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John Lelangue has reason to be optimistic about the 2011 season for his BMC team.
Last year, the squad exceeded expectations when it signed Cadel Evans and George Hincapie in an accelerated move to bolster the team for ProTeam status, which it earned this year. The arrival of some hot young talent, including Taylor Phinney, as well as new climbers to help Evans in the grand tours and new firepower for the classics team, Lelangue promises to be a protagonist in all battlegrounds.
We recently caught up with Lelangue; here’s what he had to say about Phinney, the classics and Evans’ bid to win the Tour de France:
VN: Taylor Phinney is being called the best American in a generation; do you feel like you have a special responsibility as he turns pro?
JL: There’s always a responsibility to bring along any rider, and grow step by step without too much pressure. When you have a rider like Taylor, who has so much potential, he will ride one year to really discover all those nice races, whether it is classics or grand tours, to learn from Ballan, George, from Cadel. In that first year, he needs to see the difference from where he was at U23 and where he’ll go at the world elite. We are very proud that he chose BMC. We will take care of him, and build the best program around him. He will have the opportunity to try something this year, then we can build for the future.
VN: What’s been your impression of him so far? How is his schedule shaping up?
JL: He’s already a great professional. Since our first real contact after the season, after the Tour de Lombardy, we see that he has big potential. You see it, he knows what he wants, and that’s good. He’s very precise on the material side. Those two weeks together have been great; we are building step by step, no pressure. We want to have him in good shape for the classics in April, so he can be with George as a teammate. You never know, maybe we’ll be happy to play his card, there is no pressure from us. He has to come to the classics in good shape, then there’s the Tour de California, where can make a good TT. It’s a good race for US soil, and perfect preparation for the US national in Greenville, for Taylor for the TT, then the road race, with one day after, with George at home. It would be nice to reconquer that jersey, then we’ll what we’re doing with the Tour, but that’s too far away.
VN: You get the sense that it might be a problem trying to take it ‘step by step,’ that he doesn’t want to hold back.
JL: That’s a good quality, when you are young, you are motivated, you want to go full-gas, no problem. The good thing is that he doesn’t have the pressure of the team on him. If he is going full-bore and it doesn’t work, it’s OK, at least he tried. I like a rider like this than a rider who always sits back in the bunch and never tries. After each race, if he can say, OK, today I learned this, the next race he learns that – whether it’s positioning, the course, the wind, the leaders — I will be glad.
VN: BMC’s classics team is much stronger than last year, what are your expectations during the spring?
JL: We had to make improvements on three things. When I made my wish list, I said, first, I wanted to improve on the classics side. It’s a big part of the season from now to April, and we have Van Avermaet, Quinziato, and Taylor, those three guys are very important to join Hincapie, Kroon, Ballan and Burghardt. We are even stronger this season. Second, I wanted to find some climbers for the middle and first part of the mountain. With this, we signed Moinard, Tschopp and Santamaria. Finally, we were looking to sign the best young, talented riders. We are very happy to have Taylor, Timothy Roe and Yannick Eijssen.
VN: You said that Yannick is the best Belgian climber you’ve seen in a long time, what do you expect of him?
JL: He’s a climber, which is not common in Belgium. Most of the Belgium young riders love to be the next Tom Boonen, they’re only thinking about the Tour of Flanders, Roubaix, and those kinds of races. It’s not common having a rider going in this direction, whether it’s in the Pyrenees or the Alps. Iin the U23 races, we saw him with great potential. He is a perfect stage racer, he has to learn. The last real pure climber from Belgium was Van Impe, that was a long time ago. (Van Impe) was directed by my father, Yannick will be with me. Like Taylor, he will have a program to learn, and he will ride one-week stage races, like Catalunya, Paris-Nice, where he can learn and maybe go on the offensive in the mountain stages. The rest of time he will be competing with Cadel so he can learn of what the job of a teammate to see if we promote him as a team leader some day.
VN: Will he ride a grand tour this year?
JL: Not this year. Those one-week stage races are perfect for him right now. There are always some hilly stages, with a prologue and a time trial, there will be some opportunities for our younger riders in those types of races. Maybe in 2012, he can race the Giro or Vuelta, but this year is too early.
VN: You still have a lot of confidence in Evans, why the change in his schedule to focus solely on the Tour?
JL: We had to make the plan differently last year, because we didn’t know if we’d be selected or not for the Tour. We had to go for the Giro, we couldn’t wait not knowing if we’re going or not to the Tour, so missing the Giro would have been a mess. As a world champion, he had to show the jersey at home, then at Tirreno, we had to show that we had a strong team for the Tour selection. After Critérium International, he rode a good classics, he won Flèche, a good Liège. The Giro was a very difficult, he sick after one week, a really bad illness and fever. We had to survive so finishing 5th was a great performance, then building up again for the Tour, so it was a lot for Cadel. So this year will be a light program. We didn’t go to the Tour Down Under, then Tirreno, then Catalunya, maybe to test himself at the mountains; then for classics, with Amstel and Flèche, maybe skipping Liège, so we can go to Romandie. It’s better to have stage races in his legs. We will use May to recover; with an altitude camp, then Dauphiné, then building for Tour. I think coming to Tour 32 days of racing will be perfect for Cadel, without forgetting that he will later go to the Vuelta. Of course, we believe he can win and we are bringing a very strong and experienced team to support him in the Tour, where he will be our captain.