Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) returns to the site of his winning ride at the 2008 Olympic road race when he lines up for the hillier second edition of the Tour of Beijing, which gets underway on Tuesday.
That gold medal performance of four years came in the shadow of the Great Wall and Sanchez will tackle the very same roads on stage 3 of the Tour of Beijing to the Badaling Pass. The 3rd category climb is the race's sole summit finish and is likely to prove decisive in the race for overall honours.
"The race is very different from last year as there's no time trial and we have a hilly stage on part of the Olympic course and that might prove important," Sanchez said in the pre-race press conference in Beijing. "Although this time we only go up the climb once, and not eight times, so the question is whether it will be hard enough to make a difference. I know that there are teams who will be trying to keep it together, but that stage is one that we've marked out as a team."
Although lying 13th in the latest WorldTour standings, the Basque outfit's anxiety over its continued status in cycling's elite division in 2013 is perhaps underscored by the strength in depth of its delegation in Beijing, where Sanchez is by Igor Anton, Mikel Nieve and Gorka Verdugo.
"The race is more mountainous this year, which is good for me," Sanchez said. "We don't have a sprinter on the team so we have to make the mountain stage as hard as possible and we're ready to do that. We'll have a go as we've got a team full of climbers."
After a solid opening to 2012, Sanchez's campaign began to fray when he crashed heavily on the opening road stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné, and his hopes of defending his Olympic title unraveled definitively when a broken finger and a heavy blow to his shoulder forced him to abandon the Tour de France.
Sanchez has since recovered sufficiently to take a morale-boosting second place at the recent Tour of Lombardy, and still bedecked in the golden shoes and helmet he has worn since 2008, he admitted that he was inspired by returning to the scene of his Olympic triumph.
"I came to the Tour of Beijing last year too because it's a special feeling to come back here. Winning gold at the Olympics changed my life," he said. "When I've been training for the last couple of days around Beijing, I've had some nice feelings and I'm glad to be back in a harder race. I just hope I can make an impact on it."
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.