Of all the major players, Carlos Sastre has been the quietest so far through the 2009 season.
While riders such as Alberto Contador or Andy Schleck have notched impressive victories, the defending Tour de France champion has been in an early-season hibernation.
Sastre insists that he’s fully awoken from his spring slumber and vows to come to life in the three-week Giro d’Italia, starting Saturday in Venice.
“I am going to the Giro to fight for the maximum,” Sastre said in an interview with the Spanish wire service EFE. “I believe that I’ve made a good preparation to arrive to the start in the best possible condition.”
The Cervélo TestTeam captain has been quietly preparing his 2009 season, far away from the spotlight or the pressures to post early season results.
The Spanish climber pulled out of his season debut at the Tour of California and then rode the Vuelta a Castilla y León and the Vuelta al País Vasco simply as preparation events.
The 34-year-old revealed promising condition by finishing safely with the lead pack at Liège-Bastogne-Liège two weeks, hinting at his improving condition.
Sastre has thrice raced the Giro, including his grand tour debut in 1999, again in 2002 to help then-teammate Tyler Hamilton finish second and finally in 2006 to help ex-teammate Ivan Basso claim the overall.
Now Sastre lines up as Cervélo’s outright captain and will start with the stated goal of reaching the top-three podium when the race concludes in Rome.
“There are a lot of reasons that have prompted me to race this race. The Giro is the only podium that I don’t have of the three grand tours,” he continued. “I’ve always raced the Giro helping other races and this year I had the motivation to race it for me.”
Sastre also admitted that his Cervélo team has deep business interests in Italy and that he wanted to share the celebration of the Giro’s centennial.
“The course also influenced (my decision), with six or seven summit finishes and with a time trial that, for its difficulty, isn’t only for the pure time trialists,” he said. “The Giro, above all, is a race of survival, one that is raced completely different than others. There’s always a lot of transfers, they mix large, marathon-type stages of 250km with others nervous and spectacular of less than 100km.”
“And then there’s the strange manner in which the Italians race. They usually attack from the gun, until a breakaway forms to gain a few minutes, because the peloton will go calmly, until the final two hours, which are vertiginous,” he surmised. “The Italians are very combative and will try something at any moment, looking to find an opening, so you always have to be on the lookout.”
Sastre said he finds the Giro’s mountainous course to his liking. With such peaks as Vesuvio and Blockhaus, Sastre will have plenty of opportunities to try to lay down an attack like last year’s on l’Alpe d’Huez that sprung him to overall Tour victory.
“I like the route, for the summit finishes just as much as how they designed the time trials,” he said. “As it’s structured, I believe it’s very important to arrive at the start in very good condition. The first week we have two hard stages in the Dolomites and, even though they’re terribly difficult, you have to take them on in good condition so you don’t lose time that can cost you later in the race.”
Sastre avoided talking about overall favorites, satisfied by stating the obvious that this year’s Giro boasts a strong field and that the road will soon put everyone in their place.
For the Tour de France, Sastre refuses to look too far ahead.
“First I will race the Giro, it’s my first objective for the year and I am completely focused on that,” he said. “Once the Giro is over, then I can start to think about the Tour. That’s how I’ve always done it in the past, looking first to the Tour and then Vuelta, and it’s worked out with good success, so there’s no reason to change now.”
Sastre will enjoy strong support from a young, but motivated team.
Simon Gerrans, Volodymir Gustov, Phil Deignan and Ignatas Konovalovas will be there to help him in the mountains while riders like Jeremy Hunt and Hayden Roulston will be able to protect him on the flats.
American Ted King is making his grand-tour debut and is back to racing after crashing out of the Tour of California.