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Archive for the category “Interviews”

Davide Formolo, on his 2014 season

He started cycling at the age of six, and 15 years later became a pro in the World Tour with Cannondale and already caught the eye of many with his strong results. His name – Davide Formolo – a big Italian hope and a rider tipped by many as a future Grand Tour winner. And why not? So far this season, he was 4th in the Tour of Turkey, 7th in the Tour de Suisse, and 2nd at the National Championships, where he lost only to Vincenzo Nibali, who now leads the Tour de France halfway through the race. Now, while preparing for the races he’ll do in the second part of the season, Davide made some time for the following interview.

– Davide, how were the years spent in the U23 ranks?  

There were good times, especially when I was with the team and was not racing. You could always find something fun to do. In terms of results, I can say that the most important was the 6th place in the Tour de l’Avenir. My regret is that I didn’t finish higher, but the good part is that I felt ok on the climbs.

– Your first important result as a neo-pro came in the Tour of Turkey (ed. – 4th place). Did you expect it?  

Honestly, no. The team’s coaches told me that I was at a good level, I had what it took to get a good ranking, so I raced without knowing how I’ll handle it, but with the hope that I’ll get a good result, which happened in the end.

– Two months later, you raced the Tour de Suisse. 

During Suisse I had many emotions, it was my first World Tour race, and it was something completely different. I am pleased with the final result, for me it was very nice to finish in 7th place.

– How were the National Championships?  

The team told me that I could get a good result, and that I can handle the race well, but I really did not know what to expect. So I decided to trust the team and do my best. In the end I was a little upset, because at the National Championships there’s a big difference between being first or second. I was really sad, because I’ve lost for only a couple of meters. Eventually, I calmed myself down and I said to myself that the second place it’s a fine result.

– What is your schedule for the second half of the season?  

I’ll go to the Tour of Poland, USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Tour of Alberta, Grand Prix Grand Prix of Quebec, and Grand Prix of Montreal. Currently, I have not talked to the team about my goals, but I want to give my best.

– Will you race the World Championships?  

I do not know. I’m not familiar with the parcourse and I have no idea if Davide Cassani is willing to go there with a neo-pro.

Yvon Sanquer: “We want a stage win”

One of France’s oldest teams, Cofidis came to the Grande Boucle with one well-defined goal: winning a stage, but this will be a difficult task considering that many other teams have the same goal, and also the fact that the last win of Cofidis here came back in 2008. Nicolas Edet, Egoitz Garcia, Cyril Lemoine, Luis Angel Mate, Rudy Molard, Daniel Navarro, Adrien Petit, Julien Simon, and Rein Taaramäe are the nine riders who started the Tour de France and Yvon Sanquer, the manager of Cofidis, is confident they can help the team have a strong race during these three weeks.

– Mister Sanquer, who will be the leader of Cofidis for the Tour de France?

This year is a different situation, so our goal is to win one stage. We don’t think of a good GC, even tough Dani Navarro was 9th last season. This year the Tour de France has cobbles and more tricky stages, so we know it’s very difficult to have a rider in the top ten. This is why we prefer to focus instead on a stage win. Dani Navarro is in good shape, his mind is focused on the Tour de France and he wants to be the one to win that stage. Anyway, we’ll take the race day by day.

– What are your expectations from Rein Taaramäe?

We hope he is ready to do some nice things, as he did in the past, now that he doesn’t have any health problems anymore. He came back at a good level just before of the Tour of Turkey and we are confident he can be a protagonist in the mountains. I know he wants to win a stage and if he does that it will be important for his confidence. During the Dauphiné he had a crash and it was difficult for him, but in the last stages he felt better, he attacked and showed he regained his legs. That was a good sign for the Tour de France.

– And how about Julien Simon?

He gives us many possibilities, because he is a puncheur and can get a good result in the stages with medium mountains. Remember he was close of winning a stage last year, in Lyon, but was caught with just one kilometer to go. I was impressed by his form at the National Championships and that’s why I think he can help us win a stage.

– In your team there’s also a rookie, Adrien Petit.

We have Adrien for the first half of the Tour de France. He had a good Vuelta last year, he developed a lot, and we are curious to see him in the cobbled stage, because he was strong in Paris-Roubaix. We hope to see him also on the flat, in the sprints, but we will also encourage him to attack and go in the breakaways.

– What do you think of the parcourse of the Tour de France?

The first difficult stage will be the second, which will not be easy to manage. After that, it’s important to escape without any problems from stage five, where many riders will have problems and lose time. The Vosges stages will be very difficult, even more difficult than the big mountain stages. I think we can have a surprise there, especially in the last stage. In the Vosges there are a lot of climbs, no flat, narrow roads, and we have to climb all the time. The stage to Risoul and the ones in the Pyrenees will also be tough, but I expect the Vosges stages to be the most difficult this year.

Ralph Denk: “Our team is built around König”

NetApp-Endura is one of the four Pro Continental teams invited to the Tour de France, and the team managed by Ralph Denk is keen to show to the organizers that they weren’t wrong to give them a wild card. All the riders are racing the Tour de France for the first time, but they are all determined to give everything and to help Leopold König, the team’s leader, to get a stage win and a do a good GC. More on these you can read in the following interview with Ralph Denk, for which I must thank Miss Sandra Schmitz, who helped me talk to the German manager of NetApp-Endura.

– Mister Denk, was it difficult to make the team for the Tour de France?

Yes, of course, very difficult, because we had to make unpopular decisions, hoping that those riders who have to stay at home will not take it personally and understand that we decided for the best of the team and from a purely sporting point of view.

– Many were surprised Sam Bennett wasn’t there, especially as he won three races this season.

We took two points into consideration, when we decided not to include the Tour de France into Sam’s program. Firstly, our leader for the GC, Leopold König, showed a great form recently. That made us confident to build our team at the Tour de France around him and to focus mainly on the GC. Secondly, we believe that a participation in this year’s Tour de France would come too early for Sam. Despite him being quite grown-up for his age, he is still young. He has been racing his first six months as a professional cyclist only. Obviously, I am more than satisfied with him being part of our team. But within the team management we have a responsibility for our riders that gives no space for any opportunistic short-term thinking. Our approach with Sam is much more long-term orientated. We want to build him up carefully and step-by-step. Compared to his last season, Sam already raced a very intense program and he did it very successfully. So after the Nationals, we’ll give him a break so he can build-up a proper form for the second half of the season. Starting with the RideLondon Classic in August, we strongly believe that Sam will add even more wins to his and the team’s account.

– What do you think of the Tour de France course?

I think it is a very balanced course, which suits any type of rider. For sure in terms of topography it is not the toughest Tour in history, but this is no indicator that it will be easy, because it is always the riders who design the race. One of the most difficult stages will be the 5th, during which you can’t win the Tour, but you can lose it. Everyone who experienced Paris-Roubaix knows that luck belongs to it as well and we hope that we’ll be lucky on the cobblestones.

– Leopold König will be the team’s leader. How is his form now, after the health problems that he experienced this season?

So far I believe he recovered completely. He raced well at the Bayern Rundfahrt (ed. – 4th place) and the Dauphiné (ed. – 11th place). So, we all expect him to be in good shape, that’s why we created the team around him. We can’t really compare the Tour with the Vuelta, but if he’s in a quite similar form in the second and third week, then he could repeat the result he had there.

– And what expectations do you have from the other riders?

I think that we are able to find a certain balance in the team to give every rider his chance to do something special and show his talents. Our main goal is to get a stage win.

Tony Gallopin: “The goal is to win a stage”

44 French riders will do the 101st Tour de France, and among them will be Tony Gallopin, the winner of the Clasica San Sebastian, who’s ready to race the Grande Boucle for the fourth year in a row, this time with his new team, Lotto-Belisol. After a comme ci, comme ça first half of the season, the 26-year-old rider is prepared for the most important race of the calendar, one in which he hopes to shine and finally get that stage win he’s been dreaming of since he began his career.

– Tony, this season you changed teams. How is the atmosphere in the Lotto-Belisol squad?

It was very easy to adapt here, because Lotto-Belisol has the same mentality as my former team, it focuses on the same things and all the riders are very nice.

– How was your season until this point?

It was a good season, but not a perfect one. I got some good results, although not the ones that I’ve hoped for. My first goal was Paris-Nice, where I finished in the top 10. Afterwards, I was 6th in E3 Harelbeke and 3rd in Brabantse Pijl, but then I had bad luck in the Tour of Flanders, crashing two times. In the Ardennes Classics I was working for the team, but I wasn’t strong enough, and this is why I said it wasn’t a perfect season.

– Are you satisfied with your last two races, the Criterium du Dauphiné and the National Championships?

In the Dauphiné I had really good legs, but I lacked the results. Still, I didn’t see this as a bad sign, because it was my first race after six weeks without any racing. I worked for Jurgen Van Den Broeck and I was happy he had such a good GC. At the Nationals, the course didn’t suit me, but I finished 10 th and I had a good feeling.

– And how are the legs before the start of the Tour de France?

It’s all good, but you can never know what will happen and how will you feel. I did all the best to be in good shape, and I want to see how the first week-end goes. I’m here to help André Greipel on the flat, but also Jurgen Van Den Broeck in the mountains. Then, maybe in some stages, like the one on Sunday, I will have more freedom and try to go for the win. My personal goal is to win a stage this year.

– Did you make a reconnaissance of some of the stages?

Of course, we got to see some stages and I’ve noticed that the second and the third week are the most difficult, but in the same time have many opportunities for a breakaway, so those stages really suit me.

– Do you expect a more difficult Tour de France than in the previous years you’ve raced?

No, I don’t think so. More or less, the Tour de France is difficult every year. It’s true there are cobbles and many mountain top finishes, but nothing has changed from my point of view. Maybe for the GC riders it will be tougher, but I expect a normal Tour de France, in which I will give everything to win a stage.

Alain Gallopin: Trek’s Tour de France team and goals

Matthew Busche, Fabian Cancellara, Markel Irizar, Gregory Rast, Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Danny van Poppel, Jens Voigt, and Haimar Zubeldia are the nine riders Trek Factory Racing will take to the United Kingdom for the 101st edition of the Tour de France. With just a couple of days before the start of the race, I caught up with Alain Gallopin, Trek’s sport director, who was kind enough to tell me more about the reasons behind this selection and the goals of the US team for the race.

– Mister Gallopin, was it difficult to make the team for the Tour de France?

It’s always difficult, because it’s sad to tell riders they have to stay at home. We have 28 riders in the team and half of them knew since the beginning of the year they will not do the Tour. Three months before, we have to select 15 names, then we have to give 13 names and after the Tour de Suisse, with two weeks before the Tour, we have to decide who will be the nine riders to make it into the team. It was difficult to make the selection for the Tour de France, because Frank Schleck injured in Suisse, Haimar Zubeldia can get a top 10, but he can’t win, while Andy we don’t know what he can do. He’s here to help his brother and during the Tour we’ll see what’s happening with him. I always say that everything is possible with Andy. We have a sprinter, but not a team just for him. Jens Voigt said last year that it was his last Tour. This season, he didn’t have a good start, but things went better and better, and he’s in the Tour.

– Can Andy Schleck cope with the fact that he will be a domestique after years of fighting for the yellow jersey?

I don’t want to say Andy is a domestique. Of course he’s not a favourite to win the Tour, because he has no results for three years, but he’s not a domestique. He’s here to help Haimar and Frank in the mountains, but can become the leader of the team depending on how he will feel during the Tour. We don’t want to put pressure on him, but he could do something in the second half of the Tour, from a breakaway, in the mountain stages. Our focus is to get a top 10. Haimar was 6th two years ago, Frank showed in the past he can finish in the top 5, and now, inspite of the injury, he can get a top 10. We’ll see what Andy can do, because as I already said, everything is possible with him.

– What would mean a good Tour for Andy Schleck?

There are two options for him: to do a good GC or to win a mountain stage, which we think is possible. There are many opportunities in the last week, and if he will not be a threat for the GC, then he can go in a breakaway and try to win a stage. It would help him a lot.

– Danny van Poppel comes back to the Tour one year after he wore the white jersey. What are your expectations from him?

In 2013, he was 3rd in the first stage. Danny is a real talent, but he had problems at the beginning of the year, because he did the Tour Down Under and afterwards it was difficult for him to be at his best, because of the jet leg and the fact the race was hard. He didn’t race a lot, but in the last months he did the Tour of California, the Tour de Luxembourg and the Tour de Suisse, and we selected him. He has the experience of last year’s Tour and we hope he can get a top 10 or a top 5. Of course, he doesn’t have a train, but guys like Fabian Cancellara and Gregory Rast can help, and you can never know what will happen in a sprint.

– Being so young, aren’t you afraid this Tour could burn him?

No, I don’t think this will happen. I’d say that last year he was young, now he is stronger. We will see during the Tour what happens to him and if he wants to stop or continue the race. A sprinter has problems finishing a Grand Tour because of the climbs, but Danny isn’t a bad climber, he’s a very complete rider and we’ll take it day by day with him. He’s also a good rider for the cobbles, where he will help Fabian.

– So that stage will be one of the main goals for the team.

When you have Fabian Cancellara on the team and you don’t focus on the cobbled stage, then you are not a good manager. Cancellara and Boonen are the best riders on the cobbles, but Boonen is not here, so Fabian is the big favourite for that stage.

– I’ve asked you this, because Cancellara had to protect the GC rider of the team four years ago and couldn’t fight for the win on the cobbles.

Now it’s more important for us to win this stage. In 2010, he pulled for Andy Schleck, who was 2nd one year before and at that time was one of the favourites for winning the yellow jersey. This year, Danny and Fabian will have freedom for this stage, because we have enough riders to stay with Haimar and Frank and protect them.

– What do you expect from stage 2 and 5, can we see a shake up of the GC?

Stage 2 will be important for someone to take the yellow jersey, because the sprinters will have problems there. I don’t think something can happen there with the GC riders. Things are different on stage 5, where one or more GC riders can lose the Tour. If Froome or Contador lose two or three minutes there, then their quest for the yellow jersey will be over.

– Which mountain stages are the most difficult?

The Alps aren’t so hard this year, the Pyrenees are more difficult, but the Vosges are the most dangerous. The teams need a lot of energy to control the race, and if this doesn’t happens and a big breakaway goes, then things will become very complicated for the rest of the Tour. Sometimes it’s easier to control a mountain stages at the end of the Tour than the Vosges.

Alex Kirsch: “My eyes are on L’Avenir and Ponferrada”

Alex Kirsch

Just 22-year-old and riding for the Leopard Development Team since 2012, Alex Kirsch is turning out to be one of the best all-rounders in the U23 ranks, with solid results in the Classics, individual time trials, sprints, and even some stage races, like the prestigious Tour de Normandie and Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux. This season, he had 11 top-10 placings, the highlight being a podium he got in the prologue of his home race, the Tour de Luxembourg.

But how did he became fond of cycling? What are his goals for this season and what plans does he have for the future? You can read more about these in the first-ever interview of Alex Kirsch.

– Alex, how did you start cycling?

My dad has always been a cycling fan, traveling to watch the Tour de France. One day, the Tour de Luxembourg passed through my hometown. I saw the bunch passing and even got a bottle. After that I said to my father that I wanted to start cycling. 

– What do you recollect from your first years?

The first years were not so serious. In my amateur team we learned a lot about team spirit and they put importance on bike handling skills. In Luxembourg nobody puts pressure on you in opposite to other countries where you have to fight early on to get into the national team. We had all these experiences without stress and had a lot of fun during the years. 

– How important were for your progress the seasons spent with Leopard Development?

The Leopard project was an important step in my development. In 2012 I said to myself: “now you focus on cycling and see how far you get”. Maybe I was still physically not ready for that, because I suffered a lot the first part of the season. But I got through and just progressed steadily from that point on. A Continental team is really what you need to progress, because the step from amateur to World Tour level is just too big. 

– What are your strong points?

I think my strong points are that I’m very serious and hard working. I had a lot of setbacks with knee injuries and sickness in the early years, but I always kept going and tried to pursue my dream, although the results didn’t come so early. I work a lot on my weaknesses to prevent injuries and just try to be the best athlete I can. 

– And what do you feel you still need to improve?

I’m still young, so I feel like I can improve in every field. Physically I think I can make further steps in the next years. Mentally I improved already a lot, because I can manage the pressure better, but I still need to be more confident. For example, it still feels strange that people see me as one of the favourites of a race. 

– This season you’ve got strong results in one-day races and stage races, but not a win. What do you thing you missed?

It is true that this season I am very consistent. I’ve been on the podium four times and regularly in the top 10. I think the difference between winning and getting second or third is experience. I was not used to be in the game for the victory so I still make some mistakes like attacking too much or at the wrong time. But the more often you come into the situation to win, the more experience you get to make the right decision or taking risks in the good moment. Of course, you also need that tiny bit of luck, like always in sport. But as we say in sports: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”! 

– Is there a mental pressure on you to get that first win?

No, there is no mental pressure at all. Until now my whole season has been a surprise to myself. Third in the prologue of the Tour de Luxembourg or in the time trial in a famous race like Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux felt already like a personal victory. It is true that now I came close a lot of times. My goal for the second part of the season is to go for that win, but it is not an obsession. 

– What’s the result you’re most proud of so far in your career?

Without any doubt it is 3rd in the prologue of the Tour de Luxembourg. I remember going to watch that race when I was a child. I could hardly imagine starting there one day, not even thinking about being close to winning. It is a category 2.HC race and I beat a lot of big names from World Tour and Pro Continental teams. That makes me proud and motivates me a lot for the future! 

– What is your schedule for the rest of the season? 

I will line up for the Oberösterreich Rundfahrt and the National Championships. I hope I can keep my shape high for these races, before taking a good rest. After that, my eyes are on the Tour de l’Avenir, which starts with a prologue, and the World Championships. I will have a good build up for those races with the Czech Cycling Tour and the Tour d’Alsace.

– And what goals do you have for these races? 

My main goals are the Tour de l’Avenir and the World Championships. I really want to do well there. But until that, there are so many beautiful races and I want to take every opportunity I can get.

– Did you give a thought about turning pro next year?

Turning pro has always been a long time goal, but now things start to get more serious. I don’t want to spend too much energy on thinking about that. I mean I’m still very young, I just try to get as many results as I can and do my best in every race and hopefully I get rewarded with a pro contract at the end of the season.

Joe Dombrowski: “The plan is to start the Vuelta”

When I spoke with Joe Dombrowski, he was in the French Alps, at Isola 2000, where he was preparing for the Tour de Suisse, which starts today. A rider with a huge potential for the stage races, the young American isn’t bothered anymore by the knee problems that troubled him in the first months of the year and is confident his season will become better and better from now on. Then, if he will be injury-free and will reach a good level in August, Joe Dombrowski will start the Vuelta, where there’s a strong chance for him to be among the protagonists and show why everybody tipped him as a future Grand Tour winner since 2012, when he was first in the Girobio.

– Joe, how would you describe your season so far?

So far it has been a bit of a slow start really, because I had a knee injury in the spring, so my first real race was the Tour of California. I did that and it went well, and then I came back to Europe and I started Bayern Rundfahrt, but unfortunately I had a crash in stage two and I had to go to the hospital and got some stitches. I’ve really not done so many race days yet, but I’m working forward to the Tour de Suisse and I’m getting my rhythm, even though I’ve had a slow start.

– What are the differences between your first season as a pro and your second one?

The biggest difference is the familiarity. Last year I was moving to a new team, a different country and there is a lot of changes, while this year I already had an apartment set up in Nice and I felt a bit like home. I know the area, everything was more familiar and you know what are you getting yourself into, while in your first year you’re doing all those World Tour races, you’re in a new team, new environment, it’s a big step up in terms of the level of the riders you are competing against. There is also a big lifestyle change, especially for us, the Americans.

– What did you improve this season?

There’s been on and off the bike improvements. Off the bike there is a big life change, setting myself in Nice. On the bike, with the injury I had this spring, I wasn’t really able to train a lot, but in the winter I’ve did a lot of gym and tried to work on my overall strength which should give me a lot of power and resilience.

– How important was the Tour of California for your confidence?

I think it was really important, because I didn’t have weeks of real training for California, and it was a big goal for the team with our sponsor 21st Century Fox, it was a big objective for them from the start, behind the Tour de France they really wanted to win the Tour of California as well. I wanted to do a good ride and support Bradley Wiggins in the mountain stages, it was a big step after a rough start, and gave me the confidence I really needed for the other races.

– Do you feel any pressure for getting that first win?

Yes, a little bit. There’s not pressure from the team, as we have great riders who get the wins, but there’s some pressure from yourself to perform, because everybody is getting to this level, by being driven and competitive athletes, so I think we all want to do well. Once you step up to World Tour racing it becomes more of a job and is not like in the amateurs where we all raced for ourselves. For myself I’d like to get some results this year, maybe not in the big races where we may have a Froome or Wiggins, but in some of the smaller races where the young guys can get more opportunities. Something like the Tour of Austria, Tour de L’Ain, or Vuelta a Burgos.

– With what goals will you start the Tour de Suisse?

We are bringing Wiggins to Suisse and he’ll be our GC leader. They are still trying to figure out what will our Tour de France team is going to be and some of the guys from the Tour de Suisse will be looking for a Tour de France spot. As for me, I hope I can help Bradley in some of the mountain stages, and just be there. That way, I think you can still show yourself in some of the key moments of the race.

– Did you get to talk with the team about a possible start in the Vuelta?

Yes, we talked at the beginning of the season and the plan is to start the Vuelta at the end of the year, I will really love to do that race, especially now that I had such a slow start to the season. I think it will work really well because Vuelta is late in the year and sometimes it’s good to go in these races fresher.

– And with what thoughts will you go there?

I guess it will depend on who will be sent as the leader. If there will be only young guys, then maybe I will get the chance to ride for the GC there without too much pressure, just being at the front in the important moments. If we will have a big rider who is going to be our GC leader, then I will also be ok with supporting him in the mountains and maybe try to get a stage win. If I will do that, it will be great. To ride the Vuelta will also be important for my experience, as you learn and grow a lot in your first three-week race.

Who is Greg Daniel?

Greg Daniel

Greg Daniel announced his presence on cycling’s big stage in the fourth stage of the Tour of California, which he finished in second place, after an escape that fooled the peloton. The native of Colorado – who is in his second U23 season – races for Bissell Development, a team that sent many riders in World Tour over the past seasons. Daniel – just 19-years-old – hopes to also make this step in the future, but until this happens he focuses on his next races and making himself noticed. At the moment, he hasn’t any races on his schedule, so I took advantage of this break and talked with the young American about his first years in cycling, his season so far, and future goals.

– Greg, you started in triathlon, but switched to cycling at the age of 13. Why was that?

I started cycling to follow in my uncle’s footsteps and to hopefully do the Kona Ironman. There was just one issue. I couldn’t swim. I enjoyed running and riding but when it came to swimming, I sank like a rock so I decided to stick with cycling. I did my first race not knowing what to expect and I won, and couldn’t stop winning, winning my first 3 races I did.

– How were your first years?

They were really enjoyable! I spent my first two years racing on a local team which concentrated on getting inner city underprivileged kids on bikes to get them out of the harsh neighborhoods they were growing up in. It was nice to race for a team and also give back to my hometown city by helping these families get out of their rough neighborhoods. When I was 16, USA Cycling invited me to go to Europe for the first time to race over there. I was ecstatic! I knew that all the big races are in Europe and USA Cycling gave me the chance to experience these races at such an early age. Without USA Cycling’s help, I would never be where I am today.

– You had good results on the road, but also in the ITT. Do you know what road would you like to follow as a pro? Or is it too early to figure it out?

I think it’s a bit too early to tell. I still have a few years to develop so I am keeping my options open. I’m just concentrating on being the best racer I can be at the moment and then letting the other disciplines develop on their own. I’d like to develop into more of a GC rider but to be honest, there is nothing like going in the breakaway. Makes the race more interesting.

– How did you end up riding for Bissell?

I knew Axel Merckx had a great program and he has sent more riders to the pro tour than any other team so that is the team to be on. In my mind, there is no better development team. Axel is a great guy and know what it takes to be a pro tour rider because he was there. His experience and expertise is priceless. I’ve learned so much over the past year and a half I’ve been racing with the team, and I can already notice a difference in how I race. He’s the reason why this program has been so successful.

– After a couple of promising results as a Junior, you won a race last year in Europe, in the Arden Challenge. How was that day?

That day was really surprising to me. I just came back from my appendicitis so I wasn’t expecting a result at that race. However, I just felt really good that day and felt that I may as well go for it. No sense it not trying because then you never know what could’ve happened. I could hardly believe I won that day, and to win solo was just surreal. But I would not have been able to do it without the help of the riders and staff of USA Cycling! They were behind me the entire way and I will never take the support they continue to give me for granted.

– You surprised a lot of people with your second place in stage four of the Tour of California. What did that result meant for you?

It meant so much to me. I could hardly believe it! This was a race I only dreamed of competing in, and to not only compete but to get second on a stage was fantastic! I honestly didn’t think the breakaway was going to make it so it took awhile to sink in. Obviously it was a bit bittersweet because that first place was just so close but I’m happy with second. Getting second only motivates me even more to get that win I’ve been dreaming of.

– I know you like Paris-Roubaix and this year you got the chance to race there. How was the whole experience?

To be honest, I was a bit nervous at the start. I’ve never raced on cobbles before, except for at flanders but I didn’t finish due to an illness. I really wanted to give my 100% at the race though so I made sure to get in the break to hopefully help out our team leaders later in the race. Sadly, back to back mechanicals forced me out of the break. That’s racing sometimes and Paris Roubaix is a race where you can’t afford to have any bad luck. The race was so much fun though and such a great learning experience.

– Will you come back as a pro?

I sure hope so. It’s Paris Roubaix and it has a beautiful history. I had so much fun racing it and what I learned in those 4.5 hours of racing is priceless.

– What are the differences between racing in Europe and racing in the US?

One big difference is the road size. In the US, the roads are so wide that position isn’t necessarily hard to get. When in Europe the roads are so small, you need to be more aggressive to stay up there. Luckily, since the roads are small, you don’t get swarmed often so if you’re at the front, you stay at the front. If you’re in the US at the front, you can easily get swarmed by the peloton and if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself at the back in no time. Besides that, it depends on the race. I noticed that big races like the Tour of California are very organized, while in many U23 races, since the teams don’t have as many riders, it’s more hectic. I think it’s important though to get both European and US racing under your belt because they both offer vital lessons in racing, and the only reason I was able to get a taste for both European and American racing is through the continued support of USA Cycling which sends young Americans over there for that very reason, to develop the future of American cycling.

– I know that the National Championships are next. With what goals will you go there?

I would like to win the time trial. Time trials are a true test of fitness and strength so those are always my favorite. The road race is sometimes difficult to call because it can be a bit hectic but I think Bissell will have a good chance at keeping both the national titles.

– What’s your schedule for the second half of the season?

I’m not sure yet. It depends a lot on invites Bissell gets. I’d like to do Cascade, Tour of Utah and Colorado, and hopefully Worlds, but it all depends on who’s going well at certain times of the year and if Bissell even gets invited to Colorado. Colorado is my hometown race though so if I were to do that race, I’d be really motivated for a good result there. It’s not often I get to do races in my home state, let alone my home country.

– And what expectations do you have from these races?

It’s hard to say. Bissell will have some good riders for the GC but I’d like to give it a go and go for a stage win. We have some great riders though on the team so I will also try to help their chances as well to get a good overall results or maybe help lead out some of our sprinters on the flatter stages. And I’d like to do the TT at worlds and see if I can get a good result there. The World’s road race will be a good course for me but the USA has a lot of strong riders this year so if someone is looking like they have a good shot at winning or getting a podium, I will gladly try my best to help them.

Sam Bennett: “Would be fantastic to race the Tour de France”

Sam Bennett

In his debut season, the great Sean Kelly won four races. More than three decades later, his compatriot, Sam Bennett, who competed for Team An Post between 2011 and 2013, had a brilliant start as a neo-professional and scored all the wins of NetApp-Endura this season: Clasica de Almeria, Rund um Köln, and stage 5 of the Bayern Rundfahrt. His results made NetApp-Endura include him on the provisional list for the Tour de France, where the 23-year-old Irish rider could make his debut in a Grand Tour. If this will be the case or not, it remains to be seen in the coming weeks. No matter what happens, Sam Bennett is pleased with how things went so far in 2014 and is eager to get new wins and confirm his huge talent.

– Sam, did you expect to have such a good start to the season?

Not really. I wanted to continue from where I left off last year and get consistent results, and I really didn’t know what to expect as a first year pro. I’m very happy for the way things turned out, it’s fantastic to already have three wins. If you would have told me at the beginning of the season I would do that, I would have been more than happy. Now it’s funny, because I have these wins and I’m already looking for my next results.

– What was the most important win?

For my confidence, I have to say the Rund um Köln, because it was my first race in Germany this year and with a German team the expectations are always high. To be able to deal with this pressure and pull of a win after a late sprint was great for my confidence. Also, to be able to win again showed that my first win wasn’t a fluke and that I can win these races. My self-belief was up after the win in Köln and helped me a lot for my next races.

– How was the transition from a Continental to a Pro Continental team?

It wasn’t so hard, because with An Post I realized that if I won some races I’m ready to win other races. It was strange for me going to a new team, after three years with An Post. It was difficult to learn how the team works, to get settled in, but everybody was very nice and helpful, supportive all the time. When everything is so well organized, your job at the end of the day is much easier.

– Was there any particular moment you had to overcome since turning pro?

I think my first race – the Tour of Qatar – was the hardest we expected to have a bunch sprint in the first day, but it didn’t come to that, even if the team was ready to support me. To come in a Pro team and to lead that team brought a lot of pressure and it was difficult to manage that. The first stage in Qatar was very frustrating, but I’m over it now, my team mates always do a fantastic job, they support me 110%, and I got used to that now.

– What do you feel you still have to improve?

My strength, which is very important in order to get easier over the climbs and to get good results in stage races and in Grand Tours, where you have to be stronger day by day. With that strength you get to the finish line fresher. For me, the fresher I get to the finish, the quicker I am there. So my strength is the thing I really need to work on.

– How is your lead-out train after half a season?

At the beginning of the year it was something new for me to have a lead-out train, after a couple of seasons when I had to do the sprints on my own. We improved something with every race, as we had to adapt to each situation we faced. We had an excellent communication, all was very good in the last races and the pieces are coming together.

– Now you could race the Tour de France in your first season as a pro. What would this mean for you?

To go in the Tour de France would be fantastic. I don’t know the plans of the team, but I would love for this to happen. It would be great for my experience and further development, considering I could pick stages, instead of going to the battle each day. I’m not putting to much pressure and I can’t expect anything as a neo-pro, with so many good riders in the team. If it comes away, it comes away, if it doesn’t, I will keep my chin up and look forward to my next race, whatever it will be. Many pro cyclists want to ride the Tour de France, but don’t make it, so it would be a great thing if I will go there.

– You’re a very versatile rider: good in the sprint, on the climbs, and on the cobbles. What races would you like to win?

I think there are two categories here: what races I dream of winning and what races I have to be realistic I can win. I would certainly love to win some bunch sprints in some Grand Tours, that would be fantastic. I also think everybody dreams of becoming world champion, that would be another dream come true. Other goals are winning something like the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, or the sprint on the Champs-Élysées. If I could continue being consistent I would be content. It’s funny that when you get a little bit of success, you always want more, but it’s something perfectly natural and it shows that you can progress.

Louis Meintjes: “I want to ride the Vuelta”

African cycling made some tremendous progress in recent years, largely thanks to the work of MTN-Qhubeka, the first Pro Continental team from that continent. Team manager Douglas Ryder gave many riders a chance to perform in the big races of Europe, and among those who were able to take advantage of this opportunity was Louis Meintjes, the talented 22-year-old rider from Pretoria.

After he finished second in the U23 Road Race at the Firenze World Championships, Meintjes had a great start to the season in 2014, taking the win on the road at the National Championships. Afterwards, he finished 11th the Tour of Langkawi and 2nd the Mzansi Tour, but the best result came in the Giro del Trentino, where he came home 5th and took the white jersey after an impressive ride in the last stage, on Monte Bondone. Now, Louis Meintjes is preparing for the next races, but he made time for this interview in which he talkes about his results so far and the objectives he has for the second half of the season.

– Louis, you’ve had a great first half of the season so far. Did you expect to get so many strong results?

No, not really. Must say I’m very happy with how my season has gone so far.

– What’s the result that makes you the most proud?

The second place on the last stage of the Giro del Trentino. It is a race that really suits me and it was my first goal of the season.

– Two days later, you raced the 100th Liège–Bastogne–Liège, your third start in a Monument, and finished 61st. How was that experience?

It is a really nice race and I would really like to focus on it in the future. It was also not too far from where I stayed in Belgium when I was racing as a Junior and during the first two years in the U23 ranks. I had a lot of good memories, my legs also felt pretty good, but I’ve had some bad luck with a crash at 160km and had to change bikes and spent a lot of energy to get back to the bunch. On the other hand, my ride there made me think I can win such a Classic in the future.

– It’s obvious you’re turning into a very good stage race rider. What are your strong points?  

I like both the Classics and the tours. My climbing form is really good right now, but I have to improve my time trial. If I can do that, it will give me a lot more tours that I can target for a good GC result.  

– What’s your programme for the next months?  

I’ll ride the Bayern Rundfahrt, the Tour de Suisse, and the Österreich Rundfahrt. Afterwards, I really want to do the Vuelta, racing for three weeks will be new for me, so it is hard to set goals now, but to win a stage would just be amazing.

– And what other goals do you have for this season?  

I am still U23, so I would really like to go to the World Championships again and see what I can do there.

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