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It’s been an up and down few months for Esteban Chaves. The Colombian had his best year to date in 2016, netting second overall in the Giro, third in the Vuelta and winning both Il Lombardia and the Giro dell’Emilia.
He then went on to lodge a superb season start in the Santos Tour Down Under, finishing second overall in the Santos Tour Down Under. However, after taking ninth in the subsequent Herald Sun Tour, he was hit by a knee problem and sidelined for several weeks.
That tendonitis scuppered his planned programme and he has had to make some changes. Physical therapy sessions replaced competition and he will now build up for his debut Tour de France in Colombia prior to riding just one race before July.
He’ll do either the Critérium du Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse, making the final choice closer to those events.
Still, despite the disruption, the Orica-Scott rider is psyched about riding his first Tour.
“I feel excited,” Chaves told CyclingTips in a Skype interview on Thursday. “It is my first time at the Tour de France, and this is one dream for me.
“All this history started when I looked at the Tour de France on the couch with my dad. It was one dream to arrive on the Champs Elysees. So my first time at the Tour de France will be really exciting.
“We will try to do the best, like always.”
Colombian supporters and other fans will be intrigued to see how Chaves fares. He’s one of the best young climbers in the sport and, based on his close runner-up slot in last year’s Giro plus his past Vuelta performances, could have a very strong race.
Read on for an interview with Chaves about the pluses he takes from his time spent injured, his reasons for such a strong season debut, his highlight from 2016, his key memories from watching the Tour on television, his thoughts on this year’s route and more.
CyclingTips: First off, Esteban, how have the last few months been for you?
Esteban Chaves: I am at home, so that is good. But I had the problem with the injury after I came back from Australia. I started to train after the trip, [training] super, super hard, and I had a knee injury. It’s just a simple one, tendonitis, but it took me close to four weeks to fix.
But now it is completely fixed now and it is forgotten. I am back on the bike again and am training. I will try to take the best performance I can.
How do you feel your training was up until that point? Was everything going well until then?
Yeah, before the injury I felt really good. But it is like this. It is part of the past now. So I’ll take [regard] this injury as happening for a reason. We take the time for the injury… Normally people think an injury is a super-bad thing, but you need to take for the good way [take the best from it].
You need to work on different things, things you can’t work on during the season because you have no time. You travel, you race.
So I could do a lot of stretching for the back, for the core. Also I did some swimming as well. I could work on different things that you don’t normally have time for. So this is a good thing for the performance in future.
Was it the best start to the season you have ever hard?
Yes, in Australia for sure. Normally I’m struggling at the start of the season. This year is special, starting in Australia. This was a really good start. And especially because the Tour Down Under’s queen stage finishes on a seven minute climb. So if I can do this well then, this is a good signal for the future.
Also I did last year good stuff in the GC in three week races. And if I do well like this [at the start of the season] it is a good signal.
So what do you think made the difference in you going so well so early on this season? Was it because of all the work you did last year, did you do anything different over the winter, or what do you think was the reason for it?
Well, we started to train early in the winter because of the races in January, obviously. And also normally the other years I stopped racing in the end of February. Maybe that was too long after the last race. And my first races are normally in Europe’s winter, and I don’t like the cold. This is also another reason.
And also all the work we did last year, and the year before, and the year before – all this accumulation of kilometres in my legs for sure helped.
Everything helped to do this good performance in the beginning of this year.
So when you look at last season, what excites you most of the results you achieved?
That is hard… I had quite a few results, but my favourite one is Lombardia. I lived before in Bergamo, the town where the finish line is. I lived there for two years, I have a couple of friends there and I know the routes.
Also, I have a special history with Italy, I turned professional there. My accident was in Italy, and all this history. And also Lombardia – I love that race. So with all that, that race is my highlight for last year.
Looking at your results for the last few years, it seems that you reached a new level. Each season seems to bring a new progression.
Yes, for sure. If you see my progression with this team, every year we go one step up. For example, the first year, in 2014, I just finished the Vuelta a España. The next year, I just finished the Giro, but I finished in the first ten riders in the Vuelta.
Last year I did the general classification in two Grand Tours, so this is a good improvement. And also I took this Lombardia win.
The progression is really nice and also fast. I hope that [big] year is not an exception.
You were very close at the end of the Giro. That must give you a lot of confidence for the future…
Well, I know that you can do it. I can do it if you train hard – I trained hard for the Giro, before. I did that result, so I proved to myself that I can do it. So I need to continue working like this or harder. Then we can do like this again, or better.
Obviously Nibali had some strong stages at the very end of the Giro, taking the final pink jersey. He is older and he has won the Tour de France. When you look back at the race, do you think it is because older riders have perhaps a little more endurance at the end of a Grand Tour?
Maybe he has a little bit better performance at the final. He had a really good performance in the final. And this is because he is experienced, he knows Italy and he is a big champion. This guy won the three Grand Tours, he is a big champion.
In the end, the best rider won. Nibali is the best. Cycling is like this. There is nothing to be sad about.
You have just turned 27. Because of that, I think it’s reasonable to believe that you will continue to improve over the next few years. That must be exciting for you…
If we look at this season, do you know your programme? The Tour has already been said [to be on your programme], but what else will you do?
Well, everything changed because of the injury, like normal. Now I’ll train super hard in Colombia and we will see how the performance goes. At the last moment we will decide if I do the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse. After that, I will attack the Tour de France.
So what are your thoughts on making your debut in the Tour?
I feel excited. It is my first time at the Tour de France, and this is one dream for me. All this history started when I looked at the Tour de France on the couch with my dad. It is one dream to arrive on the Champs Elysees. So my first time at the Tour de France will be really exciting.
We will try to do the best, like always.
When you were watching the Tour de France when you were younger, do you have a particularly exciting moment that you remember in watching the race?
Well, I was watching in the years when Lance Armstrong smashed everyone. That is more or less the memories. I was 10, 11, 12, 13 years old when that happened. And in the sprints, it was Petacchi, Oscar Freire.
I also supported the Colombian riders. Victor Hugo Pena was the first and only Colombian to take the Maillot Jaune. And there was a sprinter Leonard Duque. So we tried to support the Colombian riders.
So do you have an idea in mind for the Tour? As you head towards the Tour, do you dream of a particular achievement this year?
Well, for this year, I think we go to know the race for the first time. Everyone talks about the race…it’s a different race, it is bigger, it is the most important, blah blah blah. So I need to go and see if it is true or not, and to know the race.
And I’ll try to do the best as always. We are professionals, so we will train super hard. I will train to do the best as I can.
So in general, is that the approach that you take? Rather than publically naming a goal, do you prefer to focus on achieving your own best performance and then see what that is, in terms of results?
Yes. It is like this. There is no point to put one position on the GC or speak about the stages or whatever. I go to learn, to know the race, and we will take it day by day. I will train hard before and do the big efforts when I can do them.
When you look at the route of the Tour, the stages, the types of mountains…how do you feel about that?
It is good, no? It is not a super hilly one. Some in the Pyrenees are hard. The other ones look more or less like the Vuelta a España. Shorter and steep…these hard finals. But it is good. I like that, and also the time trials are not super-long. So this is good for one guy of 55 kilogrammes. No cobbles as well…