Former rivals united in respect for fallen friend
Acqua & Sapone directeur sportif Nico Mattan has revealed that Team Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha told him during the early stages of Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad that he was aiming to win the race in memory of their mutual friend Frank Vandenbroucke. Just hours later, Flecha claimed a solo victory in the opening race of the spring Classics season.
Speaking to Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure, Mattan said the pair had spoken during the early part of the race. "He had just suffered a puncture and was riding back up to the peloton through the team cars. He was really surprised to see me in the Acqua & Sapone team car. He joked about it, especially when he saw it was Bruno Cenghialta who was driving! You have to remember that Cenghialta was his directeur sportif at Fassa Bortolo during that famous edition of Gent-Wevelgem in 2005…"
Flecha and Mattan disputed a controversial finish at Wevelgem that year. Flecha attacked close to the finish and seemed to have the race wrapped up, but Mattan stole through to claim victory having been sheltered by race motorbikes. However, it seems that controversy has been forgotten by the pair, who were both close to Vandenbroucke, who died in October last year.
"When we were talking, Flecha told me: 'You watch. Today I will win and it will be for Vandenbroucke,'" Mattan said. "It was a really beautiful gesture that really touched me. Flecha got on really well with Frank. They rode together for a year at Fassa Bortolo.
"Frank often used to say to me at that time that he didn’t know how he would be able to cope at races when we weren’t there – his teammate Flecha nor me."
He added of Flecha: "He’s a real gentleman because there aren’t many riders who would have said that and then carried it off… He really deserved that victory and it gave me real pleasure because he’s so often been well placed but rarely a victor."