He said pre-race that he wasn't a candidate for the overall win, but Samuel Sánchez gave an indication to the contrary on the first stage of the Vuelta a Burgos on Wednesday.
The Euskaltel leader was quoted as saying that the likes of Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali were in a more advanced state of form going into the race, reiterating that he was only in Burgos to get back into the rhythm of competition after a two month hiatus as he starts to build for a tilt at the overall crown at the Vuelta a España.
The first leg, a 139km trek starting and finishing in Burgos at the top of the cat. 3-ranked Alto de Castillo, showed 'Samu' appears to be very much on track. After the day's break had been caught, of which Euskaltel's Jorge Azanza and Team Euskadi's Illart Zuazubiskar had formed part, the big guns were left to duke it out for the stage win on the steep cobbled climb in the city centre. Astana's Simone Ponzi came out tops after an expert lead-out from a certain Nibali, while Sánchez was good enough for 12th on the day - only eight seconds down and ahead of riders like the aforementioned Quintana, Beñat Intxausti, team-mate Mikel Landa, Rubén Plaza and Ivan Basso.
While Wednesday's stage was hardly the toughest or the most adequate to measure one's true form, it no doubt bodes well for what's to come later.
Young Peio Bilbao, set for his Grand Tour bow in the Vuelta later this month, also appears to be hitting form. The native of Gernika came in 12 seconds in arrears in a group led home by Team Euskadi prodigy Carlos Barbero, racing on home roads this week.
Results (Team Euskadi riders in cursive):
- (1, Simone Ponzi (Astana), 3:16:34)
- 12, Samuel Sánchez, 0:08
- 18, Carlos Barbero, 0:12
- 20, Mikel Landa, s.t.
- 41, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
- 42, Haritz Orbe, 0:21
- 50, Igor Merino, 0:32
- 63, Gorka Verdugo, 0:45
- 64, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
- 65, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
- 73, Unai Iparraguirre, 1:16
- 79, Mikel Bizkarra, 1:34
- 86, Ricardo García, 1:55
- 88, Aritz Bagües, 2:07
- 93, Pablo Urtasun, 2:51
- 115, Jon Larrinaga, 3:49
- 117, Illart Zuazubiskar, 3:58