Matt Lloyd - in the Lampre-ISD colours for 2012. PHOTO: Yuzuru Sunada

In his fourth race in the Lampre-ISD colours, Matt Lloyd came crashing down on a fast descent. He stood back up, started checking his wounds… and then watched several riders from Omega Pharma-Quickstep ploughed into a motorcycle marshall’s bike. RIDE spoke with the former Australian champion to find out what happened next and get his opinion on the form of others in the peloton – including the winner of Paris-Nice, Bradley Wiggins, and his new team-mate Damiano Cunego… below is a transcript of that chat.

A day after that conversation took place, Lloyd sent an SMS:

Snap. I had a feeling… my collarbone is busted. I’m dirty however it’s quite standard (eg. decking myself at Strada Bianche in 2010 – but I came up a treat in May… I’m taking the same approach now.

Matt Lloyd chat – 12/03/2012 (After Paris-Nice)

RIDE: Yo. How are you?

Matt Lloyd: “Yeah, all good but I’m going to go and get some x-rays today to see what actually happened to my shoulder. Up until the moment I crashed, I don’t really know what actually happened. As far as I can tell, the injury doesn’t seem too bad but I want to get some kind of clue before getting involved too deeply again.”

Matt Lloyd watches on as Omega Pharma-Quickstep riders smash into a motorcycle marshall... (click image to see the incident on YouTube).

Matt Lloyd watches on as Omega Pharma-Quickstep riders smash into a motorcycle marshall... (click image to see the incident on YouTube).

With a little over 10km to go in the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice, I noticed a guy in pink and blue standing on the side of the road with gendarme when a bunch of guys from Omega Pharma-Quickstep went ploughing into his motorcycle. Were you coherent at the time? Could you actually recognise what was going on?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…”

Well, then the best person to ask about that crash is probably you – so tell us about it…

“The descent was actually very long and the road race rather narrow. Being one of the last dudes in the group I was part of meant that I managed to get in contact with one of the Movistar guys. There would have been 30 or 35 guys left in that group at that stage of the race. At one point, going around a corner, I hit a bit of dodgy road and slid out. The problem was that it was a blind corner. Once the police motorbike had stopped, just near where I’d come to the side of the road, it meant that pretty much the whole Omega Pharma team – which was taking [Levi] Leipheimer back to the bunch – crashed.

“They were clearly going way too fast as well but unfortunately they had no where to go but into the police motorbike.

“Crashing sucks anyway but seeing their whole team plough into the motorbike was rather unsettling.

“Some people said to me that I was fortunate because, had the motorbike not been there, I’d have been absolutely nailed by the entire Omega Pharma team. But I was, like, ‘Yeah, but the motorbike WAS there. And I wasn’t cleaned up…’ I was already busted up anyway.

“Whatever happened, had happened to me already.

“There were a few blame game stories with people trying to blow it up into someone’s fault… but it was an accident.

“Once I’d stopped, the convoy has to make sure that the riders are out of the way – at least – so that the vehicles of the race can proceed. They’ve got to slow down to do that but the problem is that anyone behind at that point has to be aware that, around each corner, there might be a crash. That’s always going to happen on a descent.

“People often consider that the climbing is the most important part but you forget that you’re going a lot faster than the cars when you’re going down the descent. The risk of something being around the corner is always there. It could be someone else – another rider, or even one of the TV camera motorbikes, or the police… it’s part of the deal.”

It looked nasty. How fast were you going when you crashed?

“I think I was going about 75km/h. The incline on the side of the road was relatively steep but it was forest so if I went off the side, I’d have been… I don’t know, maybe even caught by a tree. I might have done the Jungle Jim thing and swung through the forest. I don’t know what might have happened; I don’t need to consider it either.”

Did you get back on and finish the stage?

“The Omega Pharma guys who were actually able to get back on their bikes then took Leipheimer to the finish and we rolled in about 15 minutes after the guys who had won the stage. It wasn’t that intense after that point, mainly because the chances of actually getting back on were gone.

“I didn’t swap off with Leipheimer’s team, I rode behind them to the finish.”

Were they incensed? Did you have, for example, an exchange of words with Leipheimer? It’s likely that he lost a place on the overall podium that day…

“I spoke to him on the day of the final stage, the time trial up Col d’Eze. He was relatively cool about it… the motorbike thing is part of racing. He’s an intelligent guy and he knows that that sort of thing can occur. I think that, as far he was concerned, he was more disgruntled about the crashes beforehand.

“From what I could see there was a lot of desperation from guys who weren’t even close on the general classification – and had no chance of winning the stage – and they were getting in his way, and in the way of Bradley Wiggins on the first and last parts of the main descents. That’s where it was most dangerous and they ended up being the places where Levi came off. I think he crashed three times in the stage, which didn’t, in theory, offer a good kind of mathematical result for him.

“I basically said to him that I wasn’t exactly pleased to have crashed, and I didn’t enjoy seeing his entire team – a lot of guys who I have ridden with before and have been close to over the years – come down because of the policeman who was standing watch over me. That sort of thing, though, tends to often happen in races like Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné. People are doing really, really desperate stuff for no reason at all and I don’t know why that happens but – particularly in those two races – you see the most stupid activity.”

matt-lloyd-img_7122Beyond that, talk me through the race… you went to Mende which, in theory is a climb that could suit you, but you were no where to be seen…

“Obviously, for me, the only race beforehand – apart from the nationals and the Tour Down Under – was the GP Lugano the week before which was good for my program. I’m, more specifically, targeting the middle of the year.

“As for the team’s approach to the race, we had Gregor Bole who has been going really well lately. And we were able to set up situations for him the sprint finish the day before Mende. None of us got too deeply involved with the prologue and we tried to avoid going too deep, particularly in stages when there were strong crosswinds. We pretty much kept a low profile.

“In the past the directeurs sportif have been somewhat more critical in saying, ‘Here’s a race like Paris-Nice and you need to come in with bit more condition and a bit more form…’ but there are people putting out impressive figures in a race like this but then they rock up at the Tour de France and they wouldn’t be able to do that solely because they’ve killed themselves at the start of the year to be good at Paris-Nice.

“As for Mende… yes, the finishing climb was the same as one we’ve done in the Tour de France. I knew the climb and I knew the condition wasn’t going to be there for me to feature at all. But if I am going to do something, I’d prefer to make sure that Damiano has got good position in the bunch, make sure that the other guys have got food and drinks…

“Then, when I go to a race that is important for me – and I know that my condition is sufficient enough to feature in the bike race – then I’ll get involved. Up until that point, it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone.

“If you look at any kind of figures mathematically, and calculate when people are really good – and trying to do really well in the Giro, for example, then they can completely dominate. They prefer to target specific points… it’s the same sort of thing for the guys who are testing themselves at Paris-Nice. They know they can bring their condition down afterwards and then build up again towards the middle of the year.”

Given all of that, what do you make of Bradley Wiggins? He looked great last week… is he only going to get better?

“To be honest, I think that there are not that many guys who can get through and really bring it up again. From a strength and time trial perspective, Wiggins has always been able to perform well. He could potentially win the Tour de France; if he turns up with the sort of condition he had in Paris-Nice, he’d be in with a nudge. The thing is, you have to be wary about going that deep so early in the year. Most people wouldn’t be that lean even when it’s mid-summer whereas he was definitely shredding it up last week [in Paris-Nice].

“It’s hard to calculate and hard to decide who really has a template down to the point that they know is going to work.

“From Wiggins’ perspective, he gets his body to around the mark where it can be for the Tour de France, then I think he can do it. It’s always interesting to look at these GC guys – not only Bradley but also Fränk and Andy who are looking quite good, apart from Andy having a stomach bug along with some other guys from his team.”

How has it been working with Damiano? This is your first race with him on your team, what’s it like?

“It’s been good. We rocked up at different training camps and things like that and then went to GP Lugano which was a more challenging one-day race than we had at Paris-Nice but he has a working style that is relatively relaxed. He’s pretty supportive of the guys and, if his condition is good, there’s generally a good plan in place to help him and it works out pretty well.

“It’s good fun riding with him and his condition is where it should be for this time of the year. He was always sort of present but didn’t do anything too flash. He was happy with the team and I suppose most of the guys were looking at Tirreno-Adriatico and seeing how Scarponi was going.

“It’s all flowing along pretty nicely…”

Interview by Rob Arnold ()