BMC Racing veteran Samuel Sánchez has so far managed to fly under the radar when it comes to the GC battle.
But when the race reaches the toughest climbs of the 2014 Vuelta a España in his native Asturias region later this week at the Lagos de Covadonga on Sunday and again at the Farrapona on Monday, that may well no longer be the case.
“Things are going well, but the toughest stages lie ahead,” Sánchez - sixth overall - told Cyclingnews at the Vuelta stage 12 start, “above all in Asturias, where they are expecting bad weather, too.
“The [stage to] Farrapona [stage 16, in Asturias] will be the toughest mountain stage of the entire Vuelta, with 4,600 metres of vertical climbing, and where the differences will not be measured in seconds, as they have been up to now, but in minutes.
“I’m pleased with how I’m going in general, less than two minutes behind the leader even if I’m aware there are five riders ahead of me overall. But in any case I’m in a better place than I could be, too, and in a three-week stage race a lot can happen at any point. Right up to the last day.”
So far in the Vuelta, Sánchez says that the time trial, where the Asturian finished fifth at 48 seconds and only nine seconds down on race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), was the best day of the race for him.
“It was a very complicated stage, terrain where it was hard to judge your effort, and doing so well, me getting fifth and [teammate] Cadel [Evans] sixth shows that our form is good. Let’s just hope that all my bad luck got left behind in 2012 when I fell [in the Tour de France] and broke just about everything.”
After seven months where Sánchez has been working for the other leaders in BMC Racing, at the Vuelta, he is the protected rider for the squad - and some well-respected names are looking after him on home soil.
“Overall, things are going well. Having Cadel Evans, Philippe Gilbert, Manuel Quinziato shadowing me is great. Losing Steve [Morabito, crashed out and abandoned on stage 10 - Ed] the other day was a major blow. But it’s a great feeling to know that the team is behind me 100 per cent.”
As for what kind of result he would be happy with in Santiago de Compostela on September 14, “a top-10 place would be ideal and I will do my best to defend my overall position.
“if I can do better, then so much the better, but it’s important to be aware that you can slide backwards as well as move forwards at this point in the game.”