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Sastre comfortable in new colors

  • By Andrew Hood
  • Published Jan. 22, 2009
  • Updated Jan. 26, 2009 at 10:53 AM EDT

Tour champ center of attention at start-up Cervélo

By Andrew Hood

DS Jean-Paul Van Poppel with Carlos Sastre.

Photo: Andrew Hood

It hasn’t been all that often in Carlos Sastre’s long and durable career that he was the absolute center of attention.

The 33-year-old Spanish climber was typically floating just off center-stage, not quite in the hot glare of the spotlight that beamed down on former CSC captains such as Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso or the ascendant Schleck brothers.

In Sunday’s team introduction at his new home at Cervélo Test Team, it was the smiling and humble Sastre who was introduced last as the centerpiece of an ambitious new squad.

That’s what winning the Tour de France will do for you.

“This year for me everything is new; new project, new motivation, new goals,” Sastre said during the team presentation in Portugal. “I have the motivation like a junior rider.”

Sastre begrudgingly accepts the new attention and responsibility that comes with being the defending Tour champion. Away from the headlines, he quietly spent much of his winter attending charity events, visiting hospitals and helping young cyclists.

Sastre is proud to be the anchor of a team and is keen to make the most of it.

“This year my goals are to achieve the podium at the Giro d’Italia and defend my Tour title,” Sastre said. “This team is stronger than people think. We have a good base of experienced and young riders to build the future. I’m here for two years, I’m sure it’s the right decision.”

After seven years at CSC, where he was always playing second fiddle, the co-star, the bench player, he’ll be the lone captain and he will carry Cervélo’s expectations on his shoulders.

Sastre admitted that switching teams as defending Tour champion was a risk, but it’s a challenge he’s more than ready for.

“Life is a risk, but this is a controlled risk,” Sastre says. “This is a strong team, a different team. We have to unite as riders, but I am sure we will be winning a lot of races.”

Getting Carlos on board

The driving force behind the new Cervélo Test Team are Cervélo co-owners Phil White and Gerard Vroomen, who decided the time was right to elevate their game and create what initially was thought to be a relatively modest team.

Vroomen said the cost of underwriting the team wasn’t that much more than sponsoring a top ProTour team and said the benefits greatly outweighed the added expenses.

“2008 was a year when all the stars aligned,” Vroomen said. “After six years in the peloton with a Tour win with Carlos, it was time to start to think, why are we in pro cycling? Our ultimate goal is to build the best bikes in the world and to continue to improve them. Better bikes are created by good engineers and from good feedback from professional cyclists, so it was logical to create a team that would focus on product development and getting fans more included in racing.”

Vroomen began conversations with Thomas Campana, a Swiss team manager who was working with Cervélo’s women’s team in 2008. Vroomen shared his ideas about starting a team based on strong values, intense product development and a more accessibility to fans and sponsors.

Vroomen then approached Sastre, who was fresh off his impressive 2008 Tour victory and looking for new opportunities after it was clear he wasn’t going to continue working with Bjarne Riis at Saxo Bank.

After a 20-minute conversation, Sastre signed on and, as Vroomen put it, “all of a sudden this modest team wasn’t so modest anymore.”

Sastre admits it didn’t take long for him to make up his mind.

“I knew before the Tour that it would be my last year with CSC. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but when I heard about the project and what (Vroomen) wanted do, honestly, I didn’t think about it too much,” Sastre said. “I liked the project and I made the decision quickly and easily.”

Thor and more

With Sastre’s weight behind the project, other big names soon followed. Thor Hushovd turned down other offers to join Cervélo in the wake of the dissolution of Crédit Agricole.

“I wanted to try something new and when I heard about this project, I like the philosophy of the team, I’m quite happy to be here. It’s a good group of English-speaking guys and I hope to win a lot of races on the best material in the world,” Hushovd said. “These bikes are known as the fastest in the world, and after riding them, I’m sure it will help us.”

With big names like Sastre and Hushovd on board, others top quality riders quickly joined, including Roger Hammond, José Angel Goméz Marchante, Brett Lancaster, Andreas Klier, Xavier Florencio, Simon Gerrans and Hayden Roulston.

Dominique Rollin, left, and Ted King are the team’s lone North Americans

Photo: Andrew Hood

They filled out their roster with promising young riders such as Heinrich Haussler, Marcel Wyss, Ignatas Konovalovas, Phillip Deignan and North American riders Dominique Rollin and Ted King.

“I’m very excited to be here, I hope to do them proud. It’s a super-exciting opportunity. I’ve had a bit of success in America, but it’s a dream to make it over here,” said King, the lone American on the team. “Euro racing is a whole new beast. I’ll be dabbling in a little of this and a little of that, hoping for some success. How can you not enjoy yourself? You’re racing your bike.”

Vroomen said the team is committed to clean racing and specifically searched out riders who would live by a strong ethical code. The team will lean heavily on the expanding biological passport program, but also closely monitor riders for any signs of cheating.

The team queried riders and staff to create its foundation of values. Four words are written along the leg of their jersey uniforms ? innovate, sacrifice, unite and succeed ? with a fourth, honesty, up along the collar.

The team leaned on the existing women’s team to build its staff and sport directors. Jean-Paul Van Poppel, a former winner of the green jersey and stages in three big tours, will be the lead men’s team sport director after working with the women’s team.

Joining him will be Jens Zemke, Marcello Albasini, Alex Sans, Manel Lacambra and Patrick Banfi.

“We’ll have riders for the classics and one-day races as well as a very strong team for the grand tours, with Carlos leading the way,” Van Poppel said. “Thor is reaching the point where he can win a classic and he’s always a threat for stage wins and the green jersey. It’s a complete team.”

Women’s team

Anchoring the expanded women’s team is returning Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong, who wants to pass on her knowledge and experience in what she says will be her last year of racing.

“The top goal is to bring back the world time trial jersey, then I’d like be with the team and support the team and help bring this young team together and share my experience,” Armstrong said. “The management has found the best young riders and they’re the future of cycling.”

Also signing on for the 12-rider team are Emma Pooley, Christiane Soder, Carla Ryan and touted rookie Lieselot Decroix.

“This is a strong and balanced team, which gives us a lot of options,” Pooley said. “I look forward to having a lot of fun and winning a few races. The other best climbers are on this team. I’d like to be more consistent, because my wins were a bit ‘flukey.’ I’ve previously won by getting away early, when everyone thought it was too stupid to go.”

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Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood has covered every Tour de France since 1996 and has been VeloNews' European correspondent since 2002.

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