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Nathan Van Hooydonck: Huge motivation for 2016

The start of 2015 saw Nathan Van Hooydonck – who previously rode for Bissell Development Team – begin his spell with BMC Development, where he quickly integrated in the team’s highly structured program. Although hindered by bad luck in the first part of the season, when he missed on two of his main goals of the season – Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – the young and talented Belgian didn’t give up and took every race as a learning curve. The 20-year-old kept working hard and rekindled his motivation, and this eventually led to his first victory, which was scored in Neufvilles and signaled a turning point in Nathan’s season.

In the summer came other two solid successes – at Pollare-Ninove and Kerniel-Borgloon – which were followed, less than two weeks later, by his biggest victory up to date. On July 31st, the BMC Development cyclist put on a great ride at the U23 National Championships in Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure, where he patiently waited all day long, bluffing and watching closely his opponents, before going on to win the title from a three-men group thanks to an amazing burst of speed in the final 200 meters.

Although he is adamant that his future lies primarily in the Classics, Nathan Van Hooydonck – one of the brightest and promising talents on the U23 scene – is keen to work also on his time trial, with the National Championships one of his major targets for this year, where he’ll hope to improve last year’s second place. More about this and his season goals, in the following interview, for which Nathan made some time this week, while attending his team’s training camp in Spain.

– Nathan, 2015 is done and dusted. How was it?

It has been a really good year for me, which began with some bad luck, as was the crash in which I was involved in the Tour of Flanders at a time I was in the leading group, or the mechanicals I experienced at the worst moment possible in Paris-Roubaix. After the Tour des Pays de Savoie, which was a complete disaster for me, I pulled myself together, lost weight, trained harder and lived like a real pro. All these changes led to me winning the national title in the road race.

– Last season saw you riding for a new team, BMC Development. How did you find it?

The team is super good. We have a great group of guys and the staff was there for us 24/7. I had a great program, which was put together by Geert Van Bondt and myself. He was a very good sport director and I learned a lot from him. I think I became a stronger rider in 2015, and I’m happy for that.

– But what is it that you have improved in 2015?

I am much stronger and more confident now. I am aware that I need to get out there and to fight in order to land the win. I did it in more than one occasion last season, and now, with this beautiful national champion jersey on my shoulders, I have an extra boost to train hard and to give 100% all the time. I know I have to work hard in order to succeed and I am willing to do that.

– As mentioned, your highlight of the year was taking the victory at the Belgian National Championships. How confident were you in your chances before the race?

I was very optimistic, considering that a couple weeks earlier I won my first race against some pretty good riders, such as Tom Van Asbroeck, Stijn Vandenbergh, Preben Van Hecke, the national road champion, and Laurens De Vreese. I was the only BMC rider in the race, so I knew it was going to be a difficult race to win, but I managed to get it done. Looking at this victory I can say it will be a turning point in my career, because I showed that I can be there in the important days.

– If winning the Nationals was the best moment, which one was at the other end?

Probably my crash at the Richmond World Championships. I was feeling good, was in an ideal position coming into the last kilometers, and then it was over all of a sudden. It kept bothering me for a while, but with the help of my family and my girlfriend I’m now over it, and that moment is way in the past.

– Paris-Roubaix was one of your biggest goals for the season, but you experienced a tough day and finished 36th. How was that experience?

The race was just not meant to be. I crashed hard in the beginning and then my Di2 stopped working, so that was a real bummer. I was very disappointed, but it also gave me a huge motivation, as I want to show I’m good in such a race. That’s why this year it will be one of my major goals.

– In terms of pure racing, which was the best experience of 2015?

Stage six of Tour de l’Avenir. We were climbing with only 40 guys left in the pack, and I was the one who was pulling for my teammate Laurens De Plus. Earlier in the year I abandoned the Tour des Pays de Savoie, but now, at a much higher level, I did an amazing ride.

– Now you are preparing for this season. How are things going?

I am now currently on my first camp and the training is going really smooth. I am doing power tests and I know there is still space to improve, in the Classics and the time trial as well. I am very motivated for this season: besides my usual races – Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, the Nationals, the European Championships and the Worlds – I would like to test myself in some hillier one-day races, like Liège–Bastogne–Liège, for example. Bottom line short, I await the start of the racing calendar with maximum confidence and motivation.

Stefan Küng: “My future lies in the Classics”

Cycling: BMC Racing Team 2016 KUNG Stefan (SUI)/ Equipe Ploeg /(c)Tim De Waele

Cycling: BMC Racing Team 2016
KUNG Stefan (SUI)/
Equipe Ploeg /(c)Tim De Waele

Tipped for great things long before the start of the 2015 season – his first in the World Tour – Stefan Küng wasted no time in showing the huge talent he possesses, needing just a couple of race days to take the maiden victory of his career after a huge solo attack in the Volta Limburg Classic. That was the first of the three wins he got last season, the cherry on the top of the cake being the team time trial World Championships in Richmond, where BMC put on a convincing and impressive performance which netted them their first gold medal in the discipline.

Still, it wasn’t just all roses for the 22-year old Swiss rider, who had to overcome an illness in the Spring, followed by a serious injury which sidelined him for three months, until late August. But, despite these setbacks, Stefan Küng remained upbeat and kept his composure, while making some significant improvement on both road and track, two disciplines he will combine next season, when he hopes to enjoy other solid rides and memorable victories that will serve as a confirmation of his unlimited potential.

– Stefan, what expectations did you have going into the 2015 season?

I wanted to learn a lot, to find my place in pro cycling and to take a chance if I had one, in order to win a race. Another goal was to do well in time trials. In the end it was an up-and-down season, I had quite a few highlights, but there were also some unfortunate moments, as the crash in the Giro d’Italia, where I broke a vertebra, and a time when I was sick for a long period.

– Exactly two months after making your pro debut, you won the Volta Limburg Classic. How was that day?

It was pretty amazing. Before the Track World Championships I did only the Dubai Tour, and then, after the track, I got sick and I was sidelined for a long time. Afterwards, I came back, but I didn’t know where I was. So I raced the Three Days of De Panne, then the team asked me if I want to do another race, I said yes and went to do a recon of the parcours. On the race day it was raining, we had some tough conditions, but I enjoyed one of my best days ever on a bike, I could do whatever I wanted and when I had the opportunity, I decided to attack. With 5 kilometers to go I still had 45 seconds in hand and that’s when I realized I was going to win the race. It was crazy to win in that manner, in just my ninth day of racing on the road. Absolutely unbelievable!

– A couple of weeks later, in the Tour de Romandie, came your maiden World Tour victory.

I remember waking up that day and having the felling that’s going to happen. In my head it was only how I’m going to win that stage, not if. I checked the parcours, noticed that in the last 50 kilometers there was a strong tailwind, so I decided to go in the break. I attacked from it maybe a little bit early, with about 25 kilometers to go, but I was very confident I can do it and never looked back. It was amazing to win at home, in Switzerland. And, just as Volta Limburg Classic, also that win came in rainy conditions.

– Last year, in our previous interview, you told me that your dream is to win Paris-Roubaix one day. In 2015 you got to race it for the first time. How was that experience?

I feel in love with this race, it’s really special, even though it’s hard to tell what makes it so special. It was a big thing for me to ride it, because I was sick and we didn’t really know if I was fit for it, but then I got selected for it and I really learnt a lot. Coming in I thought that maybe I can be in the front until the end or maybe play an important role, but then I saw it’s really something else. You need to know the race, to have experience and I learnt that Roubaix just gives you what you get. I definitely want to come back there and win the race even more now than I did before doing it. I’m looking forward to that.

– In addition to this, you also got to make your Grand Tour debut. How did you find the Giro d’Italia?

The Giro is truly amazing. The people in Italy love this race and are all behind it. First week of the Giro was really hard, also the other riders, with much more experience, said it was one of the hardest first week of a Grand Tour they ever did. What I took out of the race is that for me things become easy day by day. The longer as it goes, the better I am. Things were really good, I was looking forward to the time trial and then I crashed, and although at first I didn’t think it was something too serious, the exams showed that I have a broken vertebra and I was sidelined for three months. Still, despite this, I want to come back to the Giro d’Italia, because it’s a very nice race.

– Then, in September, you enjoyed a great moment, as you were part of the BMC team that won the world time trial title.

It was a very important day for the team and it came as proof of how strong we are. To make the selection out of a longlist that included 11 riders was something big, and I was really motivated. As I have a track background in the team pursuit it really suits me, and even though I didn’t have my best day, we still got the gold medal. To be in my first pro year on the top step of the World Championships was something really incredible.

– Speaking of the track, what did it mean for you to win World and European pursuit titles, especially as you were the first rider to do so in the same season?

To have these performance was something very special. At the World Championships I was in good shape, but I can’t say that I was at 100%. Still, I went into the final against Jack Bobridge and I really wanted to win, I didn’t think for a moment of the silver medal. Then, the European Championships took place in Switzerland, on a velodrome mainly sponsored by Andy Rihs, where we train very often. The arena was packed, the race was broadcast on Swiss television and I knew I had to win, because everybody, myself included, was expecting this. My goal was to get under the 4:15 mark, which is kind of special in the pursuit and I netted the seventh fastest time in history. To get the gold medal in front of the home crowd was one of the best moments of my life.

– This past season you showed your versatility in stage races and Classics alike. Do you feel that you can focus on both?

My future lies in the Classics. I’m young now, I have to choose one thing and so I’m going for the Classics. We’ll see if something changes in the future, but right now I want get good results in the one-day races.

– What’s your calendar for 2016?

This season is a very important for me, as I will also do the Olympics on the track. We have to find the perfect balance between track and road, so I don’t get too much fatigue. On the track I will race the World Championships and the Olympic Games, while on the road I will probably have the same calendar as in 2015, with the Classics and maybe the Giro d’Italia.

– And what do you hope to achieve?

Last year I won two races, so I think I have to win at least two races again. For sure, I want some victories and to improve more, that’s always my goal. I want to do good at the Olympic Games, and if the team will be in top shape there, I’m sure we can do something special.

 

* This interview was conducted during BMC’s training camp in Spain, a couple of weeks ago. In the meantime, Stefan Küng was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus and had to stop his preparations for 2016. Although the illness is not worrisome and he already showed some signs of improvements, the infection requires a minimum of few weeks’ rest, so it remains to be seen when Stefan will resume his training and return to racing.

Silvan Dillier: Mixing road and track in 2016

Cycling: BMC Racing Team 2016  DILLIER Silvan (SUI)/  Equipe Ploeg /(c)Tim De Waele

Cycling: BMC Racing Team 2016
DILLIER Silvan (SUI)/
Equipe Ploeg /(c)Tim De Waele

Last season was a great one for Silvan Dillier, the 25-year-old rider of BMC Racing Team: a pro since 2014, the young Swiss started and finished his first Grand Tour – the Giro d’Italia – where he even went on to the attack on a couple of occasions, and in June took his first pro victory, in the time trial race at the National Championships. From that moment on, Silvan’s season got better and better and he confirmed the potential many had noticed since he rode in the U23 ranks and won the Flèche Ardennaise or the Tour de Normandie in commanding fashion.

Just two months after that success at the Nationals, Silvan Dillier was one of the main protagonists in the last stage of the Arctic Race of Norway, going to the attack in Narvik and taking a superb win on a slight uphill finish in what proved to be a demanding race against some classy opposition. The results and form displayed granted him a place in BMC’s six-men squad for the team time trial race at the World Championships in Richmond, where the Swiss cyclist captured the gold medal, thus concluding the season on a high note.

Now, following a 2015 season which has panned out exactly as Silvan Dillier had hoped, he is ready for a even more demanding year, giving that next year will see him focus on Classics and stage races alike, but also on the track, with both the World Championships and the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games on his schedule.

– Silvan, how was last season?

I’m really happy with 2015. I was the whole season on a high level, I was really strong from the beginning, rode a Grand Tour and an excellent second half of the year, and that’s satisfying. It was very important that I could complete a three-week race, as this experience was quintessential in improving my “engine”. The Giro d’Italia was a big challenge and I was very curious how I can manage and finish it. I was really surprised how good I came out of it, and this eventually weight a lot for the second half of the season.

– Which of the three wins you took in 2015 was the most special?

The World Champion title in the team time trial was pretty big, but personally the victory I got in the last stage of the Arctic Race of Norway was very important, because I proved that I can win a race by myself (ed. – besides the stage victory, Silvan finished second in the general classification and notched the best young rider jersey).

– Do you feel that now have a much clearer idea on which races suit you?

During my first two years with BMC, I did a couple of Classics, hilly and cobbled ones as well, and from all these I really love Milan-Sanremo and Amstel Gold Race. For this reason, in the future I’ll try to win those two events.

– Besides these, you had some impressive results on the track, taking silver in the team pursuit at the European Championships, on home turf.

Racing in Switzerland in front of the home crowd was unbelievable, and it will probably go down as one of the best moments of my career. The team was superb and really strong on that day, and to get the silver medal was amazing. We celebrated it together with the public as we’d have won the European title.

– This bodes well ahead of Rio. Can the team get a medal there, as well?

The main challenge will be to have four riders in top shape at that moment, and if we will manage that, I think we are going to be competitive and have a good shot at a medal.

– Do you think you can mix track and road next year, riding at a high level in both?

Yes, for sure. The only tricky part will be to have a good planning, so it will be important to work really close together: the coach from the track team, the coach from the road team and the BMC management. I already have the program for the first months of 2016 layed out: I will start my season a little bit later than I did in 2016, in February, at the Dubai Tour, then head back to the track for the World Championships in London, and afterwards I will target the Ardennes Classics.

– And what goals do you have on the road next season?

First of all, the Ardennes Classics, as I want to get a nice result there. Then, hopefully, I’ll do the Giro d’Italia again, followed by the Tour de Suisse. I’d like to win a stage in one of these races, or even in both. It would be really great.

Odd Christian Eiking: “2016 – a learning season”

Four riders will turn pro with FDJ in 2016, and one of these will be Odd Christian Eiking, who I’m sure many know since two seasons ago, when he signed with Joker, one of Norway’s best teams when it comes to finding and developing young riders. Just 21-years-old, Odd began cycling when he was 10, just for fun, but with time began thinking he can forge a career in this sport, so decided to focus 100% on it.

After a strong ride in the 2013 Tour of Berlin – which he finished 10th – Odd was picked up by Joker, where he found the perfect environment to thrive and land some important results which caught the attention of many pro teams: in his CV you can find a string of top ten placings in the Course de la Paix, Arctic Race of Norway and Giro della Valle d’Aosta (where he also took an impressive stage win in Pont-Saint-Martin), as well as the U23 national title and a runner-up position at the Elite Norwegian Championships.

Maybe even more important than these results of Odd were the attitude and maturity displayed on each occasion, these two recommending him – alongside his talent – for a big future in the World Tour, where he will make his debut in just a couple of weeks, at the Challenge Mallorca. Until then, he made some time to sit down and give an interview for Cafe Roubaix.

– Odd, are you satisfied with your season?

I’m pretty happy with a lot of races, I had some good performances, and even though there were some reasons to be disappointed, I’m satisfied with the overall picture. The Norwegian Championships went well for me with the win in the U23 race and the runner-up position in the Elite race. I felt strong in that period, and I took advantage of my form not only on home turf, but also in Giro della Valle d’Aosta, where I got a stage victory. Another important result was my sixth place in the general classification of the Arctic Race of Norway, because I proved that I can compete against some of the best cyclists in the world.

– I know that the Tour de l’Avenir was one of your top goals, but things somehow didn’t click there. What happened?

Yes, at first I had this race pinpointed as an important goal, but by that point I’ve already had a long season, preceded by a pretty hard and intense training session in the winter, so my body and my head just weren’t at the top for that race. I’m a little bit disappointed, because it would have been nice to get a result there.

– How do you look back on the years spent with Joker?

I learnt a lot in the past two seasons in the team. I got to do many very good races with them, and also got to score some strong results. I’m very happy with my two years in Joker, a team which helped me improve in many areas, from climbing to sprinting.

– And what it is that you still want to improve?

In 2016 I will watch and learn and will adapt to the World Tour rigors and races, which I’m aware that are completely different than anything I have encountered in my career so far. After I will do a couple of events, I’ll have a clearer picture of what I have to improve, but in general I think I must become stronger in order to cope with this level.

– You recently completed your first training camp with FDJ. How was it?

It was nice to meet the team and train together for the first time before next year. We did some good training sessions and prepared the next season in practical ways too. It means one important step forward, and I felt that it will be good for me, to compete against the best in the world will help me develop as a rider.

– Do you know your schedule for next year?

I will start my season in the last days of January, in Spain, at the Challenge Mallorca, then move to France and follow up with La Méditerranéen, Tour du Haut Var and Tour de Provence. I’m also on a 12-rider list for Paris-Nice, but I’ll find out if I go there after I will complete the first races. Afterwards, I’m scheduled for Criterium International, Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

– And what goals and expectations do you have?

I hope to enjoy a smooth start, to take every race at a time, and then to come into top shape for the Ardennes Classics. I’m not saying I will go after a good result there, just that I know that the best cyclists in the world will be there and I want to be able to have a strong ride, to discover the parcours and to adapt to the tough level of these races. I love the Classics, so hopefully, the Ardennes will turn out to be a beautiful experience, one of the best of the season for me.

Simone Petilli: “I’d like to race the Giro d’Italia next season”

Simone Petilli

If you check the stats, you can see that Italy is the country with the most general classifications wins in Grand Tours, and this is not by chance, as the country’s always had great cyclists for this kind of races, beginning with Alfredo Binda and Learco Guerra, going through the times of Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, until the years which was Giovanni Battaglin and Giuseppe Saronni stamp their authority on Grand Tours. Nowadays, Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru are the top two Italians for three-week events, but the future could be Simone Petilli’s, the 22-year-old who signed a contract with Lampre-Merida, a team who had a more than interesting transfer campaign, as it decided to invest more in young riders.

Hailing from Bellano (a small town in Lombardy), Simone came into cycling thanks to his father, who loved this sport, and began racing at 15, in cyclo-cross and later on the road. His enthusiasm standed out from the first races, as he attacked flat out all the time, eager to always be at the front and get a good result. The first team he joined was Pedale Morbegnese, which was followed throughout the years by Capiaghese, C.C.Canturino, Delio Gallina, Area Zero and Unieuro-Trevigiani.

The latter is the one which helped the young Italian to get into the spotlight and emerge as one of the most promising U23 cyclists for stage races. In 2015, after a rather quiet start to the season in Argentina’s Tour de San Luis and on home turf, he won big in May, at the 38th Ronde de l’Isard, where he took the inaugural stage finishing on Goulier Neige on the road to claiming the overall victory and becoming only the second Italian rider to crown himself as champion in the French race.

A memorable win which was followed not only by two other important results in top races of the U23 calendar – Giro della Valle d’Aosta and Tour de l’Avenir – but also by a contract with Lampre-Merida, Italy’s sole World Tour team, where Simone Petilli is hoping to make himself noticed quickly, even tough he’ll be a neo-pro in 2016.

– Simone, this season was your best as an U23 cyclist, the main highlight being the win you got in Ronde de l’Isard. What meant that victory for you?

To finish first in Ronde de l’Isard was very important, because up until that point it was a long time since I’ve last won a race, despite some excellent performances. Taking a stage victory and the general classification proved that I can hope of becoming a good rider in stage races one day. The expectations I have were underlined also by two other races in which I was strong and finished in the top five, Giro della Valle d’Aosta and Tour de l’Avenir, later in the season.

– Speaking of L’Avenir, what’s your opinion on the UCI’s decision to give green light to World Tour riders for this event?

For me it was not a problem. In fact, it was a good chance to race against some very powerful cyclists. I thus realized that they aren’t invincible and alsso that I have a lot of hard work to do in order to beat them.

– After your impressive string of results, you signed with Lampre-Merida for the next two years. What’s the story of this transfer?

During the season I did a test with Lampre-Merida, and following the Giro della Valle d’Aosta, where I came third in the general classification, I received a phone call from the team to schedule an appointment. After that, they put a contract on the table, which I immediately signed.

– What means for you to go World Tour?

Joining a World Tour team is a dream come true, and now that I’m realizing it, I have to give my best to achieve new goals. I have many new dreams that I want to turn into reality, and I will not stop here and think about what I did. Instead, I will focus on my future and on what I can do from this point onward.

– How was the winter training camp with your new team?

It was really great. I met the riders and staff, we carried out all the tests and we talked about the plans for the new season. I had a very busy schedule, but between the many appointments I managed to do a solid block of training on the road and I’m super happy for that. I’m glad the team believes in me and I’m ready to prove what I’m worth

– What are your personal goals?

I want to prove that I deserve this chance that I got and to show my potential by working for the leaders and even take advantage of an opportunity in one arises. I want to be useful to the team and find my place in top level cycling. Another goal for next season is to ride the Giro d’Italia, because this is the race that every Italian kid dreams of when he gets into cycling.

– Until the Giro, do you know what races you will do?

I’ll make my debut at the Dubai Tour, in February, after which I should take part in Trofeo Laigueglia and Gran Premio Lugano. Then, there’s a big chance I will ride Vuelt al Pais Vasco and the Tour of Turkey.

– And what do you hope to improve?

Overall, I hope for a major improvement in all areas, but if I have to be specific, I would like to work on my time trial, a discipline which I have never gave enough attention. Now I’m prepared to improve my skills in the time trial, as this is crucial in nowadays’ cycling.

 

Toms Skujiņš: Psyched for his World Tour debut

2015 was a breakthrough year for Toms Skujiņš, the promising Latvian rider who confirmed once again his place is in the World Tour, where he eventually got in October, after signing with Cannondale. During the second season with Continental team Hincapie Racing, the 24-year-old won stage three of the Tour of California with an impressive solo ride and got to wear the yellow jersey for three days. Then, he took the victory in the Winston Salem Cycling Classic and concluded the first part of the year with a solid second place in Tour de Beauce.

In the summer, the Baltic rider continued to score other strong results, doing a good general classification in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and Tour of Alberta and showing what he’s really made of, a cyclist who the harder the race, the harder he goes. It was only natural that he came on the radar of World Tour teams, and Cannondale was the one who made sure of getting his signature for the next two seasons, when Toms will have the chance to experience some of the best events in the calendar.

The step in his career will bring many new things into the picture – new races in his schedule, new teammates and a new country to live in (Spain) – but one thing will remain the same: Toms Skujiņš’ huge ambition to dig deep and win races, thus proving that he can be one of the best in the game.

– Toms, how would you describe your season?

It was really amazing. The preparation had gone to plan and once we got through the first race, which is always terrible for me, I got better and better. Once I hit California I was flying, and just kept it going as long as I could I spent a lot of time travelling around, which was kind of a bummer, but it was all for the better of my results and finally I had enough in my resume for teams to actually notice me.

– Besides the Tour of California, what were the highlights of the year?

Winning in Winston Salem was amazing. Just because it’s so close to Greenville and it’s the hometown of our director Thomas Craven, but honestly the team’s win at TTT nationals was just a delight. It was in front of a home crowd, it was raining hard, miserable, but we came out swinging and proved we are the fastest team in the United States. I am really, really happy with the team effort there and glad I could be a part of it.

– Would you say California was a turning point in your career?

I think California was a turning point, yes. I think just because of the way I won it, it might not have been the one result that got me a contract, but it got me in front of teams, which meant the next results I got and my previous results were finally looked at.

– You left Hincapie Racing after spending two years with the team. What did this experience mean for you?

I wouldn’t change these last two years with Hincapie Racing for a pro contract sooner. No way. It was a great group of people and I don’t think I’ll ever find such a cool team again to be a part of. Of course, we were all racing when the time was to race, but we had so much fun off the bikes, it was just like a group of buddies hanging out.

– Next year you’ll make a big step forward in your career, as you’ll ride with Cannondale. How did you get to sign with the team?

Jonathan Vaughters had been in contact with me over the previous years as well, but it always somehow didn’t work out. Finally, he had one extra spot on the team and after my chat with one of the directors – Andreas Klier – where we hit it off, it was just a matter of meeting up and signing the papers, which we did at World Championships in Richmond.

– Why Cannondale, as you got offers also from other teams?

The only other World Tour team I had an offer from came in pretty late, and I was already thinking about how Cannondale will be a really good group of people to be a part of. The team will give me opportunities, let me race some really cool races, but most importantly the whole team is really fun and as I knew a lot of people it made it easier, plus the spoken language is English, so no need to learn my fifth language as well. I’ve ridden a Cannondale bike and Mavic wheels before and they are fast, and that of course played a role too.

– I know the first training camp took place in Aspen, in October. How was it?

Team camp was really fun. We met up with sponsors, had some meetings and got to ride really rad Cannondale MTBikes. The trails around the area are spectacular and the nature is gorgeous, so it was just a whole week of having a blast and meeting new faces.

– Did the management outline the expectations they have from you?

Of course, the team has plans for me, as do I for myself. Luckily, they won’t make me ride too many World Tour races straight away and let me ease into it a bit, but if all goes well I should be doing the Tour of Flanders and the three Ardennes Classics.

– Do you know your calendar for the first part of the season?

Before the Classics I’ll start in Mallorca and then do some races in France and Belgium, like Tour du Haut Var, Criterium International and the Three Days of West Flanders. After the Classics I’ll be back in California to make another solo breakaway stick, only this time it has to be longer than 55 kilometers.

– That looks really nice. Which races are you more thrilled about riding?

I’m really excited for the Classics. The Tour of Flanders, because I’ve done well before in the U23 ranks, and also the Ardennes. On top of that, coming back to the Tour of California will be a blast. I’ll see friends, former teammates and my dear fans that have been so fun to see.

– Being a meticulous cyclist, I’m sure you have already set your goals for 2016. Which are these?

Besides doing well in the Classics and Tour of California, I’d love to go to the Olympics and finish the Vuelta a España, but we’ll see how it goes, as there’s still a long way out.

Jack Haig, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix

One of the most promising neo-pros expected to shine in 2016 is Jack Haig, whose impending debut in the World Tour is heralded by some very strong results he got as an amateur during the previous season in such races as Tour Down Under, Giro della Valle d’Aosta, Tour Alsace and Tour de l’Avenir. In the latter of the these, the now 22-year-old was the leader of Australia’s national team and put on a steady performance in the mountains, which netted him a second place in the overall standings, just 1:09 behind the winner, Spain’s and Movistar’s Marc Soler, a cyclist who was already accustomed to the World Tour level and rigors.

A very consistent, perseverant and hard working rider, Jack Haig climbed steadily through the ranks on the road since making the transition from mountain biking and proved to have the all-round ability to land a big win as a pro in a one-day race or a Grand Tour. After racing with Avanti Racing and the AIS World Tour Academy during his tenure as an U23 cyclist, he made the natural step of inking a contract with Orica-GreenEdge, a team which proved since its inception in 2012 that has a special flair when it comes to the development of young riders.

Following his first training camp with Orica-GreenEdge, in Canberra, Jack Haig sat down and talked for Cafe Roubaix about his up-and-down 2015 season, the improvements he’s made and his expectations ahead of his maiden World Tour year, which will see him being based in Girona and getting the taste of some of the calendar’s best and most prestigious races.

– Jack, after a very good 2014, this year you faced many injuries, despite having a strong start to the season. How did you manage to get over all these setbacks?

I was on some good form in the Australian Summer with a seventh place in a stage of Tour Down Under, but I crashed in the Cadel Evans Road Race and broke my elbow. This was one of the setbacks I had this year and probably the worst, but I think I have learnt from all of them during this season and it has probably made me a more prepared rider going into the World Tour next year. Because, and there’s no doubt about it, I will have similar setbacks at some point of my career.

– Another disappointment was Liège–Bastogne–Liège, where you were very strong, but missed on a good result after the group you were in went in the wrong direction.

Yes, it was quite frustrating to have that happen, I believe I would have had a decent chance of getting a decent result. But sometimes these things happen and I got over it quite quickly and looked forward to the next race.

– On the other hand, you came second in the Tour de l’Avenir, which was a huge result.

It’s probably one of the biggest results I have had and I believe I raced it quite well. I felt like I was getting better as the race was going on and to be so consistent in stage finishes was good as well. I really liked Tour de l’Avenir, I think it was better organised than last year. It’s also one of the few stage races that we do that really suits me.

– Did this result make up for all the not so pleasant moments you experienced up until that point?

For sure, I was really pleased to get the result. It gives me confidence going into the World Tour next year that I am a quality rider and hopefully ready to take that setup.

– Were you sad not to land a victory throughout the year?

I would have really liked to get a win and throw my hands up, but hopefully that will come next year in an even bigger race than we where racing this season.

– How was living in Italy?

I actually really enjoyed living in Italy and the people and language as well. Another thing I were enjoyed the training and some of views from the top of mountains looking down onto the lakes in that area. Must say I also liked the Italian one-day races I did, only problem is that I don’t have much of a sprint on me, so I found it hard to get a result there. It’s something I want to try and work on, having that little kick at the end of a hard race.

– Overall, which was the toughest race you did in the whole 2015 season?

Probably Tour de l’Avenir. I had a couple of really hard days where I wasn’t feeling too good in the middle of the race and it was really hard to keep pushing through them.

– I know you worked on your time trial in the past year. Are you happy with how things went?

Yes, I think I did a really good Chrono Champenois just before the World Championships and was a little disappointed that I didn’t get selected for the Richmond ITT. I improved a lot my time trial in 2015, a trained a lot for it, became more consistent and I have learnt many things about my body this year and how to get the most out of it.

– Next season we will see you in the pro peloton, riding for Orica-GreenEdge. What does this step mean for you?

Getting to the World Tour it’s kind of something that you dream of, so to make it there means a lot in itself. I really just want to take the first year as a learning year and hopefully set myself up for a long successfully career. I will keep enjoying my bike and maybe get a result or two. But I will not stress about results, because I know they will come as long as I am smart, have fun and work hard.

– Do you know some of the races you’ll do?

I will start of with the road race at the National Championships, and continue with the Cadel Evans Road Race and Herald Sun Tour (ed. – a race which he finished third in 2014). After that I will head to South Africa to do a training camp with the team. Then, my race calendar can change depending on how I am going with the setup to the World Tour level.

Owain Doull: “I’d like to focus on the Northern Classics in the future”

Owain Doull

Like many of today’s riders, Owain Doull has started by doing something completely different than cycling, and that was rugby, which he played competitively as it is the biggest sport in Wales. One day, he decided to give it a go in the outdoor velodrome located just ten minutes from his home in Cardiff. From that moment on, everything came very natural and Owain rode on the track before giving it a go on the road and returning to the track, where he learnt a lot about bike handling, cadence and speed at a very young age. Then, after a couple of years of racing in Great Britain, he was picked up by the national squad for the U16 category and his promising career began.

Having won multiple national titles on the track, Owain Doull got the chance at some point to ride wih the big team and didn’t fail to impress, winning the European team pursuit title three years in a row and thus making an important step towards Rio de Janeiro, the venue of the 2016 Olympics. His results on the road were equally remarkable, with a string of top results to his name: the overall victory in the Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux, two stage wins in Flèche du Sud, the U23 national title and, more recently, third at the Tour of Britain, where he finished ahead of many well-known World Tour cyclists.

In 2014, while riding for An Post-Chain Reaction, Europcar noticed him and came up with an offer to turn pro, but the young Brit turned it down, admitting it wasn’t the best choice to develop his career. Instead, he preferred to sign a two-year contract with the newly created Team Wiggins, as it allowed him to pursue his both road and track careers. Next season, he’ll be completely focused on the latter of the two, with the ultimate goal of capturing the gold medal at the Olympic Games in the team pursuit event.

After Rio, he will turn his attention to the road, the young Welshman already securing a contract with an unnamed World Tour team. That will be the beginning of a new page in his career, as the now 22-year-old will get to experience some of the best races of the calendar, and especially the Classics, which he is very fond of, and thus continue his progression. But more on these topics, in the following interview, for which Owain Doull kindly made some time last week, although he has a very busy schedule in this time of the year.

– Owain, are you happy with your season and the way things went?

Yes, it’s been a good year. My main targets for the year were the U23 Nations Cup races, the British Championships and then the Tour of Britain and the U23 World Championships in Richmond. I trained hard for all of these and was in good form and performed consistently. I wanted to win one of the Nations Cup events after being close for the last two years, but I had bad luck in the U23 Flanders and finished tenth, I was then second at Côte Picarde and seventh overall at ZLM Tour. It’s true that I was consistent, but my goal was to win one, so I was disappointed with the outcome. Fortunately, I won the British U23 Road Championships and the Tour of Britain went well.

– So you made the right call last year when you decided not to turn pro with Europcar.

Indeed. Looking back now, deciding to not join Europcar was a good move. I was very fortunate that Team Wiggins came around as it gave me the opportunity to combine my road and track ambitions for 2015.

– Which of your road results was the most important for you and why?

The Tour of Britain is my most important result for sure. I had been performing at a good level all year winning stages in UCI 2.2 races and being up there on the general classification, but this was the first time that I had performed in a HC race and one of the calibre of the Tour of Britain. Also, to be racing at the sharp end of my home tour against some big names was pretty special and one I won’t forget, I took a lot of confidence from the performance and it showed that I can be competitive at a high level in cycling.

– Did you expect to have such a solid run in the Tour of Britain?

I wanted to do well and it was one of my main targets of the year and also the biggest race of the year for myself and the team. I went to Livigno for an altitude camp beforehand and trained hard. I was hoping to come perform well on a few stages but to come out of it third overall, winning the points jersey and being in the top 10 on every stage except one was more than I could have imagined.

– Is there any regret you have after your 2015 road campaign?

My biggest regret was the U23 World Championships, because coming out of the Tour of Britain I knew I had good form to get a result. I rode the time trial as a bit of a hit out before the road race and I placed fifth which was more than I was expecting and showed I was still going well. On the day though I had no luck: I crashed twice and had two mechanicals. I went into the race as a favourite and finished 92nd. I was really disappointed afterwards as this was a race I had been dreaming about winning all year and to come away with nothing was pretty depressing.

– What would you say are your strong points at this moment?

I’d go with my consistency, I’m fortunate that I can perform on most terrain which means I am always going for a result. This year I had over 30 top 10 places in UCI races. On the other hand, this can also be a weakness as I’m not great in one area so maybe for the future I need to concentrate on one specific area of my riding.

Owain Doull 2

– And what is it that you still want to improve?

My sprinting is probably the area I need to improve on the most. Like I said, I’m good across a lot of different terrains so I can usually be contesting the win, but I just need to become a bit faster so I can actually win the race.

– After scoring very good results in one-day and stage races alike, on which of these would you like to focus?

On the road I would love to focus on the one day Northern Classics in the future. These are the races that excite me the most and have grown up dreaming of winning. I think as a rider these are also the races that suit me the most.

– You also had some impressive exploits on the track, and one of the most recent was taking gold medal in the team pursuit race at the European Championships.

It was pretty special to win in Grenchen. It was my third European Team pursuit title in a row so it was nothing new, but to do it with such a strong team and in a quick time was really motivating for the future.

– Did it made you more confident for next year’s Olympics, where Team GB will go for another title?

For sure, we did a 3:55 in the European Championships and we could have gone quicker in the final if we had ridden it differently, which bodes well for Rio. The whole team is focused towards Rio and nothing else.

– Besides the track, what’s 2016 looking like for you?

The whole focus for 2016 is Rio and nothing else. Everything I do between now and Rio is focused towards winning the gold medal. Obviously, I will race on the road throughout 2016 as preparation for the Olympic Games. I am very fortunate that we have such a great race program with Team Wiggins and so I can do some nice races next year like the Tour of Dubai and the Tour of California. Then, the plan is to stop the track completely after Rio and focus 100% on the road to see how far I can progress on that.

 

Matej Mohoric: Ready for a new adventure in 2016

Former Junior and Under 23 World Champion, Matej Mohoric has decided to leave Cannondale-Garmin after his second pro season and join Italian outfit Lampre-Merida on a two-year contract. Just 21-years-old, the Slovenian remains one of the most promising young riders of the peloton, and although he didn’t manage to add a win to his name since joining the World Tour ranks, the general consensus is that a breakthrough result will come very soon.

During his tenure with the US-based team, Mohoric has had his ups and downs: he raced the Ardennes Classics, but later in the season experienced a nagging elbow injury, before making his debut in the Vuelta a España, his first Grand Tour. Unfortunately, Matej’s adventure came to a sudden end, as he had to abandon during the first week, when he fell ill. On the bright side, his season didn’t stop there, as he came back for one final event in the argyle kit, the Japan Cup, where he showed some promising signs, by finishing sixth at the end of a hard race.

Next season could turn out to be an important one for the Lampre-Merida cyclist, who will continue to build on what he achieved so far in order to fulfill the expectations he has set up for himself when turning pro. Tough he is adamant that his future lies primarily in the tough one-day races, the talented Slovenian is ready to tackle also a couple of short stage races as he feels that these could help him improve and score a big coup at some point.

Regardless of what will happen, Matej Mohoric will take it one step at a time and not rush into things, knowing that patience will eventually pay dividends. Of these and many more, you can read in the following interview, which he gave to Cafe Roubaix in November.

– Matej, looking back on your season, how was it?

I think 2015 was a good year for me. I didn’t get any great results yet, but I am definitely one step closer to becoming a good cyclist. I gained a lot of experience and became physically stronger. I improved a lot, and my body weight has gone a little bit down with absolutely no loss of power. Also, now I cope better with the distance of the races and I can train more intense and for longer periods.

– How did you find this year compared to your first in the World Tour?

I have found my second season to be much easier, especially from a physical point of view. My body has adapted well to the demands of pro racing. I also believe that the experience one gets from the races he has already done in the past helps as well. Overall, I am satisfied with 2015.

– Was there something you didn’t like or which you felt doesn’t go as you expected?

To be honest, I expected for things to go worse. I thought it was going to be more like my first year in the pro ranks. However, I didn’t like that I got sick in the Vuelta a España and had to pull out the following day. Actually, that was my most disappointing moment of the year. At the other end, the Österreich Rundfahrt was the highlight of the season for me. I liked it a lot: it’s really beautiful, close to home and with a lot of climbs.

– Why did you leave Cannondale-Garmin and why did you pick Lampre-Merida?

I had a great time in the Cannondale-Garmin team. It is a great squad, with many nice people, but the time has come for me to change teams. I like some things about Lampre-Merida more. The two teams are different, but it is impossible to say which is better.

– Was it important for you to be back in an European team, and especially an Italian one?

Logistically, it doesn’t make any difference. After all, I have never been overseas in 2015 with the US team, whereas in 2014 I have spent three months in the States and two months in Australia, all these while being part of an Italian team. It does make a bit of difference in the mentality though. I did fit in well in both teams, so I don’t think cultural differences are a problem for me.

– Did you talk to the management of your new team?

Yes, I did. They expect me to do my best and perform well in the races I’ll go to. I have my personal goals that are more related to small things in training, not so much to the results I score in the races. I will deal with the results once I will be fit enough to really be there in a race’s finale.

– Are there any particular races you’d like to do in 2016?

I like Liège–Bastogne–Liège. I would also like to try Strade Bianche and do a Grand Tour again, finishing it this time. Last season showed me that tough one-day races are best suited to my characteristics, but I think I could do well also in short stage races.

 

Sindre Lunke, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix

No one can’t argue that Norway is a real cradle of talent, which in the past years has supplied the World Tour with a lot of fascinationg prospects, from Edvald Boasson Hagen and Alexander Kristoff, to Sondre Holst Enger, Sven Erik Bystrøm and Kristoffer Skjerping. Next year, a new generation of Norwegian talents will make its debut in the pro ranks, and one of the most interesting young riders to watch out for will be 22-year-old Sindre Lunke.

Hailing from Trondheim, he raced in 2015 with Team Joker and managed to confirm the strong results he scored one year earlier and take things to a whole new level. During this past season, Sindre finished in the top 10 in two of the most toughest stage races of the U23 calendar – Giro della Valle d’Aosta (8th) and Tour de l’Avenir (7th) – which offered a tantalising glimpse into what to expect later in his career. These important results he delivered didn’t go unnoticed, and they were followed by a World Tour contract that the young Norwegian was dreaming of for some time.

So, as it goes, Sindre Lunke signed a two-year contract with Giant-Alpecin, a team which made a name for itself from the development of young cyclists, a team which he sees as the perfect environment to thrive and to continue his improvement. Recently, after the squad’s first meeting ahead of 2016, Sindre made some time to talk for Cafe Roubaix about his season, as well as the challenges and joys of chasing a career in pro cycling.

– Sindre, how did your career in cycling began?

I started cycling when I was 15-years-old. My dad rides his bike very often, so I got inspired by him. He was cycling every day, from home and to work, despite bad weather conditions, and showed he is a really tough guy. When it is winter in Trondheim, the conditions can be really bad, and with mountain bike and spikes on the tyres, it is hard and can be dangerous at some times. But I saw that it was possible to ride the bike every day, no matter the weather, and this got me going.

– What do you remember from your first years?

Together with my dad I began taking short trips on my mountain bike, and later that year I finally got my first road bike and joined the local club, the Trondheim Velociped Club. I met a very motivated leader, called “Terje Tho”. This guy was one of the most important persons I have ever met, and he helped me develop as a rider, thanks to a very good training schedule and back-up on trainings. He organized the team as it was a Continental one, and we rode some UCI races in Croatia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. It was very hard to compete against good Continental teams in Croatia when I was a first year senior, but overall it was very good experience and I’ve learned a lot from it.

– Besides climbing, what other strong points would you say you have at this moment?

As you said, my strongest side is climbing and my engine is big, so I think I can make some progress in time trials, if I find a good position on the bike and train more for it. You have to be good in time trials if you want do develop as a good general classification rider.

– In the past seasons, you scored many strong results. Which was the most important for you?

I think the most significant result for me was to finish fifth in the general classification of the Giro della Valle d’Aosta, in 2014. That was my debut race for the U23 Norwegian team, and I showed that I was doing well in long mountains and hard stage races.

– What meant for you to finish the 2015 Tour de l’Avenir in the top ten?

This year’s Tour de l’Avenir was really hard! It was almost full gas on every mountain stage, so I am happy for my seventh place on the GC. Of course, it was a disappointing last stage of the race, when I began on fourth place in the overall standings and aimed for the top three. I didn’t have a good rhythm, couldn’t find the right pace and I wasn’t so smart when Gregor Mühlberger and Sam Oomen attacked before Lacets de Montvernier. Then I got a technical on the top of the hill and had to wait for the car, so I lost a lot of time there. But that’s cycling.

– As an U23 cyclist, you also raced against the pros in some races. How was it to see you can mix it up with them and even finish ahead of many?

In some events I raced against many pros together with Team Joker, but this year in L’Avenir it was a new rule that pros under the age of 23 could also participate. It was a good feeling that I could fight and do well against them, and even finish ahead of some. If you get a confirmation that you can do a good GC in the Tour de l’Avenir, you can also do well sometimes when you ride against the pro peloton. Just look at this year’s winner, Marc Soler, who scored a couple of good results in some races this season.

– In 2016 you’ll turn pro with Giant-Alpecin. What’s the story of this transfer?

Well, after L’Avenir I was a bit disappointed and thought that my chance was gone. I got in touch with Aike Visbeek and asked if the roster is full for next year. They were interested in me and after that, I talked to Sports Director Marc Reef, when I went to Belgium with Team Joker, and by doing this I got to know more of the way the team is organized. I felt that this team had good ambitions for the future and I liked the way they develop young riders. I had to wait a bit before they did the selection, so I thought that they did not want to choose me, but when I got the phone call from Marc Reef with the confirmation that they wanted to sign me, I got goosebumps. For two nights after I got the message I couldn’t sleep almost at all and did not believe that it was true. It was really hard to keep it a secret also from friends. So when the signing was made public, it really was a relief.

– How was the first meeting with the team?

The first gathering took place in Deventer, in the Netherlands, where I met almost the whole team and all the staff members. I was nervous before the first reunion, but it was really easy to talk to everybody. Everyone talks good English and it was a lot of new faces to get to know. It was as big as I expected to be and it was really impressive to see all the staff members and how much planning there is to do in a World Tour team, but I liked it a lot, and with many meetings, photo shoots, bike fitting and so on, the days went fast. We had a lot of fun after the meetings also, so I am really looking forward to the first training camp and to get to know the boys better.

– Did you get to talk about the expectations they have from you in the first season?

I had a meeting with the coaches and talked about how things work in a World Tour team. They have a good strategy for developing young riders and they have shown that with both Warren Barguil and Tom Dumoulin. I think the race program looks very interesting and it includes a lot of exciting races. I will keep on improving my climbing, but the most important improvement I have to make is in the time trial, as I want to be a very good all-rounder.

– And how about you? What are your hopes and goals?

My hopes and goals for 2016 are to become better in the mountains and hills, and also to support the team’s leaders and do a good job. I think the first races will be very hard, but I think the way of racing in the World Tour suits me a lot, as there’s a lot of climbing there. I also want to try a Grand Tour – Vuelta a España would be a strong option – but I have to see how my body reacts after the races in the spring. Long-term, I want to be a strong GC contender for a Grand Tour. It is, of course, a big step, but I like long stage races with many mountains and I think these suit me. I would love to win a hard mountain stage in a Grand Tour, and a good fit would be the Giro d’Italia, which looks fantastic.

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