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Archive for the category “Interviews”

Mads Würtz Schmitz: “I want to win a race this season”

Danish cycling has been on the rise for a couple of seasons, with many young riders working their way up thanks to some impressive results. One of this cyclists is Mads Würtz Schmitz, who produced a sensational ride back in 2011 to win the gold medal in the Junior ITT race at the Copenhagen World Championships, before making a name for himself on the U23 scene.

Riding for CULT Energy Vital Water, Mads began the 2014 season with big ambitions and some solid results, but things changed after a crash in May. Since then, the talented Danish rider fought hard to come back at his very best and after a long journey, is now he came out of it even stronger than before.

– Mads, how do you see this first half of the season, which had its ups and downs?

I’m satisfied with my season so far. I’ve had some good results in the start, but no UCI win. But all’n’all I’m happy. I’ve had some mental problems after a crash in the 1.2 race Himmerland Rundt, so for a long period of time I wasn’t myself, and that made it difficult for me to perform on the bike, as well as in private life. But my team bosses got to me and we made a plan to get me back at my normal level. They helped me really much, and still do. I think this period of time have been good for me, even though my physical development stopped and I didn’t perform much in the races. For my mental side it has been a very hard process, but on the other side, I feel I know myself much better and I think this process made me even stronger on the bike. The life as a pro rider is really a tough way of living and many break down like I did this season. But in the pro life, it’s rare that you get help, you are just by yourself. I’m sure that what happened will help me a lot in the future. I’ve learned a lot from it and I’ve got some new tools to use when things are going bad in order to make it better again. So despite the problems, I feel good and comfortable with my season so far.

– Recently, you’ve won a Criterium in Aalborg. How important was that win for your morale?

The win in Aalborg was one of my most important wins in my carrier. I’ve struggled the whole summer with my mind. I still did some hard work on the bike, so my physical form was good, but my mind wasn’t there yet. So in Aalborg I finally succeeded and got a win ahead of Jakob Fuglsang. After the victory I got back the feeling I’ve had in the spring, that I could be again one of the best. So it was a really important win for me.

– Were you disappointed not being selected for the Tour of Denmark?

I’ve expected not to be in the selection for the Tour of Denmark. Of course I really wanted to race, but I’m in such a strong team that I have to be at 100% to go to a race that’s important for the team. I wasn’t at 100%, so I expected not to race, but this doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed not to go there.

– How are your legs after the training camp in Italy?

Now I’m feeling great. While my team raced the Tour of Denmark, I went on a training camp in Lucca, where I had a really hard week and really trained myself so hard in that one week that I couldn’t walk or do anything without sore pain in my legs. For me, the week was perfect. I knew I had to do something extraordinary now I wouldn’t race the Tour of Denmark. I needed to simulate my own stage race, so I wouldn’t be missing some hard hours on the bike.

– In what other races will you go this season?

I’m on my way to Tour de L’Avenir right now and the after L’Avenir, I have a race in Belgium and then some races in Denmark. As it is now, I’m not racing at the Worlds. But I’m the first guy in line for the U23 road race if any of the guys gets injured.

– And what goals do you have?

My goal is to perform at my best level in L’Avenir. I hope to be there for the team and maybe even be in the final for a stage win. I go to France with confidence and I believe I can do good. But my main goal is to get back completely mentally, and to find my top level before the season ends. And then I hope to take a win in a race. I don’t care which race. I just want to end the season with a top podium spot.

– What are your plans for 2015?

I haven’t made plans for next year yet, but I hope to stay with Michael and Christa Skelde on CULT Energy Vital Water.

Dylan Teuns: “BMC – the most important step of my career”

Dylan Teuns

The Tour de l’Avenir, the most prestigious stage race on the U23 scene, starts today, and one of the riders who are hoping to shine in France is Dylan Teuns. The 22-year-old Belgian cyclist of BMC Development has had a strong season so far, with stage wins in the Tour de Bretagne and Giro della Valle d’Aosta, and podiums in other important races, such as Liège–Bastogne–Liège and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. His potential didn’t go unnoticed and so the BMC Racing Team offered him a multi-year contract from next season.

After the 2.HC Tour of Utah – another race in which Dylan Teuns had a solid ride, winning the best young rider jersey – I caught up with him and asked him a couple of questions about his season and future plans.

– Dylan, in the first part of the year you had many strong results, including some wins. Which was the most important and why? 

I think the most important one is my victory in Tour de Bretagne, because it was the third time I raced there and I had seen that the guys who did well in Bretagne – Riccardo Zoidl, Julian Alaphilippe, Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg – went pro the next season.

– Do you have any regret?    

The only regret I have is my second place in Liège–Bastogne–Liège, where I made the mistake of thinking that I had won and didn’t expect anyone to pass me, but that is racing.

– How important was BMC Development for your development?

I learned a lot from Rik Verbrugghe, his experience in race tactics and riding a final helped me a lot.

– A couple of weeks ago, you raced the Tour of Utah. How was it?

It was an amazing experience, it was my first race with the BMC Pro Team as a stagiaire and my first on another continent. I arrived in Utah one week before the race to meet up with the team and all went very well. Utah is very beautiful and the sceneries are breathtaking, I liked it a lot. To be the best young rider and end up in 18th place in such a race gave me huge confidence for next season.

– Now you’re going to L’Avenir. What do you think of the parcours?

It’s the third time I will race the Tour de l’Avenir and the parcours is always relatively flat in the beginning and builds up for the climbs on the last days of the race. I like the last stages more than the first ones. I always have the feeling that I become better at the end of a stage race.

– And what are your expectations? 

I always try not to have too much expectations. Of course, I’d like to win a stage, but there is only one rider who can be first. My goals are to be at a good level on the final climbs and to be in a good position in oder to fight for a stage win. A top 10 in the GC would be a good result.

– Next year you’ll turn pro with BMC. How important is this for your career?

This is the most important step of my career, there is no other step up, and to start my career with a World Tour team like BMC is a dream come true. But I have still a lot to learn and I am really happy that BMC has given me the chance to grow and to become a pro cyclist.

– Ok, one more thing: please tell me three races you dream of winning in the years to come. 

A stage in the Tour the France, the World Championships, and Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

Odd Christian Eiking: “I want a top-3 finish in L’Avenir”

Odd Christian Eiking

In his first season with Team Joker, 19-year-old Odd Christian Eiking already made some waves in the races he did and showed himself to be one of the most brightest prospects of Norwegian cycling. After a 3rd place at the National Championships in June, he raced the Giro della Valle d’Aosta and had a superb performance, finishing 2nd in the GC. That result – the best of a Norwegian rider in the Italian race – made him more confident ahead of his next two big goals of the season, the Tour de l’Avenir and the World Championships.

– Odd, how did you start cycling?

It all started when I was 10. At that point I wasn’t into the Tour de France or anything like that, I just started because I liked to ride my bike. The first couple of years it was nothing serious, I played football and did cross-country skiing. Only when I was around 14-15 years I started to get more serious.

– Did you have an idol you looked up to?

I’ve had a couple of idols that inspired me, but the rider I think is the most inspiring is Alberto Contador, because of his attacking riding style.

– How would you describe yourself as a rider?

I have proven I’m good on the climbs and in the tougher races, but there are still some things I need to work on. For example, I want to be a better time trialist. Also, I have to improve my positioning in the peleton.

– How did you end up riding for Joker?

I had a pretty good Tour of Berlin last year (ed. – 3rd in stage 1 and 10th overall) and a couple of weeks after that I’ve won a race in the National Cup. Joker is the best team in Norway, therefore it was natural for me to say yes when they came with a contract offer.

– In June, you were very impressive at the Nationals and finished 3rd. How was the race?

The race was like many other Championships, pretty tough with many small breakaway attempts all day. In the second-to-last lap I managed to break away with some other guys. The last time up the only hill on the circuit I tried to attack and go solo, but I was caught on the flat section before the finish. Afterwards, I was pretty thrilled with my 3rd place, it was above the expectations I’ve had before the start.

– One month later, you’ve had a great Giro Valle d’Aosta, finishing 2nd overall and in the top 11 of each stage. Did you expect such results?

I came into that race aiming for a top result. I thought I could do a top-5 result, and I was 3rd before the final stage. Finishing 2nd in the end was a really good result for me.

– What other races will you do until the end of the season?

The next race now is Tour de l’Avenir, where I hope for a podium finish in the GC. After that, I’m going to the World Championships in Ponferrada.

– Are you thinking about turning pro next year?

I think I will stay with Joker for one more season, at least the first half of next year. It can be good for me to gain more experience before turning pro. But I will take a decision after this season

– And what dreams do you have?

My dream is to get a nice result in the Tour de France, and by this I mean to do a good GC or to win a stage. I think I could also do pretty good in some of the Classics, like Liège–Bastogne–Liège or Il Lombardia.

Fredrik Ludviggson: “I hope to be in the World Tour next season”

Just 20-year-old and in his first season with Giant-Shimano Development, Fredrik Ludvigsson had a strong year, and despite of a knee injury, clocked some good results in the Circuit des Ardennes, the Tour de Normandie, Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and also at the National Championships.

Now he is ready for a new chapter of his career, which will start in just two weeks, when he’ll ride for Giant-Shimano as a stagiaire in the Arctic Race of Norway. More on his season and the expectations he has for the next races you can read in the following interview, which I did last week, when Fredrik Ludvigsson was preparing for the Tour d’Alsace, his first race in a month.

– Fredrik, how did you start cycling?

I’ve started cycling a long time ago as a mountain biker, when I was just nine. My brother (ed. – Tobias Ludvigsson) did mountain bike, so I also wanted to try, I did that and I liked it, and then I started cycling. At that time, I was also playing ice hockey, so in the winter I trained for ice hockey and in the summer for cycling. I did that for a really long time, but then I stopped playing hockey when I was around 16 to focus on cycling.

– How were the first years?

My first years were good, I had talent and I won some races, so it was fun, even if the level in Sweden isn’t great. Cycling in Sweden is not so big and there aren’t many riders, but we have some strong cyclists and it’s really difficult to win races.

– Last year you rode for Team People4you–Unaas Cycling, while this year you are riding for Giant-Shimano Development. Can you make a comparison between the two teams?

There aren’t big differences, I’ve did some good races last year and also now, but last year everyone talked the same language compared to this year, when we have a lot of different kind of languages. Of course, Giant-Shimano Development is more professional, but the differences aren’t so big. I have developed my language skills and I’m also a bit smarter than last year. Unfortunately, because of the injuries and the other problems I’ve had, I didn’t develop so much and the results of this year weren’t as good as those of last season.

– In the past two seasons you’ve had some impressive results. What’s the one that makes you the most proud of?

That has to be the ITT and the GC win in the Boucle de l’Artois. It’s not the biggest race in the world, but to get a win is always nice.

– You are a good time triallist, but you also climb well. Are you thinking of developing into a stage race rider in the future?

That’s true, and I also have a good recovery and just feel better and better with every stage. In the future, if I can develop my time trial and my climbing skills, I think I can do well in stage races like Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, and of course, in the three Grand Tours.

– Did you expect to be selected as a stagiaire for Giant-Shimano from August 1st?

No, actually I didn’t expect this after having a year with a lot of injuries and knee problems. But maybe they saw some potential in me, because I had pretty good results in some hard stage races, despite my leg problems, so they wanted to see me also on the big stage, which makes me very happy. Being a stagiaire is something really big for me, a dream come true, to ride at the highest level with the best riders in the world is just crazy, and I’m going to give everything I can to do well, so that next year I can make my World Tour debut.

As a stagiaire, you’ll ride the Arctic Race of Norway and the Tour of Britain. What will be your expectations for these races?

I want to have good results in the GC of both races, but I don’t know if it will be possible in Norway, because in the last four weeks I didn’t train almost at all on the bike, after a long first half of the season with many health problems and many races. I had a long rest after the Swedish Nationals and then I just did some mountain bike, running and gym for seven days. Afterwards, I was sick for a week, so in the last four weeks I’ve lost a lot of training. But we are going to both races with really good teams and I want to do a good job for the team. Besides the Arctic Race of Norway and Tour of Britain, I also want to get a good result at the World Championships.

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 parcours 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 parcours 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.

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