Eight years have passed since Juan Antonio Flecha last raced professionally, however he still remains a pivotal part of the cycling industry. Throughout his illustrious thirteen-year career as a professional cyclist, he achieved great things and was well regarded for his Classics strengths, suited to less than ideal conditions and hard terrain – most commonly seen on the attack.
Since retiring, his motivation to excel has only continued. Now, with a young family in tow, he regularly commentates for Eurosport and last year, started his own YouTube channel sharing a wide array of content; reviewing industry-leading products, interviewing riders, race previews and beyond.
Needless to say, his passion for cycling remains. When not found out surfing the waves of the Costa Brava from his hometown in Casteldefels, he’ll be out pedalling on his Factor O2 or exploring local trails on the LS.
We recently spoke with Juan Antonio to discuss his connection to Factor Bikes, reflect back on his stellar career and find out what’s he’s been up to since retiring.
THE FACTOR CONNECTION
In early 2020, Juan started riding on the O2 via a connection to Factor’s distributor in Spain. More recently, he’s taken to the LS and discovering the many hidden trails surrounding his own backyard just south of Barcelona. He has since shared numerous reviews and expeditions on board both bikes via his YouTube channel.
Juan was a fan of the O2 from the first ride:
“I really like its geometry. As soon as you jump on it and go up a climb, it feels super balanced and lightweight, but at the same time an easy to play around with bike. It just makes you want to be out there for hours. I’ve had it for a year now and I still feel the same. It’s a lovely bike and a great product from Factor. It makes me happy when I ride it. It’s also completely updated with disc brakes, allowing the option to have wider tyres which is a big bonus.”
When not gliding his way up paved climbs aboard the O2, he’ll be mixing it up off-road on the LS.
“I’ve been on the LS for just over a month. The first thing that surprised me was the comfort it offers on gravel roads. I’ve tried a number of gravel bikes in my time and they’ve never felt as comfortable as the LS. At the same time, it rides super-fast. It feels like you’re flying on those gravel roads, and it’s so easy to transition to the tarmac. It rides well on both. But obviously, as soon as it hits the trails, it’s in its element.”
THE MAKING OF A PRO
Juan Antonio’s love for two wheels established from a young age in his birth country of Argentina. Although cycling was not a professionally recognised sport at the time in most parts of South America, by the 80’s it was considerably growing in popularity at club level, thanks to the many Italian and Spanish immigrants spreading word of the famous Giro d’Italia. Juan’s interest sprung immediately when he caught wind and was hooked from his first club race onwards. At eleven, his family moved to Spain and his big professional cycling dreams started to sprout.
“When my family moved to Spain, my dream of becoming a professional in cycling truly began. I started to see cycling in a bigger picture as I was able to watch the world’s best on broadcasted TV. I saw the professionalism of the sport and all the things that made me like ‘woah – I want to become a professional’. But looking back, I think it was a healthy way to start cycling in Argentina, as it was a completely different sport and perspective to the way it is in Europe.”
Throughout his decorated career, Juan Antonio raced for a number of prestigious teams, including Fassa Bortolo, Rabobank and Team Sky. His most notable achievements were winning Stage 11 of the 2003 Tour de France and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2010. His Classics strengths saw him consistently podium and in the mix at the most demanding events throughout, including a credible eight times in the top ten at the Queen bee – Paris-Roubaix.
“I built my career around the cobbled classics, targeting Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. I specialised in those races at the start of the season. For the rest of the year, I played more of a domestique role.
In the classics I consistently performed at my best, especially in Roubaix where I was top 10 a few times…When I look back at the stats, I can appreciate now that it was actually pretty impressive, surrounded by some big names.”
A standout career highlight was winning a stage of the Tour de France in his third season as a professional. The dramatic victory came following an aggressive stage that saw him make the day’s breakaway and then solo in for the win, following a timely attack that had him narrowly hold off a furious chase. The momentous win in Toulouse was made even more memorable with a unique and now-famous victory salute where he mimed releasing an arrow from a bow while crossing the line in tribute to his family name, ‘Flecha’ which translates to arrow.
“My Tour de France stage win was the highlight of my career. Everyone knows the Tour de France and if you manage to win a stage, it elevates you to an entirely different status – not just within the sport.
It was a short stage, the day after a rest day and the day before a TT – sort of tricky for some riders. On paper, we thought it was going to be a bunch sprint, but from the start, there were a lot of attacks and interest in making the breakaway. Not long after, we’d established a break of around 15 riders. The whole time, the peloton were hovering close by, which put pressure on everyone to collaborate. It was a strong breakaway and the attacks started to fly with 12km to go. I took the opportunity to make my move and managed to ride away solo, opening up a gap that I maintained all the way to the finish. The gap was small with two riders right behind me and the bunch just 10 seconds back. So, it was quite intense but so amazing. Winning at the Tour de France is everyone’s dream and obviously being able to salute and celebrate the way I wanted and the way I had planned to, if it ever happened – that was something very nice.
I also have fond memories of my victory at the Omloop het Nieuwsblad because it’s a true cobbled classic and another race where I was always knocking on the door.”
A RAINY ROUBAIX DREAM
Although he grew up in mostly sunny climates, Juan Antonio performed at best in bad weather, thanks to a strong skillset and a tough mentality, which proved much to his advantage through the early season and at the often-foul weathered classics.
“I thrived off racing in bad weather, especially when on the cobbles. In Flanders when I made the podium, the conditions weren’t great, and the roads were wet. It was the same for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. In a way, the racing was a little bit slower and required more skill, and that suited me.”
When asked if he could go back to win just one race, his immediate response was…
“100% Roubaix! I stopped cycling professionally in 2013 and every year since I’m pleased that it doesn’t rain – kind of in a selfish way. For the show, I would love to have a bad weather Paris-Roubaix. But personally, when the day comes, I will be so envious because I never had the opportunity to race Roubaix in rainy conditions. That’s the one thing I regret not being able to do throughout my career. Fortunately for me, it hasn’t’ happened just yet! When the day comes, I would love to be back out there.”
LIFE BEYOND THE PELOTON
Since making the decision to retire, Juan has since married and is now a father to two daughters. Career wise, he spent four years studying Marketing and Marketing Research at university and has applied his learnings to numerous roles since. He currently works as a TV cycling expert majorly with Eurosport, focussed on the three Grand Tours and a selection of Classics. With restrictions in place last year, he predominately did commentary from home for Spanish Eurosport, as well as some international commentary throughout the unusual season.
He also used the extra time at home to work on another personal project…
“Last year I decided to start my own YouTube channel. My experiences of working in television gave me a kind of race and attraction to audio visuals. I have been so lucky to work with many talented people in this field, filming and creating all different types of content and so I started to spark a real interest in it myself – mostly editing videos and creating audio visual content. It started as a hobby, but then I developed better skills and it’s something I enjoy doing, so that’s where YouTube came in. It’s such a great platform to share content with total freedom.
I do a lot of on the bike content, riding with my camera and chatting or vlogging. I also like to introduce some information about where I am and a bit of culture to pair. I mix it up between a range of different topics – sometimes it’ll be rides or I’ll talk about products, gear, riders or races. I was actually recently at the Israel Start-Up Nation training camp in February where I interviewed Sep Vanmarcke on the Ostro. It’s important for me to make it look nice as well. I like good quality of image and want this to come across in my work.”
Factor Bikes are proud to be associated with such a charismatic personality and icon of the sport. We look forward to continuing to follow Juan Antonio’s adventures on our bikes via his channel, at the races on the big screen, or back in action at a future ‘rainy Roubaix’.
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