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Ambitious, aggresive and a superb Classics rider, was it really so surprising to see Samuel Sanchez winning the Olympic road-race?

Ever since he turned pro, Classics-wise the 30-year-old Spaniard has notched up a few notable successes – and several near-misses. But a big win was definitely on the cards.

Sanchez first burst on the CLassics scence with a fourth place in the 2004 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, where team orders kept him from collaborating with a certain Lance Armstrong in a late break.

Then in 2005, he took a surprising win at a hilltop stage in the Vuelta after a Davitamon-Lotto rider mistook the a KoM banner for the finish – and Sanchez scooted past.

Then in 2006 there was a second place in Fleche Wallone, where he was beaten fairly and squarely by one Alejandro Valverde. Then he took a fourth place, in the World?s after leading out Valverde in Salzberg?s sprint finale. He followed that up with a classy victory in the now defunct Zurich GP in torrential rain – and a second place in the Tour of Lombardy behind Paolo Bettini.

In 2007 Sanchez and Carlos Sastre (CSC) were the only two riders to give an ultra-dull fight for the overall in the Vuelta some interest in the final week, with powerful attacks that earned Sanchez no less than three stage wins and a third place in Madrid.

Then in 2008, he went all but AWOL in the spring – no Ardennes Classics, just a stage win in a short time trial (another speciality) in the Tour of Asturias.

In the Tour de France, he was on the hunt for stage wins – but at the same time, became Euskaltel-Euskadi?s gc man when their supposed co-leaders, Mikel Astarloza and Haimar Zubeldia, failed to shine.

Finally, he finished a solid but unspectacular seventh , with a second place at Alpe D?Huez behind Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank) his best ride. Seventh at San Sebastian, at Beijing, the tables were truly turned: Sastre did the hard work for Spain early on, and Sanchez reaped the rewards.

Impulsive and articulate, Sanchez is famous for his downhill attacks – his most memorable being in Cuenca in the 2006 Vuelta.

?I try to outsprint the tv motorbike riders on the descents.? he told sister magazine Cycle Sport in an interview last year, ?and I try to take them out. The more technical the descents, the better.?

Born in the city Oviedo in the rainy region of Asturias – famous for its cider, its mining industry and its being the hometown of Formula One driver Fernando Alsonso – Sanchez is also unusual for riding for Euskaltel-Euskadi despite not being Basque, a usual prerequisite for a contract with the orange-clad team.

But riding as an amateur for three years in the Basque Country acted as a loophole for Sanchez to get into the squad – and eight years on, he is now the team leader.


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