An interview with Andy Flickinger, March 24, 2006
After four years with the same team and seemingly written off, Andy Flickinger has found a new lease of life at Bouygues Telecom, with the past winner of GP Plouay believing 2006 to be his lucky year. Story by Anthony Tan.
He may only be in his mid-twenties, but Andy Flickinger is already entering his eighth year as a professional. Catching up with him a day before his first race of the year, the Tour de Langkawi, one's presented with a casual response when approached for an interview. "When you want," is all he says.
I tentatively say 'now?', he nods, and as we walk over to a quiet area of the hotel lobby at the Concorde Shah Alam, a stone's throw away from this mosque of gigantic proportions and where prayer is in full swing, I first make note of his 1.93 metres, where two of my steps appear to go in time with one of his casual plods. But not wishing to offend a Frenchman, asking how comfortable he is with his height, I begin the conversation talking about his crowning moment, victory in the 2003 GP de Plouay.
"Yeah, three years ago," confirms Flickinger. "After that, I had one year that was very difficult in 2004, and last year, I wanted to be strong in the Tour de France but I couldn't do it. I won one race [a stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe - ed.], did the world championships on the track, and after, I began preparing for this year."
Flickinger's non-selection for last year's Tour de France was controversial to say the least, as his AG2r Prévoyance team manager Vincent Lavenu decided in favour of a foreigner instead of him, and to make matters worse, one of those hard-headed Australians at that. The rider was none other than 25 year-old neo-pro Simon Gerrans, who made the most of the opportunity and came close to winning a stage, finishing third on the seventeenth stage to Revel behind winner Paolo Savoldelli. Just to rub it in, Flickinger was required to ride for the youngster as the team's season drew to a close at the Herald Sun Tour, held in Gerrans' home state of Victoria - won by the baby-faced aggressor in thrilling fashion.
However, Flickinger says he wasn't angry at 'Gerro' for getting the nod at Tour time and was happy to play the role of domestique at the Sun Tour, but at least in his national tour, he thought he could have played a role. "I thought I could help the team, but I don't know what I could have done. I'm not going to talk in theory - you can't say you're going to be strong [if you weren't there]," he says diplomatically.
The man from St Martin d'Heres in the Rhône-Alpes region of southern France mentions his problems began much earlier last season. "For myself and the team, they wanted me to be strong in the classics, but I had many problems. I don't want to think about that; now, I want to be strong in my new team. I've had a good winter, so... " Flickinger's voice trails off, his thoughts preferring to stay with the present and future.
But before talking about the season ahead with his new team, Bouygues Telecom, managed by an equally experienced team manger in Jean René Bernaudeau, I ask him how the deal came about, which he explains in two sentences: "We started to speak together at the start of July; 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."
Who ever said contract negotiation was a difficult thing!
Asked what Bernaudeau expects of him, Flickinger simply says: "He wants me to be me. To be normal, to do my best, to be serious, and to encourage the younger riders because of my experience.
"I don't say a lot [to the younger riders]; I do my job seriously. When we go to this race, for them it is the first time; I explain what it's like in this country, I talk about training, I explain a lot of things. For us [the experienced riders], it's easier to begin the race."
With a new two year contract under his belt, Flickinger says finding the motivation to work hard over the winter wasn't difficult, and even at the start of February here in Malaysia, the 27 year-old admits he's skinnier than in previous years. "When you come from France, it is zero degrees but we have good condition; we arrived at this race five days before so we are used to the conditions. Still, when you're climbing, it's hard to breathe properly because of the humidity.
"I worked a lot this winter; 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."
The team's objective in Malaysia was to win a stage, either in a sprint or a breakaway, as they didn't possess a rider with the capability of finishing high on the overall classification. Although competitive in a number of stages, they didn't manage to do that, but the riders can take comfort in knowing they have good race preparation for their season in Europe, where their bigger objectives lie.
"This year, they want to be better in the [teams] classification for the ProTour," reveals Flickinger. "They also want to win the French championship - it's important for the team and for the sponsors, and it's in Vendée where the team is based [in Les Essarts - ed.]; and they want to be consistent."
Although his stage win at the Circuit de la Sarthe last April was significant, it's been his only victory in three years. Much more was expected of him after the Plouay triumph, so does Andy Flickinger feel more pressure as a result?
"The first year after Plouay I thought that, but now I don't. 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," he adds with optimism, "I think this year I'm going to be lucky."
To clarify what he implies by the term "lucky", I ask Flickinger if he's superstitious which he denies, explaining that he means luck as a result of hard work. Nor is he religious: "I believe in me," he smiles.
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