By Anthony Tan
Seven centimetres shy of the two metre mark but more lanky than statuesque, Andy Flickinger feels that after two up and down years following his breakthrough win in Plouay, his luck is about to change.
His four years with AG2r Prévoyance were not without success, however. A stage win in Paris-Correze, another last year at the Circuit de la Sarthe, and, of course, his finest moment to date - victory at the GP Plouay in 2003. But a rather controversial selection - or better put, non-selection for Flickinger - for last year's Tour de France squad saw him pick up the phone and dial the number of team manager Jean René Bernaudeau. Two weeks later, a deal was done: the next two seasons would see the 27 year-old ride for Bouygues Telecom.
"We started to speak together at the start of July," recalls Flickinger. "We spoke first by telephone in the first week of the Tour de France; I called him and then he called me the next week to speak about the contract, then that was it."
Asked what he's expecting of himself, having just completed a week's racing in Italy at Tirreno-Adriatico, the approachable man from St Martin d'Heres isn't quite sure.
"I don't know... I just want to do my best this year; I worked a lot this winter and I am skinny for the start of the season. I want to be strong in the Classics, and after, I want to make the Giro [d'Italia team] and be good in the Giro. After, I don't know if I'll go to the Tour de France or not, but I want to be good for the team and be [an] important [rider] in the team."
Okay, so what does Monsieur Bernaudeau expect, then?
"He wants me to be me, to be normal, to do my best, to be serious, and to boost the younger riders because of my experience."
That's plenty of things to think about, but so far, Flickinger is taking it all in those big strides of his. A fact helped by his eight years as a professional, which also keeps him grounded when people ask him if he feels any extra pressure to come away with another big win.
"The first year after Plouay I thought that, but now I don't," he said. "I'm a rider, I do my job, and I'm sure if I do my job, I'm going to be strong. But sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you are not... and I think this year I'm going to be lucky."
Look out for the interview with Andy Flickinger later this week.