Feliz 29 cumpleaños! LuisLe, as he’s called by friends and team mates, is the second in a family of four boys who started cycling – aged 14 – with his eldest brother when his father took it up to aid rehabilitation from a work-related injury. A talented footballer and good swimmer, LuisLe continued with all three sports well into his late teens before choosing to concentrate on a career in cycling. His two younger brothers persisted with football. Antonio Leon plays indoor football professionally while Pedro Leon [Sanchez] plays right-wing for Getafe FC, on loan from Real Madrid following a falling out with Jose Mourinho.
All the boys took the second name Leon in memory of firstly their grandfather and secondly their oldest brother Leon who was killed in a motor-cycle accident in late 2006. Both LuisLe and Pedro point to the sky to dedicate respectively their victories and goals to their elder brother.
Mañana es el día, VII memorial de mi hermano León. Gracias a todos los que lo han echo posible una vez mas!! Allí estaremos.— Luis Leon Sanchez (@LLEONSANCHEZ) October 27, 2012
Here they are both being interviewed on Spanish television:
Voted the best neo-professional in 2004 with stage victories in the Tour of Asturias and Clasica Alcobendas, he attracted notice with victory, a stage win and the best young rider’s jersey in the Tour Down Under in 2005 riding for Liberty Seguros. After a largely forgettable 2006, he moved to Caisse d’Epargne (now Movistar) in 2007 to be united with fellow Murcians, training partners and dimple chins Alejandro Valverde and Jose Joaquin Rojas.
LuisLe’s results started to flow again with early season victories in the Vuelta a Mallorca and third overall in Paris-Nice, after winning stage six. He won a further stage in Paris-Nice in 2008, the Spanish national time trial championship and a stage in his maiden Tour de France from a counter-attack after having been in a breakaway that was caught by the peloton.
In 2009 he won the Tour Mediterraneen and Paris-Nice, winning stage seven in a dominant fashion after race leader Alberto Contador (Astana) had spectacularly bonked. He also won stages in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Tour du Haut Var and stage eight of the Tour de France on his way to finishing 26th overall.
The 2010 season was probably his most successful to date and established his reputation as an aggressive rider, unafraid to attack relentlessly. He was runner-up in the Tour Down Under and Volta ao Algarve, having won stages in both. He was also runner-up in Paris-Nice. He won the overall and a stage at the Circuit de la Sarthe and another national time trial championship before finishing tenth overall in the Tour de France, a feat he was later to repeat in the Vuelta a Espana. In between he added the prestigious Clasica de San Sebastian to his palmares.
Those stellar results saw him sign for the team formerly known as Rabobank in 2011. It took him time to settle into the new team but he once more won the national time trial championships and another stage in the Tour de France. In 2012, he bounced back in style winning stage six of Paris-Nice – after a long-breakaway with Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) – two stages in the Tour de Romandie, his fourth national time trial championship and stage 14 of the Tour de France after another solo attack from a breakaway, having spent the first week nursing an injured wrist.
Afterwards, he explained his Grand Tour strategy:
I tend to study the road book carefully and look for stages that fit my characteristics. Every year is different, sometimes there are more, sometimes less. The idea is get into the right breakaway, with the right riders, on the correct day. It’s not so easy.
I don’t have the legs to climb with the best in the high mountains. I know since [Miguel] Indurain, the Spanish only think about the overall, but I am not built for that. I focus on winning stages and I hope I can keep adding to my tally.
Disappointment was to follow in the Olympics: his chain broke as he exited the start ramp in the time trial and hesitation saw him lose ground on the run in to the Mall in the road race. He went on to time trial to his second Clasica san Sebastian title just weeks later with another trademark solo attack from a breakaway.
That victory cemented a further three-year contract at the team formerly known as Rabobank. He closed out the long season with the Canadian GPs and the World Championships in Valkenburg, where he confirmed it had been a long tiring season:
I’m a bit tired at the end of the year and I don’t have the same force that I do when I’m going well. But, it’s okay, I feel like it’s more of a psychological tiredness than anything, and it’s been a long year!