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Breschel banking on altitude bounce on flats of Flanders

Matti Breschel is hoping high-altitude training will work as well for him on the bergs of Flanders as it does for the GC riders on the mountains of the Tour de France. The veteran Danish classics specialist spent weeks camped on top of the Teide volcano, and he expects to see a bump in his performance coming into this month’s classics period.

“I expect to fly,” the Cannondale rider told VeloNews. “I have trained at altitude, but never before the classics. I’ve done it in other periods, and I’ve have had good feelings.”

That investment pays off in the grand tours, when riders say the weeks of training and riding at altitude gives them an edge on the highest and hardest climbs of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. Efforts to use that idea for the classics have been uneven. A few years ago, Team Sky tried in vain to apply the same methodology to its classics riders, but others have since adopted it with success. Giant – Alpecin’s John Degenkolb trained at Spain’s Sierra Nevada last spring ahead of winning Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix in 2015, and world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) also camped out at Sierra Nevada this year.

“I thought it was worth giving it a try, not only for the altitude, but also for the kilometers,” Breschel said. “A couple of classics guys tried [altitude training], but it didn’t work out for some of the Sky guys, but I also know that Lars Boom tried it last year, and he was going well in the classics. Sagan is in Sierra Nevada, and Degenkolb was there last year before the classics.”

When VeloNews visited Cannondale on Teide last month, Breschel looked out of place on the grinding climbs alongside lean climbers, such as Rigoberto Urán and Davide Formolo. Riders broke out each day to do their own specific training programs, but at the end of each day, there is a long, two-hour haul back to the top of the Teide crater, where riders sleep at 2,164 meters (7,100 feet) in an isolated, state-run hotel. From sea level back to the hotel, it’s 42km one-way, among the longest continuous climbs in Europe.

“You know that when you go down, you have come back up every day. I was beginning I was really struggling,” Breschel said with a laugh. “It’s not like it’s the Angliru or Zoncolan, so you can go at a steady pace.”

The 31-year-old Dane is hoping for big things this season in a move to Cannondale. Except for a two-year stint with Rabobank, Breschel spent his 12-year pro career with CSC and Saxo Bank/Tinkoff, first run by Bjarne Riis, and later by Oleg Tinkov.

A previous winner of Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, and twice on the world championship podium, Breschel has punched into the top-10 three times at Flanders and Roubaix.

“He brings a lot of experience,” said Cannondale sport director Bingen Fernández. “When he can get to the final, he can win in a sprint. He’s been racing for a while, but he still has a lot to give. He’s a big addition to the team, and we expect some good things from him in the classics.”

Breschel gladly took the opportunity to join Cannondale, where he will have a chance to ride for his own results this month. He knew if he stayed at Tinkoff, he would be riding as a support rider for Sagan.

Here is the remainder of the interview with Breschel:

VeloNews: How did the deal come together to join Cannondale?
Matti Breschel: I had a phone call with Jonathan Vaughters last year, and then another one with Charly Wegelius. They were looking for someone for the classics, and someone who could help in the other races. I already knew a lot of the guys, and it was an interesting opportunity. I have a good program. After the classics, I will take a little break, then race the national championships, the Tour de Suisse, and hopefully the Tour de France.

VN: How important was the chance to ride as a captain at Cannondale?
MB: Yes, I will get a lot more chances. I like to help out, but once in a while, it’s nice to get your own chance. At Tinkoff, you ride behind Sagan, and no one gets a chance behind him. That’s normal, because he’s a big rider.

VN: You rode many years under Riis, what changed when Tinkov took over the team?
MB: There was a big change when he came in. There was a bit more tension, and there were a lot of expectations, and Oleg made sure there was big pressure on all of us. He would send an e-mail once in awhile. He put a lot of money into it, and he expected us to win. You just needed to get used to it, because Bjarne (Riis) wasn’t as outgoing as that.

VN: From the outside, Tinkov seems a bit over-the-top, what’s he like inside the team bus?
MB: He is an eccentric. He is used to doing it his way. I am not surprised he is leaving the sport. If you want to change something, you need patience, because it takes time in cycling, because it’s such an old-school type of sport. I could see he didn’t have the patience. You have to give him credit for that, for trying to change things, but it just doesn’t always work out that way in cycling. He always spoke his mind.

VN: What do you think about the spring classics?
MB: Flanders and Roubaix are something special. You cannot compare them, but there is something special about them. Roubaix is the best one, and the biggest dream for me. I would love to win Roubaix.

VN: Has a Dane ever won Roubaix?
MB: No, there have been some riders in the top-five, but never a Danish winner. Sometimes you see surprises in that race, like O’Grady, Van Summeren, or Backstedt. It’s unpredictable that race, so you never know. I’d love to be the first.

VN: You’ve been a pro for a long time now; how have things changed since you started?
MB: I still remember my first pro year. There was just so much to get into your head. It was so big. Suddenly you’re riding next to guys like Peter Van Petegem and Tom Boonen and Ivan Basso and Bobby Julich. It is much more serious now. I think we had a little bit more fun back then, especially when you turned pro, the team took care of you. I didn’t do a grand tour in my first three years. I still did all the classics, and I remember Andy Schleck and I just having fun, and going to the races.

VN: The level seems higher than 10 years ago across the entire peloton, how true is that?
MB: You can’t go to a race now unless you’re really in top shape. It’s simply too hard. It’s much more tougher now. And much more calculated, and into the small details. Food, training, power numbers, it’s something you have to do now to be on the top level. If you don’t, you don’t have any chance of winning. You don’t see riders skipping the last week of the Vuelta to be ready for the worlds, and using a race to ride into shape. It’s hard on the head and the body. Maybe more the head, because the body, you just can keep on going, but it takes a lot of sacrifice and dedication all the time now.

VN: What would be a perfect season for you?
MB: It would be nice to make some results in the classics, and start winning a little bit more. And be competitive all year round. Stay out of crashes, but that’s not so easy these days.