Happy birthday Samuel Sanchez

Good as gold! (image courtesy of Euskaltel Euskadi)

Good as gold! (image courtesy of Euskaltel Euskadi)

Samu, feliz cumpleaños.

I’ve prepared a little birthday tribute for Samu on the occasion of his 35th birthday which, not unnaturally, involves a gander down memory lane and focuses on his career highlights. He’s a winner of great races or stages and I suspect – though haven’t checked – has more runner-up spots on his palmares than any other rider in the professional peloton.

I’m kicking this off with a photo montage which features plenty of photographs of Samu in his early days with the Euskaltel feeder squad. Don’t you think there’s something Princess Di-like about his shy smile?

I’m following this with a clip of his first Grand Tour stage win back in 2006, stage 13 of the Vuelta a Espana, which fittingly includes a rather hairy descent.

In 2007 he went even better and won three stages in the Vuelta – 15, 19 and 20 – to record his highest GC finish in a Grand Tour, third. But 2008 arguably was his finest hour(s) when he took gold – Spain’s first of the games – in the Beijing Olympic road race.

While he continued to rack up victories in subsequent years, his first victory in the Tour de France came only in 2011 on stage 12 to Luz-Ardiden.

It was an emotional victory for him. The first day in the Pyrenees, in front of all the crazy [for cycling] Basque fans and he took the King of the Mountains jersey. Lookin’ good in those spots Samu!

He was to subsequently reprise his runner-up spot of 2008 on stage 19 on Alpe d’Huez where this time he finished behind Pierre Rolland (Europcar), rather than Carlos Sastre (CSC).

Success in the post-Tour criterium circuit landed him on a Belgian television sofa between fellow Monaco residents Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and then world champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo). Phil Gil, sporting a fetching blonde crop, reveals he’s a chatty chap, Thor gives away the secrets of his new-found success in the mountains – chips and mayo –  while Samu finds that speaking only Spanish lands him yet another supporting role to two heavyweights.

In the 2011 Tour de France, Samu often combined forces with another Spaniard, one Alberto Contador, which rather led Bertie’s fan base to hope that money might lure Samu to ride for Saxo Bank. They were doomed to disappointment, Samu has and will always remain faithful to the team that gave him his first chance in the professional ranks.

As London 2012 loomed large on the horizon, Samu’s sponsors added ever more gold to his plumage, his helmet, his shoes and his bike.

Golden boy (image courtesy of RDW)

Waiting for Samu (image courtesy of RDW)

His team’s bike sponsors Orbea offered one lucky prize winner the chance to have him wear their jersey design post the defence of his Olympic title. Love the tat but that’s not the only one …

Sadly two crashes, including one on stage eight of the Tour de France, effectively put paid to Samu’s ambitions at the Tour and the Olympics. His one bright spot in 2012 was winning his home tour, Vuelta al Pais Vasco, for the first time.

Samu, please wait until I can find a glass! (image courtesy of Susu Goetze)

Samu, please wait until I can find a glass! (image courtesy of Susu Goetze)

He did, however, bounce back in late September to finish runner-up to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in the pouring rain at Il Lombardia.

Which brings us neatly round to the start of the 2013, and the recent Euskaltel team presentation which featured Samu’s son Unai playing with his father in their recently built immaculate pad in Asturias. Samu, obviously a renaissance man, was pottering about in the pristine kitchen preparing a salad.

As Samu blows out the 35 candles on his birthday cake today I bet he’ll be wishing that 2013 is nothing like last year. You and me both, Samu!

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