Sanchez snatches gold after baffling his rivals

For all his look of disbelief as he secured Spain's first gold medal of the 2008 Olympics, a major win was long overdue for Samuel Sanchez, who completed the 245km road race in 6hr 23min 49sec, beating Italy's Davide Rebellin in a sprint finish.

Sanchez, 30, is one Spain's few specialists in the Classics – one-day races where tactical nous and fast decision-making are more valuable assets thanphysical endurance. Two top-three places in the Tour of Lombardy, one of cycling'shardest and most mountainous Classics, and Spain's first victoryin the equally challenging GP Zurich in Switzerland, both in 2006, are testament to Sanchez's one-day ability.

It was a surprise that Sanchez ended up racing on a pushbike at all. As a three-year-old he was already driving off-road motorbikes, and only started riding a bicycle to get to the motorbike circuits quicker.

His unusual route to professional cycling continued when he joined the Basque squad Euskaltel-Euskadi in 2000, as they have a policy of not signing anyone born outside the Basque Country. Despite coming from 200 miles further west in Oviedo, Sanchez got in because he had ridden as an amateur in the region.

Promoted to team leader in 2007, he caused uproar by announcing he would not take part in the Tour de France, Euskaltel's biggest target of the season. Under pressure, he did ride in the Tour this year, but oscillated unhappily between hunting for stage wins and going for the overall classification. He finished seventh.

Unconventional on the bike, Sanchez is no less a maverick off it. Clogged city roads mean most professional cyclists steer clear of urban dwelling, but Sanchez lives in a high-rise flat in his childhood suburb of Pumarin in the centre of Oviedo.

He has never been afraid of thinking outside the box in other ways: for example his usual policy is to attack on downhills, but yesterday he bided his time until the finish, a policy which confused his rivals.