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by Shane Stokes
September 20, 2014
He’s nicknamed the sniper due to his ability to both peak at the right moment and also to pick off strong victories through a combination of strength and tactics; Simon Gerrans will start the world road race championships in just over a week’s time as one of the top favourites, and the Australian marksman says he’s exactly where he needs to be at this point in time.
“As far as my condition goes, I am really happy with where I am at,” Gerrans said in a conference call Friday, responding to a question from CyclingTips. “I am as good as I could have hoped to be at this stage of the year.
“I have obviously had some great results in the past couple of weeks and that just gives me lots of confidence coming into the world championships.”
The 34 year old Orica GreenEdge rider has already had his most successful season to date, winning the road nationals and the Santos Tour Down Under in January, taking first in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and third in Amstel Gold in April, netting third in the Vattenfall Cyclassics in August and then winning both the GP Cycliste de Québec and the GP Cycliste de Montréal this month.
It’s an incredible run of success, not least because he also peaked for the Tour de France. He went into that race aiming for at least one stage win, but had to shelve those ambitions after a bad tangle with Mark Cavendish on stage one left him with injuries.
He ultimately dropped out of that race, but was able to pick himself back up again and build up for the worlds, his big goal for the season.
Gerrans’ two victories this month in Canada show how well that rebuilding has gone. He’s in superb condition at this point of the year. That fact, plus the selective nature of his year’s Ponferrada course, means that he likely has his best chance ever to secure a rainbow jersey.
“If I could win a world championships, it would be the highlight of my career,” he said, savouring the thoughts of possible gold. “I have had some great wins throughout my career, particularly in the last couple of years, but I have always said that a world title is a race I dreamt of winning.
“So it would be huge. And I think most professional cyclists would say the same thing.”
In fact, he’s clear that he’d value the worlds ahead of an Olympic road race title. For him, there’s no real comparison between the two.
“Obviously as an Australian the Olympic Games is huge. I think it is huge worldwide,” he accepts, thinking it out. “But you get to wear the rainbow jersey for the following twelve months. That is hugely respected within the sport.”
Most riders who take the world title use the Vuelta a España as part of their preparation. The vast majority of those who have won the race in the past decade have taken part in the Spanish Grand Tour beforehand. Gerrans knows this, yet decided to do things a different way.
The reason was, he says, due to the fact that he has already been competing for almost nine months.
“I chose to do this one day race programme as preparation for the world championships mostly because I have already had a very long year,” he explained, pointing out just how much he has done in 2014. “I was in top condition in January, then again in the spring, then again for the Tour de France. So to use a Grand Tour as preparation would be a bit of a tall ask.
“I think if you are approaching the last part of the year and you have already been in top shape a few times, the Tour of Spain is just too demanding. It takes too much out of you. I would anticipate coming out way too fatigued to be able to be good for the world titles.
“So with that in mind, we chose this one day programme where the preparation is very much largely based on training as well.”
He identifies clear benefits in that approach. “When you are training, you have the luxury that if you are feeling a bit tired or feeling a bit flat, you can have an easy day.
“There is obviously no obligation to turn around, pin a number on and do a tough Grand Tour stage. So that is the reasoning behind choosing this one day programme rather than the Tour of Spain.”
If Gerrans is to take the world title, he will do so thanks to his form and instinct for the right move, but also on the support he gets on the day. He’s one of the top favourites on his own merits, but so too because of the riders he will have behind him.
The Australian national team has been identified by many as potentially the strongest squad in the race. Aside from Gerrans, it will contain two former gold medallists: the 2009 Elite champion Cadel Evans, and the 2010 world under 23 champion Michael Matthews.
The latter has himself had a superb season, taking stages and wearing the leader’s jersey in both the Vuelta a España and the Giro d’Italia. He recently told CyclingTips that he believed the best tactic was for the team to play both their cards, but also made clear that he would be willing to help Gerrans if necessary.
Gerrans knows that he may be called on to do the same thing, particularly if the race ends in a large sprint. He knows Matthews well, not least because they are team-mates on the Orica GreenEdge squad, and clearly regards him highly. Ditto for Evans.
“Between myself, Michael and Cadel we have actually got three great options for the various ways the race could unfold,” he said. “Obviously having Cadel there, who is just sort of a real warrior…he is going to be there when there is potentially the situation where there is just a few guys left standing in the race. If the race is a real war of attrition, I expect Cadel to be there.
“If the race isn’t so difficult and there is quite a big group coming in to the finish, we have the luxury of Matthews there, who is one of the quickest guys going around at this point in time.
“Then myself, I fall somewhere in between that. So, I think with the Australian team that we have got three protected riders, three really good options there.”
He was complimentary about the others on the team, noting that he has worked well in the past with team-mates Mat Hayman and Simon Clarke and that Adam Hansen has come out of the Vuelta a España in fine form and with a stage win to his credit.
He also pointed out that he has ridden alongside Heinrich Haussler while a member of the Cervélo Test Team in 2009. Although he said he doesn’t know Rory Sutherland and Rohan Dennis as well as those, he notes both seem to be riding well at this point in time.
All together, he likes what he sees. “I think as a whole we have a really strong unit.”
Of course, the race will be far from a walkover. The worlds is notoriously difficult to control and that will continue to be the case this year on the tough Ponferrada course. In addition to that, many of those he will be up against are in good form.
While some might not have the recent results that he has clocked up, Gerrans is fully aware that riders will come out of the Vuelta strong and will believe in their own chances of victory.
He named some of those who he and the Australian team will have to keep a very close eye on. “I think it is hard to look past the Spanish team, obviously – Valverde and Rodriguez are consistent performers at the world championships. With Valverde it doesn’t seem to matter if it is a really demanding course or one a little bit easier; he is generally up there every year. Then if it is a big tougher, expect to see Rodriguez there.
“John Degenkolb has shown some fantastic condition in the Tour of Spain – if it is not such a demanding day, I expect John to be up there going for the win. Then Peter Sagan is a guy a little bit like Valverde; he is strong on all sorts of parcours. Although he was quiet in the Tour of Spain, it will be interesting to see how he comes out of that.”
Those are the main danger men in his book, the biggest threats that come to mind, but he is aware that the worlds always throws up others.
“You obviously have to look to the Swiss with Cancellara and Albasini,” he pointed out. “The Belgians have got a really strong group but no clear leader at this point, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
“Then there are a real array of guys that you need to be attentive of, how they race their race. I think at the end of the day, of the guys you see around you in the final laps coming to the finish – you can’t really discount anybody.”
Many riders who win the worlds line out in races such as Il Lombardia afterwards, using those post-championship races as a platform to show off the rainbow jersey. Gerrans is adamant this won’t be the case; win or lose, he says that his season is over on Sunday week. Done. Dusted.
“At this stage my last race for 2014 is the world championships,” he insisted. “I have had a long, tough season. I have asked a lot out of myself, physically and mentally, in order to stay focussed for this long and to get so many peaks out of my season.
“I think it is time to have a rest after the world championships. If I were able to win it, there would be plenty of opportunities next year to be racing in the rainbow jersey.
“Like I said, I have been racing at a pretty high level since early January. So as tempting as it would be to line up in another couple of races as world champion, I think it would be more important to have a rest and to start thinking about next year.”
In other words, the sniper will head into the road race knowing he has one bullet in the chamber. Everything boils down to that one shot. Hit or miss. On target, or not.
It means he has one chance to end his 2014 campaign with a win. That’s hugely motivating for him, but so too the thought of finishing as he started.
“I have probably had the best season of my career this year, so to bookend it [like that]…” he said, considering the possibility.
“To win the national championships at the very beginning, then to finish it off with the road world championships at the end of the year…I really couldn’t ask for much more than that.”