Carlos, you won the Tour de France in 2008. What are you doing in 2023?
"I try to enjoy life as much as I can. I own a little bike store here in Avila, an hour's drive from Madrid. I lived here most of my life and my parents are from here. It is a peaceful life here, I am enjoying every ride."
Sounds like biking, tapas and wine…
"Exactly, there is a thing called Chuleton here, beef Rib Eye Steak, which is very tasty."
On a global level, you are probably the Tour de France winner that is being talked of the least. How do you feel about that role?
"I feel happy with my achievements, so I don’t really care if people are talking about me a lot or not. I am a person, who lives in the present and looking into the future.
"The past is nice, but I don’t live in the past. I won the Tour in 2008, and it is always nice to remember, but that is only for the memories, and nothing else."
Why do you think that people talk less about you than others?
"I have always been a worker. For much of my career, I have been supporting other riders, like Tyler Hamilton or Ivan Basso. If you look back at the history of the Tour de France, I was just 20th in my first participation, and 18th in my last.
"If people can use you to make money, of course they will. But I have always been a bit more humble and introverted. My people and family matter more to me than the publicity.
"The media perhaps prefers the image of a big star, but outside of my bike, I am a very normal person, and I want to be a normal person. That’s maybe the reason why I wasn’t as present in the media as other winners of the Tour."
What were the most important factors for you in winning the Tour in 2008?
"When I had the chance to do it, I was ready. Before the start of that Tour, I knew the race very well, I knew my competitors very well. And I had a very strong team that supported me from the beginning to the end. The manager Bjarne Riis knew that I was ready to make something special that year."
After you attacked on Alpe d’Huez and took the stage and the Maillot Jaune, Franck Schleck seemed a bit frustrated. Were there any tensions afterwards?
"The atmosphere in the team was good. Of course, Franck and Andy Schleck also wanted to do well on their own. They were very good riders, but they were not ready to win the race then. They were also competing in other races most of the season, so they didn’t know how good I really was.
"I was training with Riis, and he said from the first day, that Carlos Sastre was ready for the race. That’s why I was the number 11, the first name of the team. Of course, they felt upset, because when I attacked in Alpe d’Huez, Franck was in the Yellow Jersey, so many people were shocked.
"But Schleck lost more than four minutes in the last time trial. So, if I hadn’t attacked that day, we would have been second and third in the overall classification. Like this, we deserved to win the race and achieve our goals as a team. Apart from that, everyone knew that I was going to attack at the bottom of Alpe d’Huez, because Riis wanted to win that day, I couldn’t have waited until the last two or three kilometres."
If you compare the champions from your era and today, what is the biggest difference?
"It is difficult to compare. Pogacar and Vingegaard are very young riders. In my era, we won the Grand Tours being 33 years old, that is a difference of almost 10 years. Nowadays, the young riders are really strong and well prepared for the competition. But I think they are making a lot of mistakes during the races because they are lacking experience. That is maybe the big difference between us.
"Back in the day, it was a bit calmer, we were waiting for the perfect moment to launch an attack. Pogacar for example is spectacular, but perhaps sometimes he is going too deep and wasting energy unnecessarily. He wants to win too much. But for the spectators, it’s awesome."
If you compare one cyclist of today with yourself, who would it be?
"I’d go with Sepp Kuss. If you look at Pogacar or Vingegaard, they are able to win anything. That’s not me. Kuss is a good climber, not too bad in the time trial and does great in the GC’s.
"Now after he won the Vuelta a Espana, everyone will say that Pogacar and Vingegaard have helped him win the competition. I say ‘no’ - it was Kuss, who was suffering every day, who did his best and survived after every day in the mountains. And he won the Vuelta. Of course, the other two supported him, but he had also supported them almost every time for the past years."
Roglic will ride for the German team Bora-Hansgrohe. Do you think he could be a contender for the GC at the Tour de France in 2024?
"Roglic has tried several times already at the Tour. In the last Vuelta and Giro, he has proven, that he still has a lot of power in the legs.
"It is going to be difficult because Pogacar and Vingegaard are two strong riders, who prepare exceptionally well for the Tour and have made a difference recently. But it would be nice if Roglic could find his top shape and compete for the win."