At the advanced pro cycling age of 38 little climber Sammy Sanchez is still going up hill very fast.
Once the captain of Euskatel-Eusaki and a hero of Basque sports culture, he is now in the twilight of his career and riding for BMC, filling the role of the guy who helps Tejay van Garderen and now Richie Porte get to the final climb in good shape.
He’s done an admirable job in that position and happy to be in an well-organized and professional squad after so many seasons with the underfunded Euskatel formation. Riding on home roads in front of his crazed countrymen all drinking the kalimotxo, Sanchez powered away in the final kilometer to win stage four of the Tour of the Basque country, aka Pais Vasco.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-5R-spGu8M
He had marked Alberto Contador and Sergio Henao as the road reached the top of the last climb. He suddenly accelerated out wide left, took a good look at his two rivals, then swung hard back right, opening a gap that he held on the short fast descent. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) nearly caught him but nearly doesn’t quite do the job.
It was nice to see Sanchez’ wide, toothy grin at the finish and he still has his trademark gold shoes. Blink and you’d think it was the same guy who won the polka dot jersey (and 5th overall) in Le Grand Shindig in 2011. Or the guy who finished second overall the year before in France when they knocked Contador and Menchov off the podium for doping.
Sanchez rewound the clock a number of years and it clearly felt good. “For me it was a really, really beautiful day,” said Sanchez. “The stage was really hard. A lot of rain, a bit dangerous, a lot of big climbs and the pace of the race was so high. There were a lot of attacks at the final. When Contador attacked I stayed in his wheel and counter-attacked in the last 200 meters of the climb. And then I went full gas to the finish and I could raise my hands as I crossed the line.”
First over the line isn’t a feeling that Sanchez has experienced in three years. “It’s my first individual win with BMC Racing Team,” Sanchez said. “My last individual win was at the Dauphine in 2013 and this is too many years for me. Now it is a really, really beautiful day for me and for my mind it is a super important victory.”
Welcome back, Sammy. Nice to see you again on the mountain.