Tour finds a family champion in Sastre

Spaniard shows calm under pressure

Unassuming, quiet, a family man. Hardly the kind of words to describe the winner of the world's biggest bike race.

For those who know newly-crowned Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre, there might be little to talk about, but when it comes to bike racing the 33-year-old from Madrid gains everyone's respect.

"He's far from being a spectacular rider," said former French professional Laurent Jalabert, a former teammate of Sastre's at ONCE. "But he's consistent, intelligent and knows how to plan his goals for the season."

Sastre might be no Lance Armstrong but he borrowed more than one race tactic from America's seven-time champion as he wrapped up his maiden Tour victory here on Sunday, becoming the seventh Spaniard to win the race.

A daring solo attack at the foot of the 13.8km climb to the summit of Alpe d'Huez proved decisive for his overall victory.

Coming over the 17th stage finish line to grab his third win on the race, Sastre saw his main rival, Cadel Evans, finish 2min 15sec in his wake. It meant the Australian - a formidable time trialist - had an overall deficit of 1:34 on the Spaniard going into the final time trial, a gap he was expected to close. But as Evans under-performed, Sastre - more known for his climbing skills - calmly punched above his weight to limit his losses to only 29secs on the Australian.

The stakes of Saturday's race decider seemed to cause Sastre little concern.

"When we were driving to the decisive time trial he was sleeping in the team van!" said Jens Voigt. "He's unbelievably calm and doesn't let things get to him. He just takes things the way they are. He's not at all like (teammate) Andy Schleck, who would usually get nervous."

It took Sastre five years to snare his first professional victory while riding for the now defunct ONCE team, run by Manolo Saiz - who two years ago was investigated for his suspected links to the Operation Puerto doping scandal.

But Sastre, who grew up cycling in the company of his brother-in-law Jose Maria Jimenez - one of Spain's most exciting climbers before his death from a heart attack in 2003 - has never been interested in minor victories. The majority of his big results have come in the three-week stage races of Italy, France and Spain.

A two-time runner-up in the Vuelta d'Espana - both times to Russian Denis Menchov - Sastre's qualities as a three-week stage racer were recognised a long time ago, notably by CSC manager Bjarne Riis.

"Carlos isn't a spectacular rider," said Riis. "This year, he's been spectacular twice: on the Alpe-d'Huez and in the race's final time trial, and that's been enough. He's won the Tour thanks to his experience, and our strategy. He's confident in what he does, and doesn't lose the head. That's a big quality to have."

Known for his attachment to family life, Sastre got emotional near the Tour podium Sunday in the company of his wife, daughter Claudia and son Yeday. He's not the kind you are likely to see in flashy nightclubs, or living the life of a top sports star. According to some who know him, he has a real human touch.

"When I had some family problems at Christmas I received two telephone call," recalled former CSC team manager Alain Gallopin. "One was from (former CSC rider) Ivan Basso, the other was from Carlos. They were the only riders to call me.

"Carlos is really down to earth, and this victory isn't going to change him. It would be against his nature."

A winning team

© AFP 2008

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