Spanish champions looking for Tour de France stage wins

The Caisse d'Epargne team will head into the Tour de France with a pair of Spanish national champions at the helm, leading the charge for stage wins and a high placing in the overall classification for leader Luis León Sánchez.

Sánchez will debut the colours of his country in Saturday's prologue in Rotterdam, having earned the time trial championship for the second time in his career. The last time he held the title was in 2008, when he took his first and only Tour de France stage win in Aurillac.

This year, he's looking for a little more from the Tour now that he is the team's undisputed leader since Alejandro Valverde was suspended.

"To be the leader in such a big event put some more pressure on you, but my team has a lot of experience in the Tour and I know that they will do everything they can to help me," Sánchez said.

"I am a lucky guy because I already know what it means to win a stage in the Tour and of course I would like that to happen again. But I am not looking for any stage in particular. The first goal will be to avoid crashes and I believe it will be the same for everybody in the bunch. After that it will be important to study the road book and see which stages offer the best opportunities."

The 26-year-old winner of this year's Circuit de la Sarthe and runner-up at Paris-Nice and the Volta ao Algarve knows he is up against a tough course, and is aiming for a top 10 finish in Paris.

"My weakest point has always been high mountain stages and this year I really worked a lot to improve that point. I spent a lot of time in Sierra Nevada to train in altitude and I am each time better in the mountains. In the Tour de Suisse even if my level was no so good yet, I tested myself and I am satisfied because I know I am on the right path," he said.

Sánchez will have at his side a six-time Tour de Frace veteran in fellow national champion José Iván Gutiérrez, who will wear the Spanish road champion's jersey come Sunday.

It is also his second time sporting his national colours in the Tour, having won the title previously in 2001 when he rode with ONCE.

"Thanks to that title I will be more motivated than ever to start the Tour de France and also very proud to wear the Spanish colors even if that jersey won't change my manner of racing," said Gutiérrez. "Of course people will recognize me more easily but I will do exactly the same job as always. I will do my best to do everything my team expects me to do."

An experienced Grand Tour veteran, Gutiérrez will support Sánchez in his goal to get a high placing in Paris as well as get in the hunt for stages along with his other Caisse d'Epargne teammates.

"Everybody in the team will have the possibility to try and win a stage. We will go with the breakaways to take advantage of the opportunities. It is in fact the first time that I really plan to win a stage in the Tour. The first stages in the Netherlands and in Belgium will be very nervous ones. I believe it will be necessary to be patient because later on it will for sure be easier to try and win a nice stage. "

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