By Bjorn Haake in Wevelgem
Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) came within nine seconds of Stijn Devolder on Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen. He couldn't quite close the gap and ended up third. "I came close. You have to fight and when you do, you have to be happy."
"Riding well in Flanders was a challenge. I always try," said Flecha. "You can say that was my first season highlight. Even if I didn't win, I came close and I have to be happy about it. It's the feeling of having a good result, but not winning. I don't know how Devolder is feeling now," he smiled think it must be nice to feel like the Belgian did after his win.
Flanders is history now, and his mind is already on Paris-Roubaix. "That was my main goal. But it is difficult to predict and sometimes you need a lot of luck. But if the weather is like last Sunday, it should be good." Flecha made it clear he isn't your typical sun-loving Spaniard, targeting the hilly tours in southern Europe.
What the bigger news in Spain would be a win by Flecha in Roubaix or Alberto Contador taking the Vuelta al País Vasco was a tough question to answer for the Spaniard. "I don't know. But last Sunday there was not even anybody there from the Spanish media. I guess it's not important to them." Apparently, the Spanish media didn't think Flecha could do well in Belgium.
Things are a little different for this Sunday. He expected more attention. "Spanish media will follow me a couple of days before the race. And some newspaper asked me about Roubaix last week," he said, noting there are some expectations in his home country and that his performance last Sunday will only increase expectations further.
He wasn't frustrated about the oversight in Flanders and joked, "I have said that maybe some day I will win Flanders and then nobody [from the Spanish media] will be there to report about it." Relaxed, he added that "it's not my problem. There are a lot of people in Spain who appreciate what I am doing." He acknowledged the fans who "come out every year. And as long as they are happy about what I am doing, it's OK."
The calm Rabobank rider reflected on how he tried to get the Spanish more interested in the one-day classics. "It was my second year as a professional [ten years ago]. I was riding for Banesto and at the team presentation they asked me about my goals. I said I want to win the Tour of Flanders. Everybody was laughing." Flecha said, "I know that a lot of people in Spain like those races." but he noted that many Spanish consider a win in the Grand Tour to be the ultimate achievement so some riders have been reluctant to admit such goals.
It's different now. "Guys like Barredo, Reynes... A lot of Spanish riders like that race. Now they can say it!" Flecha is happy that he was one of the first Spanish riders to say he liked the race. His openness at that team presentation may have changed the outlook on the classics in Spain, even though there is still no live coverage of the Ronde. Now, with a bit of luck, he will also try to put himself into the winner's list for Paris-Roubaix.