An interview with Nico Mattan, January 19, 2007
A sure sign that Team DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed is going up in the world is their ability to leverage their newly acquired Pro-Continental status to attract experienced racers to balance the abundance of young talent. After two years with Davitamon-Lotto, Nico Mattan has decided to sign with the team, both for one more tilt at the races he loves, and also to pass on some of the valuable experience he has built up over his thirteen year career. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins caught up with him after a self-imposed training camp to the south of France.
After thirteen years as a professional cyclist, with such illustrious teams as Mapei, Cofidis, and Davitamon-Lotto, why would such an experienced rider sign for a team such as DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed? Mattan has, for many years, enjoyed passing on his experience to talented young riders - as he was doing with some success with the Belgian/Spanish Relax-Bodysol team in 2004, but when the Belgian part of the team folded (due in part to the possible conflict of interest of having one parent company, Omega Pharma, co-sponsoring two teams: Relax-Bodysol and Quick.Step-Davitamon), Mattan was able to find a berth at Davitamon-Lotto and spent two reasonably successful years there. The highlight of his time there was (a rather controversial) victory over Juan Antonio Flecha in the 2005 Gent - Wevelgem.
An end to his contract with the Belgian ProTour team gives him the chance to rekindle his role as teacher to up and coming riders. "I always wanted to finish my career with young guys so... . At this moment in Belgium there are not so many small teams with young guys, and then the manager of DFL, he called me a few weeks ago, and I was interested, it's a team of all young guys." Being the undisputed senior rider in a Pro-Continental team also has its attractions, giving Mattan the opportunity to perform to his best in the races he likes, "I'm motivated, first for myself, to do all my races, my Belgian races, to be good and to be the captain of the team, and then [teach them] what Belgian cycling is about."
The big name behind the wheel of DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed, Director Eric Vanderaerden, is obviously a draw for any Belgian cyclist, both in terms of experience and kudos - and also in communication. "He's the team director and he speaks Flemish also," laughs Mattan, "so that's always good to have. He has a lot of experience also, I think he won two or three times the Tour de Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix [Ed - he won both once each, plus Gent Wevelgem and the Three Days of De Panne five times], so he is also a big name in cycling in Belgium. I never worked with him, but I think he must be a good director. I don't know, but I think he's okay..."
"I'm motivated, first for myself, to do all my races, my Belgian races, to be good and to be the captain of the team, and then [teach them] what Belgian cycling is about." -Nico Mattan looking forward to his new role as leader of the DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed
Being a team that's new to this level of the sport - having spent the last year in the European Continental ranks - means that there are a lot of names that are unfamiliar to a rider who has spent the last two years taking on ProTour opposition, but this seems to be nothing that a few cobbles and a few Flemish bergs together won't fix.
"I don't know a lot of the guys, last year I knew the two brothers Downing, but now I think they're all young guys, I know a few guys, but not a lot. It's important learn [about] each other this winter and maybe we're going to do some training camps in Belgium, maybe, that's what I'd like to do. Some training camps in Belgium to [teach] them about the Kwaremont and the Kemmelberg and the roads. That's the important thing for those guys to learn the roads and everything about the circuit in Belgium," said Mattan.
With the season seeming to start earlier every year, and with races like the Tour Down Under meaning that the peloton is reaching its full speed earlier every year, it's important to work out the priorities of the coming campaign, but when I spoke to Mattan, he had not yet agreed a definite plan, but knew where he hoped to be aiming. "[I'll be talking soon] with Eric to learn my targets for next year, so for the moment I think we can do all the Belgian races, maybe not Tour [of] Flanders, but races like the Three Days of De Panne [Ed - which he won in 2001], Gent - Wevelgem, [E3 Prijs] Harelbeke, Waregem [Dwars door Vlaanderen], all those races I think we can do."
But, with a team of such youngsters, in their first season of races at this level, does Mattan believe that a win in one of these races is possible, either for the team, or for himself? "I don't think that - because they're young guys - they could win a race, you need lots of experience to win. That's why I decided to join a team with young guys to [teach] them cycling, and also to think about myself, to finish my career with a big race, not like Tour [of] Flanders or Paris - Roubaix, but a race like Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne or Waregem [Dwars door Vlaanderen], [E3 Prijs] Harelbeke, maybe I can win a race like that."
So, if, as he says, it may be possible for Mattan to pick up a victory in one of the Belgian "semi-classics," will he be reconsidering his statement made when agreeing to sign, that this would be "one last year?"
"Maybe I can go another year, I'm not sure," said Mattan. "I'll see my year 2007, maybe at the end of the year, I can say by myself, maybe I do another year, but for the moment, I want to do the best I can for myself and my best for the team in 2007. And then maybe I can do another year, but maybe not. It depends on my condition and my form," he laughed.
Mattan has proved on many occasions that he doesn't need a team to look after him to get results, so with his new role as mentor to a lot of younger riders, but with the freedom of undisputed team captain, don't bet against him featuring at the sharp end of some of the big Belgian races this spring.