Rider Interview: Matteo Trentin is one of the most consistent riders in the one-day races, with ‘Top Ten’ placing in most of the Classics. The 2018 European champion also has eight stage wins in the Grand Tours and a clutch of other victories. Definitely a rider worth listening to.
Climbing on the cobbles in Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
When the CCC team was in Spain earlier this year, our local in the area, Alastair Hamilton, jumped at the chance to have a long and very interesting chat with the Polish WorldTour teams latest big signing – Matteo Trentin. The man from the far north of Italy has been a pro since 2012, signing his first contract with the all winning behemoth Quick-Step team, then co-sponsored by Omega Pharma. The lessons he learnt there he took to Mitchelton-Scott in 2018, but maybe lacked support in the Australian set-up. Now with CCC he will be co-leader with the vastly experienced Olympic champion, Greg Van Avermaet. PEZ sat down to hear about Trentin’s future plans and cycling in general.
Ready for the questions
PEZ: Are you pleased with your move to CCC?
Matteo Trentin: Not really… No, everything is really good. The ambiance, the guys, the staff, everyone has done a good job to make me feel part of the team straightaway.
PEZ: What was the most important point about the choice of coming to CCC?
Mainly because the goals and the focus of the team is the direction of my focus. They are more oriented on one-day races and stages instead of GC. Even if they brought to the team guys who can do a really good GC, it’s not the main focus, not GC, it will be certain stages, but not every single stage race.
PEZ: What is your personal goal for next year?
For sure, to make another step forward in the big Classics. At the end of last year, I was always there in the final, I was always in the select group of riders who get to play for the victory, but somehow I’ve never been in the position to get on the podium. So my aim is to get better on this general point. And naturally, the most number of victories I can take.
Start of stage 4 in Valencia
PEZ: Any specific races?
Sanremo was the most bitter of the bunch last year. Starting with that, it is also the first big Classic of the season. From there we’re going start the campaign.
PEZ: Do you know your full calendar?
I’ll do the same program as last year. So the races in Spain and the opening weekend and Paris-Nice and then go on with all the classics.
PEZ: Have you spoken to Greg Van Avermaet about cooperation in the races?
No, we didn’t speak together about it. We did speak about a lot of things, but not what we are we going to do in the Classics, but I think we’re both professional and we are both grown-up enough to know that it is an advantage for both of us to have the other one in the team, than having him against me.
Trentin and Van Avermaet
PEZ: Have you been working on a sprint train or anything?
Not really. We have to talk with the sports directors, it will come a little bit more naturally during the season, probably. This is one of the things that this team, and BMC, didn’t work on in the past. So we need to set up a little bit with the guys and to see who’s better to do with and what. You need a race to really know who has the best feeling to do this kind of job or another one.
PEZ: So you’re bringing the expertise on this one.
I think so, yeah. I’ve been doing this for quite a lot of years already.
PEZ: Will you ride all the Classics?
Yeah, all the Classics, probably not Liège.
Trentin and Poels in Spain
PEZ: What about a Grand Tour?
No idea. The first part of the year is the classics then we will think about the Grand Tours. It is an advantage that I don’t go for GC, so I don’t need to be too much prepared, you do need to be prepared always, but it’s different when you go for stages than when you go for GC. For stages you can kind of freestyle a little bit more.
PEZ: Olympics, Worlds?
No way. Worlds, no way.
PEZ: Maybe Liège one day?
Yeah, let’s say it is not in green, it’s not in red, it’s in yellow. For sure, with the change of parcours, especially this year, all the guys who were thinking maybe it’s going to be more for a guy like me, they race the Roche-aux-Faucons like it’s the last climb, so it can be even more harder than it was before. Coz people were doing the Roche-aux-Faucons at say 90% to give 100% on the summit of the climb going on to the drop to the finish. You know that after the Roche-aux-Faucons the race is basically over. So, if you are not in the group there then you’re not probably going to get back. It’s still like a discovery. I don’t know, last year I was on the plan to do Liège, but after Amstel I was completely dead, so I was asking the team to be taken off from the race. We’ll see how it goes this year, if you do all the Classic, starting from the cobbles to finish in Liège, it’s a long, long, long block. So let’s see.
Fighting to fourth place in the Omloop
PEZ: In what way can you and Greg Van Avermaet help each other in the finalé?
Yeah, if you see last year at the end, we were one of the few riders who didn’t have any teammates in the in final. So most of the time we found each other to race against. Of course always Quick-Step who would have three or four guys, or even Lotto who had two guys with Wellens and Benoot, most of the time and sometimes with also Keukeleire there. For sure we can play. I’m probably quicker at finishing and if he attacks and he gets a gap, again then behind if they either chase to bring him back, then they know that I’m one of the quickest in the pack and if I sit on the wheels, like it has happened with Quick-Step in the past, it can be very hard to beat me. Same with Greg, he’s also quick, so we can play this game quite a lot. It’s pretty simple, I didn’t discover hot water.
PEZ: Sometimes when you have two leaders, one has to sacrifice himself.
Yeah, but if you play your card you don’t sacrifice. You play your card to win and someone else has to chase then. So you play your card in a certain way and then maybe it will work, or maybe not. And to get back again on this, it’s how Quick-Step win so much.
PEZ: How well did you know Greg before.
Personally not too much, to be honest. We talked, not too much in the races. But we talk a lot now, so we got to know each other.
European road champ
PEZ: Did you change your preparation at all for this season?
No, no, no, it’s mainly the same. I changed a little bit some details, let’s say, for the beginning of the season, because you need to remember that last year I came to the beginning of the season after a big injury. It took me pretty much a long time to get to a certain level. And this year, if not already there, I’m already in a better place than I was last year. So For sure I can take in account what I did for the Worlds and it working pretty good except for the last 200 meters. I started from that period of time because at the end the Worlds were really similar to a Classic, so the preparation to get to that kind of race was pretty good and I mixed up a little bit with some other work I did at the beginning of the season to have a more complete training schedule.
PEZ: Which is your strongest feeling from the 2019 season?
I was quite happy with the season, I think I was about the most consistent rider in the world in terms of results. Of course, if you can win a little bit more and be less consistent from fifth to tenth this would be better, but in general I think I had a good season, the only low part was probably Flanders and Roubaix, for the rest I think I always had really good performances in every race I took part in. And I could always be there to play for a victory, if not for the victory for helping teammates and this and that. So I think I’m happy. I think I reached a good level.
PEZ: Which Classic interests you the most?
I think Sanremo and Flanders. I’m curious about Amstel, because I only rode it two times and I was tenth last time, I was with the attack for 40 kilometres, with guys who normally I shouldn’t be with. I was the only guy over 70 kilos in the first group. The last time with the downside I flatted on the last climb going back to the Cauberg. I was still feeling good and there was only 30 guys at the front and I was still there, so I think this is also a race that would suit me, but I still need to discover if that is a really good race for me or not.
Leading the big move in the 2019 Worlds
PEZ: Being alone at the front in the last few seasons, did you feel you wasted a lot of energy?
Maybe you don’t use too much energy, but then you need to cover every single move and you need to be strong and you need to be lucky too. Maybe you get in a move and someone else has cover and also being alone means that you have to find the quickest in the group, but his team might have a teammate behind that’s quicker than that guy… For example; if you see Trek is in the break with one guy, with Stuyven say, and behind they have Degenkolb. Stuyven is going to do less because he has Degenkolb behind, that’s his excuse. It can be the kind of situation that if you are alone, you cannot play. Or you are really the strongest, so you pull off and then you go or you need to rely on the others.
PEZ: Was it difficult to accept your second place in the Worlds, or could you just put it behind you the day after?
It was not behind me the day after, but in the end I couldn’t have been better that day, so there is no big stories to tell about ‘I could do this or that.’ I rode close to the perfect race, and I just found someone else who was better than me.
Winning the European champs in wet Glasgow
PEZ: You seem to ride well in wet and cold conditions; like in the Worlds and Glasgow for the European championships.
Normally I don’t have many problems if it’s raining. Of course I prefer not to have another day like the Worlds, but yeah.
PEZ: So in the morning, you are the guy who opens the curtains and sees the rain and goes ‘oh! Great!’
No, fuck no, but I mean, I’m not the guy who is crying if it’s raining. It’s okay. It’s the same conditions for everyone, it’s not like someone has a magic umbrella and it doesn’t rain on him. Of course the rain makes everything more difficult.
Cooling down in the Tour de France
PEZ: What about the heat?
I’m not a big fan of warm, but okay, when you are really well organised you have ice socks and you can battle the heat. I mean, if it’s 40º 42º 44º then it’s still okay, but if it is over that, then I think I’m not made for that temperature, no one is made for that temperature.
PEZ: Mathieu van der Poel showed what he was capable of in 2019, how do you see his progress in 2020?
From what he has shown in mountain bike and cyclo-cross, he didn’t show any weak sign, but of course everyone put him as basically the only winner of the Worlds… and he wasn’t. Road cycling is completely different of course, he is one of a kind, he will probably be one of the biggest stars in the next years, but there are a lot of really good kids coming up in the ranks. If you see Pogačar, if you see Remco Evenepoel, all these fantastic guys, and Van Aert for example. I think he had a real breakthrough season and now the difficult thing, maybe not for him, but the difficult thing is always to confirm yourself. I don’t say people are going to race against him, but for sure they’re gonna have a big red dot on him.
Alongside MVDP in Algarve
PEZ: Deceuninck has lost Philippe Gilbert, do you think there will be more balance between the teams racing in 2020?
I think yes. Still, I think they are going to have one of the stronger units in general, because even the guys they brought on board are really good riders and they have the kind of mentality and the way to do the races that they normally have. Over the years you can see they change teams, but they always have someone who’s really good, so they have Stybar, they still have Alaphilippe, but probably not on the cobbles and they still have Jungels, he came into the Classics and he’s still good, and there is Lampaert. So there is four and you can only start with eight.
PEZ: There seems to be a bit of a fashion for the Classic riders to go on an early season altitude training camp.
Yeah, I did it in the past and came out and…. for me, it wasn’t really worth it. But it was more of a personal body reaction. Normally I have to train at altitude and sleep at altitude, so in Europe it’s not possible, not at this time of the season, so you need to travel somewhere else. If you need to go to Colombia, then you need to stay there a month, so it’s always about timing. I found out at the end of this season that if I train well during the winter, I can have the same result as going to Sierra Nevada, or in these places where you can go in Europe.
PEZ: What about Sanremo and the Poggio?
It was closed. The first news came out that it was not going to be possible to put it in order, but it’s, you know, it’s Italy, we can do everything, especially at the last moment. The night before probably.
Milan-Sanremo 2019 highlights
PEZ: Would it be a good thing for you if there was no Poggio?
Depending what they do in the finalé. If they did only the Cipressa and you go straight to the finish like it was in the 60s, then not. But if they put back Le Manie and the Pompeiani and you skip the Poggio, then maybe yes. But, anyway, it would be another race. It won’t be the Sanremo we are used to in the last 30 years because from Pompeiani to the finish is more than 20K, if you don’t do the Poggio. So it’s hard and whatever you want, but it’s going to be a group going to the finish and then I don’t know. I mean, I will prefer even, if it’s not hard enough from my perspective, I will prefer to leave it like this. I think it is the most boring race for five and a half hours and then is the most exciting for the last 45 minutes. So I would like they leave it. Maybe they want to put back Le Manie and they’re going to be happy, but that’s another story.
PEZ: What were your problems in Flanders and Roubaix?
I think I was sick in Flanders or something. I still have no answer on this because we had an examination, but it looks like I was a little bit sick, but you know, in this kind of cycling you cannot have a low day, if you have a low day you are dropped. I was dropped from a group of 20 riders in the first part of the race. But you cannot have a day that you are not 100%, especially in these big days. It was generally what happens to me in Roubaix. It’s the only Classic I never perform at a really high level. If you see my results in Roubaix they are never pretty good, so I wasn’t surprised. Then when I saw myself dropping, I just let it go because I knew I had to do Amstel the week after, so I didn’t really push to stay in the first move.
PEZ: Are you thinking of not riding Roubaix in 2020?
Maybe, we will have a bit of a discussion with the team, we need to see the team goals and who’s doing what and blah, blah, blah.
PEZ: You said that Milan-Sanremo suits you the best, but is it also a race that you find particularly beautiful?
I’m Italian, so you know… it’s a race that every kid grows up watching the first Classic. I think it is beautiful just because it’s so unpredictable. The first time I went to ride the Poggio, I was thinking it was a fake climb and actually it is. It’s a climb that in any other race, nobody is going to be dropped. And you do the Poggio in Sanremo and certainly you see the sprinters drop back and they cannot stay with the Bunch. You see how all the riders make the race difficult, last year we lost Viviani because he was not good and Deceuninck decided to pull on the Poggio and in the end it was one of the fastest ever done. You see the race split apart and there was still eight riders at the front. It was like a kind of a lottery, even from my point of view the strongest won anyway, Alaphilippe was the strongest in that period of the year. I think from a spectator perspective it is really nice to see.
PEZ: Isn’t it strange that you haven’t talked with Greg Van Avermaet about your role in the team?
I think it’s strange for journalists. If you want to win, then you know that you don’t need to race against, you need to use the strength of the other to strengthen yourself even more and I think we can compliment each other.
PEZ: Are you not making assumptions before the races because you know roughly how the Classics will go?
Yeah, you see the Classics are the same, and we were both there in the last couple of years. And we know that my stronger point is probably the sprint, that is not his strongest point. So that’s why we can complement each other. Because he’s a guy who can rip every single climb and then take a group away, and that’s why I say that. Or even if I’m in the front, he can sit behind and if he was getting in the attack again, then he’s going to go. So for sure, we can complement each other, it’s logic.
Winning for Quick-Step
PEZ: You said you were in better shape than the one year ago. Do you think you can still improve as a rider?
I’m not in a better shape, let’s say my base level is better than last year, and there is always space for improving. Like if I compare myself from where I was sitting in 2012, my first full year as a professional, probably with the numbers I’m doing now, I’d have already won twenty races in 2012. The whole world of cycling is rising much higher than people think. And it’s quite impressive to see, it’s something you cannot see from outside, like most of the time if you watch a race and you hear on TV that it is boring because on the climb nobody attacks, it’s because nobody can go quicker than this. And they have reached the maximum a person at this moment can do. Maybe in the future, with new technologies and new training, we can go a little bit quicker again. But you see the top group on a climb is bigger and bigger and nobody really gets that much of a gap on the climb. In the past it was maybe one or two minutes and now it’s 20 seconds.
PEZ: Seven years ago, in your first pro season, it’s logical that you were improving at that time.
Yeah, you can always close a gap or something. There is always room for improvement. Otherwise I would have won every race and would have stopped in three years, but nobody wins every race. Everyone has to find his weak point and work on this so you can always improve something.
PEZ: What have you been working on improving?
I have actually improved quite a lot on climbing. Being a fast guy I think I climb pretty well. But of course it can be a sacrifice a little bit from the pure sprint. I’m not as quick as I used to be in the past, but if you see the sprinters right now; Kittel was the last of his type. There is not any sprinter like that any more. Even Greipel can climb, Ackermann can climb, Viviani can climb, Gaviria can climb. The Giro last year had nine flat stages and it was super boring. So also that’s not what people demand from a stage race. They want something like the Tour last year, it was exciting every day.
Meeting up with Marcel Kittel
PEZ: Do you work with the numbers a lot and when you race do you go on feel?
It is always depending on what you do. I can go on feel, I’m not the guy who’s watching the power meter, I normally race without the head because it’s annoying. I don’t like to race with that because I like to be free. But I do look at the numbers when I’m finished. And I train with numbers like everyone. That’s also one of the reasons why cycling is so good at the moment in terms of performances of riders, because with power we can train so much in detail, that gives you that extra compared to maybe five or six years ago when we trained without.
PEZ: Would you say that it is better for younger riders to you use them less and learn to ride on instinct?
Yeah, that’s a problem, because they come up and they only know this. And the moment you pull them off the numbers, they don’t know where to go. They have no idea. Not everyone, but a lot of them. I never rode with a heart rate monitor before I was in my third year in the Under 23s. I was just going off with a watch. That was all on time, time, effort and sensation. Not any other thing.
PEZ: How difficult is it to change bike when you change team?
It was easy to be honest. The bikes are really good, so I didn’t have any specific trouble to adopt. I was really happy about this of course, there is a change and you need to change with it yourself and maybe work on it a little more. To be honest I didn’t have much trouble to change. That was a good starting point.
PEZ: Is Zakarin jealous of your beard?
You need to ask him.
# The interview with Matteo was before the Coronavirus became so serious. #
New bike and jersey for Matteo Trentin in 2020