Samuel Sanchez (SPA), Euskaltel-Euskadi ★★★
In a year without his friend and ally Alberto Contador, Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez is Spain’s best hope for the podium in Paris.
Nearly four years after his gold medal ride in Beijing, Sánchez has added to his palmarès a second-place finish in the 2009 Vuelta, third overall (by way of Contador’s sanction) in the 2010 Tour and fifth overall in 2011. He won his first Tour stage and the mountains jersey last year, and appeared stronger than Contador on Alpe d’Huez. Sánchez missed what should have been a second stage win when Pierre Rolland (Europcar) got one over on the two Spaniards high up on the climb.
Sánchez is decent against the clock and has the climbing chops to gain time on the more adept time trialists like Wiggins. Like Horner, though, he’ll need to make use of uneasy alliances in the mountains to distance the specialists. If he can do so, Sánchez has the sharp punch that Horner and Nibali lack — a tool he could use to pull yellow in front of his team’s home fans in the Pyrénées. And the Spaniard showed this spring that he could well hold onto a lead on the TT bike, given a chance.
“When I am in good form, I am OK with time trials,” he said earlier this year. “What is better for me is that there is not a team time trial, which always costs me a lot.”
Sánchez has been good in 2012. He finally won the Basque Country tour and was second in the Volta a Catalunya, taking a stage win. He also finished in the top 10 in Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Then, a hard crash in stage 1 of the Critérium du Dauphiné threatened to keep him from racing the Tour and the Olympics. Euskaltel management said that rumors of broken ribs were false, however, and Sánchez will enter the Tour as the team’s overall leader.
Sánchez planned his season with a focus on the Tour, aware of the dangers of placing too much faith in a one-day race.
“I would like to win another stage at the Tour without forgetting about the podium,” Sánchez said last December. “We’ve heard different things about the Olympic course in London, but it’s a one-day race and anything can happen.”
At the start of June, he was setting his sights on the Tour podium he missed in 2010.
“Considering that I have never been on the Tour podium, let alone win a grand tour, my goal is to try to reach the Tour podium this year,” Sánchez said.
Sánchez said that Contador’s absence from this edition would be to his own disadvantage.
“Alberto’s absence will favor some and hurt others,” he said. “It hurts me, because his tactics, his style of attacking and the way he makes the selection are better for me.”
This may be Sánchez’s final season in Euskaltel orange, with the team suffering in the Spanish economic crisis. Nonetheless, Sánchez, whom the Basque have adopted as their own, will ride into the Pryénées with the support of Egoi Martinez, Mikel Astarloza and Amets Txurruka. If he can survive the hectic first 10 days of the race, and if he has recovered well enough from his Daupphiné crash, Sánchez could very well give thanks to the only pro team he has ever ridden for with a podium place on the Champs Élysées.
Editor’s Note: Emily Zinn contributed to this preview.