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Kevin Ledanois: Huge talent, huge ambitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– What was the biggest disappointment of last season?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Konrad

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

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

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

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

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

– Does it get more media attention now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Do you have any personal goals?  

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

Stefan Küng, a future cycling star

Cycling: BMC Racing Team 2015

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

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

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

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

– Stefan, how did you get involved in cycling?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– What goals do you have for 2015?

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

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

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

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

Edvald Boasson Hagen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– On what did you focus during the winter?

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

– What races would you like to do?

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

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

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

Dirk Demol, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix

Dirk Demol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gianni Savio: 2015, a new start for the team

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

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

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

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

– Which riders have impressed you?

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

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

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

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

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

– On what races will the team focus?

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

– Which Androni rider can be the revelation of 2015?

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

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

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

– But are all the doors closed?

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

Sondre Holst Enger: “I’m interested only in winning”

Sondre Holst Enger

Norwegian cycling is on a high for a couple of seasons, and one of the most fascinating prospects coming from that country is Sondre Holst Enger, the 21-year-old who made quite an impression during the past seasons. Riding for Sparebanken Sør, he was one of the revelations of 2013, when he scored some great results: the Coupe des Nations Saguenay, the GC in the Norway Cup, a 3rd place in the Tour of Norway – where he finished ahead of many World Tour cyclists – and a bronze medal in the road race at the World Championships in Florence.

One year later, things didn’t began as planned for the Norwegian rider, who had to deal with a lack of form until the second half of the season, when things finally started to roll. After a 5th place in the Tour des Fjords – his best result of the year in a stage race – he went on to win the U23 national title and then finished 5th at the Ponferrada World Championships. A very strong all-rounder with an amazing talent, Sondre Holst Enger was noticed by IAM Cycling, which signed him for the next two years. Giving how he fared so far, the young Scandinavian should have a successful pro career and the Swiss team will make sure of helping him develop, so that he can become one of the best riders in the world.

A couple of days ago, while he was in the training camp, I got the opportunity to sit down with Sondre and ask him a couple of questions about his U23 seasons and the expectations he has for his first pro year.

– Sondre, how did you start cycling?

At first, I was doing karate for five years, but my father, who was a cyclist with important results during his career, asked me why if I don’t want to try it. I said I will give it a shot, although I was afraid of losing. Eventually, I tried cycling and tought it was nice, even though things didn’t go so well in the first races. Still, I didn’t give up, I did some more races, and by doing that I got to understand the sport more and really liked it. That’s when I decided to switch from karate to cycling and give 100% there.

– What was the most important result for you so far?

There are two results, both which came in 2013: the Tour of Norway and the World Championships. That was my best season and I was really motivated do to good, after being ill in 2012. It was fantastic to be one of the protagonists in the Tour of Norway and finish 3rd there, and then, just a couple of months later, to come 3rd in the road race at the World Championships in Firenze.

– You’re fast in the finish and have a good punch. Do you think your future lies in the Classics or are you tempted also by stage races?

I want to focus on both, I’d like to get some nice wins in the Classics, but also in stage races. To be honest, I don’t really care too much about what race I do, if I like it and ride it, I give all than I can to get the win. I’m not interested in finishing on the podium or in the top ten. My goal is always to win.

– What races will you do this season?

I will begin in the Challenge Mallorca and I will also do the Volta a Catalunya and Amstel Gold Race. Then, in May, I hope to do some races in Norway, because those races are very important to me.

– On what did you focus on the training camps you did with IAM Cycling?

On getting in shape, because I really want to have a good start in my first pro season. I also worked on improving my climbing and sprint and things really went well. There is no pressure from the team, they all want me to learn as much as possible and find my rhythm. I want to show what I can do, to show my big potential and that I can be one of the best riders in the world in the years to come.

– Speaking of this, what races you would like to win?

I’d like to win some Tour de France stages, but the World Championships road race is also on my mind. Of course, I want to win in the Classics, it would be nice to take a victory in Amstel Gold Race or Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

Dylan Groenewegen: Focused on the Classics in 2015

Dylan Groenewegen

Roompot is a new team on the international cycling scene, and amongst the riders it signed for this first season we can find Dylan Groenewegen, one of the biggest Dutch talents at the moment. Coming from Amsterdam, the 21-year-old made a name for himself since he was a junior and won a stage in the Driedaagse van Axel and another one in Liège-La Gleize. Then, as an U23 cyclist, he went on to confirm his potential, by taking a stage in the Tour de Normandie, as well as the Tour of Flanders, where he became only the third Dutch winner since the inception of the race, in 1936.

That victory in Flanders caught up the interest of many pro teams, so eventually Dylan Groenewegen ended up going to Roompot, the only Pro Continental Dutch team. Here he will have the chance of developing, while racing a nice program that will also include some Spring Classics. Last week, while in the training camp, I got to talk to Dylan, thanks to Mister Léon Boele, the team’s press officer, and ask him more about his expectations ahead of this season.

– Dylan, how did you began cycling?

Cycling has been for a long time in my family, almost everyone has cycled or is still active in races and other cycling events. One day I went to a race, received a prize and from that moment on I wanted more. Riding races began as a hobby, but soon I realized that I wanted to be a professional and now I am very happy to make this step with Team Roompot.

– In the past years, you have had some very strong results, one of which was winning the U23 Tour of Flanders. How important was that victory for you?

The goal was to have good results from the start of the season, and the main target was to win the U23 Tour of Flanders. I was second in 2013 and I really wanted to win it, so at the finish I was glad it worked out well and I reached my goal.

– Did you have any major disappointment in 2014?

There are always this kind of moments, and one of these was missing the U23 National Championships last summer, which was an important goal for me. I could have still raced as an U23 this year and try to go again for this, but I have chosen to make the step to the pros and I’m happy with this.

– What’s the story of your transfer to Roompot?  

I had an agreement with a team early in the 2014 season, but they stopped, so then I had to choose between BMC and Roompot. The last gave me a lot of confidence, so I went there. I like it a lot, because here is nice, there are many Dutch riders and the atmosphere is really great.

– Jean-Paul van Poppel said that you aren’t afraid in the sprints and can always improvise. How do you rate your skills?

My sprint is very good, but it should be even better. I want to improve it with the help of Jean-Paul van Poppel, who is the team’s mentor. When the terrain is difficult, my sprint is very important, because I can use it as a strong weapon.

– What races will you do in the first months of the season?  

I will begin next month, in France, with the Etoile de Bessèges, then I hope to start Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and other one-day races.

– And what objectives will you have in this first year?  

I’d like to be able to perform well in some Spring Classics. Having a powerful sprint, I really hope this will help me to show myself in the big races of the calendar. In the future, it goes without saying I want to win many races.

Kristoffer Skjerping: “My biggest career goal is to win Flanders”

Kristoffer Skjerping

He is just 21-years-old, but know what he wants. Ever since starting cycling, thanks to his older brother, Kristoffer Skjerping was determined to become better and better with each season and reach all of his goals. So, after racing for a Norwegian team at a Continental level, he started adding some solid results to his palmares, one of which was stage 1 of the Tour de l’Avenir, after being in the break all day long. Soon afterwards, he got his biggest result up-to-date, 3rd at the U23 World Championships in Ponferrada and that brought him a pro contract with Cannondale-Garmin, after three years with Team Joker.

One of the most promising neo-pro riders of the peloton, Kristoffer Skjerping is a cyclist whose future lies in the Classics, which have fascinated him for a long time now. This season, although a debutant, he will get the chance to do some of the best one-day races of the calendar, thus living one of his dream. For the moment, Kristoffer’s goal is to finish these races and gain experience, so that one day he can come back as one of the favorites.

– Kristoffer, you’re making your pro debut earlier than expected, at the Tour de San Luis.

Yes, that was a bit of a shock, but I’m happy to be here, and I’m really looking forward to start racing with Cannondale-Garmin.

– What do you think of Argentina so far?

The first thing that caught my attention was the heat. It’s not easy to go from –20 degrees to +35, but I’m a viking, so I will survive.

– With what expectations are you starting San Luis?

I hope I can do my job for the team and come through the race. If I get a result in a sprint one day, that will be a big bonus.

– What are your goals for this year?

I want to learn as much as possible and do everything that the team tells me to do. My biggest goals will come in the Classics, so to finish all of them is a big target for me. Everything I will do in the next weeks leads up to the Classics and that’s why I’m trying to be in the best shape of my life for those races. It goes without saying that in the future I want to win such a race.

– Are you thinking about a particular Classic?

My biggest goal in the future is to win the Tour of Flanders. The short steep climbs suit me well, and I have a good sprint in the end, which is really helpful.

– Is there anything you’d like to improve?

I want to be stronger mentally, especially in the sprints. Don’t think so much, just do it!

– You’ll be 24 by the time Bergen hosts the World Championships, in 2017. Do you think you could get a nice result there?

I think it comes too early for me to think of a win, but to get a good result is possible. The World Championships in Bergen is a big goal for me and I think a lot about it. The course actually goes 200 meters away from my house and I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

– How do you explain the cycling boom in Norway?

I think the main reason lies in the very good riders we had in the last few years. When I started cycling, Thor Hushovd and Kurt Asle Arvesen were the big cycling stars in Norway. After them, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Alexander Kristoff came from behind and are now amongst the best cyclists in the world.

Tony Gallopin: “My focus will be on the Ardennes”

Last year, Tony Gallopin was one of the best French riders of the peloton, confirming he is on the up after in 2013 he has won the Clasica San Sebastian, thanks to a great attack on the last climb of the race. A very versatile cyclist, the 26-year-old made some nice improvements during his first season with Lotto-Belisol and quickly established himself as one of the Belgian team’s captains. This led to him winning a stage in the Tour de France and wearing the yellow jersey for a day, on the 14th of July.

Now, he is ready for his fifth season in the World Tour, during which he hopes to have even more success than in 2014 and win another Classic. This was one of the topics he talked about in the following interview, that I took him a couple of days ago.

– Tony, how was 2014?

It was a very nice season, with the Tour de France stage win and the yellow jersey as highlights, all that happened there was fantastic. I’m very happy for the way things went in the race, but not so happy for the start of the season, when I wasn’t so lucky. I was in good shape for the Flemish Classics, but not lucky, while in the Ardennes truth is that I wasn’t at my very best. The final part of the season was much better and I’m really satisfied with my results in Canada.

– What made you focus this season on the Ardennes Classics, and not on Flanders?

In 2014, the Flemish races where my top goal, but when I got at the start of the Ardennes Classics, my legs weren’t so good. This made me think it’s better to change my program, focus on the Ardennes and do another race before, so that I will be more skinny. This season will give me some important clues for the future and will show me if I should continue on this path or make another change.

– Will you focus on all three Ardennes Classics?

I’m not sure I’ll ride Flèche Wallonne, so Amstel Gold Race and Liège–Bastogne–Liège will be the most important one-day races this year, races in which I want to be very competitive. That’s why I want to lose some weight and to arrive really fresh at the start of that week.

– In what races you will go before the Classics?

I’ll start in the Grand Prix La Marseillaise, continue with Etoile de Bessèges, Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice. Then I will go in Milan-Sanremo, but afterwards I’ll do only the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. It will be my first time there and I’m really happy to try something new. Next will be Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold Race and Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

– Will you focus also on the GC this season?

Maybe I will try again in Paris-Nice, like last year, but that depends on the course. Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Criterium du Dauphiné are too tough for me.

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

For me, it looks a little bit like the one in 2014. I’ll go there with the same goal as last year, to try and win a stage, most likely from a breakaway. In the flat stages, I will work for André Greipel.

– Are the World Championships on your agenda?

It looks like the course is a good one, that suits me. The Worlds will be an important target for me at the end of the season, so I’m thinking about coming into shape for September, which means that I’ll do the Canada races or the Tour of Britain. I like the races in Canada, but from that moment there are three weeks until Richmond, so nothing is decided yet. Anyway, a start in the Vuelta is very unlikely.

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