Matti Breschel is hoping to finally win the Monument missing from his palmares and has his eyes firmly fixed on Paris-Roubaix in 2010. The Danish national road champion has long been described as a classy rider with potential. Despite racking up 24 wins by the age of 25, he is still without a Classics win.
"2009 was a good season. I was pretty satisfied with the two top ten places in Paris Roubaix and at the Tour of Flanders. They were two big races I had been looking forward to racing. They're results I could build on for this year," he told Cyclingnews at Saxo Bank's team camp in Fuerteventura.
"Right now though all I have in my head is Paris-Roubaix. It's what I think about when I close my eyes and when I'm out there doing six-hour ride. That's what I'm motivated for."
"I always try and push myself and maybe I didn't really believe in myself in the past." - Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank)
Breschel doesn't believe that it's a case of now or never for his Classics win, and he will be taking a far more relaxed outlook on racing this season. "I'll just try and take my chance if it's there. How close am I to that big win? Well that's the one million dollar question. But the biggest thing is that I believe in myself. If that win comes this year, or next I don't know but I have to believe it will happen. I know I need that win for my career."
With a team brimming with Classics specialists like Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O'Grady and the Schleck brothers, Breschel believes that strength in numbers is a positive aspect, not a hindrance on his chances, and that if each individual rides honestly and for the good of the team, he'll get his chance to kick on and shine in the spring.
"I think it works well with me, Fabien and Stuey. The more riders like that the better. But we all need to be honest, and if we have a bad day, we need to say so and just help. That applies to everyone. We're one of the strongest Classics teams in the world because of the way we ride not because of just one rider."
For a long time, Breschel was a rider who lacked confidence. Despite wins in the Tour de Suisse and placing highly in the worlds, he would consistently doubt his abilities and place within the pro ranks. It often led to a combination of overtraining, stress and eventual illness. However, this winter he eased off the gas in the hope that he'd save his energies for racing and rule out the chances of illness.
"I always try and push myself and maybe I didn't really believe in myself in the past. Now I have the confidence and I believe that the work I'm doing is right for me. I don't know where those doubts came from, but the results I've had in the last few years have built the confidence I needed," he said.
That psychological progression didn't happen overnight, with Breschel taking advice from former pro and team director sportif Lars Michaelsen. The two Danes used to share a room when Michaelson was still a pro rider with the team and along with Bjarne Riis, he has been an inspiration to Breschel. "They told me I didn't need to be the first on the climbs in the training camp. That's a part of me, I always want to race, but now I'll be cool and wait for the races. My aim is to be as psychologically strong as I can be. I get stronger as a rider every year but you can be the strongest rider in the world but if you're head isn't right."
Breschel starts his racing season at the Tour of Qatar before returning to Europe for Tirreno-Adriatico, Eroica and the Classics. From there he'll take a short break before building up to the Tour de France, where he will race for the first time in his career. Breschel unluckily missed out on a Tour spot last year and despite the let down of not being selected believes that missing out was a positive experience.
"I think it gave me the kick up the arse that I needed to be better and show that I could do it. Missing out was a disappointment, but it gave me more motivation. I thought I was doing okay and thought I'd done enough with four wins before the Tour. Bjarne gave me the news right after I won a stage at the Tour de Suisse. But he told me it's part of the game and hopefully I can do it this year. For now, I don't think about the Tour though, just the Classics."