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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.

Brian Holm: Cavendish, Kwiatkowski and the young riders coming from behind

Etixx-Quick Step is ready to begin a new season, which the team hopes to be even better than the 2014 one, when it racked up 58 wins, 20 of which came in World Tour races. First appointment of the Belgian team will be the Tour de San Luis, in Argentina, where Etixx will send a squad spearheaded by Mark Cavendish and world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, two riders surrounded by huge expectations: the Manxman has to prove that he’s still got it in the sprint and can come back at the top, while the young Pole will be watched with an even higher degree of interest than in the past, now that he has the rainbow jersey.

But 2015 it’s not going to be only about Cavendish and Kwiatkowski, as Etixx-Quick Step has a wider range of riders who will try to emulate last year’s results and keep the team amongst the best in the world. Sport director Brian Holm made some time recently for Cafe Roubaix to talk of the team’s stars, but also of the young riders, who make for an important part of Etixx’s core.

– Mister Holm, this year will be Michal Kwiatkowski’s first season in the rainbow jersey. On what races should he focus?

It will probably be more or less the same like last year. Wherever he will go, he can compete for the win. I’m curious to see him in the Classics and also in the Tour de France. He’s a very good rider, one of his best of his generation and has many years ahead of him to show what he can do. He has a very good form since the start of the season, his bottom level is very high, he’s very serious about the sport and he knows things will be different for him now. Everybody can ride with the national jersey, but having the rainbow jersey changes things, he will be watched and challenged by more riders now. When he’ll win, when he’ll lose or when he’ll crash, one thing will certain: everything will be bigger now for him.

– Will he work on improving his skills on longer climbs?

No, it’s not a priority at the moment. First of all, we want to see him in the Classics, to see how things will go there and then we’ll focus on the Grand Tours. We want to take things step by step.

– This season will be an important one also for Mark Cavendish. Is he capable of regaining his crown as the world’s best sprinter?

Well, I certainly hope so. Last year was still a pretty good one, inspite of the big blow that came in the first stage of the Tour de France. He has to keep his head high and win his races. André Greipel, Marcel Kittel and Alexander Kristoff will be there, he will lose some races against these guys, but I’m also sure he is going to beat them. Mark missed some luck in 2014, nobody knows what would have happened if not for that crash, but that’s cycling. He’s very motivated and ready, we could already see that in the training camp, and I think it’s for the first time I’ve seen him so skinny before the start of the season.

– Let’s shift towards the Classics team, which will be led once again by Tom Boonen. Giving his age (ed. 34-years-old), will 2015 be his last chance to win a Monument?

If Tom wants to ride for 6-7 more years, I think he’ll always be one of the favourites. He will always have it, he has class and he’ll always be capable to go for the win, especially in Paris-Roubaix. There are many young riders coming from behind, but Boonen and Cancellara will still be the there, as one of the favourites, even though not so big as in the past. Our Classics team is an excellent one; besides Tom we have 4-5 good riders who can make it: Stijn Vandenbergh, who did an amazing job last year, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, and even Nikolas Maes. Our squad has a lot of depth, we had 18-19 riders who won a race last year, while the rest of the teams had 10 riders. Even with HTC, we had 15 or 16 riders winning in a season. You could see the depth of the squad in the Tour de France: when Cavendish had to abandon, everybody declared us dead, and what happened? We won three stages.

– And many young riders are coming from behind, one of which is Julian Alaphilippe.

He is a cyclist who can be huge in the future. At the moment, it’s hard to say how far he’ll make it and if he’ll be a Classics rider. Julian can climb good, will probably not win the Tour de France, but will do some big things. He’s the type of Laurent Jalabert, can do most of the races, has excellent skills and is really fantastic, so it will be very exciting to follow him. We should not forget that he’s not the only talented youngster Etixx-Quick Step has. Last year, Petr Vakoč was surprinsingly good and he’s very strong. Same goes for Lukasz Wisniowski, Michal Kwiatkowski told us he was impressed by what he showed in the trainings. For these young riders it will be very important to not do very tough races from the beginning, so that they don’t get burned out. We have excellent trainers and they always think of a very good program for the young cyclists, which will also be the case now.

– How important will the GC be for the team in this season?

In the past, we were too short on the climbs, we didn’t have too many climbers, but now things have changed. We signed Maxime Bouet and David de la Cruz, so they will provide some strong support to Rigoberto Uran. There’s also Pieter Serry and we hope that all these riders will change things for us, so we expect some nice results in stage races.

– Who can be the revelation of the team?

We have many good riders, but if I am to pick a cyclist who can do things differently, than that would be Julian Alaphilippe. He is still learning, but he’s more stronger, can get to the final in tough and selective races, and has the potential and characteristics of becoming a monster in the future. He is still young and impulsive, so he needs more patience and to stay calm, and I’m sure he’ll be there sooner or later and make a name for himself.

James Oram: Ready to go big in 2015

James Oram

21-year-old James Oram is entering his fourth season with Axeon Cycling (previously known as Bontrager-Livestrong and Bissell Development) and he is prepared to step up and leave his mark on the races he’ll do, so that the end of the year will bring him a pro contract. A strong TT rider (10th in the U23 World Championships in Ponferrada), the Kiwi made some nice developments on the climbs in the past seasons, which helped him become a protagonist in races like the USA Pro Cycling Challenge or the Tour of Alberta.

This week, James Oram is in New Zealand, where he’s preparing for racing both the U23 time trial and road race at the Nationals, hoping to start the year with some nice results, just like in 2014. Then, Oram – who will be one of Axeon’s leaders – will focus on the UCI America Tour, being aware that he has the skills to go big in the most important stage races of the calendar.

– James, what’s been the highlight of last season for you?

Finishing off my time with the team at the Tour of Alberta was amazing. There’s something about having success from a team effort that is far more enjoyable than a personal. The more, the merrier they say!

– Did 2014 have any downsides?

My crash at the Tour of California was my downer for the year, but I was back up and running a lot faster than expected, so can’t complain.

– What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far?

To be patient. But more importantly surrounding yourself with the right people. With good people, good things happen.

– Have you set your mind on goals for 2015 yet?

When most of the peloton will still be training in January, I’ll be racing the New Zeeland National Championships, that’s definitely always one I want to tick off. Good results at the Tour of California, Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge are my main focus though. Can’t wait!

– Results pages don’t always tell the full story. For example, in 2013 you were top 20 in Colorado, while working for the team.

As amazing as being on Bissell is, you have to remind yourself it is the number one U23 team. At Colorado last year we had Lawson Craddock and Nate Wilson going for the overall, so to help them out, and still have some success for myself was huge. It was definitely a result I needed to show I’m on the up.

– The Axeon team has been amazing at getting guys to the World Tour. What are they doing right?

As I said earlier, you are a result of your environment. Good people, good times! Axel Merckx and his team know the right riders to sign to fit the team and it’s mantra. It’s only serious when it needs to be!

Eduard Grosu: “I want at least five wins in 2015”

At the start of last year, Edi Grosu was an unknown for many, as 2014 was his first season at a Continental level. Riding for Vini Fantini-Nippo, the young Romanian took people by surprise with his very good results, going on to win six races (including the Tour of Estonia GC and the U23 national title) and getting 22 top-10 placings. Thanks to his impressive run, Grosu received a new contract from Nippo-Vini Fantini after the team went Pro Continental, which means that he’ll get to ride in World Tour races in 2015 and prove what he’s worth against some of the best riders in the peloton.

Before the beginning of this year, one which he expects with a huge level of confidence, Edi Grosu sat down and talked for Cafe Roubaix about his results in the previous season, his program for 2015 and the goals he has ahead of the most important year of his career so far.

– Edi, how was 2014?

It was my best year to date, due to the fact I became a pro rider and I got many strong results. I was 19th in the UCI Europe Tour, which was more than satisfying, and to be frankly, I wasn’t expecting all these results, but I got to this point, and this was possible thanks to the way I prepared and also to my staff.

– What was your best result?

When it comes to the UCI classification, I must say the stage I won in the Tour of Qinghai Lake. Still, a big result for me was coming second in the last stage of the Tour de Slovenie, in a photo-finish with Elia Viviani. I made some errors in the last 400-500 metres, which were very technical, and I didn’t have team mates to bring me on the front, so this meant I didn’t get the best position at the sprint. Anyway, to be in a photo-finish with Viviani, ahead of Michael Matthews, is a very important result, which makes me more confident that I can defeat these riders in 2015.

– And what did you develop in the past season?

I lost some weight, and this helped me become better on the climbs. I’ve also worked on my sprint, but the most important thing was that, for the first time in my career, I’ve had a team that helped me. On the other hand, I’ve lost some power in the time trial. Overall, I can say I made some nice developments compared to 2013.

– How was racing at the World Championships?

It wasn’t that good, because I raced too much in the last months of the season. I went to races without talking to the team, more on my own. In June, instead of taking a two-week break, I didn’t race for just one week, thinking it will be ok this way. Unfortunately, I didn’t recover as I should have after the first part of the season, which was very tough. Then I started training for the Worlds, but I overdid it, and this cost me in Ponferrada. In that moment I realised that a big result at the Worlds is far more important than winning 20 smaller races in your home country.

– Was the team satisfied with your results in 2014?

Yes, they were all content. I was the rider with the most UCI wins, five, and I brought more than half of the team’s points. Thanks to these results, I got a new contract, which will make me one of Nippo’s leaders.

– What did you do during the December training camp?

It was a camp important for getting to know one another, for taking the official team photos, and also for doing some tests with a psychologist. I trained every day on the bike, around 5-6 hours, so I can build my condition. I estimated I did a total of 2000 km at the end of the camp. These trainings really helped me a lot. Also, I found out I have a VO2 max 86 and 5,94 liters per minut.

– Did you talk with the manager of the team about the expectations he has from you?

Yes, I had a meeting with the managers and the sports directors and they told me what are their plans concerning me. They see me as a young rider with a potential that’s still to be fully revealed. Their opinion is I can still develop, not only in the sprint, but also on the climbs, in order to fight for the GC in stage races, of course, if I’m going to lose some weight in the next two years.

– Do you know your program for the first months of the season?

I’ll start in Argentina, with the Tour de San Luis. I’m sure of racing the Gran Premio Costa degli Etruschi and the Trofeo Laigueglia, as well as Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Scheldeprijs. If case of a Milan-Sanremo wild card, I’ll get to race there as well. I should also ride The Three Days of De Panne, the Tour of Turkey, and the Giro d’Italia, if the team will be invited.

– What are your goals?

I hope to be at 100% in the first half of the season, to do good and get at least five wins in 2015. I also want to help my team, and if we receive a Giro wild card, I hope for a good result there.

Serghei Tvetcov: Confident ahead of 2015

Without any doubt, Serghei Tvetcov has been one of the revelations of the UCI America Tour in 2014. Riding for the Continental team Jelly Belly, the 25-year-old won for the second time in a row the Cascade Cycling Classic, took the Tour of the Gila ITT and got a 3rd place in the Tour de Beauce, all in the first months of the season. Then, in the second half of the year, Tvetcov surprised the peloton with his podium in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, ahead of many World Tour riders, including Rafal Majka, winner of the polka dot jersey in the Tour de France.

His results – which came after years of hard work and dedication – couldn’t go unnoticed and Serghei Tvetcov eventually made an important step in his career by signing with Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela, the Pro Continental team managed by Gianni Savio. Recently, I got to talk with him about this and the most important moments of his career.

– Serghei, in the past three years you raced in the US. How did you end up there?

It’s a pretty interesting story. In 2009 I have applied for the green card lottery in my country just for fun, although I knew many people don’t trust in lotteries. Then, in August 2009, I got a call and was told that I was selected and got a green card. At that time I really didn’t know if I should be happy or not, because I didn’t knew too much about the U.S.A. So I have to thank my friend who changed my mind and told me I should use the opportunity and go there, although I was reluctant to this, as I was sure I have bigger chances of making it as a cyclist in Europe. In August 2010, after my season was over, I came in the US, where I’ve met great people who helped me a lot, and for this I can consider them as my US parents. I started riding there in 2010, by my own, in some local races, and at the same time I worked in a grocery store. Finally, in 2011 I found my first local team, thanks to which I got to learn the way cycling goes in the US. I got some results and in 2012 I signed with Exergy. From there, I went to Jelly Belly, where I’ve spent the past two seasons.

– What differences did you find between the European racing culture and the American one?

I think the US has a very big and professional level in cycling. It’s not just the riders, but also the teams and the way things are organized. In the small amateur teams you feel the same way you do in the big European teams of the second division. The tactics and the style of racing are similar. An important difference is that in Europe, from 200 riders, 50-80 can win, while in the US only 20-30 can do it.

– How much did this experience helped you to improve?

All the US teams were important in that matter. My first team, run by Emile Abraham, gave me huge experience in racing criteriums, which helped me during the seasons. Then, the first pro team, Exergy, run by Tad Hamilton helped me believe in myself that I can race with big guys. That was during my first USA Pro Challenge experience, in 2012, when I got into breakaways with riders like Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Danielson, George Hincapie, or Jens Voigt. Then, during the two seasons spent with Jelly Belly, run by the legendary Danny Van Haute, with Matty Rice as a DS, the team was built to support me in some races.

– Your best season so far came in 2014. Did you expect to have such a good run?

I would say that my last four seasons were the best. I am just really glad to see myself improving step by step, season by season, in order to have such good results, like the ones I got this year. After the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, my director told me that I have graduated in the US and the time has come for me to get to another level.

– Speaking of this, how was the USA Pro Cycling Challenge?

This is the race I got in love with since my first time here, back in 2012. Colorado is one of best places in the US for cycling – mountains, altitude, great roads, nice weather – and the crowds coming to see the race are the best, cheering the riders every year during the stages.

– I presume you received many offers afterwards. What made you go to Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela?

I’m working with former World Tour rider Baden Cooke, who is now a cycling agent, and already after my second win in the Cascade Cycling Classics he got some offers, but we decided it was better to wait until the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. After the race, I got more offers from World Tour and Pro Continental teams. I analysed them all and decided that the one coming from Androni was the best.

– How was the first training camp with the team?

It was really amazing. I met a lot of new people – the managers, the staff, the riders – and it was great to see all these different cultures. I really love it here. I also got to talk about my program for 2015. I will start the season in the Tour de San Luis and then I will continue in Europe, with the Tour Méditerranéen, Trofeo Laigueglia, Gran Premio di Lugano, Strade Bianche, and Roma Maxima.

– What are your expectations ahead of 2015?

I want to adapt myself to racing in Europe and be helpful to the team. I also hope to improve step by step and get the chance to score some nice results. Whatever happens, I want to enjoy the time spent in the adventure that will come and be prepared for the toughest sport in the world.

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