Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Luis Leon Sanchez: Rabobanks Lethal Weapon

Dutch team Rabobank can be a little anonymous. I've heard Rabo described as a 'career graveyard' - make the move there and you are likely to vanish into obscurity. In reality though, they are one of those teams that are consistently mediocre - they do win races, though monument and grand tour victories are few and far between and other than Robert Gesink the team lacks a punch in the general classification department. Luis Leon Sanchez, who took victory in today's Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian, has proven to be an exception to Rabobanks rule, punching his way to 7 victories this season. Here's a closer look at Rabobanks lethal weapon...

At 28 years of age, Luis Leon is no spring chicken, but this probably is the peak of his career and it has certainly shown this season. The Spaniard, christened Luis León Sánchez Gil is from a sporting family, with a younger brother Pedro playing professional football for high flyers Real Madrid. Older brother Antonio also chose balls over wheels and plays professional indoor football. In 2006, the eldest brother, Leon died in a motorcycle accident which in turn has driven Sanchez to success as he strives to make his brother proud.

Sanchez Find Victory for Caisse d'Epargne
Sanchez arrive on the cycling scene as a rider for the Liberty Seguros team which later collapsed in the wake of the Operación Puerto doping case. Sanchez rode for Spanish team Caisse d'Epargne from 2007 through to 2010 taking multiple podium finishes and some big victories in the Vuelta a Mallorca, Tour Mediterraneen and Paris-Nice within this time. It was here that he developed into a very strong Time Trialist, of which he has been Spanish National Champion in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012. More recently Sanchez has worked hard to improve his climbing in an effort to become a GC rider, but still retains a good TT recently finish 3rd behind Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in the final Tour de France time trial - good company by any standards. 

2010 was a particularly good year for Sanchez, who finished 10th in both the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana - announcing his arrival as a possible Grand Tour contender - It's probably this that triggered his move to Dutch squad Rabobank for the 2011 season, a move which Luis Leon has openly admitted to struggling with after riding at Spanish sides for his entire career:

"I didn't feel isolated, no. But I felt off-center. I didn't understand the language, I had to quickly pick up English and to connect. At least I was lucky that there were other Spanish riders and team director Erik Breukink also speaks Spanish. I thought it would be easier and it became more difficult when I didn't get any results. There was a little bit of anxiety until I started winning." Which Sanchez eventually did on stage 9 of the Tour de France. Though he admitted feeling 'lost', he now says Rabobank "told me to take it easy. We did an altitude camp in the Sierra Nevada and then in the Tour I obtained the victory at the right moment."

Not only has Luis Leon Sanchez now found his place within the Dutch team, he is leading from the front in terms of victories, as Rabo's most successful rider this year. He finally looks comfortable. His 2012 palmares may even be considered better than his stand-out 2010 season:
1st National Time Trial Championships
1st Clásica de San Sebastián
1st Stage 6 Paris–Nice
1st Stage 2 Vuelta a Castilla y León
1st Stage 14 Tour de France
10th Overall Tour de Romandie, 1st Stage 3, 1st Stage 4

His main goal for 2012 though, didn't go as he'd liked. Sanchez had been preparing for the Olympics in earnest, looking for possible victory in both the Road Race and the Time Trial. It was with much upset then that he suffered mechanical failures in both, putting him well out of the medals in what has been described as a cruel period of bad luck for the Spaniard. Hopefully today has gone some way to end that run of bad luck as in what has now become Luis Leon's trademark style he sailed to solo victory in San Sebastian, Spain's only one-day classic and one that he won previously in 2010.

Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) has won the 2012 San Sebastian with a late-race solo attack.
Taking Victory in San Sebastian today

What is it though that endears fans to Luis Leon Sanchez? Ask any cycling fan what they think of him and the answer is always the same: Heavyweight. In recent years Sanchez has become known within the peloton as a true powerhouse garnering much praise from the likes of Peter Sagan and Phil Gilbert. Sanchez is super strong, as a Time Trial specialist he produces power that for his frame and size is astounding and leaves rivals trailing in his wake. Its this ability coupled with grit and determination in bucket loads that has seen Sanchez become a break-away specialist. Countless times we have seen him attack in the closing stages, often around the 10km mark, and ride solo to victory. It's this that makes him a joy to watch and garners fans around the globe. Assets such as Grit, Determination, Attacking, Aggression, Power and Risk-taking all produce a thrilling spectacle for any fan, more importantly though, they are all traits of winners and that's exactly what everybodies favourite Spaniard is...

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