Matti Breschel interview: Danish rider talks about all things cycling
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Matti Breschel interview: Danish rider talks about all things cycling

by Jered Gruber at 5:33 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
On Roubaix: "You know it's going to be a crazy day, but you're more or less preparing yourself to go to war."

Back in May, VeloNation had the chance to sit down for half an hour with, at the time, 25 year old reigning Danish champion Matti Breschel. The Dane was fresh off of his best spring campaign yet, but one that could have been even better with just a little bit of reasonable luck. He picked up his first big Classics win in March at the Dwars door Vlaanderen, but then the bad luck started.

He took 8th at Gent-Wevelgem following an aggressive, powerful ride, which was unfortunately ended by a flat. At the Tour of Flanders, he was similarly strong, but a mechanical followed by a botched bike change, or rather, a bike change where he was given Stuart O'Grady's bike, resulted in Breschel missing out in a critical part of the race. He eventually finished finished well down on teammate and winner, Fabian Cancellara, in 15th place. Breschel vowed vengeance at his favorite race, Paris-Roubaix, but knee problems knocked him out the running. The knee problem now threatens to take him out of the Spring Classics with his new Rabobank team.

Let's go back a few months though, back to when spring was still in the air, and winter was an after thought. Some of the topics are completely ancient at this point, but considering where Breschel went, how most of the team's stars left for greener pastures in Luxembourg, what happened at the Tour, his fantastic runner-up finish at the World Championships, and his current plight, it's worth taking a look back at this snapshot in time.

VN: Congratulations on an amazing Classics season.

Matti Breschel: It's been good. I was not good enough though in Flanders and Roubaix. I felt it was a big step forward for me, but I still have more to go. I've been up there a few times at the front in the finales really making the race, and that gives you confidence and something to build on for next year.

VN: It seems like big, difficult one day races suit you. Do you see yourself settling down as a Classics specialist?

MB: That's what I'm hoping for. Those are the races I like, and I feel like those are the races I can progress in.

VN: You'll take part in your first Tour de France this July. Are you targeting a stage win?

MB: I'm excited about the opportunity. Of course, the main goal is to try and get the jersey and defend it for Fabian, Frank, and Andy. If the chance for a stage win comes, I'll take it for sure.

VN: What's the plan for Saxo Bank?

MB: It's good that we have both Frank and Andy to go for the overall. Jakob is relatively strong [smiles] in the mountains and can help. Fabian might take the prologue, and then we have to try to use our head and stay to the tactics and take the race in our hands. It should be interesting, that's for sure.

- Matti's first Tour de France was nothing to write home about. It was a solid debut, but his efforts were spent almost entirely in the service of the team's leaders, first Fabian Cancellara, and then more importantly, Andy Schleck. The team wouldn't get the chance to take the Maillot Jaune into Paris, but Breschel did get a chance to race for himself on the final day, taking his best placing of the Tour, 8th.

VN: How did you get started in racing?

MB: My Dad was a rider, so was my Grandpa, and my Dad's brother, so it's kind of in the family. When I got interested and then started racing there were a few years before I got serious. My Dad didn't pressure me, because he knew how much time and work you had to put in it. It was a lot of money too, and he wanted to be sure I was in it. I started when I was around 12 years old, getting a racing licence and stuff like that.

VN: Did you take to it quickly?

MB: I won some races, but I was still kind of small for my age. That meant a lot of competing with big guys who already had beards and stuff like that when I was 12. I was struggling a little bit, but I won some races. I was training a lot, because my Dad was a rider and training like hell with some other pros from Denmark. I was doing senior distances when I was still only a youth.

VN: Did you get a ride with the Danish national team? How did the ride with Bjarne come about?

MB: Yep, I rode with the Danish national team. I had two good seasons when I was a junior, and they started looking at me then. When I turned senior I had a few good results when the pro teams were present, like the national championships, the Tour of Denmark, and the U23 World Championships as well. Then, in my second year at the senior level, I signed with Bjarne.

VN: Was that an easy decision to make?

MB: It was. I had good contact with Rolf Sorensen, who was in good contact with some of the Italian teams and QuickStep as well, but I knew that Bjarne's CSC was the team for me.

VN: You were extremely frustrated after this year's Tour of Flanders - what was that like? Did you want to drop out after your race was effectively ended by the mechanical and botched bike change?

MB: No, I did not want to quit at all. I just want to do the race again. It's so frustrating. If you don't have the legs, then that's one thing, but if you have mechanical problems or crash, then it's just a pain in the ass. I felt like I could have done a good result, maybe not follow Fabian, but I could have gone for a top three. I'd been working the whole winter for that race.

VN: Earlier this spring, the team hadn't gotten many results, and then, suddenly, you guys took off. It was impressive. Does the criticism from outside sources get to you, or are you comforted knowing that the work is being done and the good results will follow soon?

MB: People are always talking, and the thing is, we can't win every race. So, as long as we believe in ourselves and stay calm and have patience, then we know it's going to come. Before the classics we had the strongest team, and we had experience too, so we just had to stay calm. Of course it's annoying, but that's how it is.

VN: There's talk about you changing teams at the end of the season. Do you feel you can progress the way you want to within the Saxo Bank team with Fabian Cancellara as the leader?

MB: There have been a lot of rumors, and they are only rumors. When you get some good results and you are consistent the whole season and win some races, it's normal that you get other teams interested. I definitely feel I can still progress within the Saxo Bank team and with Fabian around. Having Fabian in the team also helps me, because no matter where I go, there will always be a Fabian. I figure it's better to have Fabian in my team rather than racing against him.

I haven't won Flanders, or Roubaix, or the World Championships, so I'm still a young talent that can progress. I feel at home here.

VN: Is it unsettling that the Saxo Bank team still doesn't have a sponsor?

MB: I'm pretty sure it's going to be alright. I really hope that he finds a sponsor, and that we can continue together. I think it looks pretty positive right now.

VN: What about the Tour of California? Are you just using this as training to start your Tour de France preparation?

MB: Yeah, for me, the Tour of California is about getting going again with an eye on the Tour de France. I haven't raced since Paris-Roubaix. For me it's all about trying to find a good rhythm again and get some good kilometers…in the sun.

VN: Did you take a break after Paris-Roubaix?

MB: Yeah, I took ten days off the bike.

VN: How important is that break following the Classics?

MB: It's important for me mentally. The Classics are especially hard for the head. There is a lot of stuff all the time, it's hard racing, and we've been building up since Janurary or December. You kind of need a break to destress, so you have energy enough to get all the way to October hopefully.

VN: You've shown yourself to be a good contender for the cobbled classics, but you've also fared well in some really tough, hilly races, like the World Championships. Do you see the Ardennes as a possibility in the future?

MB: Next year, I want to go in full for the cobbled classics, but also the Amstel Gold race. I feel I can climb a little bit, and I have the punch on the short, steep climbs. I think that on paper, Amstel is good for me, but it's hard coming off of the cobbled races. I don't know about Liege though, the climbs are a bit longer…

VN: Amstel is interesting - your sprint would seem to be good for the finish on the Cauberg.

MB: It depends on how the races develop and how you race. For me, I know I have a good sprint. Maybe I'll try to ride a little bit like Gilbert. I've never done the race though, so it's hard to say.

VN: If you could win any race, what would it be?

MB: Well, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, the World Championships. Races like that. I could keep going if you like!

VN: Favorite race?

MB: Roubaix.

VN: What's Roubaix like? How do you prepare mentally for that.

MB: You know it's going to be a crazy day, but you're more or less preparing yourself to go to war. There's a tension that builds, and I start to feel a little bit aggressive as the race goes on. I try to switch off mentally and stay quiet for as long as possible, and then, when it's time, I feed off of that aggression. It's a special feeling.

VN: What's it like to be in these races when the crux of a race is in the last hour or two?

MB: With more or less 100 kilometers to go, you have to be there and go for it and not be scared.

VN: What are you thinking when you ride the cobbles? Is there anything that you focus on?

MB: If you have the energy for it, you have to stay on top of the cobbles. You don't puncture as often. You have to stay in the front too, so you don't get stuck behind crashes. Stuff like that. It's important to stay on top of the cobbles though, because there are not so many holes.

VN: You're a pretty well rounded rider - is there something that you want to improve on?

MB: The time trial for sure. That's where I need some power. I have the power, but it's a matter of converting it to going fast.

VN: If you're looking to improve your time trial, then you're thinking of doing better in something more than a one day classic…

MB: For sure. I've been in the situation a couple of times now when I had the leaders jersey at a race like the Tour of Denmark, and then I lost it all in the time trial. I can come over the climbs and get some bonus seconds here or there and win a stage of two, but then in the time trial, I lose it all. It's really a pain in the ass.

VN: How can it be helped?

MB: I just had a bike fitting with the BG Fit guys, and that's important. It really helped me a lot. I feel like I'm in a strong position, but it's also very fast. I feel comfortable on the bike now. I'll work on a different training program to try to fit in some extra work with the time trial bike between races, where I can work two to three times a week on the bikes, so I can get used to the position. Spending a lot of time in the position is very important. That's more or less what I'd like to improve on the most.

VN: Do you see yourself as a rider that can compete in the one week stage races then?

MB: Yeah, the Tour of Denmark suits me, but then there are the other one week races like Tirreno-Adriatico, where I think I can perform at a high level as well.

VN: Speaking of spring in Italy - what's Milano-Sanremo like? It seems like a race right down your alley.

MB: It's a crazy race. It's 7 hours on the bike. It's more than 300 km with a neutral start in Milano, and it all comes down to the Cipressa and the Poggio. Crazy.

VN: What about product development? What role do you play in helping Specialized make a better bike?

MB: Especially before the Classics we talk a lot together, all the riders talk with the guys from Specialized about how to get the best equipment and the best bikes for the cobbles, then soon, we talk about having the best equipment and the best bike and how great it is to ride on the cobbles. It's special and you need a special bike for that to get comfortable on the cobblestones. It's nice they use all our feedback, and they work on it. I think they have one of the best bikes for the classics.

VN: In terms of training, do you train with power? What are your thoughts on powermeters?

MB: Some guys use the SRM and can't even go to the bakery without it. I do it in periods. I feel that if I do my homework and train at home, then for me, the test is in the races. I use the races to get information. I get a little crazy if I have to look at the SRM all the time. It's a balance.

At that point, Matti had another meeting to attend to, and the next day, the Tour of California began, and the second half of his season got started. Breschel rode a good Tour de France in support of the team's superstars, but then got his chances as the season began to wrap up. Two second place finishes and a stage victory at the Tour of Denmark were once again still not enough to get Breschel his long sought after win at the Post Danmark Rundt. He eventually finished fifth overall after another mediocre time trial performance.

A quiet month away from racing, filled with a lot of hard work was the route taken, but not preferred, by Breschel for his World Championships bid - it apparently went pretty well though, as Breschel finished a sterling 2nd place to Thor Hushovd, coming oh so close to victory. Breschel had hoped to use the Vuelta as preparation for Worlds, but he was not selected by Bjarne Riis to take part.

Breschel followed that with third at both Paris-Bourges and the Giro del Piemonte. At that point, the news was official - Breschel would not be returning to the Saxo Bank team in 2011, nor would most of the team's core group of riders. Rabobank would be the next destination for the ever improving rider, and it seems a good choice for Breschel. If his improvement continues into 2011, we could see a Breschel capable of taking his place among the tiny group of riders really capable of winning the Tour of Flanders and/or Paris-Roubaix.

That is, if Breschel's knee doesn't cancel his spring plans. Recently, it was announced that Breschel would have to undergo surgery on his knee. The pain that had plagued him periodically throughout the year worsened during the Tour and finally, there's no getting around it - knee surgery awaits.

The prediction is that Breschel will be completely off the bike for 6-12 weeks. At best, he can hope to get back on the bike in January, at worst, well, during the Classics. It's a blow to both Breschel and a Rabobank team that is still desperately searching for a rider that can lead the way for them in the Classics. That might have to wait until next year though.

Breschel recently spoke with Denmark's TV2 website: "I am truly sorry, and that's not exactly the start I was hoping for with a new team. It bothers me that I may miss the Classics, but I hope for the best, and that I will soon be back."

But even if Breschel loses the spring season, his year might not be lost. A late start to 2011 could be a blessing in disguise for a rider that will be targeting the World Championships at home in Denmark next September. The fast, technical, somewhat difficult course could really suit a rider of Breschel's abilities, and it's something not lost on Italian national coach, Paolo Bettini.

"In recent years, we have always talked about Spain and Italy, but at the next World Championships, I think that Denmark and Breschel can be a team to be reckoned with," said the former two-time World Champion to sporten.tv2.dk.

While the Classics season could in fact be lost, a rainbow at the end of a hard year would likely help soothe any pain from any lost opportunities in April.

 

-- Thanks to Ashley Norris, who also contributed to this interview

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