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Archive for the category “Interviews”

Laurens De Plus: “Tour de l’Avenir is my big goal”

Laurens De Plus

He started cycling as a 15-year-old, in Flanders, but soon he discovered the Ardennes and decided to focus on the climbs, as he realized that his future lies in the hilly Classics, as well as in the stage races with arduous climbs. In 2013, he caught everyone’s attention with top 10 placings in the Tour du Valromey and Giro della Lunigiana, and eventually signed a contract with the U23 Lotto-Belisol team, where he showed glimpses of his potential, inspite of the fact he had to work for the likes of Tiejs Benoot and Louis Vervaeke.

Starting this season as one of the team’s leaders, the 19-year-old Belgian confirmed his huge talent, first in Flèche Ardennaise, where he came 5th, and then, more important, in the prestigious Ronde de l’Isard. In the four-day French race, Laurens De Plus put on a great ride, coming twice on the podium, before finishing second in the GC and first in both the points and young classification. Soon afterwards, he racked up other strong results, this time in the Course de la Paix, just 12 seconds behind the winner.

This impressive series proved once again that Laurens De Plus is absolutely flying in 2015 and that the best things could be yet to come, as the next months will bring some important races in his calendar. But before tackling his future goals, the young Belgian rider – who dreams of winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège as a pro – made some time to talk for the following interview with Cafe Roubaix.

– Laurens, what were your goals at the start of Ronde de l’Isard?

I wanted to do a good GC, because last year our team won the race with Louis Vervaeke so we had a good reputation in this event. Another reason was because I like this race and it really suits me.

– How was the race?

Good. The first day I ended up second on Goulier Neige. The second day I felt great before Plateau De Beille, so I put my teammates in front to go for the victory and the yellow jersey. But unluckily I had a puncture just before the climb and lost a minute. I got a wheel from my teammate Dries Van Gestel and did the climb of my life. I still ended up second. I felt great that day, so I was really disappointed. The last stage I expected a big war between me and Simone Petilli, but the wind was not my friend that day. The whole stage we had the wind in front. I ended Isard with just 10 seconds off the victory, so that was unfortunate.

– What feelings did you have at the end of it?

I was not happy with my second place, I think the victory was possible. But that is cycling, and Petilli was also very, very strong. It is a cliché, but without a good team you can’t do anything. I really have to thank my teammates/friends. I also learned that having bad luck is part of cycling. Wearing the real leadership of the team was also a bit new for me.

– Do you think that a major step in your development was the fact that you have now become the leader of the team?

Yeah, true. Last year Louis Vervaeke and Tiesj Benoot were the leaders of the team and they felt the pressure. It was fun to work for the guys, but now I’m one year older and stronger, so it is the moment to do good results, and to take the leadership. That is indeed a step you need to take in your development of U23.

– After finishing four times on the podium in the Ronde de l’Isard and the Course de la Paix, do you feel that a win is much closer?

Yeah, after my second place in Course de la Paix I was like: “not again”. I really wanted to win that stage, so I was too enthusiastic, and didn’t have the punch for the sprint. But to win you also need some luck and I hope I will have some in the next upcoming races.

– In what other races will you go in the following weeks?

In the second part of the season I want to focus on the Tour de l’Avenir, of course, but I also want to be good in Giro della Valle d’Aosta and Tour Alsace. With pain in my heart I can’t ride Tour des Pays de Savoie, but I have to skip it because otherwise I’d be racing too much.

– And what goals do you have?

I want to continue what I did the last months. Have good results and a lot of fun with my teammates in the nice races like Aosta, Alsace and Avenir. But Avenir will be my big goal, because it is a really huge challenge for me to do a good result in this race. I think it’s the highest level you can have in the U23 category. I saw the stages and they look very nice.

– In September you’ll turn 20. Did you give a thought about what would you like to do next season?

I want to continue what I’m doing this year and learn even more of course. I’m still studying (ed. – Accountancy at the Ghent University) and for me that is also important to get a diploma.

 

Mihkel Räim: “My goal is to turn pro in 2016”

Mihkel Räim

How many of you have heard of Jaan Kirsipuu? Most likely, many, as the former rider from Tartu was an important figure of the peloton more than 15 years ago, when he was fighting at the Tour de France sprints, scoring along the way four stage wins, while riding for AG2R and Crédit Agricole. But how many of you have heard of Mihkel Räim? At the moment, not many can say that, but be sure you keep his name in mind, as the 21-year-old is flying this season and the results he scored so far are helping him build a nice CV that ultimately will take the Estonian cyclist to the pro ranks.

Although young, Mihkel Räim – who rides for Team Pro Immo Nicolas Roux – doesn’t lack the confidence which is so important in such a tough sport, where everyone is trying hard to make a name for themselves. On top of that, he’s hard-working and displays each time a very aggressive style (which is a trademark of Baltic cyclists), and that has helped him get not only some impressive results, but also many plaudits. Recently, Mihkel accepted to sit down and talk for Cafe Roubaix about his first years in cycling, his 2015 season, the most interesting and funniest situations encountered so far and his goals for the future.

– Mihkel, how did you start cycling?

Actually, it’s not surprising that I discovered cycling. My father is an ex-rider, he owns a bike store, and he is DS and President of a cycling team (Saaremaa Jalgrattaklubi Viiking) in my home island. He organized one of the most popular cycling races in Estonia, named Saaremaa velotuur for over 20 years. All my uncles have been cyclists at different levels, so it was pretty obvious that I have to try it.

– At that time, did you have an idol or a rider you looked up to?

I had plenty of idols, depending on the day. Some days, my biggest idols were my uncles. Some days, when I watched races on TV, it was Marco Pantani. In the flat races I was always supporting the Estonian cyclists, like Jaan Kirsipuu and Lauri Aus.

– How were your first years, what do you remember from back then?

When it all started, I only raced the local events. When I began for good, I didn’t win races, I was just in the top 6 sometimes. When I got a better bike, I started to win local races, and one of my favorite memories is when my father helped me make custom cycling clothes. It was a really nice day, he made the custom ones, because cycling in Estonia wasn’t very popular back then and there weren’t proper racing clothes for me in the bike stores. Afterwards, when I went to national races with my dad, I finished in top 10, but the victories came a couple of years later.

– How popular is cycling in Estonia nowadays? Did something change?

It has really changed a lot. Cycling is very popular in Estonia and it keeps getting bigger and bigger and I am really proud of that. For example, our national cycling calendar is packed with races, so the riders have to choose if they want to do MTB race or road race. There are even week-ends when you have to choose from two road races. Honestly, I am really looking forward to the development of cycling in Estonia.

– How would you describe yourself as a rider? What are your strong points and what would you still like to improve?

That’s a tricky question. First word what comes to my mind is aggressive: that means I really like to attack and make others suffer. Also I am pretty good in the sprint, I have the sprinter’s speed, but sometimes I am not too crazy to fight with the elbows before the sprint. Breakaway sprints are for me, that’s my cup of tea. This year I made some important progress on the climbs, so I can get over some climbs now and this is very big for me. In the past, when the road began to rise, I was immediately suffering at the bottom of the ascent and then was dropped in a flash. This year, in France, there have been situations when I have made even some climbers suffer and that’s cool. If I can go over the climbs with skinny guys, then it’s pretty easy to sprint with them. My weakness is the time trial and of course I believe I can be better on the climbs also. I think I am psychologically strong, but I have also cracked in the past. It happens.

– After a couple of years in your home country, you came to France. How did this happen?

For an Estonian cyclist is a natural step to move to France after he graduates school. There are a lot of guys who did it before me and I am pretty sure that in the future there will be plenty of guys who will follow in my footsteps. After having strong results in the 2012 Juniors Paris-Roubaix, where I finished in 12th place, a local French cycling enthusiast, Jean-Claude Comby, contacted with me and made me an offer to come to France. He came with a nice racing schedule, gave me place to live and it was all perfect for me to prepare for the World Championships. So I did some good races in France, won two of these and got several podiums. Then I signed with a French DN1 team CR4C Roanne. It was my first foreign team.

– Some riders have a cultural shock when changing countries. Was it the same with you? 

I think I have adapted well. Of course, there were some funny things that happened along the way. For example, shaking hands with teammates in the morning and when you leave. It was weird, we do it sometimes in Estonia, but mainly we just say “Ciao” and wave hands. The second thing was eating white bread. Oh, my God, how many French people eat that, and in considerable amounts. Third thing was kissing the ladies on the cheek when saying hello. There were also the never ending dinners, almost 5-hour long, which was softly brutal. I am sure there were some more things, but these are the ones I remember very well.

– Of the many wins you got so far, which was the most important for you?

It’s a tough question, because every victory is special. Tour de la Region de Lodz stage victories and win in GC are special, as those were my first successful international races. Winning a stage in the Baltic Chain Tour was also important, because it was my first – and I hope not the last – pro win. Stage victory in the Saaremaa velotuur was psychologically important, because my father and mother have organized this race for many, many years and it was like gift to them. But I really hope that best victories will come in the future.

– How about the most interesting or unusual situation you encountered in a race? 

I think it happened this year in Flanders, when I ran up the cobblestone climb of Koppenberg. When I started to ride it, I thought “damn, this is not real”. Running it in a cycling race it was fun, but because of that I lost a top three placing there. Looking behind, I’m sure that I had the legs to win Flanders.

– This year, while riding for Team Pro Immo Nicolas Roux, you already scored a victory, three podiums and finished 6th in Flanders. Was this first part of the season above your expectations?

I am surprised by my strong first half of the season, but on the other hand I worked really hard in the winter, so I think I deserved it. Being 6th in the Tour of Flanders was like the cherry on the cake. Inside my heart I believed I can have results like that, but there were still some question marks. When I raced Flanders for the first time, in 2012, I knew that this can be a race where I can do well.

– What’s next for you?

I recently finished the Tour d’Azerbaijdan, and although I didn’t got any super results there, I saw that I can ride well at this level and opponents didn’t underestimate me. Now I have some Elite races in France, then the Tour of Estonia (UCI 2.1), the European Games in Baku and the National Championships. Of course, there are also the European Championships, which will be held in Estonia, at Tartu. My goal in these races is to get strong results and I hope that some pro team will see me and I can sign a good contract.

– So your big goal is to join the pro ranks soon.

I was pro once before, in 2013, with Amore&Vita, and that year was really difficult for me, both from a physically and psychologically point of view. I really hope it’s going to happen at the end of this year. If not, then I will try again next year. If I can’t do it then, I don’t really know what to say, maybe I’ll have to stop cycling. It depends on what conditions I can ride in the French amateur level and what will my motivation be. But one thing that’s certain is that I am doing all that I can in order to earn this desired pro contract.

Ivan Basso: “I’m prepared to help Contador win the Giro”

A two-time winner of the Giro d’Italia – a race in which he took six stage victories – Ivan Basso is one of the most successful Italian riders of the past 15 years. A pro since 1999, he raced for such teams as Fassa Bortolo, CSC and Liquigas, before eventually signing a two-year contract with Tinkoff-Saxo, where he joined Alberto Contador in his quest of making the legendary Giro-Le Tour double. Although he was the leader of his previous squads, Basso isn’t unsettled by the fact that he’ll now ride as a “lieutenant” of Contador in the mountains, where he’s expected to play a key role.

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to interview the 37-year-old cyclist from Gallarate and find out more about his preparation for the Corsa Rosa, his best memories from here and Alberto Contador’s chances of winning the Trofeo Senza Fine for the second time, after the 2008 edition.

– Ivan, the 2015 Giro d’Italia is your 9th since turning pro. Were you nervous before the start?

The days before the start are always nervous, because I feel like I’m ready to make my debut here. I’m focused to be at 110% and give everything, both for my fans and my team.

– You’ve won the trophy twice: in 2006 and 2010. Which of these triumphs you rate higher?

It’s impossible to pick one of the two trophies, considering the wins came în different moments of my career. What’s for sure is that each time I was very touched and the feelings I had are unforgettable.

– And how about your stage wins? Which is the most important one?

One of the victories of which I can say it means a lot for me is the one I got on the Monte Zoncolan, back in 2010, because it came on one of the most toughest climbs in Europe, and also because it came after a very difficult moment of my career. It was a turning point, one which I’ll never forget.

– How did you prepare for the race?

I trained for this race like I was going for the general classification, in order to be ready to give everything in case the team needs me. I’m very motivated for the Giro and fueled by the support I get from my fans. I also went on the recon of a couple of stages, like the Valdobbiadene individual time trial (ed. – stage 14) and the Monte Ologno, which comes in stage 18. Anyway, in a Grand Tour you always have to stay alert, because anything can happen, even on a flat stage.

– Is Alberto Contador the main favorite for the overall victory?

Alberto is prepared, both from a physical and a mental point of view. He didn’t leave anything to chance, he studied the profile of the race and wants to win this race. Il Giro is one of his biggest goals of the season. He has a huge talent, he’s very determined and ready to give everything in order to succeed, and I’m happy to help a champion of his tally

– Who is his biggest rival: Richie Porte, Fabio Aru or Rigoberto Uran?

All three are powerful rivals and we have to watch out for them in every single moment. They proved themselves in the past and they can be dangerous in many of the stages. It would be a huge mistake to underestimate them.

Serghei Tvetcov: “I want to finish the Giro”

One of the two Romanians to ride the 98th Giro d’Italia, Serghei Tvetcov came at the start of the event with confidence, after blending in the pro peloton of the European scene during his first four months with Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, the team for which he signed after having an impressive season in the UCI America Circuit in 2014. With the Italian outfit he got to ride some of the most important races of the calendar, and even scored a strong result in the Tour de San Luis individual time trial, where he came fourth.

Last week, before coming at the start of the Giro d’Italia – where he’s the only non-Italian cyclist of Androni – I got to talk to Serghei about his time so far with Gianni Savio’s squad and his goals for the Corsa Rosa, which marks his debut in a Grand Tour.

– Serghei, how were your first months with Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec?

They were amazing. The way the team is organized is really great and I got to do a lot of big races. I feel great with this group of people. The guys are nice, the sports directors are doing an excellent job, people are serious, but also know how to have fun. Of course, I need to gain a lot of experience in terms of racing, culture, nutrition and training, because every little detail counts, from your weight to your recovery and bike position. In my opinion, in Europe it’s impossible to have results if you have an extra 1-2 kg, you really can’t be at the top and can’t recover between races. Here you have to carefully choose in which events you are going to get a good result and in which just to train. So, coming back to the question, I think that this team really fits me and I can become a much stronger rider here, and for this reason I’m very glad that I decided to sign with Androni.

– What was the best racing experience up until this point of the season?

When it comes to one-day races, I must say Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo, especially as I want to do good in these races in the future. As for stage races, my prime pick is the Giro del Trentino, which has some great roads and views.

– Are you nervous before the Giro d’Italia, your first Grand Tour?

Actually, I’m not. I am pretty calm and I’m really looking forward to do the best I can for the team. A Grand Tour is a race that separates the boys from the real men.

– And how did you prepare for this?

I had a pretty busy racing schedule since January, because in my opinion, the best preparation is to race. Besides that, I focused on losing weight, while keeping my power.

– Did you get do a recon of some stages?

Yes, I had the chance to see the 18th stage (ed. – Melide-Verbania), but of course, in order for this to help me, I first need to get to the third week.

– What are your goals for the race?

My main goal is to finish the 21 stages, then to support our captain Franco Pellizotti and to learn, to get experience, which will help me in the future to get nice results. Besides that, I want to feature in some breakaways.

Eduard Grosu: “I’m confident ahead of the Giro”

In 1936, four Romanian riders lined-up in Paris for the 30th edition of the Tour de France: George Hapciuc, Virgil Mormocea, Nicolae Tapu and Constantin Tudose. They were all amateurs and under the age of 30, and the Tour de France was their career highlight in terms of events raced, but it  didn’t turn out to be a nice memory, as the weather, the crashes and the fast pace of the professional riders made their life a living hell in the first days of the race. Because of that, all four came after the time limit at various points during the race and were eventually disqualified.

Fast forward eight decades and Romania will again feature in a Grand Tour – the Giro d’Italia – where it will have not one, but two cyclists. One of these is Eduard Grosu, a 22-year-old coming from the town of Zarnesti, who rides for Italian Pro Continental outfit Nippo-Vini Fantini. One of the seven neo-pros who are at the start of the Corsa Rosa, he didn’t have the season he has planned so far, a cytomegalovirus and a mononucleosis hampering his preparation and race schedule. Despite of these problems, Edi Grosu fought hard to come back at a proper level and eventually made the team for the Giro d’Italia, where he hopes to help the squad, but also to make himself noticed during some stages.

– Edi, how was the Tour of Turkey?

It was a good race, very well-organized, and an important preparation ahead of the Giro. Overall, I really enjoyed the time spent there.

– What were your thoughts at the start of the race?

I wasn’t confident that I will have a strong week, as there were some question marks concerning my health, but soon I realized that all my problems were gone. I have some small regrets because I’m now aware that I could have had better results, but truth is it was my first race in a long time and it took a while to find my pace.

– You got a top 10 in stage two and went in a long breakaway on the last day. Looking back, what do you think of your display in Turkey?

In my opinion, I could have finished on the podium in the stage which finished in Antalya. After pulling for Daniele Colli in the finale, I went to the back of the pack with around three kilometers to go, and when we hit the last kilometer I was far in the bunch, somewhere around the 45th position. I just wanted to sprint to see how I would feel, and in the end I was very surprised to find out that I finished in the top 10. In the last stage, the team gave me “carte blanche”, as they wanted to go with Colli for the finish. So I went in the break and we were just four riders and there was a pretty strong headwind, so eventually we got caught with five kilometers to go, but it was pretty tight. During the stage I noticed that I have good legs, which gave me a lot of confidence for the Giro d’Italia.

– Now you’re heading to the Corsa Rosa. Did you get to look over the stages?

Yes, I know the parcours and I’m aware of the fact that it won’t be easy at all, but I hope that everything will be ok and that I can get over the difficult mountain stages.

– And what are your goals for the race?

I’m at about 60% of my potential now and if everything goes well, I will try to do something in the last week. At the beginning of the year I was focused on the first week of the race, but due to my health problems I had to change my targets, so now I will try to help the team and find my form, and eventually do something in the last stages.

Gianfranco Zilioli: Ready to lay his mark on the Giro d’Italia

When he was just 6-years-old, Gianfranco Zilioli has started cycling out of fun and to spend more time to his friends. Also back then, he used to play football a lot, which wasn’t recommended for a rider, as it was (and still is) an injury-prone sport. He mixed the two for a couple of seasons, but eventually, in his second year as a junior, the young Italian shifted his priorities, burned out some kilograms and decided to focus only on cycling, which turned out to be the right thing to do, as he became a pro with Androni Giocattoli, in 2014, after taking an impressive solo win as a stagiaire in the Gran Premio Industria & Commercio di Prato.

His first year in the pro ranks was equally impressive, with top 10 placings in stage races (Tour de Langkawi, Sibiu Tour) and one-day races (Giro dell’Emilia) alike, proving that he can become one of the most important Italian cyclists coming from the new wave. These results, alongside the determination displayed and his continuous development, have helped Gianfranco Zilioli make the team for the 98th running of the Giro d’Italia. Just before going to San Lorenzo al Mare, the rider of Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec sat down and talked for Café Roubaix about his season and expectations ahead of the Corsa Rosa.

– Gianfranco, you are a pro since 2014. How was the transition from the amateur ranks?

Can’t say it was easy, as I had difficulties with the changing of pace. I began the season with many kilometers under the belt, so the rhythm looked ok in the first months of the year, but once I took part in bigger races, where the peloton was much stronger, I found it hard to blend in and find my pace. On the other hand, I must admit I’m happy with the top 10 placings I got.

– What did you improve in the past year?

I became much stronger on the flat, but without losing the power I have on the climbs. And this was very important for me, as I’m a passista-scalatore.

– And on what do you still want to work on?

I’m very keen on improving my sprint. It doesn’t matter what type of rider you are, fact is that when you hit the final meters of a race and you’re not alone, it’s very important to have that extra kick that can help you take the win.

– You have 23 race days in 2015. Are you satisfied with the way things went so far?

My preparation for the first half of the season was a quiet one, which was very important. During the winter, I stayed in the gym and went trekking on the mountains, so that I can have a nice fitness level for the start of the season. Eventually I took my bike out for a ride, because I couldn’t stay any longer without it, as my first race of the year – the Tour de San Luis – came early.

– Recently, you finished 17th in the Giro del Trentino, after an aggressive display. How was the race?

The Giro del Trentino is an important event for the teams and riders alike, in order to find out where they stand before the Giro d’Italia. After the Settimana Internazionale di Coppi e Bartali, in March, I went at altitude together with Franco Pellizotti, in order to be well-prepared for the start of Trentino. During the race, and especially in stage two, I tried to stay with the best, and in the last day I wanted to keep to the team’s philosophy and go in the breakaway.

– Last season, in May, you raced the Tour d’Azerbaidjan. Now, one year later, you’re going to make your Giro debut. How do you see this experience?

I’m nervous and excited, and can’t wait to get to Sanremo to be with the team and support it. For me, as for many Italian cyclists, this is a dream come true. When I was just a kid, I was glued to the TV every day to watch the Giro d’Italia stages. After the stage was over, I used to take my bike to the garden and pretend I’m attacking during a Giro stage. Now I’m going there and I’m prepared to help the team and also go in some breakaways.

– What do you think of the course?

I think it’s a difficult one, but a very good thing is that there won’t be any long transfers, as this would have made a negative impact on the riders during the three weeks of the event. In a Grand Tour, it’s very important to get some rest and be fresh at the start of each day. If you get an extra hour of sleep a day, this means that at the end of the Giro you have one extra rest day in comparison to your opponents.

Dan McLay: “I grew in love with the Classics from very early on”

I wrote about Dan McLay in the past, so if you want to know more about his first years in cycling and the results he scored, just check this piece. A neo-pro this season, the young rider of Bretagne-Séché has quickly found his place in the peloton, winning a stage in the Tropicale Amissa Bongo and riding some of the biggest World Tour events of the calendar, including some Classics, which he dreams of winning in the future. Having already 27 racing days under his belt, the 23-year-old Brit is now preparing for the 51st edition of the Tour of Turkey, which starts this Sunday and will give plenty of opportunities to the sprinters.

Just a couple of days before heading there – after a two-week break following the conclusion of the Spring Classics – Dan McLay sat down and talked for Cafe Roubaix about his start to the season and the goals he has for the next months.

– Dan, after a couple of seasons in the U23 Lotto-Belisol team, you choose Bretagne-Séché to turn pro. What stood behind this decision?

Well, to be honest, there weren’t a lot of teams fighting over me so it wasn’t as if I could sit back and deliberate, as I didn’t receive any solid offers on the table. However, Bretagne-Séché provided a great opportunity to have chances to race for myself even in my first year as a pro, a great race programme and a relaxed environment.

– Do you feel you’ve blend in at Bretagne-Séché?

I think I need to learn French. Otherwise, everyone is very friendly and supportive though and it’s a good atmosphere in the team.

– Your first win came maybe sooner then expected, in just your second race with the team, the Tropicale Amissa Bongo.

Indeed. I was trying to lead out in stage three and eventually I finished first, but otherwise I think in that race I knew I should be fast enough to win at least a stage. It was an interesting experience for sure and overall it was fine. It was a lot like other races; aside from one or two little bits of disorganisation and a lack of wi-fi, there wasn’t so much different really.

– Although a neo-pro, you got to do some big one-day races. Was this the plan from the beginning of the season, or was it something that came along?

Yes, it was the plan. I wasn’t scheduled to ride Paris-Nice at first, but everything else was in the plan.

– Two weeks ago, you raced Paris-Roubaix. How was this first encounter with the “Hell of the North”?

I had some bad luck, having to change both wheels on the section prior to the Arenberg Forest, which really left me out of the race before it even started. I did feel good beforehand, but it’s so early it’s hard to tell. I punctured a couple of times after as well and then had to call it a day.

– You have a particular affinity to the Northern Classics. Why is that?

I think they are the biggest races someone of my type of rider can win. I grew in love with them from very early on.

– Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders? Which would you like to win in the future?

I don’t know, I think that Paris-Roubaix maybe suits me better, but I don’t know which I would prefer to win. For me you have to throw Milan-Sanremo in the mix as well, as it is such a beautiful finish with the balance being so fine as to who can win.

– With what thoughts are you going to the Tour of Turkey?

I feel good, I don’t know my role yet, but if I am sprinting I want to win or if I am leading out I want to do that perfectly each time.

– Is a Tour de France start on the table?

It’s not been talked about much, but I think it’s unlikely at the moment. I hope I can maybe change that with a good performance in the Tour of Turkey. But there’s still a long way to go until July. Right now I’m focused on Turkey, then the Tour de Picardie and World Ports Classic.

– And do you have any more personal goals for the rest of the season?

I want to win a race of a good standard with some big sprinters there.

Stuart O’Grady, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix

April 15th 2007. Dust is flying everywhere and the peloton is experiencing one of the hottest days in the history of Paris-Roubaix. A huge breakaway, of 32 riders, gets a gap in the 105th edition of the “Hell of the North”. It’s still early in the race, with around 240 kilometers to go, so the group doesn’t pose a real threat to the big favorites. After the Arenberg Forest, the escapees have a five-minute lead, which isn’t much, but somehow, the peloton misjudges the move and so, with around 25 kilometers left of the race, the riders at the front start realizing they have a real chance at winning the race.

That’s the moment when one of the cyclists decides to attack before the Bourghelles cobbled sector and powers away from his opponents, who don’t respond. He looks strong and the gap grows to more than a minute with just ten kilometers left until the finish, so he gives it all and keeps the chasers at bay. When he reaches the Roubaix velodrome, he’s up for the lap of honor, because nothing can change anymore. Under the eyes of the people gathered there, history is being written, as Stuart O’Grady becomes the first non-European cyclist to win the “Queen of the Classics”.

The Australian is already a Tour de France stage winner and world and Olympic gold medalist on the track, but this victory is one of the biggest of his career, after a great performance that leaves him speechless. Eight years after this moment and retired in the meantime, Stuart O’Grady anxiously awaits the start of the 113th edition of “Hell of the North” – this time in front of the TV.

It’s the race he loves and which gave his career a totally new dimension, so when contacted by Cafe Roubaix, he didn’t hesitate to preview it and have his say on the contenders.

– Mister O’Grady, what’s your take on the Tour of Flanders?

I thought Flanders was a great race to watch. Without Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, the race was as wide open as it has been in ten years. Every team director would’ve changed their tactics to be much more aggressive, and many more riders would’ve started the race believing they could win. Sky put 100% faith in Geraint Thomas to win, but they probably did too much work, and then when it became crucial, Thomas had no more teammates. Eventually, the strongest and smartest rider won.

– Were you expecting such a strong ride from Alexander Kristoff?

Yes, absolutely. After he won three stages and the GC in the Three Days of De Panne, he proved his form was incredible. He has the power. He has a great team, probably the strongest in the world at the moment, and he is full of confidence.

– Did something surprised you in the tactics of his rivals?

If anything, they were too aggressive and made too many silly small attacks. Big attacks win bike races. They needed to isolate Kristoff, and make much more solid attacks. Once a “sprinter” smells the finish , there is no way they will drop him.

– Is Alexander Kristoff the new Classics star of the peloton?

It’s hard to say. Without the main two riders, I cannot say that. He is the best at the moment, he’s certainly making the best of the situation.

– Many consider him the top favorite for Paris-Roubaix, although he said he prefers the climbs of Flanders to the cobbled stretches of Roubaix. What do you think?

Etixx, Sky and BMC have to be a lot smarter than they were last week. They cannot take him within 25 kilometers from the finish. I did not have him as my favorite, but after seeing his ride, I must say he is definitely sure of a podium if he keeps going like this.

– Who can be his biggest rivals for the win?

I have Zdenek Stybar as my favorite, Niki Terpstra second and Alexander Kristoff third. Why? Because I think Etixx will ride a lot smarter. They have more riders capable of going a long way from the finish: Vandenbergh, Terpstra, Stybar. But watch out for Luca Paolini. He is not the strongest, but he’s very cunning. Also Thomas should be up there again, and how good would it be if Wiggins won solo? That would be my dream for the race! But if Wiggins wants to win, he has to hang in there until 30-25 kilometers to go, wait for the other teams to panic and chase, then counter attack and go solo. Wouldn’t that be a great way to see off your road career?

– Do you see Sep Vanmarcke capable of redemption after a lackluster display last Sunday?

Vanmarcke races with his heart on his sleeve. This can be good and bad! I definitely think he is capable of winning, but his team isn’t the strongest and he has to remain calm and keep his cool, something he is yet to do. He needs some more experience. He will win Flanders and maybe Roubaix in the future.

– Another contender who disappointed was Peter Sagan, again in the finale, just like in E3 Harelbeke. What do you think is happening to him?

Sagan is obviously under the strain of a not very good team environment. When there is trouble in the water, the boat never sails smoothly. With Tinkov firing Bjarne Riis, there would be a lot of stress and tension around the team. This feeds down through the staff and onto the riders. There’s nothing you can do about it. He has just signed a very big contract for three years, so automatically he doesn’t have that same “killer” instinct that he had the last few years.

– There are 27 sectors of paves, three of which have 5 stars. The last of these is Carrefour de l’Arbre, of which the organizers said it’s going to be rougher than in the past. Can you please describe this sector?

Every sector is difficult, but the Carrefour is extremely difficult because it comes so late in the race, your body is wrecked already, your hands numb, every muscle in your body is aching. Now it’s up to your mind over your body. It’s a long sector with many sharp cobbled sections and very rough edges. It all hurts!

– The forecast for Sunday says it will be sunny and dusty. What kind of race do you expect?

I like sunny and dusty. Rain is a complete catastrophe. When it’s wet it is hardly a bike race anymore. It’s too much to chance and ridiculously dangerous. Dry and dusty makes for a better race.

– Many riders will come at the start with the win in their mind, but only one will get his hands on the trophy. What does it mean for a cyclist to stand in the center of the Roubaix velodrome and raise the cobblestone trophy?

To be honest, there are maybe ten guys who can actually win Paris-Roubaix. There are many that “dream”, but with the first stroke of bad luck will be looking at making that their excuse. Just to finish the race is a massive achievement. To lift the rock is the best moment a cyclist can ever wish for. Greater than a World Championships, it is the best feeling a cyclist can hope for. That and the Olympic Gold or winning a Tour de France, these are the moments everyone dreams for, but only a lucky few make it happen.

Vincenzo Nibali, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix

Dubai Tour 2015

In 2014, Vincenzo Nibali became the first Italian to win cycling’s greatest race in 16 years, thanks a masterful display in the three-week Tour de France. After scoring a victory in Sheffield with a late attack, he went on to put minutes into his rivals during the gruesome stage five, which took the peloton over the Paris-Roubaix cobblestones. Then, the rider of Astana got three more stage wins, all on mountain top finishes, equalling the feat of Fausto Coppi, Joop Zoetemelk and Laurent Fignon.

That triumph made him only the sixth man to win all of cycling’s Grand Tours and carve his place in history as one of the best ever riders. Now in his 30’s, Vincenzo Nibali is preparing to defend his Tour de France title this season, knowing that things will be even more difficult than last year. After beginning his season in the Dubai Tour, a race which was shortly followed by the Tour of Oman, the Italian is now ready for his first important appointment of the year: the 50th running of Tirreno-Adriatico.

Although he has a very busy agenda, Nibali said yes last week when contacted by Cafe Roubaix for an interview, which you can read in the following.

– Vincenzo, last year you won the only Grand Tour that was missing from your palmares. What do you recall from that experience?

It was an incredible adventure. To win the most important race in the world made me live one of the best moments of my life, a very emotional one.

– Which was the most important stage for you?

It wasn’t one of the four stages I won, but the cobbled one, in the fifth day of the race. Besides the gap that I created between me and my rivals, it showed me that I have all it takes to go home with the yellow jersey.

– What impact do you believe your win will have in Italy? Will it bring more sponsors and children to the sport?

The economic climate isn’t a proper one at the moment in my country, and the same goes for other countries, so it will be very difficult to convince sponsors to get involved. When it comes to young riders, I’ve started for some time many projects which aim to help them develop.

– Your 2015 season began in the Middle East. Are you satisfied with the way things went there for you?

Yes, I’m happy of these first races. The Dubai Tour and the Tour of Oman were very useful for my preparation, to regain my trust after such a long period off the bike and to get used again with the race conditions and hard pace.

– What are your thoughts before Tirreno-Adriatico?

I always start a race with the desire to give all that I have, so let’s hope it will be enough. The Monte Terminillo stage will be tough, but not decisive. There’s also stage four, which has a rolling terrain, with some interesting climbs and descents, that will give the riders plenty of opportunities to attack.

– Who will be your main rivals?

Without any doubt, Chris Froome (ed. – in the meantime, Froome has withdrawn because of health problems) and Alberto Contador, but although they had a previous encounter in a hard-fought Ruta del Sol, I don’t think they’ll have an upper hand on me.

– After Tirreno-Adriatico, you’ll race the Classics. Which would you like to win?

If I have to choose just one, then it has to be Liège–Bastogne–Liège. After this, my second favorite Spring Classic is Amstel Gold Race.

 

Davide Formolo: “I’ll do the Giro this season”

One of the youngest riders in the World Tour peloton, 22-year-old Davide Formolo has some very precise goals in his mind when it comes to his career. Touted by many as the next big thing to come from Italy, a country which rediscovered its passion and love for cycling, Formolo dreams of winning a Grand Tour in the future, but at the same time is aware of the fact that he has a long road ahead of him and has to work hard in order to get at the top and fulfill has career goals.

In 2014, Formolo has had a very impressive season, with top ten placings in strong stage races (4th in the Tour of Turkey and 7th in the prestigious Tour de Suisse), as well in many important one-day races, like the Gran Premio di Lugano or the Giro dell’Emilia. At the end of the year, when Cannondale and Garmin merged, it was no surprise that Davide Formolo was among the first riders to get a contract with the US-based team.

This year, the Italian cyclist opened his account with a podium in the Trofeo Andratx-Mirador d’Es Colomer, which was followed by a 7th place on the Alto do Malhão, in the Volta ao Algarve, a race which he finished 14th. Now, although he is busy preparing for his next goals, which include both Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro d’Italia – where he’ll test himself against the big guns – Formolo made some time to talk for Cafe Roubaix about his season.

– Davide, how was 2014?

It was a very important year for me. Taking into account the fact that it was my first pro season, my primary goal was to learn as much as possible. The way things went exceeded my expectations. I scored some very strong results, but the thing that made me the most happy was that I was consistent all year long.

– How did you prepare for this season?

During the winter training camps, I’ve worked a lot on the time trial bike. Also, I feel that now I’m much stronger in the long stage races.

– Next week you’ll be in Tirreno-Adriatico. What are your goals?

I had a strong start to the season, but now I’m ill and I hope to recover as soon as possible. I don’t know how things will go there. I’d like to get a nice result and I hope I will be fit enought to fight for it. Tirreno-Adriatico is a beautiful race, but very hard, and the riders who will be at the start are all strong.

– What do you think of Monte Terminillo?

I’ve climbed on the Monte Terminillo once, during my U23 spell. It happened in the Girobio, but on another side. I remember from back then that it’s a very hard ascent.

– What other races will you do after Tirreno-Adriatico?

I’ll go in the Criterium International and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco.

– Do you know if you’ll race a Grand Tour this year?

Yes, I’m going to be at the startline of the Giro d’Italia in May. It will be my first three-week race, and my main goal will be to test myself in the hard mountain stages, so that I can find out what my limits are.

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