Nicky spoke to Chechu at home before he dusted off the mountain bike for some post-season training and asked him what it really feels like to be a cyclist.
Cyclists often say they have good "sensations". How does a good day feel different to an average day? Is it good in your mind too? Do "good legs" take you by surprise, or is it all planned?
Normally if you are in a good shape, it lasts for a few weeks, not just a day so you are feeling more or less well for maybe 30 days. But when you are building your condition, you have some good days and some bad days.
You don't really know how you are going to feel until you start pedalling and even sometimes only after a few hours. The mentality is really important too.
Photograph © Graham Watson, Team Astana
I read that racing in the Tour de France feels like cycling with the flu for three weeks. Apart from 2006, when you were sick, would you agree with this?
No. Depending on your condition, you can even enjoy it. For sure you suffer, but when you suffer in the front, and the legs can keep going (even with pain, but you go), you feel well.
But when you are suffering, back in the group, maybe 20 minutes from the head of the group, and you feel bad, you want to be home.
When you aren't performing well, do you feel pressure from the team? Or is it all personal pressure?
Personal. I don't know in other teams or with other riders, but me with Johan Bruyneel, always personal.
Tom tells me that, when he's on a training ride, he sorts things out in his head. A kind of freedom. Do you experience this or are you just watching the meters?
When I train by myself, I think a lot. Times goes fast because sometimes I am pedalling the bike but with my head in other places.
But when you train with the team mates or you are doing intervals, it is completely different. Especially with intervals, I really focus on what I am doing.
Robert Millar said that looking ahead to a climb in the Tour (the Alps, I think), the road zig-zagging ahead and lined with fans, he felt like a cowboy facing hostile indians. How do you prepare for such a stage and how to you stay focussed surrounded by noise and mad people? Is it terrifying?
If the legs are going well, then I almost don't see anything. I just think about my team-mates, the job I have to do, how long the climb is, how the rivals look, and things like that.
If I am dropped because I did my job and I go easy until the finish, I feel well and I enjoy the people and the atmosphere.
But if I am dropped because I feel really bad or sick and I go maybe 30 minutes from the first guy, then I want to be home and nothing makes me feel well.
You've described yourself as a gregario. What does that word mean to you?
A cycling worker. Un obrero del ciclismo ...
You seemed really happy this year, and had fantastic results. Do you think your approach was different because you thought it was your last season? Was your success the key factor in your decision to ride another year?
I think so. I think that, for me, riding with no pressure helps me a lot. I enjoy and I do it better.
And this was really important to decide to race one more year. If I don't feel well, I am the first to want to stay home no matter what they offer me. It is not funny to ride in the back and feel like you are not valid.
It's been a strange week for Astana, what's your reaction to the team's late inclusion in the line-up for the Giro.
We are happy about it, but at the same time, it is quite difficult to be well prepared for the Giro when we were not focussing on that race and we were training or racing with completely different objectives.
Have you been told to prepare for the Tour?
You were originally scheduled to race the Giro. Any regrets?
No. I really like the Giro but I have been doing many races this year because we were not invited to do it. If I do it with my present condition, maybe I am well first week, but it is 3 weeks long. It would be almost impossible to be well in the last one.
Your next race ...?
TOUR OF GEORGIA
You had good results in Georgia. What were highlights for you, and for the team? And the disappointments?
We expected to win with Levi but the others were stronger. No disappointments. We worked well and we were the best team by far. I felt well and I did a good job.
Photographs: Casey Gibson for Team Astana
After Brasstown Bald, we commented on website that you looked tired. How are you feeling now?
Yes, it was a long season for me so far. Many races and many trips too, Australia, California, Georgia ... I rested a few days after Georgia and I hope to be back and in a good shape in Dauphiné.
Tell us about the Asturian flags. What did it mean to you to see them flying?
It was a nice surprise. I didn't expect it and it was really nice to hear the Asturias hymn from Rebecca. She was playing the flute at the start in the last stage when I was in the bus. I felt like I was home, with so many Asturias flags and those really nice fans, friends and wonderful people supporting me. What else can I need racing so far from Asturias? Thanks Rebecca.
Do you have a message for fans whom - I know - are missing you and the team these two weeks?
Just thanks once again for the support. It is really nice that they follow me when I am not a winner.
Our bloggers wrote that Team Astana is very popular in the USA. Do you think the team gets a better response in America than in Europe just now?
I think so. American fans feel that the team is like a continuation of the American Team Discovery and two of the most popular rideres from the States are on it (Levi and Horner).
Also the Americans are really good with the new technologies (internet) and they know how to use it for supoorting the team and the riders. Just a few people from my place follow me, the cycling news or the team on the web. Not even me!!
This was your last race in America, did it feel like a milestone in your career?
I really didn't think about it, just in the podium when the speaker said something about it. Maybe in a few months I will do it, but not there during the race and not even now. I tried to do my best as I always do and who knows, maybe I do Missouri instead of Vuelta (I hope not ...).
But it was nice to celebrate the team victory with sidra on the podium, thanks to Rebecca, and with the speaker saying that it was my last race in USA.
Then I thought about that and I keep that memory on my mind, in the podium watching from there the city of Atlanta and the skyscrapers.
Photograph by Amy Bush