An interview with Juan Antonio Flecha, February 9, 2009
Spanish Classic specialist Juan Antonio Flecha opened his season for the first time in his career at the Tour of Qatar. The Rabobank rider found the conditions to be a strong reminder of some of racing's basic skills. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown discovered how the stage race ties into Flecha's spring objectives.
The Tour of Qatar, February 1 to 6, completed its eighth edition on Friday. Classics specialist and one of Flecha's key rivals, Tom Boonen, won the overall for a record third time.
Erik Dekker was the team's director during the race. He explained that the goal was to train hard and show the team's colours at the front end of the race.
Cyclingnews: When did you start training for the 2009 season?
"I think that this is the first time I have seen such a race in my ten years as professional" - Flecha told others after day two he had never experienced this kind of racing.
Juan Antonio Flecha: It is not easy in Qatar, but I didn't come over-trained. I started in mid-December on the road bike. We had a nice training camp in Spain for two weeks; that was the most important part of my preparations this winter. It was nice to start building up easy, not to come here crazy and already fit.
CN: What did you think of the Tour of Qatar? The strong crosswinds made for intense racing.
JAF: You find the rhythm, you train to put the handlebars between the riders' bikes, you get a little more skills for the Classics... They are the skills within the bunch that you practice; I think after the winter everyone needs a little bit of those skills.
CN: How did Qatar compare to starting the season at the Mallorca Challenge?
JAF: In Qatar the racing is on the flat, but in Mallorca there are more hills. Here, you have maybe one hour and a half where you are really going at a high tempo on the flats. I think it is perfect training, really.
CN: We saw that the intensity started from kilometre zero and continued until the winner was decided at the finish line. To what race would you compare a stage of the Tour of Qatar?
JAF: After the second day, I said to the guys 'I think that this is the first time I have seen such a race in my ten years as professional.'
It is a shock; you come from the winter where you control your tempo, but there is never this fighting or this type of racing you could find in the big races.
CN: Did you have a hard time handling the transition from off-season to flat-out racing?
JAF: Here on the first day you are strung out in a long line and asking 'what is this?' However, at the end, you have raised the level of your skills and you get accustomed to riding fast on the flat.
CN: Is it similar fighting for position before a key section in Paris-Roubaix?
JAF: Here, there is something I have never seen in other races: you are in the echelons, all is fine, but then you are forced to brake and you have lost two metres. You will never come back. And it was just two metres!
That happened to me in the second stage, I was in the first echelon and I thought 'OK, I will make it to the finish.' Then one of those traffic lights in the middle of the road caused someone to brake. I had to brake fast or I would have crashed.
I found myself two metres down, but I thought it was no big deal. However, we were riding at 60 to 70kpm and it was not possible, I kept losing minutes.
CN: Therefore, the race is perfect preparation for your objectives in the Spring Classics?
JAF: I would like to have a good result in Het Volk [now Het Nieuwsblad - ed.] and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne [February 28 and March 1 - ed.]. I want to feel comfortable there, but I do not have to win there. I only have to show myself and to be confident.
Then there is Paris-Nice and Milano-Sanremo, but my objectives are always the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix [second week of April - ed.].
CN: Team Rabobank brought in Nick Nuyens over the off-season. Will the two of you lead the team's charge for the Classics?
JAF: I would also count on Sébastian Langeveld. He is riding well and he showed last year that he is a really good rider for those Classics. The three of us are maybe not really big winners, but as a team we can create a lot of damage.
Nuyens was one of the eight men to travel to the Tour of Qatar. He left before the race to be at home with his expecting wife; the couple welcomed their new baby days later.
CN: Will you captain the team for the Ronde van Vlaanderen [Tour of Flanders]?
JAF: I did not win Flanders, but I got a really good result with third last year. Part of it is because Sébastian was there. He showed what great rider he is last year in the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
CN: Are you the same rider who debuted with Team Fuenlabrada in 2000?
JAF: I am pleased with myself; I don't have to find something new for motivation. Why change?
Juan Antonio Flecha will continue his preparations for the big classics in Spain, at the Ruta del Sol, February 15 to 19. He will meet with Nuyens and some of the other Rabobank members for training during the week before Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.