Thursday, August 16, 2012

Antón: "I'm happy with my career"

With his spectacular victories, near misses and at times erratic form, Igor Antón resembles, much like the not too unfamiliar Beñat Intxausti, a modern-day Ibán Mayo: so gifted, yet so far from achieving the results his talent merits. With the Vuelta a España fast approaching, a race Antón has a love/hate relationship with, AS sat down with the 29-year-old to talk goals and ambitions.

"I think I have a Vuelta podium in my legs. I'm capable of that. To finish on the podium in a Grand Tour would be the highlight of my career. I've been close, but I still can't say I've done it. I've had a hard time off it in this race at times, but it's helped me mature. All the problems have given me experience, and they've served to make me appreciate what I've achieved. I'm no conformist: I know what's in my hands to win. Maybe I could have aspired to more in 2008 and 2010 (when he crashed out), but things went the way they did. I'm happy with what I've achieved throughout my career", he said.

Once hailed as a future Grand Tour winner and named by Alberto Contador five years ago as one of his main challengers for glory in the future, Antón's yet to deliver anything besides stage wins in the races that matter. AS asked Antón the question everyone has wanted to ask him for quite a while now: Has he lacked ambition?

"I'm happy with the results I've obtained", he said resolutely. "I'm not a greedy person like the guys who only want to win and win. I like to set myself big objectives, to pick out mythical stages I'd like to win, like the stages of Zoncolan and Bilbao in 2011. After those triumphs, I could easily have retired a happy man."

Has the pressure to affected you?

"I don't think so. I put pressure on myself, but I like it if the focus is on others, as will be the case with Contador at the Vuelta. It makes me ride more relaxed. I don't let what's said in the media or what people expect get to me.

How long will you keep riding, and what's missing from your palmarès?

"I don't know how long I'll stay a cyclist. A guy like Samuel Sánchez, a relevant example, is doing perfect at 34. I'm 29 now, and I hope to keep riding at least 'till I'm that age in good shape. What's important is that I love what I do, to make a living of riding my bike is a luxury to me, it makes me feel fulfilled. I enjoy it a lot. What's lacking? I'd love to win a stage in the Tour de France. Then I would have won stages in all the Grand Tours. I discovered the Belgian classics in 2010, and I like them a lot. The Fléche Wallonne is the best one for a rider like me, but Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the doyenne of the one-day races", he said.

His team might undergo major changes ahead of next year, not least with the possible inclusion of riders from outside the Basque Country, and Antón appears to be just as skeptical as many of Euskaltel's fans.

"I'm a bit in two minds over the changes to the team", he said. "On one hand, I like that we'll maintain the philosophy of the team to base the team around riders from the region, as Athletic Bilbao do. In addition, we have to stay competitive and remain in the WorldTour. To do this we have to sign riders from "outside". In the end, they bring us points and sponsors... Let's see if we'll continue as before with only minor changes".

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