Bob, when we last talked in early 2015, you told me a story of your teacher in school asking what you wanted to be, and you’d always reply “I want to be a legend.” And she’d say “that’s not a job.” Now you’ve won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, how near are you, and what’s next?
Well, being a professional bike rider is probably already very close. And then winning Liège, being in the most successful team as one of the leaders… it’s always a definition of how far you want to go. You’re always hungry, you always want more.
I think being a legend is probably not going to happen until I die [laughing]. People mostly make a legend out of you, you don’t make it yourself.
So this year, what are you hungriest for: the Tour of Flanders and cobbled Classics or stage races?
Obviously, Flanders and those Classics are going to be a goal but they’re complicated races and you need to do them a few times before you can actually really perform – well, that’s what they say. But there’s Paris-Nice and the Giro too.
Did you have it in your mind for a few years to start looking at Flanders and Roubaix?
Yeah, I won Roubaix as an U23 [in 2012] and then in last year’s Tour, I saw that I was actually comfortable on the cobbles. I’m not gonna do Roubaix this year, which would be a little bit too much of a change.
I still think that Flanders comes very close, in terms of climbs and altitude metres, to Amstel or Liège. So I think something that suits me, the cobbles, are not gonna harm my performance elsewhere.
How was the experience of targeting the Tour last year [where Jungels finished 11th]. What did you learn about yourself and your capabilities?
It’s been a season where I learned a lot about myself. Obviously, after Liège, everything was possible. All the doors were open. I was keen to do whatever it took to perform well in the Tour and I probably just did too much. Maybe not too much racing, but I didn’t have this freshness, this easy going that I normally have.
So I think I’ve learned a lot this year about myself in more difficult situations which I had quite a lot last year – the crash in South Africa [which saw serious injuries for team-mates Vakoc and De Plus in February] and an illness of the kind I’d never experienced before.
In Tirreno-Adriatico, I was actually going really well, caught a virus and I didn’t really know how to handle it. I kept training and I was dragging it to Catalunya… and before the Classics, I just needed a break. And that break was my saviour for Liège.
Perhaps when you were younger people said “Bob Jungels, he’s more of a time-trialist.” Then they realised “maybe he can do Grand Tours”, now they see he can win Liège. Do you like surprising people and showing your versatility?
I’m very versatile, but it’s not always a gift. Because it’s very hard to choose what you’re gonna do. Probably the hardest challenge for me is as a GC challenger because I don’t have the physiology and it can be difficult. And it just motivates me because it’s so damn hard.
But on the other hand, I can say the engine is there and also the longer the races are, the harder they are, I’m always gonna have an advantage. So yeah, of course I like surprising people and also I need that confirmation and that satisfaction for myself.
Were you surprised to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège?
I knew I could go well there, I knew it’s the race that I first loved – and to win a race like this, you have to love it. Of course it was a surprise because it’s such a big step from – I don’t wanna say it – but, obviously smaller races.
You might never have that freedom in big races again because they know what you can do.
You have that chance once in your life and I grabbed it, luckily. In those races, it’s so hard towards the end that you cannot even talk about having freedom. If you’re strong, you’re strong. If somebody could have closed the gap, they would have. So I think in those one-day races, freedom doesn’t really make any difference.
Patrick Lefevere said earlier today [at the team presentation] that the party after Liège was so good it got the restaurant closed down?
I’m not the reason it closed! It was nothing crazy, it was just nice. Obviously, we had an unbelievable week there winning Flèche [with Alaphilippe] and Liège. So I did doping control and interviews and stuff, then finally after two hours, I got on the bus and Patrick said “all the flights are cancelled.”
For everyone, about 35 staff. So, everybody went to that restaurant; Iljo [Keisse] came too because he lives in Ghent. We just had a fantastic time and we could finish that unbelievable spring campaign off in a well-deserved way.
Later, together with Julian, we bought Hublot watches for all the riders in Flèche and Liège.
Lastly, what do you think of the new parcours of Liège, finishing in the centre?
It’s always a bit controversial when you have such a historic race which has been going for over a hundred years. It’s always difficult to judge change, the good and bad.
I think it always made the race very interesting having that climb [to Ans] towards the end; on the other hand you can also say it made riders wait a long time. Personally, I would not have changed it.