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Juan Antonio Flecha has one arrow left in his quiver

VeloNews spoke with Rabobank’s Juan Antonio Flecha just a little more that 24 hours after he helped deliver teammate Oscar Freire to his win at the 70th edition of Ghent-Wevelgem.

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After a brilliant Flanders and Ghent-Wevelgem, is this Flecha’s year for Roubaix?

By Joe Silva

Flecha at Sunday's Tour of Flanders

Flecha at Sunday’s Tour of Flanders

Photo: Graham Watson

VeloNews spoke with Rabobank’s Juan Antonio Flecha just a little more that 24 hours after he helped deliver teammate Oscar Freire to his win at the 70th edition of Ghent-Wevelgem.

Flecha knows the race well, having just come up short of the victory himself back in 2005. But less than 72 hours ahead of him was his next shot at the one victory that he has wanted more than any other — Paris-Roubaix. Having finished the “Queen of the Classics,” in 2nd (2007), 3rd (2005), and 4th place (2006), the race may haunt him, perhaps even more than it haunts his American rival George Hincapie.

Flecha, raised on a cobble stone street in Argentina, began racing his bike at the tender age of 7. Now squarely in his prime as a pro, the 30-year-old Spaniard is now known as a solid classics rider and danger man in any breakaway. In last week’s Tour of Flanders, Flecha pounded his pedals over the bergs with the best of them, and won a third place podium spot for his efforts behind Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) and winner Stijn Devolder (Quick Step).

Close but no rock: Flecha with winner Stuart O'Grady and third place Steffen Wesemann in '07.

Close but no rock: Flecha with winner Stuart O’Grady and third place Steffen Wesemann in ’07.

Photo: Graham Watson

It was perfect form to be exhibiting this close to Roubaix, and with his team’s outstanding performance at Ghent-Wevelgem, Flecha may be in perhaps the best position ever to snatch the elusive title. And unlike last year, where the warm and sunny conditions were not to his liking, the cold and miserable forecast for the 2008 installment of the race suits Flecha just fine.

Flecha was relaxing in his hotel room after a short recovery ride when VeloNews caught up with the 30-year old Spaniard.

VeloNews: Where did you and the team ride today?

Juan Antonio Flecha: We went to recon the last part of Paris-Roubaix. On the bike we only did 40k … the part right before the Forest of Arenberg until the section just after the
second feed zone (at Solesmes). We did the (remainder) in the car, because of yesterday at Ghent-Wevelgem and we needed to recover from the race effort. It was better just to rest and see what was left from the car.

VN: How did the legs feel?

JAF: I was feeling OK. Everybody was riding easy. But the feeling is the same as it was last year after the race and having to recover. But I was more worried about being recovered more from last weekend from Flanders. When you finish that kind of effort you are
empty and it takes some days to get recovered. So today I wasn’t totaled recovered either, but that’s normal after Ghent-Wevelgem and Flanders. Everything will be OK for Sunday.

VN: Speaking of Flanders, you came very close to the win there.

JAF: For me it was really good to be in the final and close to the victory. I did my best to stay close and chase Devolder, but he’s still a good rider. I think he played his race perfectly. He was in the group with Ballan and I heard that he wasn’t pulling so much because he was preparing for an attack. It’s always a good attack if you can get a few meters before the Muur. And he’s a time trialist so in a classic, he know’s how to ride solo for a long time. He impressed me. It was only eight or nine seconds, but it was still too far away. I’m still happy about the race I did.

VN: When it came to Ghent-Wevelgem, was it always the team’s intention to try and get Oscar the win?

JAF: First I tried to see how my legs were feeling on the climb of the Kemmelberg. But during the final I knew what my job was once Oscar was there. He was also feeling pretty good, so since the chance for a Rabobank victory was much higher with Oscar I put everything towards him. I pulled him from kilometer 2 to kilometer 1 and then Pedro Horrillo Munoz brought him to the last 250 meters. It wasn’t easy because on a one day race it’s much harder to pull in the final, but we as a team did great and so did Oscar since it was a pretty long sprint. No one could pass him.

Flecha at Paris-Roubaix last year.

Flecha at Paris-Roubaix last year.

Photo: Graham Watson

VN: You also had some strong moments during Paris-Nice, so obviously your training worked out well over the winter.

JAF: The team trainer challenged me to improve a little bit on my (climbing). He said ‘I know you can do good at Roubaix, but since you also want to do well during Flanders you need to work a little less on the flat. And that’s what I did. I have a house in the Pyrennes and normally I don’t go there in the winter because of the bad weather, but this year I made the
effort of staying there longer and get used to some more climbing. I know that I’m never really going to become a climber but then again I felt much better during races like Flanders and Paris-Nice.

VN: Beyond good form though there’s a lot of luck involved in a race like Paris-Roubaix. Can you say at this point which one was the toughest for you?

Last year with the higher temperatures, for me … I was suffering a lot. We’re not used to that in Spring. So on such a long race where it’s hot, you find that you’re muscles don’t answer in the same way as they do in the beginning of the season. It was a really strange feeling to ride it with all the sun and the dirt and sweating that much.

VN: Beyond possibly winning the race this year, what other goals are you looking at for the season?

JAF: I would like to win another stage in the Tour de France. It’s hard for me because I have to help the other riders for the overall or Oscar to win stages. But there’s always one day for me where I am involved in some breakaways, but last year I didn’t succeed. I’d really like to win there again though.

VN: Speaking of the Tour, can you characterize what the team is like now after everything that’s happened with Rasmussen?

JAF: There have been a lot of changes in Rabobank, but I can’t say that it all has to do with Rasmussen. We have new management and we’re trying to work a lot more together now. Basically it’s still a Dutch team, and it’s still Rabobank. Only I think that maybe they saw that there were some mistakes (made) as a team and they are trying to fix that.

VN: Has there been any discussion about your program after the Tour, maybe in terms of the Vuelta?

JAF: It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden the Vuelta, and I think it’s time to do it again. But what they want from me after the Tour … I don’t know yet. I would love to win a stage at the Vuelta. But next year I want to come to America. The team came back and talked about Tour of California a lot, and I want to try that.

VN: One last question about Roubaix: It’s may be the toughest race out there, but what’s harder to deal with, the race or the conditions in the shower area afterwards?

JAF: Paris-Roubaix is the hardest race to win and because of the atmosphere there, it’s not like any other. But whatever shower you get after finishing Paris-Roubaix, it is the most pleasing shower ever!

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