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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-Seche 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.

Kevin Ledanois: Huge talent, huge ambitions

The beauty of the non-World Tour races that take place in the second half of the year is that they give stagiaires the possibility to shine and sign a pro contract for the next season. This was the case with Kevin Ledanois, who rode last August the Arctic Race of Norway, which he finished 6th, just 29 seconds behind the winner, Alexander Kristoff. That result draw the attention of many pro teams, which saw there’s much more to Kevin than the name of Ledanois.

A real talent, which has the potential to become a great all-rounder in the near future, the 21-year-old eventually signed with Pro Continental team Bretagne-Séché Environnement, where he’ll have the perfect environment – one without much pressure – to develop and start scoring some nice results in the races he will do. Having the necessary confidence and ambition to make it as a pro, Kevin Ledanois is sure that his first season will be an important one, despite his young age and lack of experience.

More on this, but also on his big goals for the future, you can find out by reading the following interview he gave to Cafe Roubaix.

– Kevin, you started with football, then switched to cycling. What made you do this?

I played football because all my friends did it when we were young. But when I was 13, I wanted to try the sport that made my father well-known, so I switched to cycling and I loved it from the first day. I think starting cycling later than others helped me, because I wasn’t burned off when it came to increasing the workload I needed in order to progress. I have many friends who stopped cycling because of that, inspite of the fact they were really good and strong.

– How much did it help in your first years to have your father alongside?

At the beginning it was not very important to have the experience of my father, because he let me do what I liked and learn from my mistakes. Then, after I turned 18, he gave me many advices regarding my training and I’m very grateful for all that he did for me.

– Looking back, how do you see your years as a junior and U23 rider?

All my previous teams were important in my development. I joined my first club – Saint Jean de Monts Vendée Cyclisme – when I was 13-years-old and stayed there until I was 17. It was nice there, because they gave me the permission to train alongside my friends, without any kind of pressure. After that, I signed with Team U Nantes Atlantiques as a junior for my last year in this category and for my first two years as an U23. This period was really important, because it was in this team that I’ve discovered the best amateur level and I did my first races with pro riders, during the Tour de Bretagne. My last U23 season was with CC Nogent sur Oise, a famous team in France, which helped many riders – like Brice and Romain Feillu – to become pros. My 2014 year was fantastic until the end, I had a great season and I must thank my team, because it was really incredible.

– Last year you won the Tour du Jura. What meant that victory for you?

The win in the Tour of Jura means that I really have what it takes to be amongst the best riders of my generation and thus do some nice things in cycling. I won the race ahead of riders like Remy Di Gregorio and Mathias Frank, and this was very important for my confidence.

– Besides that, you scored some other impressive results, one of which was the 6th place in the Arctic Race of Norway, after a strong display.

The experience I had in the Arctic Race of Norway was an amazing one. I played a big role in an important race, which was won by Alexander Kristoff, who was coming there after a great Tour de France. Then, when a rider of Thor Hushovd’s caliber came and talked to me, I realized just how big my performance was.

– What was the biggest disappointment of last season?

Without any doubt, the World Championships in Ponferrada. I can’t say that I was the strongest rider in the race, but maybe if I would have attacked later, I think I could have won the rainbow jersey, or at least finish on the podium. I guess we’ll never know what could have happened.

– Being such a versatile rider, do you think of riding all the Monuments in the future?

I have many ambitions for the years to come. I want to learn fast and ride all the big races, from the Tour de France to all the Classics. I have the ambition to do all that, because without ambition you can’t fix a goal. The Classics and the stage races are an important part of my future, I dream of getting many big wins in the next seasons and show what I’m capable of.

– How were the winter training camps with Bretagne-Séché?

The atmosphere in the team is really great. We all get along fine, and this is very important in order to get results. During the training camps, I’ve noticed that the main difference between an amateur and a pro rider is the preparation. When you are an amateur, you can begin the year at 70% or 80% of you capacity, because your objectives come later in the season. When you are professional – and we can see that with cyclists like Valverde, Nibali, or Pinot – you have to be in great from since the beginning of the season.

– And what is your program for the first part of the season?

After the Grand Prix La Marseillaise, I’ll do Trofeo Laigueglia, Classic Sud Ardèche, Drôme Classic, Paris-Troyes, and the Volta a Catalunya. The Spanish race will be my first big goal.

Patrick Konrad: “I hope to race the Tour de France this year”

Patrick Konrad

As a child, Patrick Konrad tried many sports – football, running and jiu-jitsu – but when he finally discovered cycling it was love at first sight, and he decided to pursue a career here. So he joined a local team before turning 14, raced against older boys and scored some strong results from the first races, which gave him the confidence that he can become a successful pro one day.

Then, as the years passed, the young Austrian began to show his potential in some of the most important amateur races, like the Course de la Paix or the 2013 Tour de l’Avenir, where he finished third. That result announced what was to come a year later, when Patrick Konrad had an excellent season, winning the Oberösterreich-Rundfahrt and a stage in the prestigious Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux, as well as coming 4th in the Tour of Austria, behind three World Tour riders, all much more experienced than him.

A very strong climber, the 23-year-old Austrian also has a fine time trial, and these skills combined with his impressive CV were for enough for Bora-Argon 18 to take him as a stagiaire for the summer of 2014, before giving him a contract. Now, entering his first pro year, Patrick Konrad has huge ambitions and is very determined to build on the results he had in the U23 ranks, in order to show everyone that he has a nice future in the sport’s biggest stage races.

– Patrick, you began cycling around a decade ago. How popular was the sport back then in your country?  

When I started cycling it was ok, we had some good international pros, like Georg Totschnig, whom I remember winning a mountain stage in Tour de France (ed. 2005, Ax 3 Domaines). When I started cycling I did it with some friends; we were 8-10 young guys, a really nice group that had fun all the time on the bike.

– Does it get more media attention now?

Yes, in the mean time cycling became more famous in my country, the media and the newspapers are more interested, because there are many young new talents in Austria, like Riccardo Zoidl, Matthias Brändle, Georg Preidler, my teammate Daniel Schorn and I, as well. Now we have a mix of good young riders and the media and the journalists know that, they are interested in the way we prepare in the winter and how we perform during the season.

– You’re a strong climber and a good time trialist, but is there something that you will like to improve?  

To be frankly, I want to be better in both. I had a good time during the training camp in Mallorca, I did an aerodynamic test and the team really supported me so far. As I said, I’m keen to improve my climbing and ITT, because I want to show my talent in stage races and I want to get as soon as possible good results for my team.

– Let’s talk about your results as an U23 rider. How important was winning the Oberösterreich-Rundfahrt?  

It was a really huge victory for me, it was my first win in an U23 stage race and it was even more important as the Oberösterreich-Rundfahrt was the home race of my team at that time. It was really important for us to get a big result there. Fortunately, my season planning was fine, everything worked and I got the victory.

– Less than one month later you came fourth in the Tour of Austria. What did it mean for you to finish ahead of so many World Tour riders?  

It was a really nice week for me and it showed me that I can perform well in a professional peloton. That result gave me a lot of confidence and now I’m happy to get a chance from Ralph Denk to race for Bora-Argon 18 and show my talent in the next two years.

– Speaking of this, how did you end up signing with Bora? 

During the Tour of Austria they told me that they want me to join them for the rest of the season as a stagiaire. Then, after I did a couple of races with the team, they informed me that I can stay as a pro and I was very happy about that.

– Did you get to talk with the management about the expectations they have from you this year? 

Yes, and they told me I have to show myself in stage races. After the Challenge Mallorca I will start the Tour of Oman, and in March I will do Tirreno-Adriatico. My race program is really good, the training camp was excellent and I’m very confident for my first races. I’m really excited to do Tirreno-Adriatico, it will be a very nice experience and I’m prepared to give my best there and to help my team. I hope I’ll make everyone happy. At the moment, it’s not 100% sure, but I also might go to the Giro del Trentino and Liège–Bastogne–Liège later in the season.

– Do you have any personal goals?  

I want to get as fast as possible very good results and victories for my team. One of my biggest goals is to start the Tour de France this year. I know I have to give my best until then, so we’ll see how things will pan out. I know I’m young, but I want to have a good form in the first part of the season and maybe this will help me get a place in the team for the Tour de France. It would be really great if I will be there. As for the years to come, I know that my future lies in the stage races and I will love to win a hard mountain stage in a big race. To be quite frankly, it doesn’t matter which race it is, as long as I get a nice victory.

Stefan Küng, a future cycling star

Cycling: BMC Racing Team 2015

BMC Racing Team made eight transfers for the new season, and one of the riders who signed with the US team is the very promising Stefan Küng, one of the most fascinating young cyclists in the peloton. Just 21-years-old, Küng showed glimpses of his great potential very early, back in 2011, when he shone in the Berner Rundfahrt – which he won – and in the Tour du Pays de Vaud, a race he went on to finish 3rd, after taking a stage along the way.

As an U23 rider, the Swiss signed with BMC Development and made a name for himself during the past two seasons, winning the Giro del Belvedere, the Tour de Normandie, Flèche Ardennaise and both races (road and time trial) at the European Championships in Nyon. As if this wasn’t enough to underline his potential, Küng finished second at the Swiss Nationals, less than one minute behind four-time world champion Fabian Cancellara.

Very strong in the time trials and made for the cobbled Classics (Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix) – which he dreams of winning in the future – Stefan Küng is powerful also on the track. Most recently, we could see this at the 2014 World Championships, where he took silver in the individual pursuit and bronze in the Madison race.

In 2015, Stefan Küng will be mixing road and track, and his first race as a pro will be the Dubai Tour. Wanting to know more about his expectations for this year, I contacted Mister Sean Weide, BMC’s press officer, and he helped me get in touch with the Swiss neo-pro and take him the following interview.

– Stefan, how did you get involved in cycling?

It was by fun, I would say. It wasn’t like the family was behind, I just love sports in general and cycling especially. Then a neighbour of mine was riding a lot and sometimes he took me on the rides, so when I was 10-years-old I asked my mother if I could join a club or if I could do some races. I had to call the president of the cycling club in the area and they gave me a bike, I did the first race after two weeks with the new bike and then things went on and on. I liked it, I always did it for fun and when I discovered I’m pretty good at it and I can win races it became more fun. As an U17 I got to go in some races abroad, then as a Junior came the first World Championships, then the first European title on the track, and then, as an U23 I really started to focus on cycling and here I am now, with the BMC Racing Team, as a pro rider in the World Tour.

– Let’s talk about your U23 years. Which of the successes you had is on the top of your accomplishments?

I would say the two European titles, on the road and in the time trial. It was a really important event for the Swiss Cycling Federation and for myself as well, and I really fixed that as a big goal in my calendar. To win both titles there it was a really special thing and it is until now the greatest achievement of my career.

– How about the ITT at the Swiss National Championships, do you have mixed feelings about that? On one hand you got a nice silver medal, behind Fabian Cancellara, but on the other hand you had a problem at the start.

I had two screws to fix the back wheel and one of them broke so the wheel blocked and the same happened to the brakes. I saw it at first and I went again, but I had to change bikes, so after 500 meters I already had to stop twice and probably lost about a minute there. At the first time check I was 56 seconds down to Fabian Cancellara and at the finish 49. When I think about it I’m still happy and maybe it’s better like that, because I was there and at the end of the day I knew that I was able to perform at the same level with Cancellara. Sure, he wasn’t in the best shape, but he’s a four-time world champion and he’s a big idol also, and so it was pretty great to see I am able to compete at a top level. A couple of days before I already signed the pro contract, so I knew then that I made the right decision.

– Talking about your success on the track, how did the track background helped you on the road?

It still helps me a lot, because on the track you get the speed in your legs, it’s a fixed gear and you get a good pedal stroke. It’s high cadence racing, high intensity, and you have to know how to move in the bunch, how to use your elbows and body in order to get the best position. In my opinion is the best school you can have as an athlete and it really helps you grow. I still love the track and I still do it, because it’s a nice change from the long road races to short and very intense action.

– You’re now attending the team’s second training camp in Denia. Tell me how the first one was and how you’re feeling going into this one.

The team is good, I really like the spirit in the team. It’s a good group of guys, we laugh a lot and have fun. My form is pretty good, I’m happy with it, and I have the Dubai Tour coming up and then the Track World Championships. I also did some track training since the London World Cup and I’m really excited to start racing in my first season as a pro.

– Will we see you doing any of the pre-race program when Rohan Dennis does his Hour Record attempt, are you involved in that?

I won’t be there. It’s a pity, but I arrive that day from Dubai. I wish him luck for that and I really hope he can do it. I know the Grenchen velodrome well, I spent a lot of time on it and it would be great if he could do it, next to the BMC headquarters.

– What goals do you have for 2015?

I’m a neo-pro and every neo-pro says he wants to learn and get some experience, but that will come along on the way, so my goal is to take a chance if I’ll have it. I’m not here just to learn, I want to win races. Even if I’m pro, I think I have a chance in a shorter time trial or in a race from a lower class. If I’ll be there in the finale, I’m sure I can play my cards.

– And as your career moves forward, are there any big jewels of cycling races that you’d like to win?

The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix suit me very well, so of course these are two of my dreams. Also, as a Swiss rider, the Tour de Suisse is very important and to get a stage there one day it would be great. At the moment I don’t think about that, I think more of races like the Three Days of West Flanders, where I can be competitive with the best. I want to take things step by step and maybe in a few years I’ll sit here and talk about if I’ll be able to win Paris-Roubaix.

Edvald Boasson Hagen: “I just want to win more races”

Edvald Boasson Hagen

2015 will mark Edvald Boasson Hagen’s 7th season in the pro peloton, one which finds him in the roster of MTN-Qhubeka, his third team since turning pro, after HTC-HighRoad and Sky. One of the biggest talents in the sport, compared by some with Sean Kelly, and by others with Laurent Jalabert, the Norwegian is just 27-years-old, and so far has built himself a nice palmares, which includes Gent-Wevelgem, the Vattenfall Cyclassics, stages in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, two GC wins in both the Tour of Norway and the Eneco Tour, as well as a silver medal in the World Championships.

A rider made for the Classics, but who is equally impressive in stage races or in the ITT, Boasson Hagen didn’t have a great season in 2014, and at the end of it he took many people by surprise when he decided to switch teams and sign with MTN-Qhubeka, where he’s sure of getting plenty of opportunities of getting back at the top. After a good start in the Challenge Mallorca (19th in the Trofeo Santanyi), Edvald Boasson Hagen is ready for the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman, where he’ll build up his form for the Spring Classics.

But before travelling to the Middle East, the Norwegian rider made some time to answer a couple of questions for Cafe Roubaix regarding his goals for this season.

– Edvald, 2014 was your first season without a win since turning pro. What do you think were the causes for this?

It’s not fun not winning a race, but sometimes it doesn’t mean anything. Hopefully I can do better this year. I still had good moments last season, and the best one was in the Spring, when I finished third in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. I was strong there, I didn’t win, but my team mate did it, and it was important for me to be this close.

– In the past seasons you’ve become better and better on the mountains. Do you feel this stopped your development as a Classics rider?

It’s hard to say actually, but I don’t feel that the Classics or the sprints could have been any better. I also didn’t win any mountain stages, so I can’t say if this stopped or not my development. What I do know is that I will try to go back, to be more punchy and do better in the sprints now.

– What were the reasons that stood behind your transfer to MTN-Qhubeka?

After five years with Sky, where it was really nice, sometimes it is good to try something new and when MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung came and started talking about the team’s project, my chances and the project behind Qhubeka, which helped other people throughout the bike, it was enough to convince me. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of opportunities here.

– Do you see this move as a new start in your career?

It’s difficult to say. It’s not a new start, for me it’s just a change of teams. Hopefully, I will come back and win more races again, because that’s also what the team wants, to win as much as possible and to promote Qhubeka thanks to these victories.

– On what did you focus during the winter?

I’ve been working a lot more in the gym to develop my strength and hopefully I’ll be better now on peak power and sprinting.

– What races would you like to do?

Same ones like before, the Classics and the Tour de France. I want to go in all these races and as I said, I want to start winning again, because I missed that last year.

– Speaking of the Classics, how would you rate MTN-Qhubeka’s team for these races?

I think it’s a strong group of riders, with a lot cyclists made for the Classics, and I’m sure we will race together really well.

Dirk Demol, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix

Dirk Demol

A former rider and winner of Paris-Roubaix, back in 1988, after the longest successful breakaway in the history of the race (222 kilometers), Dirk Demol is one of Trek Factory Racing’s sport directors, and this year he’s ready to lead the team once again in the Spring Classics. The experience he provides can be of huge help for triple Flanders and Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara, whose main goals of the season will come in March and April, when the most important one-day races of the calendar are on the schedule.

But Trek’s goals for 2015 will not lie only in the Classics, but also in stage races, for which the team made an important transfer in the off-season, signing Bauke Mollema, one of the most consistent GC riders of the peloton, with two top 10 placings in the previous Tour de France editions. In addition to Cancellara and Mollema, the US registered team – which scored 12 wins last year – has many young riders, who are expected to step up and show their big potential.

Just a couple of days before the first European race of the season – Trofeo Santanyi – I got the chance to talk to Dirk Demol and ask him more about the 2014 season of the team and the goals for 2015, a year in which Trek Factory Racing wants once again to be a protagonist in all the big races.

– Mister Demol, how would you rate Trek’s 2014 season?

I would say it was good until the end of May, but things didn’t go as well afterwards. We had a strong Spring thanks to Fabian Cancellara, who got the win in the Tour of Flanders and podiums in Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix, which was great. Also, another highlight was the Giro stage win of Julian Arredondo, who also won the best climber jersey, and the results of Giacomo Nizzolo in the sprints. We don’t know what happened in the second half of the season, we had many podiums, but not so many wins, although I must admit the Tour de France brought us some satisfaction, after Haimar Zubeldia finished 8th. One reason is that the team was new and we had many young riders who lacked experience. But now, after the trainings camp, we are really confident for this season. The young guys are more confident and we’re sure they’ll have a very strong year.

– Speaking of these young riders, Trek has some very talented ones: Jasper Stuyven, Bob Jungels and Danny van Poppel. How do you see their progress so far?

They are one year older, more experienced and more confident. Danny van Poppel was really good during his first pro year, he didn’t get a win, but has had some nice results. Then, during 2014, he improved and you could see that when he won in Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen and the Tour de Luxembourg. Now he is much stronger and can win even more races. Jasper Stuyven is another guy who we knew and was even better than we have expected in the Classics. We found out very quickly what he can do in these races and was impressive in Paris-Roubaix, where he has helped Fabian Cancellara a lot and was very important to him, especially as our team has had some problems there. As for Bob Jungels, he did a lot of good things in strong World Tour races like Paris-Nice or Vuelta a España, and became more powerful in 2014. I’m sure he has a bright future ahead of him and I can’t wait to see what he will do in the stage races.

– As was the case in the past years, Fabian Cancellara will be one of the team’s leaders. Due to his age and the many young guns coming from behind, do you think it’s going to be more difficult for him to win a Monument?

It’s never easy to win a Monument, but he did it two seasons in a row, taking Flanders, Roubaix and again Flanders, as well as getting many other podiums. Of course, there are guys like Sep Vanmarcke, Greg Van Avermaet, John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan who want to win a Classic, but Fabian is looking good after the training camps and is much fitter than one year ago. He still has the motivation, has that big engine and with a much stronger team alongside, I’m sure he can win a Monument again. In the Classics, it’s not always important to be the strongest rider. Everybody knows Cancellara wasn’t the strongest in the 2014 Tour of Flanders, but he was the smartest and the most experienced one. Fabian wants to win again a big one-day race and he will be there, inspite of his age or the pressure.

– Is there a rider you believe that can be the most dangerous?

In the Classics everything is possible, but after a 260 kilometers race it depends a lot on what you still have in your legs, and we saw that in Flanders, last season. Besides the usual suspects, I’d also say that we must watch out for Bradley Wiggins in Paris-Roubaix, because he will not come there just to say he got the opportunity to race Roubaix. He will be there to win. On the other hand, having him there can turn out to be an advantage for us, because Fabian likes to make the race hard, and with Wiggins in Paris-Roubaix, the race will be even harder. Everyone knows that Fabian is not a sprinter, but he is very strong and after a 260 kilometers race he’s one of the fastest from a small group, so he has a good chance of winning against any of the other riders.

– How important is the addition of Gert Steegmans to the Classics team?

Gert Steegmans is one of the best riders in the peloton when it comes to positioning and I’m sure he will be very important for us, the team made a good move by signing him. Gert has raced Flanders and Roubaix on many occasions and will help Fabian, not in the deep final, but he will be very important in the first 200 kilometers of the race, where his role will be to protect Cancellara in the peloton. I wanted him since last year, but it wasn’t possible, because he still had a contract. Besides the Classics, Steegmans will be important to our young sprinters, but in the same time I’m sure he still has what it takes to win a race.

– The team strengthened its GC credentials by signing Bauke Mollema. What are the expectations when it comes to him?

In the last two years we didn’t have a rider to come all the time in the top 10 of stage races, and Bauke Mollema will help us fix that. As we could see, he is always a candidate for a podium in stage races, but also in the Classics. Is great to have him in the team, and with Frank Schleck and Haimar Zubeldia in very good shape, we’re much stronger now. In the training camp we could see Bauke was fitting quite easily in the group, so I’m sure he will have a nice season.

– After coming to Trek, Mollema said that one of his main goals for 2015 is to get a top 5 in the Tour de France. What do you think he must improve in order to do that?

We could see in the past that at the end of the Tour his legs weren’t so good, so maybe we have to think of a different program or preparation, in order for him to have more power for the last week-end, which is so crucial for the final standings. Bauke is a rider who can adapt to a new program, so it won’t be difficult to do this. One of the most important goals will be to bring him as fit as possible at the start of the Tour de France.

– Who do you think that can be the revelation of the team?

I would have to say Bob Jungels. He will make again a big step forward, is still young, much stronger than in the previous season and after being close a couple of times last year, I truly believe we will see him going big and scoring some impressive results.

Gianni Savio: 2015, a new start for the team

2014 was an interesting year for Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela. The team managed by Gianni Savio was again one of the most aggressive of the peloton, scoring eight wins on three continents, but neither of these victories came in Italy, a situation last encountered in 2003. Therefore, Gianni Savio decided it’s the right time to change more than half of the team’s roster, Davide Appollonio, Oscar Gatto and Serghei Tvetcov being amongst the new riders who are expected to lead the team and bring wins.

As always, Androni will have two big goals: to keep its philosophy and go on to the attack and to fight for the overall classification in the Coppa Italia, a competition very important for the Pro Continental teams, because the winner is sure of a Giro d’Italia wild card. The start of the season was a strong one for Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela, who had to wait just a couple of days for its first victory, which came in the Vuelta al Tachira, thanks to Carlos Galviz. Now, the team will turn its attention to the Italian races, and Gianni Savio is confident the team will ride at a completely different level than it did last year.

– Mister Savio, are you satisfied with the 2014 season of Androni Giocattoli-Venezeuela?

I must begin by saying that I have expected more from some riders. There were cyclists with whom we signed hoping they will bring results, but this didn’t happen, unfortunately. For example, Johnny Hoogerland, who came as the Dutch national champion, or Manuel Belletti, who had a two-year experience in the World Tour. I don’t understand what happened to Johnny Hoogerland. Before the Giro stages, I talked to him and told him: “I’m not asking you to win a stage, just to be a protagonist” and he answered “I’m trying, but it’s not possible”. For me, it was difficult to understand. I signed with him because he had the same aggressive spirit that characterizes our team. Overall, our season wasn’t excellent, but it wasn’t bad either, because we have won eight races, one of which was the title at the Central American and Caribbean Games, a very important result.

– Which riders have impressed you?

One of these is Carlos Galviz, who joined our team only from the month of April. He won the ITT at the National Championships and the most important stage in the Vuelta a Venezuela. There was also Franco Pellizotti, who is a real professionist, very serious and for this he is our captain. Finally, also Kenny van Hummel was important for the team and I’m sorry we couldn’t have him for this year, because of financial reasons. I was satisfied with him, he won three races, but I couldn’t sign him anymore. We talked about that and he understood the situation.

– I presume that not taking a win in Italy was a disappointment.

Of course, but I know cycling very well after 30 years as a team manager, so I accept the fact that in some seasons we may have bad luck, and this is what happened in 2014. We were close to winning a Giro stage with Jackson Rodriguez, in Rivarolo Canavese, and with Franco Pellizotti, on the Monte Zoncolan. We just missed that extra something that would have brought us a win. A victory in the Giro d’Italia would have changed our season. I am not satisfied by our results, but I’m happy with the fact we honored the race, which is our philosophy.

– So the lack of results made you sign many new riders.

Precisely! I decided to change more than half of the team’s roster and my expectations are big for this season. I am confident that Oscar Gatto will surprise people this year, as well as Serghei Tvetcov. He is unknown in Italy, but his 3rd place in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge shows what he is capable of. Another important transfer is Davide Appollonio, who has World Tour experience and can bring us strong results.

– On what races will the team focus?

2015 will bring a new start for us, so we decided to change the program. Last season we raced more in Northern Europe, but now we want to have more results in Italy. This doesn’t mean we won’t go to Belgium or the Netherlands anymore, just that the Italian races will be more important now. We want to get results in all the races that take place in our country, with the Giro d’Italia being once again our most important target.

– Which Androni rider can be the revelation of 2015?

I don’t know if he still qualifies as a revelation after the results he has had in 2014, but Gianfranco Zilioli will be one to watch for. I also think Andrea Zordan will have a strong season. Unfortunately, he has had some health problems last year, but now I’m sure he will come back at the top and show his potential.

– Is there any truth in the rumors of a Jose Rujano comeback to the team for the Giro d’Italia?

No, I can confirm there’s nothing true. After the Vuelta al Tachira, Jose Rujano informed me that he wants to talk to me and I replied that we can do that, but nothing more. At this moment, we are not negotiating with Rujano.

– But are all the doors closed?

I don’t know. I am open to talk to him if he wants that, but I repet, there are no negotiations. I have a good relation now with Rujano. He knows he made a mistake a couple of years ago, but that’s the past, it’s all water under the bridge, so things are ok between us. He won the Vuelta al Tachira and when I was on the podium with Jose Garcia, who took the intermediate sprints classification, I congratulated Rujano for his triumph. We didn’t talk yet, but if he is open to do it, then we will talk, as everything is good between us.

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