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Sastre still hedging on Tour

It’s rare for a Tour de France champion to think about anything but winning another maillot jaune. But Carlos Sastre is not your typical rider, so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that the 2008 Tour champion remains ambivalent about his plans come July.

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Sastre at the team camp this weekend in Portugal - the Giro comes first. Photo: Andrew Hood.

It’s rare for a Tour de France champion to think about anything but winning another maillot jaune.

But Carlos Sastre is not your typical rider, so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that the 2008 Tour champion remains ambivalent about his plans come July.

For Sastre — who erased a career of close calls with his dramatic attack up Alpe d’Huez to snatch the 2008 Tour — the first and only goal he’s considering as the 2010 season clicks into gear is preparing for the Giro d’Italia.

“All I am thinking about right now is preparing for 100 percent for the Giro. I want to arrive in condition to challenge for everything,” he told VeloNews during the team’s training camp in Portugal. “Only after that will I think about the Tour. It depends how the Giro goes. I am not thinking about the Tour; I am thinking about the Giro.”

Sastre is coming off a bittersweet season at Cervélo, where he won two stages and finished third at the Giro (after the disqualification of Danilo Di Luca) yet fell flat in the Tour de France, finishing a distant 17th.

Sastre admits he took on too much responsibility in helping Cervélo get off the ground for its debut season, attending meetings and helping recruit riders and staff for the team that cost him last season.

Sastre was also distracted by off-season media and other commitments throughout the fall and winter following his breakthrough 2008 Tour victory. There was an endless parade of dinners, interviews, press conferences and presentations that ate up time and further sapped his energy.

By the time he rolled into the Tour of California last winter, he was burned out and quickly succumbed to a nasty cold, which kept him in bed nearly two weeks and delayed his training. That forced him to hurry his preparation for the Giro, and by the time the Tour rolled around, Sastre concedes he was not on his best form.

“I was completely exhausted at the Tour last year. It was my fourth consecutive grand tour and I simply had nothing more to give,” he says. “It was a moment of crisis for me. I was wondering if I wanted to continue. What I needed more than anything was rest.”

And rest is what Sastre did, all but disappearing following the final photos on the Champs Elysées. The usually prolific Sastre hasn’t raced since July 26 and he did something he hadn’t done in a decade – take a vacation.

By the time he makes his season debut at the Volta a Catalunya in March, it will be almost eight months since he raced.

“I lived like a normal person again, spent time with my family, my friends, I went to see a Formula 1 race, things I haven’t done in a decade,” he said. “I needed that. I needed to discover if I still had something to give to cycling. And now I know I do.”

Sastre says he feels completely rejuvenated following his well-deserved sabbatical.

“I feel like a cyclist again. I’ve rediscovered that spark,” he said. “The team is better organized than last year and now all I have to worry about is my training and preparation. I can prepare with the tranquility that I need to confront the big goals of the season.”

At 34, Sastre has already raced 21 grand tours, a number that reveals his resistance and dogged determination, traits that served him well in pursuit of grand tour success.

His Tour victory forever erased the notion that he never had the capabilities to win a grand tour.

Now he wants to do things on his terms. And that begins with the focus on the Giro and not the Tour. At least for right now.

“I really enjoyed the Giro last year. And this year’s course is even better for me, with big climbs like the Mortirolo and Monte Zoncolan, I think I will do even better,” he said. “I will consider whether I ride the Tour or Vuelta after the Giro, when I’ve had time to recovery and analyze how the Giro unfolded. Then I will decide what’s best.”

When pressed again about the Tour, Sastre just smiled and repeated his answer: Giro first, then we’ll see.

Sastre’s poker face is a good one even off the bike.