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An interview with Iban Mayo, March 10, 2006
Rediscovering the glory
After a great Tour de France performance in 2003, Iban Mayo was tipped by many as one of Lance Armstrong's biggest rivals in subsequent editions of the Tour. But after showing so much promise in the high country things haven't quite been the same for the diminutive rider from the Basque Country. Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez spoke with Mayo to see if 2006 would be his 'turnaround' year.
The centenary Tour de France had so many fantastic moments as Lance Armstrong won his fifth successive title. A race full of emotion, stage 15 became legendary when Armstrong crashed due to the infamous yellow musette on Luz-Ardiden. Behind the American was Euskatel-Euskadi's Iban Mayo, who also went down. The Texan recovered from that fall to catch Jan Ullrich, win the stage and the Tour overall, and although Armstrong went on to win two more editions of La Grande Boucle, Mayo has faded a little in the years since 2003 despite the expectations of an adoring Basque public.
He took a win on stage 8 to L'Alpe d'Huez and finished sixth overall, just over seven minutes behind Armstrong. With a win in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and victory in two stages of the Dauphine Libere, Mayo enjoyed an incredible 2003. His good run continued into 2004 with victory in the Clasica de Alcobendas, Subida al Naranco and Vuelta a Asturias in May that year, confirming his status as one of the world's best climbers with a win in the Dauphine Libere in June.
But after a lacklustre 2005 that saw him fade from many an observer's Tour calculations, the Basque rider is trying to re-emerge as one of Spain's premier riders and return to the front page of the country's sports papers. He commenced his season at the Vuelta a Murcia, where Cyclingnews caught up with him after the first stage into Las Torres De Cotilla.
Cyclingnews: How are things at the moment?
Iban Mayo: I started racing today and I'm feeling fine - I'm happy and eager to start the season, and happy to be here especially for the climate. The climate of southern Spain is always very pleasant; we begin here slowly and hopefully we can improve as the days pass. I hope to start well here and improve step by step as we go.
CN: And how were you feeling physically in your first day of racing for 2006?
IM: Very well - initially very well. I was suffering a little because it's my season debut, but I think that I'll slowly improve and I'll see if I can end this tour in good shape. I'm looking to use this tour as preparation for the races I've already marked in my calendar, and hope it helps.
CN: How are you physically in percentage terms?
IM: I still don't know - it's hard to put a percentage to how I'm feeling, but I hope to get into good shape little by little...I need to get in shape.
CN: And mentally how are you feeling?
IM: Very well; this year I have new expectations. The truth is that when you begin a year you're always willing to do things in the best possible way. I hope so that I can do well, and also hope to be able to ride the whole year in the way I expect.
CN: Let's flash back to the 2003 Tour de France - it's certainly unforgettable, and must provide some motivation for you?
IM: The truth is that it was an enjoyable year in general, and that year will always be a great memory. I rode well and hope this year is similar to that one. It was different because I rode unmarked, and although it will be difficult to repeat it, the idea is to ride in the best possible way in 2006 and see if it turns out similar to 2003. It'd be good.
CN: That Tour was special because of your stage win and that famous day on Luz Ardiden. What do you remember about that historical day?
IM: It was an unforgettable day in general. Now that [Lance Armstrong] has retired from professional cycling it's an honour to have been able to ride with him that year and that day, enjoying a very memorable Tour. It was great, and I hope the same sort of racing could be repeated in other races.
CN: Taking at look at that legendary day, would you have done what Jan Ullrich did and waited for Armstrong?
IM: I think so. I think that overall there must be fair play. Because if he [Ullrich] hadn't done that and had won, people would have complained about the fact that he took advantage of Armstrong's fall and that he attacked him. It wouldn't be very sporting, I think that fans wouldn't appreciate it and possibly Ullrich wouldn't have felt the same. There's a difference between attacking him [Armstrong] and leaving him behind after what happened. Sometimes the race goes fast and you can't stop, but at that moment I think Ullrich did the right thing; I think he behaved well.
CN: Let's talk about the last Vuelta a Espaņa. What happened that meant you couldn't finish?
IM: I had back problems, which was an injury that affected my legs. Honestly, I had a tough time and it was a pity I had to abandon because I had expectations going into the Vuelta - but that back problem affected me a lot, causing me a lot of pain which left me with no option other than abandoning the race.
CN: After riding in Murcia what are your main goals for the season?
IM: The big races - the Tour and the Vuelta will be my biggest goals for this season, and I've marked them in my calendar already. I hope I can do both very well, and although they are two difficult races, they are ones that I will specifically prepare for.
CN: And in the spring which races will you ride?
IM: The Vuelta al Pais Vasco is my home race so I'll ride that, and I'll do the northern classics - Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Fleche Wallonne and Amstel Gold Race. Then there are tours such as Catalunya, Asturias and Dauphine that I'll ride later in the year.
CN: How is the team going into the new season?
IM: Very well; the team is excited, it's a young team. The team obviously has a special recruiting philosophy in that they only contract riders from the north of Spain [specifically, the Basque Country] and that can make things a little tough for the team. The Basque Country is a small region compared to others, and considering we can only recruit riders from there I think we are doing pretty well. On the other hand, it's a nice feeling that fans support the team so much because of its identity. It's a young team with a good future, I think. I hope that we imrpove gradually and things can settle into a rhythm in the professional field.
CN: It seems Euskaltel Euskadi has achieved many stage wins in many significant races but it lacks an overall win in a great race. What do you think?
IM: Yes, maybe...we lack that but it's difficult to find a rider capable of winning those great races you speak of. I think very few of them appear in the international peloton, and each year we hope that we can get a result [in one of these great races]; but it's difficult finding a rider able to win the grand tours.
* The author of this interview wants to especially thank Koldo Atutxa for his help.