Tour of Missouri TT winner and new yellow jersey Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Chipotle) and three-time TT World Champion Australian and second place on Tour of Missouri TT Michael Rogers (Columbia) answered questions from the media following Wednesday’s 18-mile time trial reputed to be a tough one.
Tell us how your form is coming back, 2003 and 2004 were big years for you and then you had Epstein-Barr and mononucleosis, take us through the last couple of years and how rough it’s been to get up to where you are now.
Mick: Obviously I had a really bad start to the year, and I’m really happy to be back in top condition, the last couple of months have been getting better and better for me, and certainly good to back at racing at the top level again.
And then Beijing, was that a little bit of revelation for you?
Mick: Certainly, you know to finish sixth in the road race and then to back it up with a ninth in the time trial was certainly a good result for me, it shows that I’m certainly getting back to where I was, it hasn’t been an easy road, but slowly, slowly it’s getting there.
On the course itself today, did you get any pointers from George [Hincapie]? What are your overall impressions?
Mick: That was one of the reason that I came to this race was to do this time trial in preparation for the World Championships later on this month in Italy. I think it was the hardest time trial I’ve done this year, course wise, there are certainly some good riders and to finish second to especially to Christian is a positive thing.
Put in perspective, you said at the finish line that it was a minor surprise for yourself on the form that you were on.
Christian: Yeah, it was a surprise. I wasn’t one hundred percent confident with myself, just the way I was feeling, I’ve been doing this or that for the last couple of weeks, I didn’t ride so great at the National Championships and then yesterday Mick [Rodgers] did this leadout and he almost killed me and it kind of killed my morale completely so no, I mean it was a surprise but at the same time, I rode the course this morning and I really liked it a lot and it really motivated me to do a big ride today.
Christian, is your time trialing different than it was two or three years ago?
Christian: yeah, for sure I worked on my position a lot this winter, got out to the wind tunnel. My team’s put a lot of efforts into that, we don’t pass over anything, when it comes to warming up, recon, performance with the wattage, everything like that it’s very similar to Columbia actually, there are no surprise when you see, every race throughout the year that Columbia and Slipstream are pretty much just dominating the top ten.
Any advantages in going off a bit earlier, was any information passed along or didn’t it matter at that point?
Christian: It’s always great to have time splits and know that you are going well. I always start off quite slow and Dave [Zabriskie] goes quite fast. To know that I was within a couple seconds of him was nice to know, then I had Mick behind me which is probably the best… I thought he was going to catch me actually, it’s great motivation for sure.
Michael, talk about the challenges you faced internally to return to the top of your sport.
Mick: Yeah, it’s certainly been … cycling wise it wasn’t the best for me, having obviously crashing out of the Tour and having a very good chance of taking the yellow jersey at the tour de France that day was certainly a big blow to my morale. Then there in between my wife and I had twin girls and it’s been pretty tough, and then obviously the illness so you know when you think about it, it was almost one year that I didn’t race and completely out of competition and that’s hard to come back from. With cycling, to take you out of competition that’s a hard thing to do and come back to a good level so in order to do that, that’s been like a victory for me to come back into good condition again, I think I’ve got a lot of steps to make still until trying for the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.
Christian, how would you rank this time trial and what makes it so tough?
Christian: It’s up there, the time trial this year at the Tour of Italy was horrendous also, but this one was nasty from start to finish, you never really got into a great rhythm, it was always undulating, you really had to time all your efforts, you had to really focus up and over every climb, it was good to have a director yelling at you to push yourself, it’s easy to kind of give up at the top of every climb, I would have to go along, Levi said it last year and I said ‘come on’, that it was the hardest timetrial he ever did, yeah it is.
Christian, do you think that tomorrow’s stage will be the key to the race and does it help your motivation that your sponsor is based locally?
Christian: Yeah, it is a big deal for us, Garmin is right out of Kansas and we’re withing earshot of those guys so we did a lot of face time with them this week so it’s a big deal for us, and finally having the yellow jersey is great. Tomorrow, everyday is going to be hard, all the way through the circuit race in St Louis, Columbia and there are plenty of other good teams at the Tour of Missouri, but mostly Columbia has a great team, they are a very attacking team so I’m sure they’ll be in the mix everyday.
Is that true, Mick?
Mick: Certainly the race is not over yet. It’s going to be hard to really change the general classification a lot and obviously for us, there’s more stage possibilities with Mark Cavendish and we’ll just see how it plays out.
As a follow-up to that, is there a little pressure off of you since you don’t have the yellow jersey?
Mick: I think we won’t be playing as much an aggressive role as we were in the last couple of days, it doesn’t make any sense for Columbia to ride at the front to take these guys all the way to the finish. So they will obviously have to defend the lead, and as I’ve said, the race isn’t over yet, anything can happen.
Christian, can you talk about what your team will have to do to hold the yellow jersey?
Christian: We’ll have to do a lot obviously, we are going to have to do a lot of work, High Road did a phenomenal job in the first two stages by taking the bull by the horn and working on the front, making sure that Mark was protected and having an easy ride to the finish and he delivered every time and that’s going to be more of our role now. My team is going to have to chaperone me to the front, close down all the big breakaways, but the biggest thing is just be smart as a team. A lot of times you can have a very strong team but if you don’t do the right things at the right time you can give away the race lead. Here in Missouri, it undulates the whole time, there is no decisive climb, it’s always up and down at all time so you have to be on point at all time.
Michael, can you comment on what you think your team has to do to take the jersey back.
Mick: It’s a good question. Like Christian just said, there is no actual decisive mountain, they are relatively short. It’s going to be a big challenge, we also have to look at the wind conditions, the time bonuses available, as I said, it’s not going to be an easy feat because these guys have a lot of experience and there are a super strong team.
You’ve both have a similar evolution in your careers going from a time trial specialist to a GC guy. How do you go through that process of being a specialist and expanding your range?
Mick: Mountains, up down, up down, up down. There are no secrets, you just have to train weaknesses and make better your strengths, that’s really what you have to do.
Do you feel that you’ve sacrificed some of your time trial to become a better climber?
Christian: I still can’t sprint my way out of a paper bag, my sprint still hasn’t gotten any better. Like Mick said, you just have to practice. I have a time trial bike at home now and that’s been a big change. e never really trained on my time trial bike and in order to be a good time trialist, you have to train on your time trial bike and do the efforts and things I’ve never really done in the past. That’s been the biggest difference. There are not too many secrets in cycling, living like a monk and training hard, eating well, looking after yourself, it’s really not rocket science.
During the Tour, we watched as you got more & more confidence, somewhere in the Tour, you mentioned that you looking forwards to 2009. With that said, we now know that Mr Armstrong is coming back and other riders, do you still feel that you could improve and that you are a candidate to win the Tour de France?
Christian: Oh yeah, for sure. Today was kind of a big deal for me to realize that I still have it. After third place in the Nationals, my confidence took a little beating but there are a lot of good riders today at the time trial and to be ahead of Mick who is coming into form, it helps my confidence going into the winter time. But first and foremost, I’m looking forwards to 2009 but I want to get through this week first, but I finished the time trial at the Tour de France and I couldn’t wait for the Tour de France to begin in 2009.
How do you gage cycling’s popularity right now in North America?
Christian: When I came back to Chicago, I was astounded actually on how many people were following us in the Tour this year, listening on the radio, watching on TV, it was really cool to see. I’ve been a pro now for eleven years and nobody knows who I am which is nice, but I was taken aback by how many people, neighbors coming up to you saying this or that, people I don’t know at all always coming up to me within Chicago, in Lamont. I don’t any cyclists in Chicago really. To have this race within an earshot of my hometown and to have these people waiting for us after the finish at the podium today, I really expected to be there about five people but it was standing room only, it was pretty neat to see. Hopefully, it continues.
Is there any particular terrain in other parts of the world that our terrain reminds you?
Christian: Yeah, it’s a lot like the Massif Central in France. It’s never straight, it’s up and down and really takes it out of you. And usually, the Massif Central is horribly hot and humid.