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An interview with Laurent Jalabert
If a rider of the modern era deserves the over-used tag legend, its Laurent Jalabert. Jalabert has 168 professional victories to his name, including stages of almost every major tour; overall victories in the Vuelta a Espana, Paris-Nice, and Midi Libre, among others; plus Classics such as Flèche Wallonne, Milan-San Remo and San Sebastian.
Jalabert began his career as a sprinter. A serious crash in the Armentières stage of the 1994 Tour de France didnt immediately dampen his taste for shoulder-to-shoulder gladiatorial dashes he won the Tour de France green jersey the following year but in the last few years he has reinvented himself as a climber, twice winning the King of the Mountains jersey in the Tour de France. He is therefore only the second rider ever to win both the points and the mountains jerseys, and also only the second to have worn all three major Tour jerseys: yellow, green and polka dots.
Jalaberts announcement in July that he would retire this year came as a surprise, especially as hed said just a few days before that he would continue for another year. At the conference announcing his retirement, Jalabert said, my wish is to stop whilst being a respected and respectable racer. He went on to prove he still had the right stuff by winning another Tour mountains jersey.
Marion Clignet, a former world champion on the track and womens Tour points jersey winner, caught up with Laurent Jalabert at the restaurant Le Belge in downtown Toulouse after Jalabert had raced the local annual pro criterium, the GP de Toulouse.
Cyclingnews: Here we are in Toulouse, your last race here, it meant a lot to you to race this criterium in particular, why?
Laurent Jalabert: When I first started racing I was part of the Blagnac racing team run by Georges Gay (now deceased). Mr Gay organised the Grand Prix at the time so I am attached to this race. This time every year I was invited as an amateur to race in the Grand Prix de Toulouse. It meant racing with the pros wow, my idols! and it was my first contact with the pro peloton. Ive always tried to be present for this race if nothing else to thank those whove helped me along the way... and it is sort of my neighbourhood.
CN: Whats your favorite race?
LJ: [with a big grin] The Tour de France.
CN: What race is missing on your resume?
LJ: Winning a road race world title would have been nice but I honestly never had the occasion to do so. The most important race I never won is probably Liege Bastogne Liege. With the form I had all I was missing was a tad of luck, as I was twice second.
CN: Did you ever imagine as a youngster that one day youd wear a polka-dotted jersey?
LJ: No, never. It was an evolution, a transformation in my life, and in my career. When I was younger I had more punch, I didnt need to train much to do well things seemed easy. Before I became pro I never trained in the mountains, I had never ridden the big climbs. When I first turned pro, I didnt really like these long mountain races but everything can be appreciated over time. With time I also eventually became wary of group sprints, especially after losing my teeth in the Tour finish in Armentière.
After that crash I progressed a lot, I changed my training methods, worked harder. The mountain jersey wasnt destined for me but over the years, Ive learned how to manage my efforts differently, Ive changed my habits and really become pro, I got a bit leaner and all of this helped . I evolved, progressed... I believe that where theres a will theres a way.
CN: Whats your biggest frustration in pro cycling today?
LJ: Probably when racing, being at my best and not being able to win a certain race because I was marked or raced.
CN: You are more popular than ever these days. How do you handle that?
LJ: Its ok takes a bit of organisation. The public is nice and I like people so that makes it easy... [it] takes time.
CN: Are there big differences between la ONCE and CSC-Tiscali?
LJ: At la ONCE the rider was a bit of a machine you sort of lost your personality because decisions were made for you and you were there to pedal. At CSC-Tiscali I have more freedom, more responsibility. I answer the press directly where as at la ONCE they said yes or no to the interviews.
CN: What are the biggest changes youve seen in cycling.
LJ: Big changes in equipment. Ive witnessed disc wheels, automatic [clipless] pedals, 650 wheels, brakes without the cables, and the roads are a lot smoother. They used to be rough whereas now, especially on the climbs theyre velour. More roundabouts as well, and the mentality has changed. A bit too serious now as compared to before, people laugh less, or maybe Im getting old and I find it too serious. Cycling took a hit but its taking off again. The frontiers have really opened up. It was once a European sport but now there are a lot more Eastern bloc countries, Americans, Aussies, and so on. Its nice to see.
CN: If you werent watching a bike race what would you be watching?
LJ: I like soccer, rugby and I really like Ferrari even if theyre above and beyond. I like all sports and would love to see all of these live. Mechanical sports fascinate me, Id love to pilot though I doubt Id be any good as a racer, I dont have the qualities for it though I like to drive fast!
CN: Next year?
LJ: A change, a change that I have to navigate, to orient myself properly. The most important thing is my family, but Im sure Ill be close to the cycling community as well. Why not be directeur sportif for a womens team? I like womens sports, I have two daughters and I encourage them to participate in sports, its a good school. As for womens cycling, I regret that the media considers it less important; the effort is the same. Its a shame that the media separates the two disciplines I enjoy womens sports as well
CN: If you had a few questions to ask Laurent Jalabert?
LJ: In my life, I dont really ask myself too many questions about what Im doing. I decide, I go, maybe by instinct but I move forward and so far... it seems to be working
CN: At Zolder youre riding the TT and road?
LJ: Just the road. Ive taken too many thrashings in time trials lately and there are other French guys more motivated than me, so Id rather just concentrate on the road.
CN: Are there any new Jajas or Armstrongs in the peloton?
LJ: There are a lot of newcomers that have the quality, if theyre well-handled, well-managed, not over-raced and so on. There are some really good fighters. They have all it takes, and over the next four or five years theyll get there. Just behind there seems to be a small gap, but time goes on and at the end of one era another begins.
CN: Was there anything in particular that made you say, stop?
LJ: My family really. My daughter is 11 and soon she may have boyfriends and I didnt really see her grow up so I want to be around. Im lucky to have a family that has allowed me to live my career to its fullest, now its time for me to give some back.
Jalaberts results in 2002
Also see: Laurent Jalaberts fan site