RIDE Media caught up with ‘Head of Athlete Performance’ for Team Ineos to talk about Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal at the Tour in 2019… and what it was like to see Chris Froome crash in June.
He’s often seen at bike races, and although Tim Kerrison likes to talk, it’s usually with his athletes not the media. He is a calm, reassured coach who has become a valuable asset to Team Ineos. As the coach of Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, he’s helped win a few Tours de France over the years.
Usually he’s just in the background, checking data, considering diet, and doing the myriad things required to try and get the best out of his athletes. Once in a while, he speaks about the racing, his job or his experience since joining the team early in the Sky days.
In this interview, conducted before the start of stage five of the 2019 Tour de France, he speaks about working with Tour champions, the nature of their preparation, why he doesn’t think Egan Bernal is too young to be a leader of a team trying to win the Tour…
And, at the end, before he had to rush off as the stage was starting, he explains the scene of the accident in June that put Chris Froome in hospital and out of contention for the Tour he so wanted to win…
– Click the SoundCloud file to listen to the interview and/or read the transcript below. –
Click the link above to listen to Rob Arnold’s interview with Tim Kerrison.
RIDE: It’s before the start of stage five and I’m talking with Tim Kerrison, who actually needs no introduction. Everyone knows you to be the trainer of Bradley Wiggins, back in the day, and Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, so you’ve essentially helped win a few Tours de France. Is Egan Bernal going to be the next one? How do you see it playing out?
Tim Kerrison: “Well, for this year we’ve got two really strong leaders again which is a fantastic asset for the team to have.
“Obviously we lost Chris Froome from this race through the crash he had in the Dauphiné but the depth of strength we have in the teams means we’ve now still got two very strong leaders in G and Egan.
“I guess, it’s similar to the situation we had last year; we have the guy who has done it before in G. And there’s not many riders in this race who are confirmed Grand Tour winners. Certainly only G and Vincenzo Nibali have won this race before…
“And we’ve also got the guy who is great form, who has just come out of having one of the pre-Tour stage race, in Egan Bernal. He won Tour de Suisse and he’s had his own ups and downs this season, having sustained a broken collarbone justbefore he as due to race the Giro but it allowed him to refocus on the Tour.
“So, we’ve got two very strong leaders.
“G, from all the training we’ve seen, has been in better form leading into this race – certainly leading into ‘Suisse’ – than he was when he won the Tour. What he missed out on, due to crashing out of Suisse, was the opportunity to confirm that form that he’s got in a race before the Tour.
“But he actually didn’t miss any training.
“He had that crash in the Tour de Suisse. He stopped out of abundance of caution, really, because he took a bit of a knock to his head and had a cut above his eye.
“But he had two days off after that, which he would have had after the race anyway, and then got an extra block of training in before the race. So, he didn’t miss anything, other than the opportunity to confirm his form in a race situation.
“Egan, on the other hand, went on and won the [Tour de Suisse], so we know we’ve got two riders who are very capable of performing. And, you know, in a three-week stage race, a lot can happen. And there are things that are out of your control, [so] having two strong leaders is a fantastic benefit really.
“If something happens to one – and accident, a mishap, or their form isn’t quite where it needs to be – we’ve got another one ready to step up. And, for now, we’re just fortunate and grateful that we’ve got two very strong leaders who are both in a good place, well positioned on GC, and looking forward to getting into the guts of this race.”
But Egan is not on your program is he?
“What do you mean, ‘On my program’?
You know, like you are actually assigned riders…
“We have three or four different coaching groups within the team and we have a Spanish-speaking coach who looks after the South American guys and the Spanish guys.”
What’s his name?
But you, obviously, are liaising closely so you would be aware of all of Egan’s data and everything. When we’re talking about a 22-year-old, there’s always the statement, ‘He’s just too young…’ what do you say to that?
“Our approach as a team is that we don’t let what’s happened in the past determine what happens in the future. I guess we’d rather make history than reflect on history… if you know what I mean.
“People said the same about… we had a 21-year-old finish top-10 in the Giro (Pavel Sivakov, this May). And that doesn’t happen very often either. It was a long time ago the last time that happened.
“So, he is very young but he’s a prodigious talent – a prodigious, young talent.
“[Egan] has only completed one – his only start – one Grand Tour, which is the Tour last year and everyone saw he did a fantastic job, supporting Chris and G to finish on the podium and learnt a lot!
“One of the benefits of being a young rider in our team is that you get to learn from the best and, having ridden with Chris and ridden with G, and being up there seeing first-hand what it takes to win the Tour…
“He’s an intelligent, talented young rider and we all believe he is capable, at 22, of finishing at the sharp end of this race.”
Geraint Thomas leads Egan Bernal at the end of stage six (above).
Photo: Zac Williams
I guess this [next question] could apply to talk about Egan but if we could also apply it to Bradley and Chris and Geraint… We see the race and we understand how they manage it, we talked to them about tactics and all different things but the physical differences from the beginning of the Tour to the end of the Tour: how did Egan get to Paris, or how do the others get to Paris? Obviously you’re monitoring fatigue and you’re noticing things but is there some way that you can put a tangible number on the differences from beginning to end and what the fatigue element is?
“I guess the difference between a one-week stage race and a three-week stage race… like, Dauphiné compared to the Tour, is that they both require that you have a strong team, a strong leader who can time trial and climb.
“But the thing about a three-week race is obviously that they have to be able to race day-in, day-out for three weeks and maintain a high level. And it’s something that we’ve been very away of from the start.
“I’m sure people can remember Chris establishing a lead, and then probably fading a little bit in the last stages.”
That was because of illness in 2015…
“Well, for various reasons. In 2013 and 2015 [he was ill].
“And so, recovery through the race and maintaining that level… coming into the race, strong but fresh enough [to] sustain the level through the race is really, really important.
“One of the things I’m sure of is that our riders have a great depth of training behind them, even the young guys, but especially the old guys, who have been doing a lot of work year-in, year-out. They have the depth of training required to sustain their level right through the three weeks.
“It’s one of the things that I think everyone in peloton feels; these first days of the race, where everyone is fresh, there are some grippy little stages like the three climbs in the second half of [stage five], I’m sure are going to be raced very intensely while there’s riders [who] are still fresh, there’s teams that have an interest in trying to isolate, or drop, some of the sprinters…
“For everyone – for our riders – they feel like, ‘Wooah! This is pretty hard.’
“As the race goes on, because of the depth of work they have behind them, I think our riders tend to get more comfortable once we get into the second and third weeks of the race. The terrain suits them a bit more, the climbs become longer, the level [drops] as the peloton starts to fatigue, the race becomes more manageable.
“But definitely, a big focus for us, is how we keep the team and our leaders as strong as possible right through to the end of the race. This year, stage 18, 19 and 20 – the end in the Alps – are three really… they are solid mountain stages.
“There’s summit finishes on stage 19 and 20, finishing with a 33 or 34km climb to finish the race, before Paris, up to Val Thorens. It’s going to be as important as ever, this year, to not just start strong, not just be strong… there’s a big block at the end of this first week, the next five stages after [stage five]. There’s a really big, important block in the Pyrenees with a time trial and two summit finishes. And then a really big, solid block in the Alps.
“So, consistency of performance, right through the Tour is going to be really important.”
I’m grateful for your explanations on a couple of interesting matter, but is there anything else you’d like to add that isn’t out there, something you’d like people to be aware of? I mean, we could talk about Chris’ recover [from the accident in June]. George [Solomon, the team’s PR officer] just told me he’s not just sitting around, and to visit the Tour, he’d have to come in wheelchair – and that’s not what he wants to do. Furthermore, he’s trying to get rehabilitation…
“The qualities Chris has, that have led him to be the bike rider that he is – probably the greatest Grand Tour rider of this generation, [someone] who has won four Tours de France – he’s applying that to his recovery and rehabilitation.
“He’s well ahead of where anyone thought he would be, really.
“There are things that just can’t be accelerated. He had some fairly significant injuries, of his femur, for example, and it’s going to take time for that to fully heal. But he’s well ahead of schedule in many regards.
“He’s now out of bed and able to be in a wheelchair, and in the swimming pool, and doing some really good rehabilitation.
“Obviously we don’t want to rush things too much because it’s very important he gets back to 100 percent of what he’s capable of, but he’s really focussed.
“He’s devastated, obviously, that he’s not here at this race because he knows the form that he had was what he needed to win his fifth Tour but, equally, he’s very focussed on getting back to where he needs to be and racing…
“The race starts close to home for him in Nice next year and [he’ll aim] to win his fifth Tour in 2020.”
Were you there the day that he crashed?
Were you in the car?
Dan Martin said that he saw it. And it was horrible. Did you see [Chris] go down as well?
“At the moment that it started, when he was… when he started to lose control of the bike, I was taking notes. And then I looked up and I saw the impact, I guess.”
And he hit a wall?
I’m trying to come to terms with the level of planning and detail that Ineos goes into, and you would have… it would be fair to say that you were filming…? And do you have footage?
“On that occasion, we weren’t [filming].”
How is that? Just a pure coincidence?
“We just didn’t have a camera on that car at that time. But it’s one of the learnings we’ve had.
“We’ve done a full debrief, an investigation – like we do with everything, really. Like we do for every performance or incident. We take what we can learn from it and improve for the future.
“That’s definitely one of the things we’re [working on]… not that it would have changed anything if we had a camera, but…”
It would just stop the naysayers. I heard someone say that ‘it was all fiction’, that ‘it didn’t happen’. Like, how can you respond to that?
“I don’t think there’s any…”
There’s a level of disdain. Obviously it’s a hugely popular team but then there’s all of these naysayers who want to make conspiracies against it. Have you heard those [comments]?
“No, but I don’t go looking for it either. I’m not really interested. It’s just nonsense.”
And when you rushed to see [Chris], were you fearful for his life? Was it to that extent?
“Well, we were…
“He was always conscious and he was always… he was obviously in a lot of pain. It was clear that he was seriously injured and I think he recognised that.
“The natural instinct of a bike rider when they crash is to get straight back up. And he knew that, ‘I need to stay down here…’
“Obviously we were very concerned for him and for his family and we’re very lucky that there was an ambulance literally over the road, 10 metres away, so he had good care from within… we were within 10 seconds, they were there within 20 seconds, which was reassuring, that he was well cared for the whole time.”
In the Instagram culture of today, you’re immediate concerns are on fixing him, not going around taking photos and documenting the process. And that’s what’s ironic; people are saying, ‘Why aren’t there photos?’ Well, you’re tending to an injured man.
“Well, there are photos.”
But you’re not going to show them?
“No, why would we?”