You don't even need to ask Samuel Sanchez the importance of an Olympic gold medal. His earring is sculpted as gold Olympic rings.

Competing in his sixth Tour de France, where he is aiming for a second podium finish before trying to defend his Olympic road race title, the Spanish allrounder insists his triumph in Beijing four years ago is the pinnacle of his sporting career.

The Olympic title, he says, brought him money, fame and recognition well beyond his sport.

His hometown of Oviedo has honored him with a statue and a street named after him. Sanchez, whose chances of defending his Olympic crown were almost annihilated by a crash last month during a preparation race for the Tour, says the Olympic gold has completely changed his life.

"This is the most important thing in my whole career," the 34-year-old rider from the Basque outfit Euskaltel-Euskadi said.

"Before that, I was just a cyclist. After Beijing, I became a recognized sportsman in Spain. I live in Oviedo, where a street has been named after me. They also built a statue of me with my medal."

Sanchez says Olympic glory did not alter his personality. "After Bejing, my life changed," he said. "I was able to change almost everything: car, clothes, watch, a lot of things. But my personality did not change. I stayed the same guy, I kept the same friends and my family helped me to keep my feet on the ground. It was helpful, and I kept working to be good on my bike."

Sanchez claimed a Tour stage win last year on his way to winning the best climber's polka-dot jersey, and he's trying to emulate those results before heading to London.

"I did not train specifically for the Olympics, because it's just a one-day race and it would have been too risky to base my season on it," Sanchez said.

"You need to have luck on your side to win at the Olympics, where most of the best racers will compete. That's the reason why I prepared for the Tour, where I hope to win another stage and climb to the podium."