Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Antón: "Team philosophy hard to maintain"

Igor Antón has, ever since turning pro, been an Euskaltel profile - as much for his outstanding abilities as his personality. As such, it's no surprise to see him saddened at the team's decision to abandon it's famous Basque-only philosophy. But, as he tells El Pedal de Frodo in a candid interview, it was all but inevitable.

"I see the team's change of philosophy from the perspective of what I have experienced since I was 19. I've been with Euskaltel Euskadi for eight years now, and it's been beautiful. I'm proud of what we've achieved up until now and the fact that we've been in the top division solely with riders from the Basque Country or formed as cyclists in the Basque Country. But we've come to the moment that it's hard to maintain it", he said. "I would love to see this Euskaltel Euskadi last forever, from now and until eternity, but what's certain is that cycling and the times are changing. We have examples of teams that are doing what we are soon to be doing, like Rabobank, who've always had big Dutch riders on the team, but who've been forced to adapt and incorporate foreign ones too. Time will tell if the changes will be a success or not".

The 29-year-old just finished up "a very long season" with a gritty if unspectacular performance at the Tour of Beijing last week (26th overall), and thus completed his first winless campaign since 2005. Antón admits it's been an altogether unsatisfactory season, and points to several factors why that is.

"Well, there are numerous reasons. The early part of the season perhaps wasn't good enough as, when I started to go strong, I fractured my collarbone (at Liège-Bastogne-Liège). My goal for the season was just the Vuelta a España, which was a risk. This year I've also experimented with altitude training. Perhaps I lack a bit of experience at that. I spent 32 days, though not 32 consecutive ones, in the Sierra Nevadas. I think I've worked harder this year than in season's past, one can't deny that though the results don't measure up, so it's not for a lack of preparation.

"I went to the Vuelta with really big aspirations. It's certain that the Vuelta has, this year, been the race with the highest quality: with Contador in the forefront alongside Purito and, then, Valverde and Froome. It was difficult. I said before the start of the race that the podium was going to be hard, but that it would be a great achievement, and that I would be very content with a top five on general classification. Eventually I finished inside the top ten, which is what I was fighting for as the points that come with it are so vital. I noticed during the Vuelta, and through the whole year for that matter, that people fight for 18th."

Has cycling changed a lot with the current points system?

"Yes. In the Grand Tours every rider inside the top 20 is awarded points, so there's a big fight to finish up until 20th. I started out well at Arrate, though I realised not everything was tip top. Not form-wise, but rather when it came to recuperation. I had my ups and downs in the Vuelta, but I ended up being the fourth or fifth strongest rider on the mountainous days. But the time trial harmed my chances a great deal, and there were also a few stages, like the one to Valdezcaray, that I ceded time. I'll take the regularity of my performances though, I finished ninth, and sometimes you just have to be satisfied with what you do... even if you're not really happy with it".

As for next year, nothing's naturally set in stone at this moment in time. If his comments are anything to go by, though, he'll likely go for another approach in 2013 compared to the one adopted this year.

"This year I risked it all (on one race). I won't hide that. I wanted to do better at the start of the year, but I wasn't able to do that. But rather than aiming for two peaks of form, I'd rather be in good shape for more World Tour races. Like the Tour de Suisse or the Tour de Romandie, races that have been good to me in the past and where I've previously won stages. As well there's other races I've discovered this year, like the Tour of Poland, so, if it's possible, I can do Suisse and Poland at a good level. There's a lot of things you can do. We have to wait and talk about next year with a calendar in our hands, but I might not focus exclusively on three-week races."

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