Carlos Sastre had conflicting emotions as he crossed the finish line of the Tour de France's 20th stage time trial to virtually secure his first yellow jersey Saturday.
Almost immediately, the Spaniard thought of the CSC-Saxo Bank team that has worked to protect and defend his place in the general classification during a tough three weeks of racing. Next, he spared a thought for his deceased brother-in-law Jose Maria Jimenez, the exciting Spanish climber who died from a heart attack while fighting depression - and lingering drug problems - in December 2003.
The 33-year-old Sastre began the time trial with a 1:34 lead on Cadel Evans and to general surprise he held off the Australian's challenge to lead him by 1:05 going into Sunday's final stage to Paris.
Sastre later revealed that his mysterious gesture at the finish line, where he lost only 29 seconds to Australia's formidable time trial specialist, was designed to pay tribute to Jimenez.
Jose Maria Jimenez (1971 - 2003) - 2001 file photo
"Normally I'm not very expressive, but I have certain beliefs," added Sastre, who grew up next to the Jimenez family outside of Madrid and eventually married his sister. "It was a dedication to someone who is no longer with us, but who remains very dear to me and who is always at my side. It was for Jose Maria Jimenez. We were practically inseparable and shared everything together while racing. So my victory is also for him, he would have wanted to be here with me, and to win the Tour.
"He had the same dream as me."
His impending victory on Sunday means a Spaniard will win the race for the third year in a row, following Oscar Pereiro's win in 2006 - after the disqualification of American Floyd Landis - and Alberto Contador last year.
Although having a vast experience from three-week races - he was competing in his 17th Grand Tour here - some were skeptical of Sastre's win. He was quick to pay tribute to a CSC team which, on the face of it, were by far the strongest on the race. Sastre also affirmed that, as far as performance enhancing is concerned, he has nothing to hide.
"I'm a clean rider, and I know what sacrifices I've made to get this far," said Sastre, who moved up to third place in 2006 after Landis was disqualified for doping. "I can hold my head up high and say that there are people who know how to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve their goals in the most honest way possible. There will always be cheats, but there are also people who shut themselves away and work hard to achieve for their goals."
Thanks to the presence of the talented Schleck brothers in the CSC team, Sastre came into the race with a question mark over him - was he or either Andy or Frank Schleck the true team leader? Although Frank took the yellow jersey from Evans on the first day in the Alps, on stage 15, by the 17th stage Sastre took command of the team - and the yellow jersey - with a daring solo attack which handed him victory atop the Alpe d'Huez.
Sastre, however, said none of his achievements would have been possible without them.
"The whole team believed in me. All the decisions were made as a team, and they gave 100 percent throughout," added Sastre. "You only have to look at a rider like (Fabian) Cancellara to see what we're all about. He sacrificed his chances of winning the (20th stage) time trial by working hard in the mountains for me."
He added: "Now, I'm going to win the yellow jersey that's been a dream on mine ever since I got on a bike, so it's not easy to describe how I'm feeling. I'm just very happy and very proud to be wearing this jersey."
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008