By Andrew Hood

Sastre has made the podium in the Tour and the Vuelta and now eyes the Giro.

Sastre has made the podium in the Tour and the Vuelta and now eyes the Giro.

Photo: Andrew Hood

The 2009 Giro d’Italia promises to be a star-studded affair, with defending Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre expecting to be one of the favorites duking it out for the maglia rosa.

The Cervélo captain has some unfinished business of sorts with the Giro.

Boasting podium spots in both the Tour (1st in 2008, 3rd in 2006) and Vuelta (2nd in 2005, 07 and 3rd in 2008), the Spanish climber only lacks a top three in the corsa rosa to join an elite club of grand tour podium finishers.

“I have reached the podium in the Vuelta and the Tour, I don’t have one in the Giro,” Sastre said. “Before I retire, I’d like to go to the Giro in the best form possible and that’s what I am doing, to prepare my season to arrive just like that.”

Sastre spoke to reporters after receiving honors as the top sportsman in his home region of Castilla y León on Friday.

Sastre’s 2009 season debut ended early at the Tour of California last month when he abandoned after a string of woes that included starting the race with a small case of the flu and then crashing. Rain and cold in the opening days didn’t help and Sastre didn’t make it to the finish line in stage 8.

The 35-year-old’s next goal will be the Vuelta a Castilla y León (March 23-27) in his home region, where he will face off for the first time with arch-rivals Astana with Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer, the two riders who finished ahead of him at last year’s Vuelta.

Sastre is later scheduled to race the Tour of the Basque Country (April 6-11) and likely Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with possibly a start at the Amstel Gold Race before the Giro.

Sastre also said with the hilly Mendrisio course 2009 road cycling world championship is to his liking, but added he’s not expecting to race this year’s Vuelta.

Despite the renewed interest in the Giro, Sastre’s top goal will be defending his Tour title against a tough field that includes 2007 winner Contador and seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, who are hungry to regain their Tour throne.

“The Giro is very important for me this year, but my most important objective of the year is the Tour,” Sastre continued. “I will start the race with the No. 1 bib pinned to my jersey. That will be special to be part of the history of the race.”

There’s another streak he wants to keep alive: finishing every grand tour he’s started.

Saste has raced in 19 grand tours since 1999, and he’s never abandoned. That included an incredible streak of starting and finishing five consecutive grand tours, starting with the 2005 Tour all the way through the 2006 Vuelta.

Going into 2009, the durable Sastre has finished eight Tours, eight Vueltas and three Giros.