Samuel Sanchez has said that the Euskaltel team had no choice but to break with its 18 year history and sign a number of riders with no links whatsoever to Basque cycling for 2013. Sanchez hopes the new arrivals will help spark a ‘change of mentality’ in the team.
Until now only riders born in the Basque Country or with strong links as an amateur rider, as was the case for Sanchez (born in Asturias but whose formative years as a cyclist were in Euskadi), were allowed to sign for Euskaltel. In 2013 the team will include eight foreign riders, ranging from Greek Ioannis Tamouridis to Africa Tour 2012 winner Tarik Chaqufi of Morocco, who have signed for the orange-clad squad along with Spaniards Jon Aberasturi (Orbea), Gari Bravo (Caja Rural) and Juanjo Lobato (Andalusia).
Sanchez explained to Spanish newspaper MARCA that although the team will stay faithful to its Basque roots, the new signings were “something we had to do if we wanted to stay in the WorldTour.”
“[Sponsor] Euskaltel wanted to be part of the top cycling league and Igor [Gonzalez de Galdeano, team manager] has achieved that. There’s nothing to criticise, because the foundation of the team is still formed by Basque riders or who raced as amateurs there, like me,” he said.
Sanchez says that he feels a change of direction was necessary in the team’s overall strategy.
“The WorldTour is very demanding and we have to change our mentality and race like a top-flight team, which is what we are in the WorldTour. We have to race to win and if not then remember that second, third and fourth places are also very important.”
Sanchez himself had four weeks off the bike after the Tour of Beijing before starting to build his form for the 2013 season, mixing intensive bouts of gym work with training rides. Although his crash in the Tour de France and subsequent injuries stopped his defense of his Olympic title, followed by another bad crash and abandon on stage three of the Tour de Poitou-Charantes in late August , Sanchez insists that his 2012 season was as bad as many believe.
In the first part of the year, the Euskaltel veteran secured an overall victory in the Tour of the Basque Country as well as a stage win and second place in the Volta and seventh in the Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. And with a second place in the Tour of Lombardy to round off the year, it could have ended a lot worse, too.
“After my second fall [in August in Poitou-Charantes] I wouldn’t have bet a single euro on me making it to the World’s and helping Valverde get a medal,” Sanchez said, “so I can’t complain.”
“I was going very well in the Tour de France, but I do recognise I didn’t have the form to win it. [Bradley] Wiggins [Sky] and [Chris] Froome [Sky] were both superior to the rest. What I was after was a top five result, to be in the fight for the podium.”
“Losing my chance to race the Games, though” - where Sanchez would have defended his gold medal from Beijing - “was my biggest disappointment. I had a lot of interest in that because the Games only come round once every four years.”
Sanchez, now 34, still has another three years signed with Euskaltel but when asked if he thinks of pulling down the curtain on his career in Rio’s Olympics he says it feels “a long way off. But [Alexandre] Vinokourov turned 39 just after winning in London, so why not?”
For next season, nothing yet is decided, with Sanchez only making a final choice when the Vuelta route is published on January 12th. The Giro, though, remains a possibility: “I haven’t won a stage or finished on the podium there yet, and even if it does not happen next year, I’ll be sure to try for one in the next three,” he predicted.
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