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An interview with Igor Astarloa, March 24, 2004
Warrior of the road
The name Igor has its origins in Scandinavia, where it holds a very specific meaning: heroic warrior. While he may not be slaying his enemies in bloody wars, Igor Astarloa is certainly a warrior of the road and a hero to many, triumphing in last year's Flèche Wallonne - the first time ever for a Spanish rider - and his crowning moment, the 2003 world road championship.
This year, the warrior from the Basque country will be aiming for back-to-back wins at the World's in Verona, Italy, among other objectives. Cyclingnews' Hernán Alvarez Macías spoke with him the day before the first race of the 2004 UCI World Cup, Milan-San Remo, where he finished sixth behind compatriot Oscar Freire.
Cyclingnews: Five months has passed since you won in the world championships in Hamilton. What did your victory mean for your cycling career?
Igor Astarloa: It meant a lot because to win a world championship is the most important thing that could ever happened to a classics rider.
CN: Another Spanish world champion, Oscar Freire of Rabobank, told me that some people think the rainbow jersey signals bad luck for the one who uses it. What do you think?
IA: No, I don't believe that. But I still haven't won a race this season; I ended up second two times and both these times [Paolo] Bettini was first. But, well... I'm not superstitious. I think it was essential to win the world championship and from then on, who knows? But I don't think it's bad luck.
CN: What are the things that you notice that change after becoming world champion?
IA: Many things. I first thought not many things would change; almost everything changes though. This winter, I couldn't do any of the things I did in former winters like being with my friends, because I had many obligations. I had to assist with many commitments in Italy and in Spain. I was travelling all day long and I ended up a bit tired. Since January 1, I decided I had to stop assisting to commitments, if not... races were about to start and I had to train and if I continued with the meetings, I wouldn't have trained or done anything. So, finally, I began training well from January 1 up till now.
CN: Why did you decide to change from Saeco to Cofidis?
IA: Well, I made the contract [with Cofidis] before the world championships. It was because the Cofidis people told me they didn't have a rider in their roster for the classics or the World Cup and they were interested in me. And there were many riders like me in Saeco: there was Celestino, Di Luca and Commesso. Many times I felt very good and fit, but I had to make sacrifices, helping Di Luca or another team-mate. Here in Cofidis, I came to take the responsibility of being somewhat the leader in the classics. I hope I made the right move.
CN: How is it in this French team?
IA: Good; it's a little bit different because the first and most urgent thing to learn is the language, French.
CN: And how do you cope with that? Do you speak some French?
IA: Little, so very little. Almost nothing. And the truth is that the language is a little obstacle. But there are three Italian and two Spanish riders inside the team and they always translate the orders and everything for me. The rest is ok; I get along well with all the people and there's no problem.
CN: Later in the season you will ride La Flèche Wallonne. You won that race last year - how are you preparing for this year's edition?
IA: Well, I hope I reach that race in good shape as I did last year. So far, everything is going fine. The important races in the season are all the classics in the World Cup, so I will focus not only on Flèche Wallonne, but also on Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I hope I'm able to win one of these races.
CN: I see you centre your season only on the one-day races. But in the future, would you ever consider to seriously compete in stage races?
IA: No because I'm a little bit limited. The time trials are my weakness and I'm conscious of that. Nowadays, it's very hard to gain back time after a bad time trial for people who don't ride well in these kind of events. The top riders who ride well against the clock like Armstrong or Beloki are also in the lead when climbing the mountains.
IA: And referring to my body, I rode two Vueltas a España and one Giro di Italia and I notice I don't recover very well from one day to another. After two weeks of continuous competitive riding, I realise I don't go well - the contrary happens to other riders. Classics are 260 kilometres long. Tomorrow [Astarloa was about to race the Milan-San Remo], we will ride 300 kilometres. Many people start to fade after 200 kilometres in one day, but that's not the case for me. I feel very good in the classics; in the three-week races I'm dead after two weeks.
CN: So, are you saying you don't plan to improve in the time trials to try and ride well in the big tours?
IA: Yes, because classics are the races where I make my best performances and that's it.
CN: How are you getting along with your four compatriots on Cofidis: Luis Pérez, Atienza, Cuesta and Bingen Fernández?
IA: Very well. I've known them since I was young and we rode together in the amateur ranks and also in the professional field. We competed in the same races many times and it's always good to have team-mates from your homeland.
CN: You, riders in Cofidis, have three current world champions this year including yourself, David Millar and Laurent Gane. How do you see the team in general?
IA: We have a very competitive team. We achieved a win which is hard to obtain at the beginning of the season. I think that once the first triumph is done, then other victories will follow. I hope some cyclists that started slow are able to get fit for the classics or the most important races. Cofidis is French, so we are really interested in succeeding in the Tour de France. We want to do our best at the Tour de France.
CN: Are you planning to take wins in each of the three Grand Tours?
IA: I think so. Especially because of [David] Millar, who is the best in the time trials and also in the three-week races.
CN: So, David Millar will be the leader in the Grand Tours?
IA: That's right.
CN: Oscar Freire thinks one-day-race riders are not valued in Spain. What do you think about it?
IA: It's true, I think the same. Look, we were two world champions and we never rode with Spanish teams. I think that, unfortunately, they [the Spanish people] have that mentality, but I don't worry. I have a team to ride for and I'm glad, so that is not my problem.
CN: I guess you spend the off season in the Basque Country with your friends and relatives, don't you?
IA: In the Basque Country and also in Italy with people who helped me many times.
CN: Some outstanding riders like Eddy Merckx, Lance Armstrong and Bernard Hinault won La Flèche Wallonne. Do you consider yourself capable of reaching such greatness?
IA: Well, you mentioned excellent riders who are among the best in the history of cycling. I think they won it all, one-day races, three-week races, so many races. I just feel very happy to have won an important classic that is not really easy.
CN: Did you know there was an argument between Lance Armstrong and the WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) director Dick Pound, where Pound had said, "The riders of the Tour de France and other races take banned substances" and Armstrong retaliated. What is your opinion on this?
IA: I actually didn't hear anything about this. Tough, what do you want me to say? The only thing I know is that Armstrong has won five Tours de France and that he has taken so many doping tests and he never had a positive case.