In English we’d say, ‘Birdsong’ – in Danish it’s ‘Fuglsang.’ Despite the fact that he seems to have been around for a long, long time, Jakob Fuglsang is still only 28 with his best years as a stage race rider surely yet to come.

We felt we needed a proper look inside an Ardennes Classic; so who better to speak to than Amstel top 20 finisher, said Mr. Fuglsang (Astana & Denmark)?

Jakob Fuglsang
Jakob Fuglsang is much happier at Astana than his previous team. Photo©BettiniPhoto.

Fuglsang came into the sport via the ‘Cadel Route’ – Mountain Biking.

Danish National Junior MTB Champion in 2002; by 2007 he was being crowned World U23 Cross Country Champion at Fort William, Bonnie Scotland for his Danish Continental team, Designa Kokken.

He rode for them again in 2008 but got the call from Bjarne and was stagiaire with CSC for the end of the season – winning the Tour of Denmark pretty much put the seal on a full contract for 2009.

With Riis’s team under the Saxo bank banner for ’09 he won the Tours of Denmark and Slovenia.

The following season he made it a hat trick of Tour of Denmark wins, took the Danish Time Trial Championship and was fourth in Lombardia.

Joining the exodus from Saxo to Leopard for 2011 he was fourth in the Tour of Switzerland, took a stage in the Danish tour and finished 11th in the Vuelta.

The team morphed into RadioShack-Nissan-Trek for 2012 and despite an empathy failure between Fuglsang and team boss, Johan Bruyneel the Dane won the Tours of Luxembourg and Austria as well as the Danish TT Champs and took sixth in Tour of Colorado.

Jakob Fuglsang
Jakob won the World Championships in the home country of VeloVeritas; Scotland. Photo©Leon Neal/Getty Images.

This season saw the man who was born in Geneva move to Astana and settle down to his season build up free of political drama.

Sixth in the Ruta Del Sol was followed by 11th in Catalunya and 17th in the Amstel – and that’s where we came in.

Was Enrico Gasparotto as Amstel winner in 2012 the designated leader, Jakob?

“We went in with two leaders, Enrico and Max Iglinskiy (2012 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner) and my task was to look after Enrico.”

You worked very hard for Enrico in the finale, I believe?

“I spent a lot of energy to keep him protected through the difficult parts of the parcours – but I was pleased because I still had good legs.

“Not as good as they would have been if I’d saved them – but I was able to pull for Enrico from the top of the Cauberg to 300 metres to go.

“Normally he would have done better than ninth – but he had a high speed crash behind the scooter when he was training the week before the race.”

Did you get worried when the break went to 11 minutes.

“No, it’s such a long race, we had no worries that they would stay away – we didn’t pull, that was down to Cannondale for Sagan.

“But no, we had no worries regarding the break; when the race enters the final phase it really speeds up and if you’ve been out there for 150 kilometres then you have to be very strong to survive.”

Jakob Fuglsang
Jakob is looking forward to the chance to lead a team in a grand tour. Photo©BettiniPhoto.

The Amstel has a name as a dangerous race.

“It’s a race where for sure you need to pay attention but luck plays a part even though you keep good position.

“But you have to stay awake!

“Maybe the new parcours makes it a little less important always to be in the right place; but it’s a race where you have to spend energy to keep position.”

How about the heat which affected Sagan?

“It was more or less the opposite for me; I had good legs in the final.

“When the heat arrives you need less clothing – I’ve been really suffering with the cold.

“In particular I’ve been struggling to get my maximum heart rate up; the team doctor thinks that the cold has been one of the reasons for that.

“The thing about the temperature going back is that you have to pay attention to drinking; but cramp has never been a problem for me – and it’s not like it was 35 degrees.”

What did you think of the finish being moved further out from the top of the Cauberg?

“Before the start I wasn’t sure because I liked the old finish; but it makes for a more open and interesting race – it means it’s not just for the explosive finishers any longer.”

Kreuziger’s win?

“If you’d asked me before the race I’d have said, ‘no.’

“But he did the right things, chose his moments and played it smart.”

You raced in Spain for much of the early season.

“My preparation is geared towards the Tour de France, after the Ardennes Classics I’ll take a break then do a training camp where I’ll rehearse the Alpine climbs.

“Then it’ll be the Dauphine; in the past I’ve done the Tour of Switzerland too – but not this year.

“I think I have a good programme.”

Jakob Fuglsang
The cold weather hasn’t agreed with Jakob this year. Photo©Astana ProTeam.

For the first time you’ll be Grand Tour captain.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of being team captain in the Tour; I want to see how far I can go.

“I trained a little more in the winter but not with so much intensity; in the early season I have no major goals except to get in shape to be 100% prepared for the Tour.

“My basic condition is very good – even though I haven’t had the results I think I should, given my shape.

“But there’s no stress, I’m taking it as it comes.”

I believe you’ve been doing work on your time trial position?

“For sure, I’ve been working with Specialized at the Montichiari Velodrome in Brescia.

“They have a really good set up where they can measure your aerodynamic efficiency for time trials – I’ve found a really good position but I haven’t had much opportunity to try it, yet.

“But it’s an important aspect – there are two flat time trials and team time trial in the Tour.

“I have to do more training on my time trial bike – the position is really aero but I have to do work to get used to it and produce the power.

“There’s always a trade off between watts and comfort when you’re setting a time trial position.”

Jakob Fuglsang
Jakob feels he has a bit of work to do on his TT position. Photo©BettiniPhoto

Your state of mind must be better this year…

“For sure, I’m much more relaxed and happy now that I’m away from the problems I had, last year.

“This team believes in me.

“Last year I was told that I wasn’t riding the Giro; I thought that was OK because Johan Bruyneel told me that I would be riding the Tour.

“But when they took me off the Tour team; I didn’t want to go and do a three week race after that – so there was no Vuelta.

“But it wasn’t such a problem because I had good results in Luxembourg and Austria.”

From a Luxembourg to a Kazakh (and Italian) team…

“It’s a different culture – Astana is much more relaxed than The Shack.

“The Shack felt more like a business than a team, you felt that if you made one wrong step you would get your fingers chopped off – Astana is much more relaxed.

“You have to think more as an individual and make your own decisions, be more responsible.

“I had two years with Saxo then two years in Luxembourg so what I want to do now is what’s best for me – I don’t want to just follow.”

Jakob Fuglsang
Jakob suffered a well-publicised tumultuous season last year under Johan Bruyneel’s management.

How about the Fleche and Liège?

“We don’t have an explosive guy for the Fleche – so we’ll have to open up the race further out if we want to do anything – but we have to save one rider for the finale.

“At Liège we have the whole of last year’s podium – Iglinskiy, Nibali and Gasparotto – we’ll try to repeat that.

“We know we have the guys, so we’ll try to be there in numbers but not wait around and end up with five guys in the bunch and just one guy at the front.”

In the event, Enrico Gasparotto was Astana’s best finisher in both races – 30th atop the Mur de Huy behind surprise Spanish winner Dani Moreno of Katusha, and sixth in Liège behind not so surprising Irishman (out of Birmingham, that is) Dan Martin of Garmin.

As a winner of the national tours of Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Slovenia can the Dane move up to be a Grand Tour contender?

This will be the year we find out.