ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Every season offers new opportunities, and for some, like Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), the end of the road. For Luis León Sánchez, 2015 represents a new lease on life.
The 31-year-old Spanish all-rounder is back in the bigs after one season with second-tier Spanish team Caja Rural thanks to a lifeline from Astana.
After a tumultuous 2013 season, when new doubts resurfaced about alleged links to notorious Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, Sánchez was bought out of his contract by his then-Belkin team, and his future was uncertain at best.
Astana, however, held no such qualms about Sánchez, and picked him up for the 2015 season.
“I am happy, above all to return to the WorldTour, and I am thankful for the team, and how they’ve been treating me so far,” Sánchez said. “I want to ride well, enjoy the bike, and do as well as I can for this team.”
Sánchez has long denied links to Fuentes, the center of two doping investigations in Spain. Although the nickname “Huerta” and code number 26 has been linked to Sánchez via police phone taps and documents as part of Operación Galgo, there has never been any definitive proof that he worked with Fuentes.
During the Operación Puerto trial in Madrid in 2013, yet another case against Fuentes, a judge muzzled Fuentes when he offered to name names. Others, such as Alejandro Valverde and Ivan Basso, have admitted to working with Fuentes, and even served racing bans. Others, like Sánchez, were never sanctioned, but have the shadow of doubt hanging over their careers.
In early 2013, former team Belkin (then called Team Blanco) went so far as to suspend Sánchez after more details were revealed as part of court documents linked to the Galgo and Operación Puerto investigations. After some legal wrangling, Sánchez eventually returned to Belkin in 2013, and promptly won a stage at the Tour of Belgium.
Racing with Caja Rural in 2014, Sánchez won a stage at La Tropicale Amissa Bongo and the Vuelta a Castilla y León as well as the climber’s jersey at the Vuelta a España.
Sánchez was a former teammate of Astana general manager Alexander Vinokourov in 2006 at Liberty Seguros, and “Vino” offered him a one-year deal to return to the WorldTour.
Sánchez is grateful for another chance to race at the top level.
“It’s good to be racing again,” Sánchez said. “It’s the first stage of the year, and no one knows how the body is going to respond, especially here in Australia, with the heat … It’s hard to say how the legs will respond, but I am hoping to have a good race as the week unfolds.”
Sánchez boasts nearly 30 professional wins, including the 2005 Tour Down Under, the 2009 Paris-Nice, four stages at the Tour de France, as well as two editions of the Clásica San Sebastian.
Yet he knows he’s been tapped by Astana to work for team captains Vincenzo Nibali and rising star Fabio Aru.
“It’s clear there are two big leaders on the team — Nibali and Aru — and we’ll all be working hard so that they can win something big,” Sánchez said.
“My calendar isn’t closed, but we’re looking at the Giro and Vuelta for me,” he said. “I just want to enjoy the bike, and do my job.”
Sánchez is clearly hoping that those nagging questions about Fuentes don’t pop up again.