It has been a very mixed season for Samuel Sánchez. The Euskaltel-Euskadi team leader started it with four main objectives: the Tour of the Basque Country, the Tour de France, the Olympics and the World Championship. After several near-misses, Sánchez finally claimed the overall prize in the Basque Country, but was forced out of the Tour with a fractured hand, which also prevented him from defending his Olympic road race title.
Another heavy fall at last month's Tour du Poitou-Charentes jeopardised the Spaniard's hopes of racing at the Worlds. However, the injuries he sustained in the French race weren't as bad as initially feared, and this week he is making a debut appearance at the Tour of Britain, hoping to use it as a springboard for the Worlds.
Speaking to Cyclingnews in Gretna Green just hours after it was announced that he is among Spain's nine selections for the world road race in Valkenburg, Sánchez was very happy both with his form and his first experience of Britain. "I really like what I've seen of the country so far – the people, the countryside, all the kids out watching the race. I'd like to come back on holiday with my family," he said, as easygoing and relaxed as ever.
He confirmed that his form is getting better all the time and that he's increasingly optimistic about his hopes for the Worlds. "As long as I don't crash during this race, things are looking good for me. I'm taking it day by day. My arm is fine now. It's healed a lot faster than was expected when I crashed at the Tour – it was a hell of an impact, very hard. It meant that I had to go back to kilometre zero in terms of competition. But I've been working very hard," he said.
"I wanted to get back into the rhythm of competition by riding here, I'm making some big efforts and really liking the race because it's not especially tough, but the pace is very quick. There's not too many riders here who are right at the very top level, so that means that it's a bit more comfortable, that there's less danger. It should set me up well for the Worlds and for the races I'm doing beyond that – Piemonte, Lombardy and the Tour de Beijing."
With several strong Amstel Gold performances behind him, Sánchez knows all too well that the Valkenburg course should suit him. "It is very tough, there's no doubt about that," he said. "It's very similar to the Amstel Gold Race but it's tougher. Amstel is a race that I like and that I know I'm well suited to – narrow roads, rain, cold, just like it is at home in Asturias. I think if I get to the level that I want to be at then it will suit me very well, and I also think it will suit my team very well."
With Vuelta a España podium finishers Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodríguez also in the Spanish team alongside three-time world champion Oscar Freire, there's no doubt Spain's line-up has plenty of options, but Sánchez doesn't see Spain as obvious favourites for the rainbow jersey.
"Spain have got a very strong team, at least in terms of results. That is because the riders who filled the podium at the Vuelta are part of the team. But I think there are stronger teams than Spain from a physical standpoint – Belgium are very strong, Italy are very strong. We will have to see what kind of shape the Spanish riders from the Vuelta are in at the Worlds, because the battle between them at the Vuelta was so intense," said Sánchez.
He also revealed that he has been planning for the Worlds for some time already this season. "The fact that the finish is 2km beyond the Cauberg will change things tactically, as will the fact we will be racing without radios. I think that will suit me. I've been getting used to racing without a radio once again. I've raced quite a few times this year without a radio. I like it racing like that – I like it a lot. You have to improvise a lot, and no one can predict what is going to happen, but I really like that. It's a return to how cycling used to be," he said.
Once again, though, he emphasised that his first task is to attain the form he needs to be competitive at the Worlds. "I hope I will be there. Like I said, I'm taking it day by day. I am improving. My only objective here is to get several days of competition under my belt – it's all about rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. It's quite a long race over 1,300km, almost half as long as a Grand Tour, but the good thing is that I'm not going to get the fatigue that always affects you at a Grand Tour. Don't forget that Mark Cavendish won the Worlds after riding here last year. Let's hope it works out the same way this year…"
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).