Samuel Sanchez will be a key player for the BMC team this Sunday as he looks to deliver Philippe Gilbert to his second victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Gilbert’s participation is still under question following a knee injury he sustained at Flèche Wallonne. Sanchez has faith in his team leader, however, and believes that he can be a factor in the race if he does take the start.
“Philippe is one of the favourites, he’s won the race before,” Sanchez told Cyclingnews at the team hotel on Friday. “I think he is more or less good, and on Sunday I hope he will be near 100 per cent. He is the captain and I think he’ll be there in the final. Cycling is a different sport to others and it’s impossible to write down on paper what you think will happen in the race. It’s a surprise and that’s the beauty of cycling.”
Sanchez himself has been on the deck several times during in the past week. He crashed at Amstel Gold Race and could be seen still limping around two days later at the start of Flèche Wallonne. He was one of four BMC riders to crash on Wednesday, going down in the same incident that took out Chris Froome. He landed on the same side and is now covered in abrasions up his left side. He’s still evidently in pain, grimacing as he lowered himself into a chair to talk to Cyclingnews but he’s positive about his prospects.
“I hope that I can recover to 100 per cent,” he said. “We rode the last 80 kilometres of Liège and on the bike it’s really good. It’s bad in bed and when I have to change side there’s a lot of pain, but on the bike I’m ok. I’ve had a good recovery, I’ve slept a lot before lunch and had eight hours every night. Training today was good and I just pray for no rain on Sunday.”
Unfortunately for Sanchez, it looks like there will be rain during the race with the weather taking a dramatic turn from the sunshine that has bathed the region in recent days.
Yorkshire and beyond
After the Ardennes, Sanchez will hotfoot it to the UK for the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire. Joining the 37-year-old will be Greg Van Avermaet, who finished second to Vincenzo Nibali in Sheffield on stage two of last year’s Tour de France. It’s only the second time that Sanchez will ride in the UK, after taking part in the Tour of Britain in 2012 – he had missed that year’s Olympic Games due to an earlier crash at the Tour – and he’s looking forward to going back.
“I really liked England. I remember a lot of fans, it was the year that Wiggins won the Tour and it was amazing. The final kilometres of the stages were similar to the Tour de France,” said Sanchez. “The parcours is very up and down, which is good. BMC goes to the Yorkshire with a strong team, Greg, me and Dylan (Teuns). I think that we go to win a stage and the overall classification is also possible.”
Yorkshire will be the last race for Sanchez for this part of the season and his focus will briefly turn away from the bike. On May 8 he will attend the official launch of his autobiography, which is set to be translated into English and French in the coming month. Unusually for sports autobiographies, the proceeds of the book will be donated to the Spanish National Cancer Institute – Sanchez’s mother died of cancer in his early years as a professional.
The second half of Sanchez’s season will be a packed one with the Critérium du Dauphiné, The Tour de France, Clásica San Sebastián, the Vuelta a España and Il Lombardia all on the programme. Sanchez will ride in support of Tejay van Garderen at the Tour before taking his own opportunity at the Vuelta, where he finished sixth overall last year.
“It’s the first time that I will go to the Tour and the Vuelta, in my 15 years as a professional. I don’t know how I will be at the Vuelta. At the start I should be ok but in the final I might be very tired,” he laughs.
Sanchez came close to not riding at all this season, with a call from team manager Jim Ochowicz in January finally securing his place in the team for another season. After moving to BMC at the last minute in 2014 following the collapse of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team, Sanchez has found himself a home in the team and he was keen to stay win them for this season.
“The team needed me and I’m very happy to stay in the team for another year,” explained Sanchez. “I had other options but the only option for me was BMC. In my career I was always in the same team and I don’t like changing teams all the time. I like to go to one team and stay there and right now I am very happy.”
Like last season, the contract is just for one year, opening up the question of whether or not he will call a close on his long career. He doesn’t know when he will make the call to end it or plug on for one more year but it will come soon.
“I think before the end of the year. I will speak with Jim and the team about the options but if I continue for another year then it will only be in BMC,” he said. “Next year is the Olympic year so maybe I will stop after that. I will be 38 and 16 years in cycling, it’s a long time. I have two children, who are 14 and 7 and it’s important because they need me.”