Carlos Sastre lines up Saturday in Rotterdam not really knowing how he will perform during the 2010 Tour de France.
The 2008 Tour champ was the last rider included in the nine-man Cervélo Tour squad after getting a final-hour green light from doctors, who decided that his injured back could handle the punishment of a three-week tour.
“To be honest, I really don’t know what to expect,” Sastre said during a team press conference Thursday. “I know it sounds like a cliché, but I have to take it day-by-day during this Tour. The good thing is that I am no longer riding with pain. That is the most important thing. I hope to become stronger as the race progresses.”
Sastre almost didn’t start this Tour after two hard crashes at the Giro d’Italia left him with a dislocated disk in his back. Intense rehab sessions in the weeks following the Giro allowed Sastre to get back into pain-free riding, just in time for Saturday’s prologue in Rotterda
“I wasn’t able to train with the intensity that I normally would before the Tour. I am not 100 percent right now,” Sastre said. “I have to be there in the decisive moments. What won’t change is my manner of racing. I always fight until the end and that will not change in this year’s Tour.”
Sastre, 34, remained ambivalent about this year’s Tour even before injuries wracked him during the Giro, where he wanted to challenge for overall victory, but fell victim to two bad crashes in the first week that undercut his chances, and ended up with eighth overall.
Last year, Sastre disappointed in the Tour, finishing a distant 16th despite starting as the No. 1 bib of the defending champion.
In the wake of last year’s Tour disappointment, Sastre disconnected from cycling and took months away from the bike. He only returned to training last winter and started this year’s Giro with only eight days of racing in his legs dating back to the 2009 Tour.
Sastre denied that his lack of racing days were a factor of his troubles in the Giro, but admitted his back injury makes him an outside for the race he won two years ago.
“The favorite is Contador, but there is also the Schlecks, Basso and Armstrong,” Sastre said. “I have to be realistic about my chances. I am here to fight and make a good Tour. This Tour could be about the old generation vs. the new generation. We have 21 days to find out what will happen.”
Like many of the GC favorites, Sastre admits he’s nervous about the cobblestones awaiting in stage 3. Unlike some of the other squads, Cervélo will bring a top-level squad for the bumpy roads of northern France, with teammates Thor Hushovd, Andreas Klier and Jeremy Hunt all experts on the pave.
“It’s the same for everyone, but I have to admit I am a little nervous about them,” Sastre said about the cobblestones. “It’s not perfect for my condition, when you weigh 60kg. It will be spectacular for the fans, but maybe not for us riders.”