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Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez will lead Euskaltel-Euskadi as the Basque team announced its Tour nine on Monday.
Sánchez, 32, is hoping to better his career-best finish of seventh in 2008, the same year he rode to the gold medal in the Beijing Summer Olympic Games. Second overall in last year’s Vuelta a España, he is taking aim at the Tour podium and will be one of the main outsiders for a shot at the top-three overall.
“I hope to do better than I did in 2008, to try to be as high as possible in the GC and fight for a stage win,” Sánchez said Monday. “The last week will be people with good legs and if I arrive well, maybe I can pick some fruit.”
Sánchez named two-time champion Alberto Contador “the No. 1 favorite” with Andy Schleck as a rival “who will be in good conditions for the Tour.”
Much like Contador, Sánchez believes that the Tour will be decided in the final week and has singled out the 15th stage, with a long, 20km descent off the Port de Balés to Bagneres de Luchon, as ideal for his characteristics as a rider who can attack on the downhills.
“I always say to attack on the downhill you have to cross the summit with those at the front,” he said. “There are only a few curves at the beginning. You have to pedal a lot. It’s a hard stage and you have to cross the summit with the reflexes at 100 percent. If the legs are there, we’ll attack.”
“The Pyrénées are terrible. The Tourmalet and the time trial of 50km are going to cause a lot of damage and they will make the differences,” he continued. “Also, the stage with the cobblestones, with nerves and crashes, is where you can lose time. There, you will have to assume the emergency position, cross your fingers and pray to all the saints.”
Joining Sánchez will be a troop full of stage-hunters and attackers, including Egoi Martínez, Gorka Verdugo and former most aggressive rider Amets Txurruka. Iban Velasco will make his Tour debut and will be joined by Juanjo Oroz, Rubén Pérez, Alan Pérez and Iñaki Isasi.
Sprinter Koldo Fernández and climber Igor Antón are not back to the Tour this year. Neither is Mikel Astarloza, winner of the 15th stage last year, who later tested positive for EPO in out-of-competition tests.