By Antonio J. Salmerón
Carlos Sastre confronted the three Grand Tours last season: Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España. But this year has been a bit different for him. He was not at the Giro and in the Tour the CSC leader finished fourth, as well as last year. Now, the Vuelta (September 1 to 23) will be his next challenge.
"I always love this race. Once I recovered from the Tour, I think that I have done with my training, so I aspire to be on the podium in the end," the 32 year-old Spaniard explained to Cyclingnews.
"There are no rivals for me because the maximum rival I have is myself; the rivals are chosen by the route." Indeed, Sastre considered that the Vuelta's route favours the climbers. "Yes, I think so, because there are six very demanding mountain stages [Lagos de Covadonga, Ordino, Cerler, Granada, Abantos and Ávila - ed.] but also the one which includes the Alto Campoo climb [Logroño], and only two time trial stages, in Zaragoza [49 km] and in Villalba [25 km]."
The first mountain stage on the top of the Lagos de Covadonga climb will be "a serous test" for the Vuelta GC candidates, "mainly, because the next day we will confront another very demanding stage between Cangas de Onís and Reinosa." In Sastre's opinion, it will be also very important "to recover before facing the long time trial between Cariñena and Zaragoza because the main differences will be made there."
"Obviously, the two mountain stages in the Pyrénées [Cerler and Ordino Arcalís - ed.] could decide the race, although this Vuelta's route has been designed in order to maintain the sense of expectancy from the beginning to the end," Sastre warned.
In the third week there are two key stages: "Talavera de la Reina-Ávila and Ávila-Alto de Abantos." Sastre knows this region very well because he lives near there and usually trains there. "A selected group always arrive to Ávila, so that we have to pay more attention in order not to let a rive save himself or to have an opportunity," the veteran rider from El Barraco (Ávila) concluded.
Sastre will be accompanied by a strong group formed by his countryman Iñigo Cuesta, the Danes Michael Blaudzun and Chris Anker Sørensen, American Christian Vande Velde, Russian Alexandr Kolobnev, Dutchman Karsten Kroon, Swede Marcus Ljungqvist and Ukrainian Volodimir Gustov.