Flashback – RIDE #31 (2006)
The win by Simon Gerrans in Milan-San Remo, prompted us to have a look back through the archives to find the first feature on him in RIDE Cycling Review. Although he made a few appearances before RIDE #31, this was the first time he was the subject of a piece in his own right. Here is a flashback from the first issue of 2006 when Simon was about to start his second season with the AG2R team…
Future Stars (published January 2006)
Professional teams are beginning to understand that Australia is the place to find riders who are not only talented but willing to endure more than their share of suffering if it means making an impact in the peloton. We take a look at three Aussies who are being primed for future success…
SIMON GERRANS: Champion of the 2005 Jayco Herald Sun Tour
“My first season in Europe was in 2000 with a small Italian club team that usually hosts a few Australians. After that I did two seasons with the national under-23 program where I achieved a couple of good results in my second season there, but nothing outstanding enough to grab the attention of a pro team.
“From there I went to a Norwegian squad called Team Ringerike for a year. It was hard because we were doing pro races but operating like amateurs. We’d drive seven hours to a race and compete against guys who had flown in the night before. I found that difficult, but it gave me the chance to compete in a few countries and find out what sort of races suited me. I found that France was a place where I could put my strengths to good use.
“At the start of 2004 I went to Nantes 44, a French amateur club. I won a bunch of races that year, when I turned 24. It was time to try and make the next step or give up on the notion of being a pro.
“I worked out what I had to do to get a contract. I looked at the number of races the best amateurs were winning; the benchmark was about six per season so that’s what I set out to do. I wanted to get some results and pick up a contract as a stagiaire.
“I had a bit of interest from the directors of the AG2R team and when the Tour de France passed through Angers in 2004, I had a meeting with the boss of the squad Vincent Lavenu but left feeling disheartened. He offered me a stagiaire but insisted that didn’t mean I’d get a pro contract for 2005.
“I began my trial with really good form. As soon as I put on an AG2R jersey, they sent me a contract for the next season. I won some races and they didn’t want to lose me, so I signed up for the pro team.
“I won another race the day after getting the thumbs up from Lavenu and that’s how I began 2005. I was pleased and the team’s management was happy, so immediately it was a good relationship.
“The most important thing I got out of my early years in Europe was how crucial it is to set goals. You hear about this sort of thing and it does sound like a wank, but by choosing particular races I was able to bring my form up at the right time. They weren’t events that suited my style but ones to attract the attention of team directors. I’d picked 10 races and, in each one of them, I was never worse than third.
“All along I was told that in the history of the AG2R team — dating right back to when it was Casino — they had never put a neo pro in the Tour de France, so I should not expect to be in the line-up. As the race got closer, it was looking like that tradition would change. A couple of weeks out I was training for the prospect of starting, but it was still unlikely.
“There was a big focus on winning a race at the start of the year and I did that in April at the Tour du Finistère. Afterwards I asked Lavenu if he’d consider me for the Tour. He gave me a big spiel about how it’s never happened before for a neo pro, but I said I just wanted him to think about it. He said, ‘Okay, I suppose we’ve never done it before but no first-year pro has ever won a race with us since Alexandre Vinokourov… you’ve done that so I’ll consider it.’
“I got the nod five days before the Tour. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be told that you’re going to ride the Tour de France for the first time.
I was pretty excited. It’s like a football player winning a semi and knowing he’s going to the final.
“I wanted to try and get in an escape if I could, but the main ambition was to be there as a team-mate for Jean-Patrick Nazon in the sprints and look after Stephane Goubert in the mountains.
“In the first 10 days I was blown away by the pace. As much as I wanted to do something, I just wasn’t strong enough to get in an escape. It was like the Tour of Flanders every day, but I got through the first week okay. Then we had the day of rain on the way to Nancy. I struggled badly, caught a bug and got really crook. My body shut down and the next day the race went to Courchevel and I put myself in a big hole.
“After the second rest day I started to come good again and I realised there were only three stages left in which I could possibly do something. On the day I did make the breakaway, I lost heart after trying for about 35km. I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve done my dash.’ But the pace picked up as we rode through a village and I jumped in behind a guy who was going past me.
“It just so happened that, at the exact same time, the Discovery Channel riders who were leading the peloton sat up… and there I was, in an escape group at the Tour! After busting my arse with attack after attack, it was the peloton that decided it was my time to be in the move, not me.
“When I was growing up, the Herald Sun Tour was the highlight of the year. It was the pinnacle of racing because I was from country Victoria and when I used to ride with the VIS squad, it was the event we trained the whole year for.
“I’d aspired to participate since I was 18. It’s always been a race that’s close to my heart but once I started doing more gruelling races in Europe, the Sun Tour became a bit of a pain in the arse because it was so late in the season. You’d be tired, it used to be two-stage days, the weather was completely random… it was becoming a nuisance. But around mid-season I’d get a rush of blood and nominate myself for a place.
“With the new format and organisation, it all looked really good so I was keen to race it again. I spoke with my director and he initially said no, but I talked him into it. He said I could take four guys and race as a five-man team or fill the remaining spots with riders from elsewhere. I took that proposal to the new promoter and he said it was okay.
“I came out with four Europeans and got three young Aussie guys to fill the other spots.
“The Europeans were keen to have a holiday but they realised how important it was for me to do well so they came out totally prepared to race. They knew they would be here to work for me.
“The race was riddled with incidents and there were some controversial things that happened. The one that affected me occured three stages from the end when Baden Cooke and Dominique Perras were in a break and I was in a chasing group. We got sent in the wrong direction and lost over a minute. I’m pretty sure we would have caught them and that Baden would have won the stage, but it put me 30 seconds behind Perras on GC going into the time trial on the last day. I realised there are bigger things to worry about. I didn’t throw my bike or kick the esky because, in the end, it didn’t matter.
“I had a fantastic year where I achieved more than I ever expected. I grew up in Mansfield and when I’m back there now, I have mothers come up to me and say that their kids are cycling because of me. It’s flattering to know that I’m encouraging someone to take up the sport. If there’s one thing I’ve always tried to do it is to keep being myself, because no one really cares how many bike races you win or lose, they remember if you’re a good guy.”
Interview by Rob Arnold (firstname.lastname@example.org)