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Archive for the category “Interviews”

Leopold König: “Sky is the right team for me”

Leopold König began the year with high hopes and a good form, but his Spring goals were hammered by a knee injury because of which me missed two months of racing. The 27-year-old rider came back in late April and soon afterwards finished 4th in the Bayern Rundfahrt, a result that gave him confidence that he will get into top shape for the start of the Tour de France.

In the Critérium du Dauphiné – his last stage race before the July appointment – Leopold König had some solid runs in the mountains and he came home in 11th place, a result which was even more impressive, as Dauphiné was his first World Tour race of the year. Then, in the Tour de France, although he lost a significant amount of time on the cobbles, the NetApp-Endura cyclist had a very strong second half of the race, with many top 10 placings and even a podium in the Chamrousse stage. Thanks to these results, he climbed to 7th in the GC, at the end of what was his first Tour de France.

This sparked the interest of many teams which tried to sign him for next season. Finally, Leopold König decided to go to Sky, where he’ll have the opportunity to ride all the big races of the World Tour calendar and continue his development. More on this and his 2014 results, in the following interview.

– Leo, how was your season?

If I look back, I can say it was successful based on my Tour de France performance, but if I’m talking of the overall I can say it was a bit unlucky. The first part of the year wasn’t going according to the plan, in March I was injured and it wasn’t easy to cope with this. Finally, it all went well, but the first part was disappointing, because I missed a lot of training and racing and that made me worried for my condition before the Tour de France. Fortunately, it all went well in July and that saved my season, but I feel I could have done a lot more if not for those injuries in the Spring, because I felt really good since the Tour of Oman and I was confident I can get some nice results in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Criterium International.

– How was the Tour de France?

At the start, I was expecting a very stressful and very hard race, and it was as I thought it would be. Compared to the Vuelta, which I did in 2013, the first days were completely different. There were no real mountains, but you had to keep your focus in every single moment, because the peloton was very nervous all the time. You have to be prepared and at 100% from a physical and mental point of view for a really tough race, with the cobbles, the wind, and the fight for a better place in the peloton.

– Before the Tour de France, did you expect to finish in the top 10, considering your Dauphiné result?

For me it was very important to finish the Dauphiné. I knew that I need a one-week long race and Dauphiné helped me. During the race, I wasn’t at 100% and that helped me coming into the Tour de France, because I was confident that I can be at a better level than I was in June. The last two months of preparation went really well and this was very important.

– After the Tour de France, you received many offers and you finally signed with Sky. What made you transfer there?

Team Sky is the right for me, I followed them in the past two years and I like the way they work, the trainings they do and the philosophy of the team. It’s a perfect environment for me to develop and follow my personal goals. Of course, the final decision was not so easy, because I got three more good offers, from NetApp-Endura and two other teams, so I had to consider the most important factor, which was how can my new team help me grow. With Team Sky focusing on the Grand Tours, I knew this will be in my benefit and will help me develop.

– What races will you do next year?

It depends also on the team’s goals and we all know that the Tour de France is very important for Sky. I would like to do the Tour again, but also some World Tour races I didn’t have the opportunity to do so far, like Tirreno-Adriatico, Volta a Catalunya and Vuelta al Pais Vasco. I find all these races quite interesting.

– And what do you think of the Tour de France course?

It’s again interesting, especially for the spectators and for the people staying in the front of the TV, they will all expect a big show in the first week. I’m also expecting to see some fireworks then, like it was the case also this year. The course is nice, but I believe there should be more kilometers of time trial in the race, because this is a key point and the winner should have to race more than 13 km of ITT.

Silvan Dillier: “I want to focus on the cobbled Classics”

Silvan Dillier

There were many talented neo-pro’s in 2014 who showed glimpses of their talent and of what they’re capable of doing over the years. One of these cyclists is BMC’s Silvan Dillier, who came at the start of the season with a strong palmares as an U23 rider, that included the Tour de Normandie GC, a Tour de l’Avenir stage, multiple national titles, the Flèche Ardennaise, and a stage win at the inaugural Tour of Alberta, where he raced as a stagiaire for BMC.

Then, during his first season in the pro peloton, the Swiss rider stacked up 62 race days and even though an individual win eluded him, he can say that he has had a very impressive year, with 15 top-ten placings (in stage race, but also in Classics), the icing coming in September, when he was part of the BMC squad that won the Team Time Trial at the World Championships in Ponferrada.

Last week, Silvan Dillier came to BMC’s training camp in Denia, and thanks to Mister Georges Lüchinger, the team’s Chief Communications Officer, I got to interview Silvan on his results in 2014 and plans for the future.

– Silvan, how satisfied are you with your season?

I’m really satisfied with my first year as a pro. There were some new races which I wasn’t scheduled to do, but I’m happy to have been there with the BMC Team.

– Which was the most interesting one?

The Tour of Flanders was really impressive, it was my first Monument, so it was really special. Also, the Tour de Suisse, my home race, was really great, and finally the World Championships TTT was amazing.

– What’s the result you’re the most proud of?

For sure, the World TTT title. It is the biggest success of my career so far. It’s hard to top this, but I will try in the future.

– You raced a lot on the cobbles in 2014. How was this experience?

As an U23 rider I did a couple of cobbled races and I liked them a lot. Now, with the pros this year, it was way better and it was really great to do all these Classics. I like a lot the cobbled stones, even though it’s very hard there. My profile as a rider is more or less made to ride the cobbled Classics and I think I will focus in the future on trying to win one of these races.

– What was the toughest day of your career?

There were a lot of them. In every race you have a difficult moment and it’s always nice when you get through it and afterwards you have success, you personal as a rider or as a team. In moments like this you know you went through all that pain and you have to enjoy that success.

– What would you like to improve next year?

I got a lot of experience during this season and I would like to double up more in the time trial, because it’s a good thing to be strong in the time trials, as it gives you an advantage over other riders.

– Although your race program for 2015 is not finalized yet, you probably have some goals in your mind.

I would like to do again the cobbled Classics and I’ll like to try the Ardennes Classics, although I don’t know if I’ll do them next year. Then I’d like to race a Grand Tour. Which one isn’t decided yet, but a three-week stage race will be in my program.

Alexandr Pliuschin: A new start, in Azerbaijan

The beginning of 2014 found Alexandr Pliuschin riding for Sky Dive Dubai, after more than half a decade of racing in Europe. Still, it wasn’t necessarily a step back for the former champion of Moldova, as he had the opportunity to rediscover himself after a difficult 2013. Even though he didn’t race much, the 27-year-old got four wins, which landed him a new contract, with Synergy Baku Cycling Project, where he will have the chance to be one of the leaders of the team and share his experience to the younger riders.

– Alexandr, are you satisfied with your season?

Not really. I missed a lot of races and opportunities, but I learned a lot from this season. I learned how to deal with stress disappointments, be motivated, wear the cycling pants and go for training without any goals. I just trained hard and stayed focused.

– You won your first race in more than three years – Nationals aside – at the Melaka Chief Minister’s Cup. Was that victory important for your confidence?

No, not really important. I came into age and I must win those races. I know what I’m capable of, but I didn’t have a lot of chances to show it off. Same goes for the Sharjah Tour, I must win this kind of races. And with the Sharjah Tour being the final race for Sky Dive Dubai, I wanted to be very good there.

– How was the whole Sky Dive Dubai experience?

I have nothing bad to say. It was better than in some World Tour teams and had a family friendly atmosphere. Paco Mancebo has a huge experience and he is a golden rider for the team: he learns the young cyclists and he wins races. He is a great person. Actually, I can say only good things about all the riders who are in the team, honestly. Ricardo Martins was doing his best to form this group. I feel that now he is back on track and the team is going to grow up.

– Do you feel you’ve improved during this past year?

It was a new team and a new start, but even with those small amount of races I got to know my body better and also how to train. I became the rider I used to be. It took some time, but now I’m ready.

– Recently, you signed with Synergy Baku Cycling Project. How did you end up there?

David McQuaid gave me a chance and I took it. My main goal is to help Azerbaijan get the points it needs for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics Games. Next step is to win whenever I can go for it. David McQuaid believes that I can share my experience and do the best to help Baku grow and get big results for the team.

– You’re turning 28 in January. How many seasons would you say you have ahead of you in the pro peloton?

At least 6-8 more years.

– And do you hope for a return to the World Tour?

Yes, but now I’m relaxed. The most important thing was to understand if I can find myself and I did it. I know who I am. The rest should come naturally.

Robert Power: “The Nationals is a big race for me”

Robert Power

When he was just a kid, Robert Power discovered rugby and he looked poised to have a long career there. But fate had other plans and after a knee-injury when he was 13-years-old, he shifted towards cycling, with the Midlands Cycling Club, and this turned out to be an excellent decision. After doing the velodrome for one year, Robert finally tried some road racing and as seasons passed, he got stronger and more experienced, which helped him get some impressive results in the Juniors while racing in Europe (GC podiums in the Giro della Lunigiana and Giro di Basilicata).

In 2014, as an U23 rider, he had a dominant season, during which he finished 2nd at the National Championships, a result followed by a top 10 in both the Tour d’Azerbaidjan and the Czech Cycling Tour, before going on to win three Italian one-day races, the highlight being his incredible display of power in the Gran Premio Capodarco. With these results in the bag, Robert Power came at the start of the Tour de l’Avenir as one of the favourites and he finished the race second, first Australian to get on the podium.

His last appointment of the season was the road race at the World Championships in Ponferrada, after which the 19-year-old took a well-deserved break, before going on a two-week training camp Down Under. There he was when I got to talk to him, at the end of November.

– Robert, how do you look back on your 2014 season?

I think we’ve had a good year with the team, we worked really well together, and we had a really strong core, with Jack Haig, Campbell Flakemore and Caleb Ewan. We tried to get as many good results as we could and I think we did that. There was also an obvious progress and now we hope that next season we’ll have better results than in 2014. Also, I improved my abilities, as well as every little thing of what means to be a cyclist, from nutrition on how to prepare a race.

– How was racing mainly in Europe?

I really enjoyed it this year, it was a real challenge in my first U23 season and I liked to do longer, harder races, especially the Italian one-day races, which are terrific and very tough. There are so many good riders and so many good teams in Europe, and everyone wants to win. In Australia you have 20 guys that want to win, while in Europe there are 200 that want to do it, and this goes on day after day. Everything’s much more competitive and much more of a challenge.

– Speaking of the one-day races, you’ve scored three big wins there: Briga Novarese, Poggiana and Capodarco. Which one was the most important?

I have to say Capodarco, because all year I wanted to win this race and though about it. The whole team worked for me all day and I still can’t thank them enough for this, because they put everything in place. Capodarco is a really special race for me and I’m happy I won it.

– Later in the season, you came second in the Tour de l’Avenir.

I liked L’Avenir, is a tough race and we had a very strong team, with guys who came at the start for stage wins and guys who aimed at the GC. The team really had to work hard for the sprint stages, as well as the mountain ones. It was a completely different level there, with many national teams and I was happy to take second. Obviously, I would have liked to win L’Avenir, but we did everything we could to try and take the GC, but it just didn’t work.

– In the Sun Tour and the Italian one-day races in September, you got to race against World Tour cyclists. How was that experience?

It showed me what I need to improve over the years. I know I still have to learn all the little things, like positioning in the bunch or descending, all these details are really important. I have a lot of work to do in the next years, but hopefully one day I’ll be in the same league as these guys.

– What have you been up to lately?

I’ve just been on the Orica-GreenEdge training camp, not with Orica-GreenEdge, but with the World Tour Academy, so it was a really great experience to train with guys like Simon Gerrans, Simon Clarke or Luke Durbridge. It was a very good week for us.

– Do you know your program for next year?

I think it’s going to be similar to the races I did this year, with L’Avenir hopefully on the cards and the U23 National Championships at the start of the year. Then I hope to go to Europe again with the Australian National U23 Team and try to go for the Italian one-day races and a few more tours. Now I’m focusing on the Nationals and see where I’ll go from here. Nationals is a big race for me, I’ve been training really hard these past weeks and I’m very eager to try and get a result there. After that, Europe will come.

– Did you give a thought about 2016, would you like to start the year with a World Tour team?

Yes, I think I would like to become a pro then, although I really didn’t thought much about it. I’ve really enjoyed working with the GreenEdge guys in the camp over the last week and it seems that they are a really organized team and have good fun, but I want to take it easy, enjoy next season and spend another year in the U23 races.

Jack Haig: Raw talent from Down Under

Jack Haig started cycling in Bendigo, at a local mountain bike club, and at first he wasn’t thinking about becoming a rider. But things changed after being selected for the U19 World Championships, when he decided to train properly in order to be in the best possible shape. All that hard work helped Jack finish in the top 50, a result that gave him the confidence needed to carry on, with the long-term goal of becoming a professional rider.

A couple of years later, during the 2014 season, the young Aussie got the chance to ride the Tour Down Under, as well as many other important races, that suited him and provided the opportunity to show his class. After a strong 17th place in Down Under, he showed some beautiful form in the Sun Tour and the Tour de Korea, before moving to Europe, where he finished second in the Tour Alsace and 12th in the Tour de l’Avenir, cycling’s most prestigious U23 stage race.

All these results where enough for Orica-GreenEdge to sign Jack and allow him to follow his dream of becoming a pro rider. His transition to the Australian World Tour team will work nicely: after racing with Avanti during the local season, Jack Haig will join the U23 Australian Academy, before racing for Orica as a stagiaire from the summer, and as a pro starting with the 2016 season.

Recently, I got the chance to talk to Jack about his past year and his plans for 2015, a season in which many good things should come for the 21-year-old cyclist.

– Jack, in your first stage race of the year, Tour Down Under, you finished 17th – best result of a non-World Tour rider. What did it meant for you?

It was amazing to get a result like that at the start of the year, it kinda confirmed to me that I could potently make it as a pro one day. It was a bit of a crazy week with all the hype that is around a World Tour race, but I really enjoyed it.

– Your good form continued at the Sun Tour, where you finished on the podium. Did you expect to get such a good result?

Not really, but after doing well at the Tour Down Under I knew I had some good form and I was fairly confident that I could get a good result. But I didn’t quite think I would be on the podium at the end of the race.

– Later in the season, you had your best GC of the year in the Tour Alsace. Were you satisfied with this, or disappointed for missing the win for just six seconds?

I was really happy to get a result like that in a big race like Tour Alsace, as it was only my second road race in Europe. I was a little worried before the start that I might not be good enough for the level of racing in Europe, so afterwards, when I got that result, I was kinda relieved.

– In August, after some solid runs in the Italian one-day races, you were 12th in the Tour de l’Avenir. How was it?

My form at L’Avenir wasn’t that good, because it had been a long season. I had really good form at the very start of the year and I had build back up for Alsace and then I was struggling to hold my form from there and a couple of one-day races in Italy. So I wasn’t that happy with my ride, but at the end of the day 12th overall isn’t too bad considering I lost around 1:30 on the first climbing day when I had to give my bike to Robert Power on the climb, because his gears stopped working. This meant I lost contact with the front group and had to ride his bike for a bit until the team car got up there.

– Overall, how would you describe your season?

I think I had a really good season up until L’Avenir and the Worlds, where I didn’t quite perform how I would have liked to. But until then I was really happy with my season, it’s easily the best I have had so far. I think I improved in all areas, which have lead to the race results I got.

– And those results helped you turn pro with Orica-GreenEdge.

I won’t actually turn pro with them until 2016 and my contract will go until the end of 2017. I will hopefully do some races with them at the end of next year similar to the ones Caleb Ewan did. I got quite a bit of interest after Tour Down Under, but a lot of the teams wanted to wait and see how I would go in Europe. Orica-GreenEdge just offered me the best opportunity to develop, by having another year in U23 to learn and getting stronger before going pro. So hopefully when I do go pro I can step in and hopefully have quite a good first year similar to the Yates brothers.

– Before that, you’ll continue racing for Avanti. What personal goals will you have?

There isn’t really any more racing this year, but in 2015 I really want to do well at National Championships and hopefully get selected for the Tour Down Under again. If I could have next year a similar start to the one I had this year I would be super happy.

– Long-term, do you see yourself challenging also for one-day races, not only stage races?

I think I just really need to find my feet in the World Tour and develop as a rider, then start to fully focus on committing to trying to win races. I do love watching the one-day races and would love to ride there, but I think I would need to get quite a bit stronger before challenging for the win in them.

– What things would you like to improve in the future?

I would really like to improve my time trailing, as well as my ability to win out of a small bunches. So improving my sprinting, but also my tactics used in a sprint. I hope all these things will help me in the future to win a big one-day race, but also a Grand Tour.

Andrea Zordan: Looking forward to 2015

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His first pro season was not entirely as Andrea Zordan had hoped. Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela’s rider raced in many important Classics, like Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, the Tour of Flanders or Amstel Gold, but faced many difficult times, because of a mononucleosis. The good thing after the disease was found was that Andrea recovered and worked hard to finish the season on a high.

Now, before the start of the new season, the 22-year-old rider trains a lot in order to find the best form in 2015, when he wants to show everyone what he’s capable of. Given that he does not lack confidence and he has on his side the experience of the past season, Andrea Zordan needs just a little luck to be one of the surprises of next year.

– Andrea, how was 2014?

My first season as a pro was a long and hard one, with many difficult moments, but also with nice memories, one of which was traveling around the world with the team. It certainly was a significant leap for me, considering that I went from 130-150 km long races races to 200 km long races. The pace is an intense one, especially at the end of the races, but thanks to the different races which I did, I managed to cope with these things pretty well.

– When was your best moment?

Without any doubt, that was in the month of August. After I got over my physical problems, I did some training in France and in the end I could fight against fast riders like Mark Cavendish, Thor Hushovd and others. Then in Italy I made myself noticed in the Trittico Lombardo, with more than 200 kilometers in the breakaway during Coppa Agostini.

– And the worst?

The worst moment was when I realized, in April, that I did not have an optimal physical condition. After several tests, in July I discovered that I had mononucleosis. That was why in many of the races I did I had a strange feeling and I felt tired. This led to many races I didn’t finish.

– You love the cobbled Classics, and this year you got to race there. How was it?

It was an important experience that helped me grow a lot. I now understand that these are races in which you have to be at 110%, given that all the great champions want to do very good. In addition to that, I saw how the bikes are prepared for these kind of races, nothing is left to chance, never.

– What did you improve during 2014?

This year, I feel like I made some progress in terms of strength, because I rode in 200 km long races and so I got used to a constant effort of five, five hours and a half.

– Are you satisfied or disappointed with your season?

If I’d have to give myself a grade from 1 to 10, I would definitely give a 5,5, because I was very tired, but thanks to the hard work, I managed to do some really good races in the last two months of the season.

– What plans do you have for next year?

I’ve thought a lot about 2015 and I have already begun preparing for it, because I’m focused on doing very well. My goals are connected to the races in which the team will be invited. In addition to the Northern Classics, I want to race more in Italy and France, where I’ve noticed there many races held that suit me. Then I would be very happy if I could start in a race that I watched very often on television, Milano-San-Remo. But by biggest goal is to be at the start of the Giro d’Italia.

Karel Hnik: Ready to make the big step in 2015

At the beginning of the year, Karel Hnik had one clear goal: to be better then he was in the previous season. Just 22-year-old at that time, the talented Czech rider showed he means serious business right from his first race, the Istrian Spring Trophy, where he finished second. Just two weeks later, he came third in the Volta ao Alentejo, a race in which many U23 cyclists made a name for themselves over the years.

Winning stage three of the Trofeu Joaquim Agostinho was just a sign of the big things that were to come in August, when Karel Hnik finished first in the GC of the Tour Alsace, as well as taking the stage to Markstein. Those results landed him a role as a stagiaire with MTN-Qhubeka, and later, a pro contract with CULT Energy, which already applied for a Pro Continental license.

What are Karel’s thoughts after his last season in the U23 ranks? What goals does he have for the future? Find out these and more from the following interview.

– Karel, 2014 is over. How was this year?

It was my second full road season, without combining it with the cyclo-cross races and I must say I haven’t had a better season until this point. Racing with Etixx-Ihned and then with MTN-Qhubeka gave me the opportunity to have a really great program from the beginning until the end of the season. I’ve raced almost 10 000 kilometers and for sure this was a move forward. My biggest result was winning a stage and the GC of the Tour Alsace. In that period – late July and August – I felt excellent and I had a great form. But my biggest satisfactions came from being able do be consistent and get results throughout the year.

– What did you improve during the past two years with Etixx-Ihned?

The team helped me a lot to step up. I came here as a cyclo-cross rider, who used to do just a couple of road races per year, but now I dare to say that I am full road rider. Definitely, I still need to get a lot of experience, but the last two seasons have given me so much. Without Etixx-Ihned, I would not be where I am now.

– Besides Etixx, how important was cyclo-cross for your development?

It really helped me a lot. I got technique and a good control of the bike, and these are things I’ll never forget. My opinion is that all the young riders should begin with cyclo-cross or MTB.

– You rode as a stagiaire for MTN-Qhubeka and at some point there were talks of a contract there, but nothing happened. Why was that?

Team manager Douglas Ryder told to me that he was very satisfied with my results, but after signing big names, like Edvald Boasson Hagen, they could not pick any other riders from Europe, as the sponsors were interested in having cyclists from Africa.

– During your spell with MTN, you’ve raced against many World Tour riders. How was it?

In was very important, because in those two months as a stagiaire I had the opportunity to live new experiences in quality races, and now I know what I can expect from next year.

– How did you end up signing with CULT Energy?

I got a call from the team’s general manager, who said that the team was following me for some time now and was very interested in me. I talked with my manager, Brian Smith, and he told me that it’s a very good step for me to go to this team. So, after a couple of days, the contract was already signed.

– What goals do you have for your first pro season?

My main focus will be on gaining more experience in the professional peloton. I also look forward to doing some big and hard races, where I want to show what I’m capable of. Long-term, I want to do good in the Grand Tours and the Classics. If I will score a win in a big race, it will be great.

Jasper Stuyven: 2014 – first season in the World Tour

Jasper Stuyven

For some time now, people are talking about Jasper Stuyven as one of the future stars of the cobbled Classics, in which he already shined as a Junior and U23 rider. Altough is always difficult to say what a youn cyclist will and can do over the years, one thing is certain: the Belgian rider of Trek Factory Racing has the talent and potential to make a name for himself in the future seasons, and not only in one-day races, but also in stage races, where his strong sprint can help him notch wins.

Despite not taking a victory in 2014, the 22-year-old Belgian rider showed what he is capable of from his first season in the pro peloton, getting to race all the important cobbled Classics, and also making his debut in a Grand Tour. Making a quick summary of his year, Jasper Stuyven has had 66 race days and 12 top-10 placings, eight of which came in the World Tour. What did he had to say on his very good year? Find out from the following interview.

– Jasper, the fans have voted you the best neo-pro of 2014 on the Cafe Roubaix poll. How was this season?

I am pretty happy with my season. I wasn’t scheduled to do all the big Classics, but because the team was pretty happy about my form and the way I knew the roads, I was able to do them all. Then, at the end of the season, I got the chance to start in my first Grand Tour and delivered some impressive results. So although I did not win, I gained experience and I had a peak form in the World Tour races, where is very difficult to win.

– You are a Junior Paris-Roubaix winner and this year you’ve raced in the elite version and finished 55th. How was that day?

For me, Paris-Roubaix was a beautiful race, during which I raced on Fabian’s (ed. Cancellara) side and was able to work really hard for him. Of course, you can always ask yourself “what if I didn’t have to pull?”, but that is part of the job. My result says nothing. Also, Paris-Roubaix was my best day in the Classics this year! I just loved riding there, getting on the cobbles, and I also loved that I could still ride at the front for Fabian, at the same time controlling the gap of the breakaway.

– What meant the whole Vuelta experience for you?

I was nervous to start in my first Grand Tour and because we went there without a big GC leader, I think it made it possible for me to take it “easy”, without too much pressure from the team. The most difficult thing was to get through the days I didn’t feel good, mentally and physically, but so I learned that I am recovering pretty well. Of course, there were some good and bad days, but if someone would have told me before the start that I’ll finish eight times in the top 10, as a neo-pro, I would have signed for this immediately!

– Your were known to have a good sprint from the U23 ranks, but your sprinting skills were really impressive in the Vuelta. Did you train to improve this during the season?

Actually, I did not train on my sprinting skills at all in the past season, although maybe I should have done it after the Classics. I just trained really hard and well preparing for the Vuelta and without having a “real” sprinter of Trek Factory Racing there, I was able to go for my own results and I didn’t have to do some lead-out work.

– What’s your schedule for 2015?

Normally, I will start my season in the Tour of Qatar again. Then, in the first part of the season, I will be all in for the Classics.

– Do you hope to start the Tour de France?

I am not yet really interested in riding the Tour at this moment. For sure, I want to ride it someday, but no kind of pressure on me in this regard.

– And what personal goals will you have for 2015?

I just want to perform really well in the Spring Classics and give my best also in all the other races that I will do. Of course, it would be nice if I could say at the end of 2015 that I’ve won an important race.

Michael Valgren: A year in the pro peloton

In his first season with Tinkoff-Saxo, Michael Valgren won the national title and the Tour of Denmark, but his results can hardly be called surprising, as the young Danish rider came from the U23 ranks recommended by some very impressive wins. More than a surprise, Michael’s excellent run in 2014 was a confirmation of his huge talent, thanks to which he has been tipped to put his mark on the Classics in the following decade.

After a great season, in which he got to make his Grand Tour debut and raced at the World Championships in Ponferrada, Michael Valgren sat down to talk for Cafe Roubaix about his experience as a neo-pro and his plans for 2015, a season in which he can land a big win.

– Michael, you had 80 race days in 2014. How are you feeling after this long season?

Yeah, 80 race days sounds a lot, but I felt really good at the end of the season, so I am really happy that the team let me race for so long. Especially after the Vuelta I felt good and it was just so awesome to be like this after my first Grand Tour.

– Your first important result came in May, when you finished third in the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque. Did you expect to have such a good run?

Before the race I had no expectations, but I knew my condition was good, so I just tried not to lose time in the first couples of stages. Then, when I saw an opportunity, I took it and my team mates supported me 100%. It was very cool to have the whole team behind me, as I am a neo-pro.

– Less than two months later, you became National Champion reaching the finish line all alone. What meant for you to win the title in your first pro season?

It was really great to win the National Championships. It gave me confidence in myself for the future and it is so cool to ride in the national kit every race until next year. Also, it gives you good media time for sure, which is always good I think.

– Your biggest victory was the GC in the Tour of Denmark. How was it?

Winning on home soil is one of the biggest results out there for a Dane and in front of such a big crowd like the one in Copenhagen. It was a really emotional feeling, because my parents were following the whole Tour of Denmark and gave me so much support. They are the best!

– Was that result decisive in your selection for the Vuelta?

I honestly don’t know. I think I was in the picture, but winning for sure helped.

– Speaking of the Vuelta, you made your Grand Tour debut there. How did you enjoyed that whole experience?

The Vuelta was such a big experience, especially because Alberto (ed. Contador) won. And helping him win was just so amazing, to see that the team rode so well and tactically flawless during the race was incredible. It truly was a great experience. For sure, I will do again a Grand Tour.

– Let’s go now to the World Championships, where you attacked in the finale.

Well, at the Worlds I had good legs for sure, but I should have waited more, because in the Worlds you have to wait. On the other hand, I was a bit insecure that I was good enough for the final, so I took an opportunity and it worked out well… almost. But being there in the break was just so cool! Even though I was suffering, I’ve enjoyed it so much! After the race, when I started thinking of what happened, I realised I could have done better. But I am super happy with my performance!

– What do you feel you improved in 2014?

My endurance, for sure. Now I can do races which are over 200 km, and I showed that in the Worlds. This is good for my future: I want to win the Worlds, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and Amstel Gold Race, and I have to be able to do long distance races! There were some periods when I could have been better, but you always have downs I think. But I had the best help from the team coaches to get me back in the right direction.

– How was the whole Kilimanjaro adventure?

It was maybe one of my biggest experiences! It had everything: fear, happiness, fatigue, success! I am glad that I’ve tried it, because it is something I would never do on my own and I will never do it again actually. Been there, done that!

– What plans do you have for next season? Are you tempted by some cobbled Classics?

I want to do my best! I have no races that I have been giving a thought, because I don’t know my program yet. But I am very fascinated by the cobbles and I would love to do those race to help Peter Sagan win there! Of course, every rider hopes for the Tour de France, but I want to take things easy. This doesn’t mean that if they give me a spot I won’t take it.

John Degenkolb: “The podium in Paris-Roubaix was the next big step of my career”

Tour of Spain 2014 - stage - 4

Gent-Wevelgem, four stages and the points jersey in the Vuelta, and a total of ten wins, this is the impressive palmares of John Degenkolb at the end of the 2014 season, his best to date. Also, the 25-year-old German made some significant improvements during the past months, which helped him finish two Grand Tours for the first time in his career and thus be one of the most consistent riders of the peloton, despite having a long season, with no less than 88 race days.

After the excellent season he had, John Degenkolb went on a holiday, but before that he made some time for an interview, in which he reflected on his results and talked about his goals for 2015, a year he hopes to be as best as this one.

– John, how would you rate your season?

I was planning to do a successful season and it worked out. It was a really nice season, during which I worked hard from the beginning until the end. I had a great Spring campaign, but I must admit that in the Tour de France I was disappointed with the crash and the fact I couldn’t win a stage. Then, the Vuelta was great, and the same goes for the one-day races after the Vuelta.

– Speaking of the Vuelta, you were more thrilled for your stage wins or for taking the green jersey?

The points jersey in a Grand Tour, especially your first one, is something emotional and very exciting. I’m very proud of winning it. Of course, I enjoyed the stage wins as well, but it was very important to take the green jersey, which was a big goal for me since before the start of the race.

– Back to the the Spring Classics: in terms of confidence and what you can do in the future, which result was more important, winning Gent-Wevelgem or finishing second in Paris-Roubaix?

The podium in Paris-Roubaix was really special, because it was for the first time in my career that I stood on the podium in a Monument. Gent-Wevelgem is an important race, but Paris-Roubaix is something different, with all that great history behind it and the special moments it had. It was the next big step of my career to be up there on the podium, I had a great feeling and it was very significant for me.

– Despite some health problems, you raced at the World Championships. How was the race?

Really, really hard. It was a tough race, also because of the problems I’ve had after the Vuelta, when my white blood cells were high and I had to take a lot of antibiotics in order to get rid of the infection in my body. That made me lose energy for the Worlds, and even tough I was 100% focused and motivated, it was very difficult. But, despite all these problems, I got a top 10 and showed that I’ve improved and can cope better in difficult races and still get a nice result.

– Do you now feel that in one-day races your rivals are refusing to work when there’s an attack, because they are aware of how strong you are in a sprint?

Yes, and this something I will have to handle in the following years, because if some riders will be with me in the first group not far from the finish, they will know it will be hard to beat me, so will try to drop me, or catch me in a trap and make things more difficult for me.

– Earlier, you said that you are much stronger after this season. What did you improve in the past months?

I’m stronger mentally and this helped me stay more calm in the important situations. This was my fourth year as a professional and in every season my “engine” is becoming bigger and bigger. I have more power, and this was the reason for which I chose to do the Tour de France and straight afterwards the Vuelta. This busy schedule I had will have a big influence on my body structure in the winter and for the next Classics season. We hope that this will help me to be in a better shape in the Classics.

– What goals will you have for next year?

My main goal is to repet the results I’ve had this year, and first of all to have another strong Classics season. Then, I will definitely like to do the Tour de France again. This is the biggest race in cycling and if you are successful there, then you get a lot of attention. It’s very important to be there and I don’t want to miss it, especially as one of my other goals for 2015 is to win a stage in the Tour de France.

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