Carlos Sastre interview: targeting the Vuelta, then a new beginning with Team Geox
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Carlos Sastre interview: targeting the Vuelta, then a new beginning with Team Geox

by Shane Stokes at 6:34 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Vuelta a España
 
Spanish rider speaks of frustrations at Cervelo

Carlos SastreJust four days remain before the start of this year’s Vuelta a España, and one of those who is expected to be fighting for stages and the podium is counting down the time to that race. Carlos Sastre will head to Spain with two big motivations to do well. The first is the fact that he hasn’t been able to compete at his best level since the 2009 Giro d’Italia. The second is the knowledge that this will be his farewell Grand Tour as part of the Cervélo Test Team, the last chance to land a major result with the squad.

The 35 year old Spaniard recently announced that he would be competing with Mauro Gianetti’s Team Geox in 2011, helping the squad grow from its current incarnation as Footon Servetto. He told VeloNation on Monday that he is happy with the chance to have a fresh start, feeling that it was high time for a change in scene.

“I’m glad to be able to do this,” he said, speaking by phone after one of his last big training rides before the Spanish race. “When I decided to join the new team, it was something really important for me. It is like what I was looking for in the last two years. They gave me this opportunity and I signed.”

Sastre said that the deal came about after the San Sebastian Classic. However, while the agreement itself was decided very quickly, it was a long time in the making. In fact, the links go back much further than many would think. “I spoke to the team [then called Saunier Duval] at least two times in the past, but each moment we couldn’t find the right solution because I was with another team,” he revealed.

“We first spoke back when I was with CSC, maybe seven years ago. It didn’t happen those times but right now, everything has changed and they have a nice project now in front of them,” he explained. “They called me back again and it was quite easy.”

Two years ago, Sastre was on the verge of moving to the new Cervélo Test Team. He had won the Tour de France beforehand and was in demand with many squads, but ultimately it was the Swiss setup which most appealed.

The partnership appeared to go well for a while, with the 2009 Giro d’Italia being the highlight of his time with the team. He stormed to solo victories on stages 16 and 19, the mountain legs to Monte Petrano and Mount Vesuvius, and placed fourth overall in Rome. That position was later elevated to third when Danilo Di Luca was disqualified.

He then headed to the 2009 Tour de France as the defending champion. While he realised that the presence of riders such as Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong (Astana) would make it more complicated than the previous year, he nonetheless was determined to ride strongly.

However he was unable to compete at his usual high level. He lost time in the mountains and time trials, and ultimately finished 16th in Paris. Afterward, he said that he was worn out due to the block of Grand Tours he had ridden, namely the Tour and Vuelta in 2008, then the Giro and Tour in 2009, his commitments after his Tour victory, and also the energy he said he had put into helping set up the new Cervélo team.

It was, he said, time for a break.

Recharging batteries:

Sastre hardly competed after the 2009 Tour, riding a few small criteriums, then did little racing this year before the Giro. He explained that was down to exhaustion.

“When you spend your energy doing almost everything, you need to come back and relax and realise what mistakes you did,” he told VeloNation. “Of course, when I am on my bike and when I am doing my work, I do everything to do things right. I do them as best as I can. And when you don’t feel that you can do it in the right way, it is better to stay at home, relax, recover and get ready for the next time. That is what I did.”

Carlos SastreThe time off did the trick in terms of his energy levels, yet misfortune hampered his return. “When I came back, I came back stronger, but I also needed good luck,” he said. “In the Giro d’Italia, I crashed two times, both very badly. Afterwards, there were many things, such as punctures happening in the worst moment. These things didn’t help me, but I was eighth despite all these things that had occurred. I was there fighting.”

After the race Sastre experienced persistent back pain and doctors discovered that he had a herniated disk. It appeared touch and go whether or not he’d ride the Tour, but he finally decided that he’d head to the French race.

He hoped that things would turn around there, but it didn’t go as well as he hoped. His best stage placings were eleventh on the leg to Morzine – Avoriaz and then tenth on the leg to Ax 3 Domaines. Sastre finished 20th in Paris, 26 minutes 37 seconds behind Alberto Contador

All in all, the race was a very frustrating experience. Those back problems hampered his preparation, and then there were other factors that kicked in after the Grand Depart in Rotterdam. They include what he said was a lack of cooperation within Cervélo. “I was sick at the beginning. I was recovering from the crashes in the Giro,” he said. “Towards the end I was feeling great, but I didn’t have the support and the help that I deserve from the team, from the sport director and my team-mates.

“There were many things at the same time that didn’t help me to reach my goal. But that is life. That for me is not a problem…I did my best. I fought for it, and okay, I didn’t get it. But that can happen.”

At some point, relations became strained with the Cervélo Team management and they decided not to renew his contract. He doesn’t say much about that decision, but told VeloNation that he felt that he had played a big part in helping the team to where it is now. “If the team is something, it is because of Carlos Sastre,” he stated. “That is clear.”

Looking forward:

The Spaniard is known as a fighter in the sport, and it is that spirit which sees him take on the challenge of three Grand Tours in one season. Despite having already ridden the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, he said that he is ready to battle for big results in this year’s Vuelta. It will be the second time in his career that he will do the treble, having first carried it out in 2006.

Carlos Sastre“My motivation is perfect and my energy is good,” he told VeloNation, dismissing any notion that riding the Giro-Tour double has affected him mentally or physically. “I go to the Vuelta to fight.”

Sastre is determined to finish things off in style with Cervélo. To that end, he requested the team to give him a strong backup squad. At a glance, he got exactly that: yesterday’s announcement of the lineup saw 2009 Tour de France Green jersey victor Thor Hushovd, Sastre’s lieutenant Iñigo Cuesta, and Paris-Nice stage winner Xavier Tondo named as part of the lineup.

Also competing there will be the 2009 Vuelta stage victor and top-ten finisher Philip Deignan, former world track sprint champion Theo Bos, Xavier Florencio, Oscar Pujol and Stefan Denifl.

It seems a solid squad. However some aspects of the lineup don’t satisfy him, and again his statements hint at tension with the management. “It is not my decision…it is the team’s decision,” he said, when asked if he got the riders he wanted. “The team in this case is taking care of the riders who are going to the race, they are taking care of the goals.

“With the sport directors, they have a good relationship and we talk quite well, but with the management….” He pauses, then continues. “Sometimes I feel like it is like when you go to buy a car: You say ‘I want a car that can go up to 250 kilometres per hour, with GPS, with pneumatic suspension and everything. Yet after that, the person who is selling you it gives you something completely different, a cheap car. Sometimes I feel it’s like that. But that is their decision, it is not my decision.”

Sastre didn’t mention what changes he would have liked, but makes it clear that his issue is not with those who will be guiding the Vuelta squad at the event. “You have the sport directors who are at many races, yet sometimes I feel that sometimes people don’t respect their opinion,” he stated. “People who don’t know anything about cycling are taking over all these things. In the end, it is not good for anyone.”

Rival and team-mate:

When asked who he sees as the biggest rival for the Vuelta title, Sastre picks one name. “Denis Menchov,” he said, nominating the Russian rider who finished third in last month’s Tour de France.

“He won the Vuelta a España before. I think right now he is the strongest rival because he has already won the race.”

Sastre generally isn’t one to list off the other contenders in stage races and doesn’t mention his former team-mates Andy and Frank Schleck. Instead, he’s focussing on Menchov as the prime rider to watch.

A notable absentee will be last year’s champion Alejandro Valverde, who was clearly the strongest last time round. He will miss the race due to a suspension for his part in Operación Puerto.

That complicated past aside, Sastre would prefer that he would be able to compete. “I don’t know anything about the case,” he said, when asked about his reaction to the suspension. “I feel bad because he is a great person and a good friend. Of course I would like to have him over there, but he is not able to do it. I don’t know so much about it.”

The Vuelta could well end up being the last time he competes before moving to Team Geox. One that transfer is done, Menchov will change from being a rival to a team-mate. The Russian is the other big-name signing which has been announced thus far, and will share top billing with Sastre in the squad.

It’s early days yet, of course, and so the particulars of their working relationship have yet to be determined. Issues like whether they will share joined leadership in races such as the Tour have not yet been discussed, he said, but it will be worked out once things start to settle into place.

“This is something that we will take care of later,” Sastre stated, sounding relaxed about it. “He is a great rider and it seems like he is a bit like me…really calm and patient in the race,” he explained. “We are different kinds of riders too, in other ways, and I think that is something that is really good for us. These things can make us much stronger [as a team].”

Carlos SastreTalking to Sastre, it seems clear that he is ready to try a new project. He has good memories of his time with his current team, but feels that the setup next year will be a better fit for him. “I think the staff we have in Cervélo is really good,” he said, showing appreciation. “I think they drove the team along in these two years, but of course the experience factor in the new team is higher and I will be more focussed in my work like a rider. I won’t need to be focussed on other things. It will be easier for me.”

Right now, he has a one year contract. He doesn’t talk about a date for retirement, preferring to take things one season at a time. One possible role after he hangs up his wheels would be to become a directeur sportif, yet that’s not something he wants to consider now.

“After the experience with Cervélo, I think I will take a nice break and think really calmly about what I want to do with my future,” he said, suggesting that he wouldn’t rush into new projects or positions. “I am not worried about it now. I want to race my bike and do it 100 percent. That is all.”

To do that, he’ll need two things. Good form is the first, of course, but so too the absence of misfortune. “I want some good luck too,” he said with a laugh, thinking of the crashes and other complications he has faced since his Tour win. He’s an aggressive rider who tends to get stronger as the big races go on, yet hasn’t had things go his way for some time.

Mindful that he doesn't have a lot of time left in his career, Sastre is hoping the fresh start will signal a new beginning. “I have taken my decision because that makes me happy…I am pleased with things,” he said. “In the end, everything is about motivation, and this team, this project, gives me the motivation that I need to do my job well.”

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