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Olympic champ expected to stay with Euskaltel
By Andrew Hood
Despite trying to cash in on his Olympic gold medal, Samuel Sánchez says he’s likely to stay with Euskaltel-Euskadi for the 2009 season and beyond.
What is certain is that his final race in 2008 will be at this weekend’s Giro di Lombardia, with a start in Thursday’s Giro di Piemonte thrown in for good measure.
“I felt pretty good at Paris-Tours. I arrived with the front group after 252km, a good distance for me,” Sánchez told the Diario Vasco. “I will go to Lombardia with the idea of racing to win. To win? At least I will try.”
Sánchez has twice finished on the Lombardia podium (3rd in 2007, 2nd in 2006), but never won.
The hilly Italian classics suits his punchy style that led him to victory in the now-defunct GP Zurich and the Beijing Olympic medal, the only two races he’s won outside of Spain.
“The key to the race will be the Ghisallo. If you’re over the top in front, you can win,” he said of the Lombardia’s most important climb. “Last year, Riccò and Cunego got away over the top, the year before, Bettini. It’s a beautiful race, which I like a lot and that Italy really comes alive in the days before the race.”
Weeks before he won the Olympic gold medal in the road race in Beijing, Sánchez signed a contract extension to keep him in the Basque orange through the 2010 season.
All that changed when Sánchez struck gold in China and the Spanish Asturian became a hot property, with alleged negotiations with Katyusha and Cervélo (something both teams denied).
Perhaps they were scared off by Sánchez’s reported 900,000-euro buyout clause, so for now, Sánchez will remain the only non-Basque rider on Euskaltel after what appears to be a pay hike.
“I still haven’t signed, but I will continue with Euskaltel,” he said. “There remain some loose ends, but both sides have given in a little and there’s mutual interest. I see myself at Euskaltel, at least as of today.”
In an interview with VeloNews during a quick visit to the Vuelta a España in September, Sánchez said the Olympic gold medal hasn’t changed him much.
“I am still the same person and the same rider I was before I went to Beijing,” he said. “Nothing’s changed except people’s perception of me. There’s suddenly a lot more interest in what I say and what I do, but I will try not to let that change me as a person.”