Simon Gerrans – Remembering Milan-San Remo
On 19 March RIDE Media published an online flashback from 2006 from when we were talking about ‘Future Stars’. Simon Gerrans was one of the featured riders and now he’s the national champion, Tour Down Under winner… and the second Australian to win Milan-San Remo. Moments after posting his this feature from six years ago, he sent a text saying, “Got a few minutes to talk now.”
Here’s a transcript the chat with the winner of ‘La Primavera’ 2012…
Interview by Rob Arnold
Simon Gerrans: “I don’t think it’s possible to get a grip on how big it actually is for a little while.”
RIDE: Did you think it would happen?
“You know, I’ve always dreamed of winning a Classic but I never really expected that it would be Milan-San Remo. That’s the surprise about it, I guess.
“I think a lot of people probably thought the same thing, maybe I’m capable of knocking one off one day but one that is usually earmarked for the sprinters – well, it’s pretty rare that a break goes away like it did.”
Really. I look at the Amstel Gold Race, for example, when you’ve been so close. And everyone has been waiting for the week in the Ardennes to see what comes next from you. And then you found yourself in a perfect position defend for the defending champion. Tell me about the ride. When Nibali attacked, you were absolutely spot-on – from there onward… how did it go? Can you talk us through it?
“Well, actually, just leading up to that – coming on to the Poggio – ‘Whitey’ said to me that it was always my job to follow the moves, particularly anything dangerous on the Cipressa or the Poggio. And I was anticipating something on the Cipressa but didn’t see anything too threatening so I sat back a bit and made it to the Poggio.
“Then, as we were just about to come on to the Poggio – it was always my job just to follow the moves – but ‘Gossie’ said to me, ‘Mate, if you’re feeling good, have a go.’
“I said, ‘Okay.’
“So I sort of moved myself up into position to attack at that exact spot where Nibali went. Literally the only reason that I was able to follow him so quickly was because he attacked two seconds before I was about to. What it did was put me in the right gear, the right position, at exactly the right time.
“I was there, right on him when he went. I let him do one big turn and then I went past him to keep the momentum going. As I’ve come past, I had a quick look and saw that Cancellara was there. I thought, ‘Okay, this is perfect!’
“I gave a turn and Cancellara came past me and did a turn across the top before we hit the descent. Then, basically, it was just him attacking out of every corner down the descent – that’s what it was.
“He might have ridden on the front for the majority of the last eight kilometres of the race but for four kilometres of that he was pretty much attacking us every 200 metres – all the way down. He was just flying down the descent.
“I know that climb and I know the descent fairly well because we train down that way every once in a while, riding down from Monaco it’s not so far. I really knew which corners I could really push it on and which ones I needed to back off a bit. And that really worked in my favour because I was able to stay with him.
“If it was a descent that I didn’t know, I might not have been able to do that.
“Literally, he attacked us all the way down the descent – out of every corner. He was carrying a bit more corner speed than what I was able to. And then we got to the bottom and Fabian did one more ball-biting turn when we hit the flat and while he’s driving it like this he was also flickin’ the elbow. I was, like, ‘Uhm… I would come through but I’m basically not capable of coming through when you’re pulling that hard…’
“On the descent, he didn’t even look for a turn because he was so busy attacking from the front. He was going into each turn, gapping us coming out and just trying to drop us out of every corner.
[Above, posted on ridemedia.com.au/?p=5499, 20/03/2012]
“He had me in the red all the way down the hill. Then, on the flat, and he did a huge turn and he was flicking the elbow – asking for a turn – but it was like trying to go past a motorbike. Finally he half-swung up and I gave him a turn with about a kilometre to go. Then, through the corners, I swung off and he came past me again like a motorbike – he was just coming through super strong! Nibali didn’t follow him, he just floated to the back so I thought, ‘You know what, we’ve only got a kilometre to go here – I can’t really afford to give him another turn.’
“I followed and Fabian kept driving and driving and driving until about 400 metres to go. And then he backed it off a little bit so that he could accelerate again for the sprint.
“Obviously I was a little bit worried about Nibali because he hadn’t done a turn since his attack – and that was about a kilometre from the top of the Poggio. I backed off, gave Cancellara a couple of lengths and, as I backed off, he started his sprint.
“I had a tough sprint because he accelerated away as I was letting him go. I had to kick, get on his wheel and then get past him. We drag raced each other literally all the way to the line…”
Yep, absolutely… but you saluted early! There wasn’t much in it.
“It was because we had drag raced to the line. I’d already pulled away from him and I knew he wasn’t going to come back at me again. I could see it… and I’ve looked at the photo afterwards. He was throwing at the line but I already had nearly a length on him by the time I cross the line.
“When you think about it, you do take a little bit of a risk throwing the arms in the air before you well-and-truly cross the line in a race like Milan-San Remo… like Zabel has made that mistake.”
To do what you did is amazing. Poor old Fabian… he’s just so unbelievably good and two times in a row he’s beaten by an Australian. He must be starting to hate this race…
“He’s come second in how many Classics…? But he was going super strong so I don’t think he’s going to go through the next period of the season without winning some big races.”
Do you get on. He must have talked to you afterwards; so what was he saying?
“He said ‘Congratulations’ afterwards but obviously he was a bit disappointed, I think. But, at the same time, he was pretty gracious about it. I wouldn’t say that he was happy that I won but he said congratulations as did Nibali.”
It is a case of you picking your days. You’ve got an incredible knack. I thought you were meant to be there for the week in the Ardennes… so what’s going to happen now?
“Oh now… it’s time to start building towards the Ardennes. I’ve got a bit of hard work to do between now and the Tour of the Basque Country [Volta al Paìs Vasco, 2-7 April] and then, hopefully come out of that in a good, healthy state to race in Amstel and Liège.”
You’ve had a great year. You’ve targeted a few races and won on every front. I bet you’re on speed dial with Gerry Ryan…
“Oh, I’ve had a few chats with Gerry. We had a bit of a team dinner on Saturday night after the race and I tried to call him before I left for the function – even though I knew it was a bit early in Australia – but I got a phone call soon afterwards. I think he just got out of bed because he had a bit of a croaky voice. I had a chat with him about it and he’s really happy as is everyone involved with the team.
“I’ve got plenty of messages from sponsors and everyone who has helped put the whole project together and I think they’re really thrilled about the whole race.”
Can you give me a little synopsis about what roles the other guys had? You don’t get to the Poggio feeling fresh unless someone has done something for you. What was the sequence of work for the others on the team?
“Basically everyone’s job was to look after ‘Gossie’ to be honest. We had our functions and sure, I wasn’t going back to the car and getting bidons and stuff like that – because they were keeping me for the final, the Cipressa and Poggio – but everyone had roles of protecting Gossie at various points in the race.
“Matt Wilson was the main guy for as long as possible and he got us to the bottom of the Le Manie (at 204km), then it was up to the other guys to take over. They were hoping to keep Stuey [O’Grady] and [Sebastian] Langeveld for the final.
“Unfortunately, Stuey punctured when the group had split so he didn’t have any support behind our bunch and he dropped back to the second group then. That eliminated him out of the break unfortunately. Then it was basically up to Sebastian to look after Gossie for the final.
“I was there floating around and feeding off the rest of the team a little bit and looking after myself as best as possible.”
I spoke with Dave Sanders – and the poor guy… I don’t know how long it’s going to take him to come down from cloud nine – but he’s so thrilled by what you’ve done. We discussed your training methods, like your famous lead-weight wheels and stuff like that. Did you do anything different this year? He and Shayne Bannan both believe it’s just that your mentality is spot-on this season.
“I haven’t done anything differently. I’ve basically been doing the same thing year-after-year for so many years and eventually that hard work pays off. There’s no secret to it, there’s no mystery training, or intervals, or equipment… or anything like that. It’s just hard work, over years and eventually it pays dividends in the end.
“This year, I’m in an environment which has really helped as well. Or rather it’s given me the opportunity and it’s all coming together for me.”
Does it feel like actual physical body development as you age? Are you feeling any effect from the years of racing as a pro? Let’s compare Simon Gerrans of 2005 with Simon Gerrans of 2012… do you have a different, ah – body sense?
“You do tend to get stronger with every season. But the other side is that, over a period of time, not only are you stronger but you learn to look after yourself better. You when you need to give yourself rest, when you need to train hard… and things like this. I guess, with experience, comes those sort of elements to it as well.”
What about being a father? Does that give you some sort of extra energy or strength… or make you more tired, or more appreciative of time on the bike?
“I don’t think it gives anyone any extra strength because you’ve got a few more chores to do around the house – as a lot of people know well… but when you have got to go away, leave the home to be at a race, it takes you away from your family. I use that as extra motivation to make the time count because I’d prefer to be at home with the family than away doing bike races. I really want to make that time I’m away from home count for something.”
From here, are you still looking at specific targets or is your mindset changing? Some might start believing, ‘Oh, I can actually win everything…’ After the nationals, Down Under and now this one, are you starting to think of a rainbow jersey?
“It would be interesting given what I know of the world championship parcours for not only this year (in Valkenburg, the Netherlands) but next year as well (Florence, Italy)… and definitely, a world title is something I dream of winning one day. But there’s a heck of a lot to do between now and the end of September when the worlds are on.
“I’ve always said that my big goal once getting to Europe was the Ardennes week. And that’s still about a month away. Following that it’s a build-up towards the Tour de France and the end-of-season races so there’s plenty to consider, but at this stage the world championships are in the back of my mind.”
Going back to what you did in Milan-San Remo… You’ve explained following Fabian and, more-or-less, trying to match sprint him out of every turn. But can you talk about the actual descent of the Poggio? Is that one of the best rides you’ve had? Matt Goss last year spoke about the same section of road after his win. He was also following Fabian… and he gave some great descriptions of literally two-wheel sliding around some of those turns. Did you do anything on the bike in those few kilometres which made you think, ‘Something huge is about to happen’?
“Oh no. On any one corner, I thought, ‘This could be all over here!’ It was literally so fast and so… ah, the bike was just sliding through every corner. I was that much on the limit that every bump I hit, the bike was skidding across the road to a certain extent.
“Like I’ve said, my big advantage was that I knew that descent and I’ve gone through it in my head a lot of times for exactly that situation. If I happened to be in the front group, how would I respond? I wanted to know which corners I could push the exit speed just a little bit more… and all that sort of thing. That really played into my hands there.
“I think Fabian is one of the best, if not the best descenders in the peloton. So to hang on to him going down there was always going to be a big ask.
“Not only is he so quick into the corners but he’s so strong coming out that you know, if you fall out of his slipstream, basically you’re not going to catch him again. That was the big thing, just trying to stick with him as closely as possible.
“Actually, on the very last corner of the descent – a long left-hand corner – I hit some little hold and my bike sort of jittered across the road a bit and I lost a bit of speed. He looked around, saw that he had a bit of a gap and he just sprinted! I must have done 400 metres out of the saddle just chasing, chasing, chasing… nearly falling out of his slipstream but I was determined to hang on to him.
“Finally, I got back on but that’s why there was no way that I was going to be able to give him a turn immediately when we got to the bottom of the Poggio. I had to do such a big effort to stick with him going down there… if he went a bit more smoothly, he might have been able to extract a bit more cooperation out of Nibali and myself when we got to the flat section.”
It’s interesting because, thinking back to 2008 when Fabian did win Milan-San Remo, he had a really good group with him but he just drag raced them off from exactly the point where you’re talking about, three-and-a-half or four kilometres to go. And he won comfortably on his own back then… so to follow his speed…
“Yeah, but I think that after that year – when he rode away from everyone in the final in San Remo – he spoiled his surprise. I know you’ve got to be strong to do that, but you’ve also got to catch people off guard to get away with it for a second time. After that, everyone said, ‘Obviously, you just can not give Fabian a metre in the final because he’s capable of riding away.’
“After he got away with it once, everyone has gone: ‘Well, that’s it… don’t let him go or else you won’t get him back again.’”
So, after the race, what did you do in the evening?
“We came back to Monaco actually and that worked out really well. We had a bit of a dinner. It was nice to take everyone who had been part of the experience out. Not just everyone who was in the race but also the staff and a few good mates in Monaco as well. There were about 30 of us at the dinner.”
You’ve obviously watched the Back Stage Pass video that Dan made. It’s just fabulous…
“Yeah, I saw it last night and that’s great. It’s actually really cool to see that. I had goosebumps watching it and seeing everybody get so emotional with the win. It makes it so much more special when you see that it affects everyone who is involved – it makes it that much more of a big deal.”
It was great to watch and it does remind you that winning a bike race can really change how people interact with one another…
“Yep. That’s right.”
There’s all this hype about the Olympics and and that’s a great thing I’m sure. I remember how Sydney became a lovely city to be in during that time in 2000. It’s a shame that you can’t capture Milan-San Remo in a common atmosphere. But with the GreenEdge, it feels like you’ve been able to introduce a lot of people to other elements of cycling. Do you ever see it that way?
“I guess it is giving people that little more of a… well, exactly what Dan’s calling it with his videos. It’s a Back Stage Pass that you would not normally get to see with cycling.
“Cycling is a sport that is visually open to the public eye – we’re out there on the road that people drive along. People can ride along the same roads that we race on as well, but it’s not often that they get behind the doors and in the team cars and see what actually goes on during a race. It was pretty neat.”
Thanks for making the start of the year so exciting. I’ve enjoyed the ride.
“Ah, no worries. I’m glad everyone is enjoying it as much as what I am.”