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Tour de France

Samuel Sánchez rested and ready for a shot at podium in 2012 Tour de France

Defending Olympic champ has bounced back from Dauphiné crash and hopes to better 2011 finish

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Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) says he’s rested and ready for a shot at the Tour de France podium.

The defending Olympic champion avoided serious injury despite a heavy fall at the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this month and vows to be in top fighting shape for the Tour.

Sánchez was worried that he had broken ribs in a nasty crash in stage 1 of the Tour warm-up race. He was later able to finish.

“There’s nothing broken and I was able to train for 11 days at altitude at Sierra Nevada,” Sánchez told El Nuevo España just before flying to Liège.

“It hurts a little when my massage therapist touches it, but I was able to train normally on the bike. It was important to take advantage of the altitude training before the start of the Tour.”

Sánchez, 34, is quietly optimistic he will be able to match his career-best Tour last year, when he won a stage and the King of the Mountains jersey en route to fifth overall.

The all-rounder, already a winner of the Vuelta al País Vasco earlier this season, admits it will not be easy on a course that favors the time-trial specialists.

“I want to stay focused because I have good form and you always aspire to the best. The only thing that I ask is that I do not crash,” he said. “There will be a lot of nerves in the opening days on the roads of Belgium. The Tour can be lost in one day.”

Sánchez says the absence of Alberto Contador, who will return from his clenbuterol ban in time for the Vuelta a España, and Andy Schleck, sidelined with injury, will mark the race.

Both riders have the ability to attack time trialists such as Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), something that Sánchez will be missing this year.

“Contador could make a lot of damage with his attacks in the mountains and that benefited me. We also do not know who will carry the weight of the race, because if he were here, his team would take that role,” he said.

“I would like to repeat my performance from last year, except the day on Galibier when I suffered. Sometimes you’re strong, but you don’t go as well as you hoped.”

Sánchez is an outsider for the podium and will have to go on the attack in the mountains to have a shot against riders who excel against the clock.

Though he’s not bad in time trialing, especially on shorter, hillier routes, this year’s two longer time trials will not suit Sánchez as well as in other years.

Sánchez will be taking special aim at the stages in the Pyrénées, which see the most important summit finishes of this year’s Tour.

Thousands of Basque fans will pour over the Spanish-French border to line the roads, something that will motivate Sánchez even more.

“We’ll see if we can attack in the mountains. I know the climbs well, but sometimes things do not play out as well as you hoped for,” he said. “The best thing to do is take advantage of the situation when it presents itself.”

Euskaltel-Euskadi brings its trademark mostly Basque team to the Tour, with Sánchez as the lone exception.

That’s likely to change next year. Euskaltel management has already said that it will be forced to sign non-Basque riders with more UCI points if it hopes to stay in the WorldTour ranks.