so almost [every season] since I turned pro. My racing calendar will of course be arranged so that it will fit that, and therefore I hope that this will be possible again. After the Tour I'll relax a little and prepare thoroughly for the Vuelta."
The season hasn't started yet, but the preparations are already well under way, and with the winter coming to Denmark, Carlos Sastre has returned to warmer skies, where snow and slippery roads won't interfere in building up his shape for the season.