Simon Gerrans rolls into the Ardennes classics this weekend a new man.
The Australian’s surprise victory at Milan-San Remo for GreenEdge not only confirmed him as a legitimate threat in any one-day race, but it also gives him a huge confidence boost ahead of what will be his first major goals of the European racing season.
The 31-year-old has had a dreamlike start to the 2012 season, with victories in the Australian national championship, the Tour Down Under and Milan-San Remo.
Speaking to VeloNews by telephone from his home in Monaco, Gerrans said that the Ardennes are what he’s been aiming for all season.
VeloNews: How are your sensations going into the Ardennes?
Simon Gerrans: Pretty good. Obviously, I have had a fantastic season to date. It’s going better than I could have hoped for, to tell the truth. At Basque Country last week, that’s a tough little race, and I came out of it with a bit of a cold. The first thing is to recover and get 100 percent; then I will do some hard training rides to open up before the Ardennes. I anticipate a bunch of the guys got sick down there. It’s such a demanding race, one of the hardest on the calendar. I finished the day before the TT. I didn’t start the TT because I had nothing to achieve. I was a long way down on GC and I was feeling a little sick, so I thought it was better to pull out a day early and start that recovery.
VN: Of the three, is there one that’s best suited for you?
SG: This year I will skip Flèche Wallonne. It’s the one that suits me least, and if you go really deep in Amstel, which I anticipate doing, it just makes it that much tougher to recover for Liège. I want to give myself the best-possible run into Liège this year. So after Amstel, I will head home for a few days to recover, then come back up to Belgium with the idea of doing the best I can.
VN: Of those two, which one is best for your characteristics, Amstel or Liège?
SG: I think Amstel suits me a little better. I have always focused first on that race. Until last year, however, I have always had better results in Liège. I guess at the end of the day, I do not prefer one over the other. As I get older, I am getting better and better at Liège. Amstel is just as hard, and if I can improve on my position last year (third), I can be happy with that. I really want to give it a good crack for Liège.
VN: You’ve obviously had some of your best results in the Ardennes, what makes those races special?
SG: It’s the history of those races. It’s all part of the spring classics, there is something special about them. There is always a big focus on the cobbles, but the Ardennes are just as good. I have always made the Ardennes a big focus of my season and every year I have gotten better and better. I am really looking forward to them.
VN: What is the difference between a podium and winning one of the Ardennes classics?
SG: They’re pretty honest races. If you got good legs in the final, you will be up in the front. Amstel finishes atop the Cauberg; that’s a pretty truthful finish. The best guy in the front group always wins. This year there is not one big favorite, so the racing might be a bit more open. Amstel is a nervous race and Liège has longer climbs. It’s all about positioning throughout the day and there are a few crucial points in each race when you need to be at the front. Every year I’ve come away learning new things and I getting closer and closer to the big win.
VN: Who else will be riding to win at GreenEdge for the Ardennes?
SG: We will have a similar group in the Ardennes to what we had at Basque Country. We’ve been working well as a group. Albasini, he won Catalunya and he’s in good form. We have Simon Clarke, (Daryl) Impey, (Wesley) Sulzberger. All of those guys are in great shape and very motivated.
VN: You probably thought that your first classics victory would be in the Ardennes, how big a surprise for you was San Remo?
SG: It was a bit of a surprise. San Remo was a huge deal. I had only ridden it once before, in 2008. I was a bit of a co-captain, and my role was to follow the attacks over the Cipressa and Poggio. Our main guy was Matt Goss and I was just going to play my card on the Poggio. We made it over the top with that group and it just turned out perfectly. It was a huge thrill and it’s a massive honor to win that race.
VN: How do you reflect now on San Remo about a month after winning?
SG: It’s a great feeling. Sometimes it’s hard to understand what I really achieved. At the same time, the Ardennes have been the focus of my season since I have come to Europe, so I have tried to stay on track and I haven’t let that success distract me from that. Milan-San Remo was massive. It was the biggest win of my career, without question, but I do not want that to distract me too much from my larger goals this season.
VN: What did you do to celebrate?
SG: We had a big dinner in Monaco. We had most of the guys on the team, some of the team staff, some of the other guys who live in Monaco. It was nice to share that with them, but the next day I was racing in a criterium in Aix-en-Provence.
VN: Were you surprised at some of the push back from the punters criticizing your victory?
SG: I did read a bit of that, but at the same time, a lot of that came from people just sitting at home, writing things online. Throughout the whole peloton and from my peers, they have all said it was a great win and a win that was justified. All of the respected journalists who cover the sport said the same thing. I didn’t take too much notice of what some of the people said. There were a couple of hundred of guys in the peloton that day who wanted to be in that position, and I was the only one who could do it. Some people said it was a shame that Fabian (Cancellara) didn’t win, when he was the strongest in the race. I agreed that he was the strongest that day, but if they want to see the strongest guy win every day, they should just stick to time trials. That’s a big part of what makes bike racing so interesting, the tactics.
VN: What does the San Remo win give you going into the Ardennes?
SG: It’s a huge plus. The fact that I have won a classic takes a little pressure off me in the Ardennes. That I have San Remo under my belt makes everything else I accomplish this year a huge bonus. That I won San Remo before Amstel or Liège just means that I can really just pick and choose my most important goals and focus on the parts of the season that really count. It’s been a massive win.
VN: You’ve been on a tear so far in 2012, winning since January. Are you worried about peaking too soon with some important goals later this year?
SG: It was always the plan to peak early. I wanted to be good in Australia at the start of the season in January. I wanted to win the national title and do well at the Tour Down Under, [because] I knew how big that would be for our team. We’re a new Australian team, racing its debut on Australian roads, so I worked really hard in my preseason to be good there. I got some good wins on the board early on and I have kept that going in Europe. I hope to keep it going all the way through the Ardennes. I will take a really good rest after the Ardennes. That’s been part of the plan from the beginning. We’re kind of chopping the season in half.
VN: Will you return to Australia?
SG: Actually, I will go to Colorado for a few weeks to do some altitude training and recover. I will be in Boulder and maybe a few days up in Vail. There’s no way you can start off strong in January and keep that momentum going all season without a break. Right now, I will return at Dauphiné, then the Tour, hopefully the Olympics, then some fantastic one-day races in September to build up for the worlds and (Giro di) Lombardia.
VN: Just earning a spot on the five-man Aussie Olympic team will be a real dogfight…
SG: The Olympics are a huge goal of mine. I raced in Beijing and I had a fantastic experience. I will try to get on the Aussie team. We only have a five-man team and we have a whole bunch of Aussie pros right now who can go.
VN: GreenEdge doesn’t have a big GC rider. Will that give you more chances to go for stage wins at the Tour this year?
SG: We will be going to the Tour without any GC riders. We will have a great team for the sprints and for the opportunists. We will have nine guys who can focus on stage wins, so it would be fantastic if we could get a few stage wins for the team. We got a great group of guys. We all work well together. Everyone is really great working towards that objective. I have found that I am good at racing for opportunities rather than riding for GC. I think it will be a fun Tour team to be a part of.
VN: And finally the worlds, on the Cauberg finish similar to Amstel Gold Race; that should be ideal for you as well?
SG: To tell the truth, I do not know the course yet, but I have heard that the finish is over the Cauberg. I might have a chance to take a look at it later next week. From what I hear, it suits me well. And next year’s worlds course as well (in Florence, Italy). I will be focusing on the worlds in the [later] part of the season. It would be an honor to lead the Aussie team, but I am sure that Cadel (Evans) will be looking to go back to try to win another rainbow jersey as well. The Aussie team will be strong for the worlds.