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An interview with Francisco Mancebo, January 13, 2006

One step at a time

Francisco Mancebo looking relaxed
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner
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The new year holds many new challenges for Francisco Mancebo. The 29 year-old Spaniard has changed teams for the first time in his professional career, leaving the care of Eusebio Unzue's team Illes Balears for newly-born ProTour team AG2R-Prévoyance. On top of having to learn French, the man from central Spanish town of Avila will move to Switzerland with his wife and first child, and integrate into his new squad which is assigned to help him achieve what he and the team's management aspires most: a step on the Tour de France podium, after finishing fourth overall in 2005.

In AG2R's training camp in L'Isle sur Sorgue, southern France, Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner got a hold of Mancebo, who had just enjoyed a massage after having been out on a 120km ride with his new teammates - and discovered that 'Paco' wasn't too worried about his new endeavours at this moment. Taking things step by step, Mancebo revealed that he hadn't even looked at the 2006 Tour de France parcours yet, but admitted the change of environment has given his ambitions an additional boost.

Cyclingnews: How do you perceive this change of teams?

Francisco Mancebo: It's a move that has increased my motivation. I had been with Banesto/Illes Balears for eleven years, and after this much time, I was very accommodated in my mind. So this change of teams is like when I first turned professional; a real motivation.

CN: How did the deal come about?

"I missed that moment in Madrid where the first three step on the podium. And that's what counts."

- Mancebo doesn't consider himself a top three finsher atf the 2005 Vuelta a España, regardless of the outcome of Roberto Heras' doping case

FM: I had other offers, but this one was no doubt the best on a financial level. As to the sporting aspect, all the offers were pretty much the same - to ride the Tour de France, which is the most important race for me. All the teams are basically the same, so what mattered to me was to be able to take two riders with me: David Navas and José Luis Arieta. That influenced my decision a lot, and as the economic and sporting aspects were all good, that was it. I didn't have to think about it much.

CN: How do you feel, now that you're getting to know the other riders?

FM: I feel good. There was a first training camp in December, and the truth is that they're very nice people. Although, of course, there's still the language barrier... (smiles) I still don't understand much French! I didn't have the time to take classes yet, but as of March, I will. We're moving to Onex, close to Genèva in Switzerland, and I will then have a personal teacher. [Mancebo's new place will be only 80km away from Team AG2R's headquarters in Chambéry, French Alps - ed.]

CN: Are you satisfied with how the 2005 season went for you?

One of the main players
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FM: Yes. I would have liked to have stepped on the podium of the Vuelta a España... but overall, I'm happy with my results at the Tour, and at the Vuelta too, where I managed to win a stage.

CN: Do you not consider yourself third-placed at the Vuelta after Heras' doping case?

FM: No. Even if the Spanish federation and the UCI say that I am, I still missed that moment in Madrid where the first three step on the podium. And that's what counts.

CN: What are your hopes for this year?

FM: Above all, I want to get on the podium of the Tour de France this season. Armstrong is gone, so the Tour is much more open now - for me as well as for many other riders. So that's my ambition this year: get to the Tour in better shape, increase my form during those three weeks and step on the podium in the end.

CN: Would this be the only thing that would satisfy you in 2006?

FM: It's clear that if I get on the podium in the Tour - I would be very happy, for a long time! [all smiles] Of course, the Vuelta is also very interesting to me. I would like to win it, but the most important thing is the Tour de France.

CN: Have you looked at the route yet?

Racing against the clock
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FM: No... for what? In time, I will, but now is January. Of course, I will recon stages that I don't know yet, also the time trials in which I'll have to improve. But I don't think there's much you can do in January for the Tour, except of course doing the right training for this time of year. The Tour itinerary changes from year to year, but in the end there's only little variation.

CN: There are a lot of time trials in the 2006 edition.

FM: Yes, and I already rode a Tour which was similar to this, with two long time trials. In comparison to other climbers - not Ullrich or Basso, who are another story - but in comparison to the other climbers, I am a better time triallist. So I'll see what I can do.

CN: Let's pinpoint your greatest rivals.

FM: The ones who have been there these last years... above all Ullrich and Basso, but also Vinokourov, Leipheimer, Rasmussen and all the others who finished with a top ten placing, they can all finish on the podium. Many people bet on Basso, but I don't know. So many things can happen...

CN: What do you think of Cunego's participation?

FM: Every year, Cunego says he will ride the Tour but he hasn't done it yet. For sure, if he comes to the Tour to win it, he has the abilities to do it - but if he rides the Giro first, it will be more difficult. He's a great climber, but the time trials will be in his way. To me what will be interesting is to see who Discovery will bring to the Tour: Popovych, for sure. He could be the one... we'll see in July!

Driving towards a strong second
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CN: What do you make of Valverde?

FM: Valverde is a great rider. We saw in the Vuelta that he could be in front, and he won a stage at the Tour last year. Now, he has to find out what the Tour's whole three weeks represent. On paper, there are up to twenty riders out for a Tour de France victory, but that's on paper. In the end, for this or that reason, they won't be up front in July.

CN: In what shape are you now?

FM: Well, I've only started training again one month ago, so I have to take things easy. Like I said, in January you have to start focusing on the Tour but you shouldn't be obsessed about it yet. I'm a little overweight from the winter, too - I put on six kilos. But that's okay. There's no use in getting nervous now!

CN: What will be your race programme this spring?

FM: I will start at the Critérium International, then the Classics - Amstel, Flèche and Liège. I'll continue with the Tour de Romandie, the Vuelta a Cataluña, then the Dauphiné and the national championships. All in all, it's a little more than last year before the Tour - four racing days - but I think that's better.

A thrilling victory
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CN: Except for the Tour and the Vuelta, are there any other races you target?

FM: If I feel well at the Dauphiné, I can try and achieve something there. And then, of course, the are the national championships only five days before the Tour - I was second last year, and won in 2004. So that's a definite target! After the Vuelta there are also some very beautiful races on like the one in Zürich and the Giro di Lombardia - of course, they are interesting for me if I'm in good shape then.

CN: I'm still amazed that you haven't looked at the Tour de France route yet.

FM: It's simply too early. In two or three months I will take a close look at it, but I've participated in seven Tours until now and the mountains are always pretty much the same. Of course, I will recon those I don't know yet, but for now, it's not important.

Everybody has to do it in their own way: Armstrong, for example, was - or is - very methodical, but what counts for me is this (points at his head) and this (points at his legs). The rest is not so important at this point. I will get to know the route in due time. At the moment, it's better to be at home with my family, with my baby girl [his first child, Paula, was born on July 7, 2005, during the Tour de France - ed.]. There are a lot of things in life to enjoy, not only cycling.

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