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An interview with Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni, April 25, 2004
On target for greatness
After strong performances in Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix, Juan Antonio Flecha is now the third-best Spanish rider on the World Cup rankings. His future ambitions in the Ronde and Roubaix remain sky-high, but Flecha knows his role as a domestique in races not perfectly suited to him, such as tomorrow's Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he will ride at the service of Belgian Frank Vandenbroucke. Story by Hernan Alvarez Macias.
Flecha means arrow in Spanish. Flecha is also the surname of Fassa Bortolo rider Juan Antonio, an extremely capable rider who this year joined Giancarlo Ferretti's super-squadra from iBanesto.com. His day of glory happened at last year's Tour de France, where he won the eleventh stage to Toulouse, and metres before the finish line that afternoon, he made the gesture of an archer throwing an arrow to the sky as a symbol of his surname and as a symbol of joy.
So far this year, he has been doing rather well in the spring classics, which just happen to be his favourite races on the UCI calendar. He finished 13th in Paris-Roubaix and 12th at the Tour of Flanders, and is currently ranked 30th on the World Cup ranking. As one of the top three Spanish riders in the World Cup, Flecha is in good company; behind him are current and former world champions Oscar Freire (world road champion in 1999 and 2001) and Igor Astarloa (world road champion 2003).
Cyclingnews: How was your performance in the Flèche Wallonne?
Juan Antonio Flecha: I got in a little breakaway before the second ascension of Huy; I joined that group because that was part of the overall team strategy. I didn't have sensations good enough to look for the victory. The main idea was to see how far I could go and then save some strength for Liège.
Paris-Roubaix is a very tough race, especially for the paving stones, that is why I needed more time to recover myself. That's why I wasn't feeling so well in muscle terms in the Amstel [Gold] and also in Flèche Wallonne. I felt my legs being too tough; that's the sensation you feel after contesting such a tough race like Roubaix. Today [April 23], we have seen the route of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège; it seems everything is going fine. Now I'm recovered from the Roubaix. I hope I am able to have a good race on Sunday.
CN: What do you think about your performance in the classics so far?
JAF: I should divide it in two parts. The first part is over pavé. Amstel and Roubaix are the ones I raced because I didn't ride in [Milan-] San Remo. I made a very good decision; I think I have improved myself a great deal compared to other seasons because I was able to make good results, especially in Roubaix. I was there with podium options, so it was very important. As I told you, in the second half of Flèche Wallonne, I didn't feel very well because I didn't recover well enough. That second part wasn't scheduled at first for me. Everybody knows the consequences of riding the Paris-Roubaix. For Liège, I was on the team's stand-by list. Circumstances forced me to ride them both because there were some injured riders in the team and they asked me to race. I cannot tell that I will perform as I did in Flanders or Roubaix, but I think I will be in the front group here in Belgium.
CN: So, can we expect that you finished among the top 10 on Sunday?
JAF: What I expect from myself is that I do a good job for [Frank] Vandenbroucke, who is our team leader in this race. He is a rider who already won the competition [in 1999], and he is fit and in better shape than in Flanders. My intention is not to reach the top 10, which may be good for me personally, but it would make me happier to see Vandenbroucke win.
CN: How did you begin in cycling?
JAF: I began in Argentina, in Junín, where I was born. I was seven years-old and I started riding there. Then, when I came to Spain in 1989 when I was eleven, I kept on riding. I don't know why and how I started riding. The truth is that in Argentina, cycling is not so popular - there's hardly any cycling at all - but there's people there who ride on weekends and who ride some races. I don't know why but I felt very attracted to bicycles or cycling competitions. I helped out at a race one day, I liked it and then I started riding.
CN: And what happened when you moved to Catalonia?
JAF: There was a cycling school nearby called Sitges where I met Isaac Gálvez. He is older than me, but his father brought kids to compete. In Argentina, there are some people who ride, but cycling doesn't have great media coverage. In Junín there were some good riders and I liked the environment. I didn't feel attracted to soccer, which is by far the most popular sport in Argentina.
CN: But you feel yourself Spanish more than Argentinean, right?
JAF: Well, I feel I belong to two countries. I can't tell you that I feel more one than the other. I have dual nationality, so I feel I belong to both countries. Also, because I spent my childhood in Argentina, I have very good memories and I am proud of that, having spent a different childhood compared to the one most of the Europeans have. Why? Because it has its peculiarities, it's different. I have my roots, so I cannot say I feel more Spanish. It's also true that I have been living more time in Spain than in Argentina. But that doesn't mean I don't have feelings for Argentina.
CN: Do you consider yourself capable of repeating your stage victory in Toulouse from the last Tour de France?
JAF: That's what I fight for. I fight for important victories either in the Tour or in the classics. I fought to be among the top in Flanders and in Roubaix, and in this year's Tour, there will be [Alessandro] Petacchi and we must work hard for him. That's normal, that's the work we must do in a team. But I think I will have my chance at some stage and I will try to make the most of it. I will try to grab that moment of inspiration in order to obtain something as beautiful as a stage victory in the Tour.
CN: What was more important to you: that overall victory in the Mitsubishi Grand Prix in Portugal in 2001 or your Tour de France triumph in 2003?
JAF: I think the Tour is above everything else; you can not compare it with anything. The race in Portugal, I say this with all my respect, wasn't my first victory. A triumph in the Tour, and particularly the Centenary Tour, cannot be equalled. There's no comparison between this [the Tour de France] and the others. There are a lot of very good riders who never won a stage in the Tour. That is when you realize how valuable a Grande Boucle's stage win is.
CN: And now which is your greatest goal?
JAF: To keep growing in sporting terms. My great objective is the pavé races in the World Cup. We will see, because the international calendar will change next year, many things will change. But some things like races that are monuments to cycling won't change. Among these big competitions there are two, Flanders and Roubaix, that are the ones that attract me most and I think I can do well in these events. I will try hard to shine in both races. I think I was at a good level this year, but you have to keep on working to climb a couple more steps so as to end up satisfied, and that would involve winning one of these races.
CN: How are you feeling in your new team Fassa Bortolo?
JAF: Very well, really. It's what I wanted when I left Banesto [iBanesto.com]. I always feel attracted by Italian cycling and the team manager [Giancarlo] Ferretti is a person with much experience; he knows a lot about cycling and he is always giving advice. He is a person I like to listen to and I think he will help me improve a lot. Besides, I am surrounded by people who have the same feeling towards the races that I like, and that is the classics. Being in this environment really helps in the winter when one starts training. When you see people around you motivated for the races that you are preparing for, that gives you strength.
CN: How is the season going for your team?
JAF: Pretty well. Petacchi is consistent in his performances and as I told you before, there were injured riders and also riders who had accidents. However, we are going fine. In Roubaix, we made a good race that we didn't expect to. We lack a victory in the first part of the classics and I think we will do it in Liège.
CN: So is the Fassa Bortolo strategy designed to continue to support Petacchi or maybe to go for an overall victory in any of the Grand Tours with Dario Frigo and Aitor González leading the squad?
JAF: Yes, both things. We have Petacchi who is a certainty at winning stages and also Aitor who seems to be motivated for a good place in the Tour.
CN: What do you think about Jesús Manzano?
JAF: No comments.
CN: What is the solution in your opinion for the doping problems in the international peloton?
JAF: I won't talk about that either.
See also: Stage 11 Tour de France interview with Juan Antonio Flecha: "Mine and nobody else's!"