Sergio Paulinho Interview: Back riding for Contador under Saxo Bank SunGard contract
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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Sergio Paulinho Interview: Back riding for Contador under Saxo Bank SunGard contract

by Shane Stokes at 5:12 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Portuguese competitor pleased with fresh start after changing teams

Sergio PaulinhoSwitching to the Saxo Bank SunGard team after a long period of time working under Johan Bruyneel, Sergio Paulinho is relishing the chance of a fresh start in 2012.

The Portuguese rider was recently confirmed as signing a two year contract with Bjarne Riis’ team, where he will compete alongside Alberto Contador once again. He’ll be a very useful ally for the Spaniard, and also has the strength to chase his own results when the situation arises.

“I am very happy. I think after the six years with Johan, I think now is the best moment for change, for new opportunities and to work again with Alberto,” he told VeloNation recently. “I think this is like a new life for me.”

Paulinho’s move comes as the RadioShack team effectively folds, with the sponsors, some riders and the part of the management structure moving across to the Leopard Trek team. Riders such as Chris Horner, Andreas Klöden and US road race champion Matthew Busche will be part of that exodus.

Other rides will head elsewhere, including Paulinho. He’ll have a lot of familiar faces around him, though, with Contador and several others he knows being part of the Danish team.

“I worked with Alberto almost six years,” he said, emphasising the close links he has with the multiple Tour winner. “I started to work with him in Liberty and after that in Discovery and two years with Astana. For me, Alberto is the best rider in the world, and the chance to work again with him is very good for me. I think the best option is this contract with Saxo and to work two more years with Alberto.”

Paulinho has built a successful career since starting with the small ASC-Vila do Conde team in 2003. He moved to L.A. Pecol the following year, and results such as victory in the national time trial championships, two stages in the Tour of Portugal and, best of all, silver medal in the 2004 Olympic road race helped him jump up a notch.

The latter result stunned many, as the little-known rider finished just behind Paolo Bettini in Athens. He secured a two year deal with Liberty Seguros Wurth as a result, and in his second year there won a stage and finished sixteenth overall in the 2006 Vuelta.

Contador moved across to the Discovery Channel team in 2007 and Paulinho was one of those who came along, the transfer seeing them continue their work together. He helped the young Spaniard win his first Tour de France that year and, after both transferred to the Astana team, he also gave important backing in the rider’s 2008 Vuelta a España triumph.

Sergio PaulinhoBoth missed out on the Tour de France that year as the team wasn’t invited, but Astana returned in 2009. Again, Paulinho was part of the squad, and once again Contador won.

Their paths diverged in 2010 when Bruyneel and many of the riders left and were involved in the new RadioShack project. Paulinho started that year’s Tour riding for a different leader, Lance Armstrong, but when the Texan failed to shine in the race, he and other riders had the opportunity to try for their own success.

He seized the chance, breaking clear on stage ten to Gap with Vasil Kiryienka (Caisse d’Epargne) and outsprinting him to the line.

A quieter 2011:

That success raised expectations that he would be firing on all cylinders in 2011, but by his own admission the year was quieter than he had expected. “The season was okay…in the beginning of the year, everything was nice,” he said. “After, in the Tour, I had very bad luck, and in the Vuelta also. But this is cycling…

“I don’t think this season went very well,” he elaborated. “I don’t know…in some races, I felt very well, and in other races it is not so good. But I think overall, the season was fine.

“The bad luck happened at certain points. For example, in the Tour, when you have four leaders and all of those leaders are affected because of crashes, your head doesn’t stay so good. After all the crashes in the Tour, my motivation was affected because of the team’s bad luck.”

Paulinho had a chance to turn things around when he went to the Vuelta a España. He’d performed well there in the past and knew that the race could suit him, particularly as there would be greater freedom for the RadioShack riders.

Janez Brajkovic started the race as the designated leader but didn’t ride as he had hoped, enabling Paulinho to hunt for stages.

His first big attempt was on stage eleven to Manzaneda, where he attacked towards the end of the mountainous stage, was caught after making a push for glory, and finished fifth behind David Moncoutie (Cofidis). “After
Jani and Haimar lost a lot of time, the team decided that everybody could go in the breakaways to win a stage,” he said, thinking back to that moment.

“On this day I was in the breakaway and I tried to win, but it was not possible. I was happy to be there, in the move, but it is better when you win. I was doing everything in the final, but it was not possible.”

Sergio PaulinhoHe went closer to success eight days later on stage 18 to Noja. He went clear in a large group ten kilometres after the start in Solares, made it into a smaller lead group when things broke up, then soloed clear thirty kilometres from the line. He pushed hard, battling on towards a result that would have rescued the team’s Vuelta, but was ultimately caught just over two kilometres from the end.

He finished eleventh and, despite being caught so close to the line, believes that he played his best card. “I think I attacked at the right moment, because in the breakaway Gavazzi [Lampre rider Francesco Gavazzi, the eventual stage winner] was there and he is a really good sprinter,” he said.

“If you wait until the finish, you lose against him. So I tried to attack and when I attacked, I hoped that somebody would come with me. But they didn’t, so I had to go thirty kilometres alone…it wasn’t easy, but I was happy with how I rode.”

That race was the last of his season, and with his agent Joao Correia helping secure the Saxo Bank SunGard deal, he has been able to relax and clear his mind. He sealed the deal on his 2012 team quicker than riders such as Brajkovic and, after a break, will start building up for what he hopes will be a strong year ahead.

He’s clear on what his main function will be. However he also believes he’ll have the scope to add to his own palmares. “In the beginning, my objective is to work for Alberto,” he said, pledging his support in the races his leader does. “But if I have opportunity, of course I will take it too...”

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