Interview: Juanjo Cobo reflects on Vuelta and 2012 season

VeloNews' Andy Hood sits down for a chat with the 2011 Vuelta champ

PAMPLONA, Spain – Juanjo Cobo was so busy during last year’s off-season he didn’t even have time to hit the beach.

In the wake of his surprise Vuelta a Espana victory, Cobo went from one celebratory dinner to another, visiting cycling clubs, schools, and government institutions in a three-month run that barely included time to get on the bike.

Paying back the support he received during his comeback Vuelta win last year was important to Cobo, who says he’s now focusing on building his fitness in time for his top goals of the year. Cobo debuts his season in this weekend’s Vuelta a Murcia and hopes to hit his stride in time for the Tour de France. The top goal, however, is defending his Vuelta crown later this summer. Cobo says there’s plenty of time to get back into top form. caught up with Cobo to talk about the Vuelta, the time bonuses that tipped him the victory, and how he hopes that his Vuelta win isn’t a one-off. Here’s what he had to say: What do you reflect on when you think about the 2011 Vuelta?

JC: I was very moved to watch the images of the 2011 Vuelta. I was
really enjoying it, to be here for the presentation. It’s going to be
a harder Vuelta this year in 2012, one that will be spectacular, one
that will be fun to watch for the spectators. We hope that people will
begin to believe again in cycling and get excited about the great
sport that cycling is. A lot of people said that your Vuelta victory last year was a
surprise, was it also a surprise for you as well?

JC: A surprise in quotation marks, because I started the Vuelta
knowing that it was my big goal for the season. The idea was to try to
win a stage and finish in the top-10. I thought I could be fifth,
seventh, ninth, but the truth is I never thought I would win it,
especially after I had such a bad season in 2010. Even the beginning
of 2011, I was feeling great, but I also knew from results in previous
years, when I was at the front in the Tour de France and other years
in the Vuelta, that I could be there. It was a relative surprise. You were strongest in just the right moments, especially in
Asturias, was that the plan?

JC: The truth is I got stronger as the race unfolded, and I hit my best
form right in the final week when everything was decided. I didn’t
feel the fatigue of a long season like some of the other riders who
were at the Tour de France. Just like (Chris) Froome, I was strongest
at the decisive part of the race and we made a good show of it for
everyone. The stage to Pena Cabarga, Froome was really giving it to you
and you almost lost it all, but you were racing in front of home
crowds, how do you reflect on that stage?

JC: That was decisive. I could have lost everything that day. It was a
huge day for me. I was extra-motivated to be racing in front of my people
on that stage, and perhaps that helped me find the extra motivation I
needed. It was all right there with the time bonuses as well. I
managed to save the day and win the Vuelta. Along with the stage to
Angliru, that was perhaps the most decisive of the entire race. What’s your opinion of the time bonuses; without them, Froome
would have the Vuelta?

JC: The time bonuses were part of the race and you had to play that
card as well. Had the time bonuses not been there, the tactics would
have been different as well, one would have had to have raced the
stages in a different manner. Some don’t like the bonuses, but they
are part of cycling for a long time now. What are you favorite memories from last year’s Vuelta?

JC: The stage to Angliru, to have won that stage on a climb that’s so
hard. To ride that last week, as if I were at home, across Asturias,
Cantabria and the Basque Country, with so many of my fans and
supporters lining the road and cheering me on, that really was
something special. I was close to home and to have all that support
there every day in the decisive stages, especially after the troubles
I had in 2010, it was a big difference for me. Then to have the
final celebration in Madrid, to wear the red jersey, to have won the
race, it was a huge relief and joy. Last year, your career went from its lowest moment when you
almost quit cycling to its highest point by winning a grand tour, how
was that for you?

JC: It was a big change, without a doubt. It’s a change not only from
last year but also looking to the future. I hope that from now on I
can learn from these experiences and continue to deliver big results.
I will be able to take things with more tranquility, having that
confidence that I can win big races, I will be able to focus on the
objectives more than ever. I can be right there with the best riders
in the most important races. How will you handle that pressure? Wasn’t that part of your
problem before, that you could not live up to high expectations?

JC: I hope that I have made a big leap to the next level. I know have
the experience and how to manage a big race. I had the pressure of the
Vuelta on my shoulders last year and I managed to get through it with
the victory. That will only help me in the future, because I don’t
have that doubt. Has the Vuelta win changed something inside you?

JC: The mentality is completely different now. It’s not that I was
pessimistic before, but now I can look at things in a completely
different way. I can go to a race knowing that I can win. Before it
was more of a mystery, a bit of an unknown, sometimes I could do it,
sometimes I couldn’t. I have finally got my training down, I am more
professional. I live 100 percent for the sport. Now I am more
optimistic, because I know the objectives are realistic. You’ve come back to Movistar, but two years ago you had a
season here to forget in 2010, when you could barely finish the races.

JC: A season to forget, as you say, but you also learn things from
these experiences. I hit rock bottom and I wasn’t motivated to race,
but I got through it, with some help from some key people, but also
within myself. I don’t want to make the same mistakes. And now with
the support and confidence the team is showing me for the big goals
this season. How has your winter been? Have you been training well?

JC: Well, it’s been a non-stop string of dinners, homages, and
presentations. It’s been impossible to keep up with it all. I didn’t
even have time to go on vacation like I always do in the off-season. I
couldn’t do anything except go to these events for three straight
months after the Vuelta. Four or five events a week since the Vuelta
ended until January. It was important for me, because the public had
really supported me and I had to pay them back. Without the support of
many people, I probably wouldn’t be a bike racer anymore. I wanted to
go to every event possible. Cycling clubs, schools, public
institutions, fan clubs, charity rides, above all with the young
people. On January 1, I put the head on 2012 and I’ve been training
like crazy. We’ve been planning the season, with the mechanics, with
the sport directors, to make for the best possible season. The objectives are clear for 2012?

JC: Not all the details, but Tour and Vuelta for sure. I will start in
Murcia, race the Basque tour and perhaps the Ardennes classics, but
the idea is arrive in good form at the Tour, without pressure, but
hoping for the best. And then get to the Vuelta at the peak of my
strength to try to win it again. I want to defend my title.