Rating the ‘Spanish armada’
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi): AGR – 13th 2009; FW – 2nd 2006; LBL – 4th 2004
Like Rodríguez, Sánchez has some unfinished business with the Ardennes. While never quite as close to victory as his compatriot, especially at Amstel Gold, Sánchez has been a consistent performer at Flèche and Liège throughout his career.
Of all of the Spanish riders, Sánchez looks the fleetest right now, coming off an impressive overall win at País Vasco. That victory was huge for his Euskaltel team and settled a long-standing score with the race for the 2008 Olympic champion.
“After the Basque Country tour, I am extra-motivated this year for the Ardennes,” Sánchez said. “It seems to be my year to be settling the accounts with certain races. A win, especially at Flèche, would take the spine out of my back after having been close before.”
Indeed, Sánchez has done best at Flèche, second in 2006 behind Valverde and third last year behind Gilbert. The nervous racing at Amstel Gold doesn’t suit his style of riding while Liège seems perfect for Sánchez, but he has had difficulty finding the podium.
Team strength: Igor Antón is steering clear of the Ardennes, but Euskaltel brings solid workers with Egoi Martinez, Gorka Izaguirre, Ruben Perez and Romain Sicard.
Pros: On great form and motivated to finally get an Ardennes win after years of knocking on the door.
Cons: Doesn’t have the top-end speed to match the fastest climbers at the end of seven hours of racing.