|Juan Antonio Flecha may have reached the autumn of his career, but the ambitions of the newly signed Vacansoleil-DCM Classics specialist are possibly even greater than before. “I have reached a phase where experience, trust and calm are extra weapons. From 2000 I have been a professional rider, and have had my place in the peloton. Certain things come automatically for me. I have had the same role for eight years, and it will not be very different for this season” the Spaniard explains.
When manager Daan Luijckx went looking for a combination of quality and experience for his team, he soon arrived at Flecha's door. “Due to my experience, I am expected to provide leadership. It is in my nature to provide leadership to the team; it was no different in my previous teams. I want to make sure that we are not too easily impressed as a team, or get too excited. And to make sure we make the right decisions at the important moments.”
These were more or less the things Luijckx brought up during the first telephone conversations. “He asked me whether that was something I was able to do, and whether it was something I was willing to do,” Flecha remembers. “I said: 'of course, it is not new for me'. In the end, in every race, the bottom line is that you operate as a team, and have the will to do things together. Most of the time you have fun together, but you do need points of reference, and that is something I can bring.”
The transfer from the Team Sky to Vacansoleil-DCM is not something the Spaniard considers to be a risky gamble. “I have nothing to lose,” he states. “Sky is very good and very big, but you do not have the freedom to pursue your own success. The interests are different, and there is nothing wrong with that per se. But I still have my own ambitions, and if I want to fulfill them, I had to go to a team where I was given freedom. To feel happy and to keep my motivation, I have to be able to attack.”
Juan Antonio Flecha is looking for success with his new team . Photo © Kramon
At Vacansoleil-DCM, Flecha wants to rediscover his identity, and sees his transfer as a step-forward rather than a step-back. “I was happy to ride in front for Brad Wiggins, and have started sprints for 'Cav', but it is in my nature to chase after my own success as well. I want to be the Flecha again, who I always was. A stage victory in the Tour de France is high up on my list. I know that would never happen with Sky, but I know I have it in me, so I want to grab that opportunity. A step back would be if my results get worse, and I struggle to motivate myself to train. I am now riding for a team where I am given freedom. That is certainly not a step back! I don't think people see it that way. Everyone understands my choice.”
The fact that the end of his career in the saddle is slowly but surely edging into view is something professes to hardly thinking about. “Everyone has a sell-by date, but there is no point crossing out the days on a calendar until it's over. I sometimes hear from ex-riders that they had suddenly had enough. Maybe that is how it works. I am dedicated to what I am doing, not to what I will be doing in the future. The day will come, but I am not very worried about it yet.”
His first experiences with his new Dutch employer confirmed to Flecha that he has made the right choice. “Vacansoleil-DCM is quite a big team. They should be proud of that,” he says quickly. “You don't want for anything here. The equipment is up to scratch, it has good staff, the motivation of the riders is excellent. It is an 'open' team and the atmosphere is very relaxed. Nothing is based on your passport. Marcato is not undervalued because he is not from the Netherlands. I also appreciate the involvement of partners like Bianchi. Everyone wants to contribute to improvements. That is also part of my job.”
Everything suggests that Vacansoleil-DCM have recruited a seasoned pro looking forward to sharing the expertise attained from years spent in the peloton. “I want to share my experience. I am here for this team to be utilized. It is great to see others improving that way. That is why I am interested in the idea of a future as a sports director. I am not afraid to talk and to get my point across. During meals and training sessions, I have already been able to communicate some ideas.” And the season hasn't even started yet. “I really look forward to it,” Flecha concludes enthusiastically. Flecha starts his season at the Tour of Qatar.