Jakob Fuglsang is latest young rider to be billed as a “future Tour de France winner,” a burden the ex-mountain biker is not especially keen to bear.
Fuglsang, 25, has been making plenty of headlines in his native Denmark, both for his steady progress among the pro ranks since winning three consecutive titles at the Tour of Denmark as well as for the potential that many believe he has to excel in grand tours.
Both ex-boss Bjarne Riis at Saxo Bank and current sport director Kim Andersen at the new Leopard-Trek team are optimistic about his development, so much so that both were wrangling to sign his services for the 2011 season.
Fuglsang remains wary of the media glare and the expectations that come with it, so much so that he decided it was better for him to ride in the shadow of the Schleck brothers at Leopard-Trek than to take a larger role at Saxo Bank.
VeloNews caught up with Fuglsang at last week’s team presentation in Luxembourg to discuss his decision to follow the Schlecks to Leopard-Trek.
Q. Why did you decide to leave Saxo Bank and join the new Leopard-Trek team?
A. I am trying not to put too much pressure on myself. That’s one of the reasons I chose this team. If I had stayed at Saxo Bank, maybe I would be the guy for the Tour de France. I didn’t want that pressure yet. Even before the uncertainty with the Contador situation, I would have had a bigger role at Saxo Bank. And now with the problems with Contador, if I had stayed there, maybe I would have been the team leader at the Tour. That might happen now to Richie (Porte). I will get a little bit more of a leadership role here, but not with all the pressure to carry the team. Frank and Andy can do that. I want to do it slow.
Q. There’s been a lot of people who say you can win the Tour de France someday, what do you think about that?
A. People can say I can finish top-10, maybe podium some day. I would like to believe first myself. Of course, it’s a dream for me to win the Tour de France, but I don’t know if it’s possible. There have been a lot of big new stars that everyone says, ‘oh, he will win the Tour someday.’ Tom Danielson is a perfect example, he never made it. I would like to see if I can come close, then we can talk about top-10.
Q. Will you perhaps ride the Giro or Vuelta and make a GC run there first before the Tour?
A. No, everything will be focused on the Tour this year. My first priority will be to help Andy. Behind that, maybe there’s some space for me to try myself. If they drop me with 2km to go on a climb, why not continue? Instead of sitting up entirely and losing 10 minutes, why not keep riding and maybe lose one and a half minutes, or two? Then we can see where I can end up.
Q. How is your race schedule shaping up?
A. I will do Mallorca Challenge, followed by a trip to Oman. Then I do Paris-Nice, Vuelta al País Vasco, followed by the Ardennes classics. I will take a break, then the Tour of Luxembourg and the Tour de Suisse. Then the Tour. After that, who knows? Maybe the Vuelta and the worlds.
Q. What did you learn most from your Tour experience last year?
A. I learned some things from Andy, the way he’s so relaxed, the way he does things. The Tour is such a stressful race, I’ve never seen anyone who is able to take it so easy. That really helps you get through a race as hard as the Tour. If you’re stressed the entire time, you won’t be able to race your bike when it counts.
Q. Did you take anything out of the Tour experience that might help you in the future?
A. He has a lot of confidence. I remember we were at the Tour of California this year and we both had come back from a break. I could tell neither one of us were feeling that great. I said, ‘we better do some work ahead of the Tour.’ He just laughed and said, ‘no, we’ll be fine, I am better now than I was this time last year.’ I learned from him to enjoy racing our bikes. And not to take ourselves so seriously, to stay concentrated and work hard, but to enjoy it and have fun, too. He would rather just go hunting and fishing. He’s shown me that you shouldn’t let it take over your life.
Q. If Andy is so calm, how did he react when Contador attacked over the Pryénées ?
A. You could feel that anger was there. When it happened, he was pretty angry. You could feel it was burning inside him. He got over it pretty fast, but he doesn’t forget it.
Q. Were you content to get the Tour bid last year? Did you feel like you were ready for it?
A. They wanted to take me the year before (2009). Bjarne (Riis) wanted to take me but Kim (Andersen) said I wasn’t experienced enough yet. It was smart to leave me home, it would have been too much. I was happy to be there this year. Andy told me, ‘you’ve never seen anything like the Tour,’ and it was true, there are so many fans, so many journalists, so many people every day. The racing is harder, faster, it’s the best race. I remember one night in our hotel after a stage, there was a ringing in our ears from all the noise of the fans. It was like as if we had been to a rock concert.