By Stepahnie Gutowski

Kim Kirchen (Team Columbia-HTC) had an incredible 2008. Not only did he win Fleche Wallone, but he wore the coveted yellow jersey at the Tour de France for three stages.

In 2009, he fell during the 4th stage of the Tour of California after the sleeve of his jacket got caught in the spokes of his wheel as he was trying to remove the garment. He fractured his shoulder and collarbone. Kirchen's injury prevented him from racing in his favorite Ardennes Classics. He was the defending Fleche Wallone champion. After going through shoulder surgery and recuperating his injuries, Kirchen came back to win stage 7 of the Tour de Suisse last month.

We spoke prior earlier in the season about his successes in 2008 and about riding the Tour de France in 2009.

The successes of 2008….
I have always been focused on the Classics. I was really close two years ago in Fleche Wallone. For me it's always a goal of mine to get better each year. I know what I need to do physically and the team is also maturing. We do work a lot on working as a team. I am 30 years old and have a lot of experience now. All of these factors together allowed me to be successful last year.

What was more rewarding…winning Fleche Wallone or wearing the yellow jersey in 2008…
Fleche Wallone is a classic that I have been focusing on for years but the Classics and the Tour de France are so different. Having the yellow jersey at the Tour was definitely one of the greatest moments of my life, but trying to win the Classics gives me more and more motivation every year. My idols are all the riders racing faster than me. I really don't focus on the Tour over the Classics. My focus is simply to be better.

The year would be very boring for me if I only rode the Classics, or if I only focused on the Tour. I am a rider who absolutely loves the Classics….to be with my team…racing to win….I really enjoy that. The Tour is a big race but for me the Classics are very important.

Is there an advantage for a Classics rider racing in the Tour?
I actually do think there is advantage for Classics riders racing in a stage race. When you have a good result during the Classics season…you can take that and keep motivated. You are coming to the big stage races better prepared and definitely motivated. It actually becomes much easier to get ready since we have been racing during the Classics season. I find myself more relaxed for the stage races and do not feel any great pressure. I think this helps with riding a long stage race. The Classics prepares me for this. I think my success in the Classics last year helped me become successful in the Tour.

Training changes…
I have more time trial training and course work training now. You have to adapt your training to get better. I do have a lot of confidence right now and I do think that comes with experience. I know what I need to do…what my body can do. I go into each race fully prepared.

Focus on 2009…
I am riding the same calendar as I did in 2008…. but I would also like to focus more on the Worlds this year. It looks like a hard course but I think I have a chance to win that one. Why not try to win. It will be a big goal of mine this year. The courses in the next couple of years are not really suited for me. This may be my year. I may do the Vuelta this year to help with my Worlds preparation.

Photo by CorVos