The opening week of last year’s Tour de France was a very successful one for both Simon Gerrans and his Orica-GreenEdge team. After netting 15th and 16th on the opening two stages in Corsica, Gerrans timed his finishing sprint perfectly to beat Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Movistar) and a thinned-out main bunch to grab stage three in Calvi.
The following day, his Orica-GreenEdge squad aced the team time trial, beating Omega Pharma-QuickStep by one second and Team Sky by three. The result put Gerrans into the Maillot Jaune for the first time in his career, and he defended it the following day, then passed it over to teammate Daryl Impey at the end of stage six.
In exactly one week’s time Gerrans will click shoe to pedal and start another Tour. He’s had a strong season thus far; in January he won another Australian road race title and picked up his third Santos Tour Down Under title. Then, after backing off slightly in February and March, he raced to the fore again in April when he finished third in the Amstel Gold Race and won Liège-Bastogne-Liège with a superbly tactical ride.
Gerrans backed off again in order to peak for the Tour. While he had a quiet ride in the Critérium du Dauphiné, he is confident that he has timed things right and should be in very good condition for the Tour de France. He’s got big aims there.
“I would love to go back and win a stage again this year,” Gerrans told CyclingTips this week. “I see some real nice opportunities in the first half of the race. I don’t think you have to be a cycling genius to work out which stages in the first part of the Tour de France, particularly in the first week, really suit me.”
Providing things go to plan, Gerrans is hoping to replicate his achievement from last year; taking a stage, and also wearing yellow. He believes the structure of the race could allow him to do that.
“With the format in the Tour de France these days, without a prologue and without any time bonuses, it is a matter of just getting some good, consistent placings.
“Normally you need to win a stage in the first part of the race to sneak that yellow jersey. So, if everything goes to plan and I am up there in the stages that I hope to be, then we should be well and truly within striking distance of yellow.”
In the interview below Gerrans discusses the Tour and how he will tackle it, naming one of the stages he believes could suit his punchy style. He also gives his tip for the general classification, discusses his season to date, talks about how winning races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège has changed him as a rider, outlines a key end of season target and gives his thoughts on the future evolution of Orica-GreenEdge.
He also gives a provisional thumbs up to the rumoured – but as yet unconfirmed – possibility that Bradley Wiggins could become part of the team. “I am not sure what the team has in mind recruitment-wise. I think we will find that out in another month or so,” he said. “[But] I would have absolutely no worries racing with Brad.”
CyclingTips: Simon, you took the Australian road race title again plus another edition of the Santos Tour Down Under, then finished third in the Amstel Gold Race and won Liège Bastogne Liège. How do you feel about the season so far?
Simon Gerrans: I couldn’t have asked for much more, really. I had set out my objectives at the start of the year, the first one being the Australian summer, and that went pretty successfully. The next was the Ardennes. I could not have asked for a heck of a lot more out of the Ardennes, either.
So far this season has really gone perfectly. Since the Ardennes I had a good rest and have done a nice steady progression now towards the Tour de France. I had a short break, a good block of training, racing the Bayern Rundfahrt and then the Dauphiné as part of a buildup towards the Tour de France. So far it has gone really well.
CT: In the Dauphiné you were quiet. Was that deliberate – had you gone in saying to yourself that you were going to use it as part of the build-up in that way?
SG: Yeah, 100 percent. I wasn’t going to the Dauphiné with any ambitions for results whatsoever. Actually, funnily enough, the Dauphiné was never really a race where I achieved much in the past. For me it is all part of the process in that building of my condition towards the Tour de France.
Even last year, I really struggled through the Dauphiné. It put a few doubts in my mind at the end of the race, with how much I hurt to get through it. But just three weeks later I was one of the best guys in the first week of the Tour de France.
So that gives me confidence now in that process and in that preparation, building up to a goal like the Tour.
CT: What did you do since the Dauphiné? How do you structure things in the couple of weeks between that and the Tour?
SG: First and foremost it is about recovering from the Dauphiné. It is a really solid race. I see it as one of the hardest on the calendar. The most important thing is to recover from that, and then freshen up enough that you can do a good block of training to really sharpen up for the Tour de France.
CT: If we look back at the season, it was pretty big to take the nationals again and the Tour Down Under…
SG: Yes, definitely. Obviously those two races are very important for Orica-GreenEdge. There is not a lot of racing in Australia that we are able to compete in, so when we do we really have to make it count.
I always put a big emphasis on starting out the season in good shape. I obviously did this year. But that all probably stems back from finishing my 2013 season a little short with the crash in the Tour of Spain. That basically put everything forward a few weeks for me.
I had my break a little bit earlier, then I was on the bike a little bit earlier than I would normally be, which probably gave me a leg up on a lot of guys already come January.
I worked really hard for those results. It was great to get those wins for myself and the team.
CT: You had a hip fracture in the Vuelta crash. Are the symptoms completely gone now?
SG: Yeah, there are none left whatsoever. It was a pretty simple fracture in the end, and was just enough to put me out of the race and on the side-lines until the end of the season. It took five or six weeks to heal up, which all the doctors said it would, and then I was back into it again and starting my pre-season.
If there is ever a good moment to get a fracture, that wasn’t a bad one!
CT: You have won Milan-San Remo before. You have now taken Liège. Has this moved you on to a new level as a rider, or is it more a confirmation of what you have done before?
SG: That is a tough one, I guess. I don’t think it has changed the way I go about things. It has probably changed my stature a little bit as a rider. I think I caught everyone by surprise a little bit at Milan-San Remo, myself included. It was about being an opportunist and making the most of my good form and the right situation.
Whereas Liège was a goal that I was working for many years on, so that was a huge moment to finally win that one. It all came together perfectly for me on the day.
I guess what those victories do is they give you confidence going into your goals. You know if you have done the hard work and if things go to plan, there is no reason why you can’t win these big races.
CT: Looking at the Tour, have you got clear goals in your mind of what you want to achieve there?
SG: Definitely. I would love to go back and win a stage again this year. I see some real nice opportunities in the first half of the race. I don’t think you have to be a cycling genius to work out which stages in the first part of the Tour de France, particularly in the first week, really suit me.
CT: Is wearing yellow again another priority?
SG: Well, with the format in the Tour de France these days, without opening with a prologue and without any time bonuses, it is a matter of just getting some good, consistent placings. Normally you need to win a stage in the first part of the race to sneak that yellow jersey.
So if everything goes to plan and I am up there in the stages that I hope to be, then we should be well and truly within striking distance of yellow.
CT: In that opening week, who do you see as the other guys you will be vying with for a stage win and yellow? Are there certain guys in mind?
SG: Well, with the very first stage being a sprinters’ stage, I think obviously we can expect to see one of the really quick guys in yellow after stage one.
Then stage two is, from all reports, going to be a very tough, selective stage with a much-reduced bunch coming to the finish. So you can never look past guys like Sagan being up there in a stage like that. I am sort of already reading reports of guys saying that they would love to go on the attack on stage two as it is going to really be a stage to control.
So I think we are going to see a really aggressive stage and there should be some really exciting racing on that stage two.
CT: As regards the team’s goal, is it all stages this year, or are there other targets as well?
SG: I think it is all stages. I think if you look at our roster, it is pretty easy to see we don’t have a contender for the yellow overall. We have a couple of guys who could maybe target a stint in the green jersey, but if you look at our lineup at Orica-GreenEdge, it is very much a team focussed on stage victories.
CT: What are your thoughts on that possibly changing next year? There are suggestions that there could be a couple of big signings, but also the Yates brothers are likely to keep progressing. The dynamic of the team could change a bit…
SG: I am not sure what the team has in mind recruitment-wise. I think we will find that out in another month or so. But if you look at the depth of talent that we have in Orica-GreenEdge, there are definitely some big prospects there when it comes to riding general classification.
I think if the team is able to hold onto this group of young, talented guys we have for the next few years, then we will have a Grand Tour contending team.
It is just depending if we can firstly hang onto these young guys, and secondly if we can develop them like we are at the moment. If we do, for sure Orica-GreenEdge will be a real strength in classification racing as well.
CT: You said it will be another month or two before people know who is going. If Wiggins were to go there, as has been rumoured, is he a guy who you could race alongside?
SG: Well, I have done in the past, quite happily and quite successfully. I always got on really well with Brad when we were team-mates at Team Sky. So I would have absolutely no worries racing with Brad, that’s for sure.
CT: What is your tip for GC in the Tour – do you have any thoughts on who the likely winner will be?
SG: It is hard to look past Froome at the moment. Looking at his track record in stage racing and Grand Tours in the past couple of years, he has got to be for me the standout favourite. He looked to be in great shape in the Dauphiné leading up to his crash on the Friday stage. So I see Froome as the one.
CT: In terms of sprint stages, who do you see as being the dominant sprinter? Any thoughts on that?
SG: I haven’t done many stages with the sprinters this year. So it is really hard for me to say. When it comes to that, I am a bit of an armchair expert! But there is definitely going to be some exciting sprint stages.
It is going to be interesting with the Giant-Shimano train and Kittel on the back of that – who was super-impressive in the first few stages of the Giro. Then you have got a pretty well established group of guys at Lotto riding for Greipel, and then Cavendish is always good at the Tour de France.
So you have got a pretty exciting group of sprinters there. I will be looking forward to watching the replays in the evening after the stages to see who was doing what!
CT: What is your programme like after the Tour?
SG: That is yet to be decided. Nothing is set in stone just yet. So we will see how the Tour de France goes first.
CT: But presumably the thoughts of winning the rainbow jersey is huge on your mind, given the selective course this year?
SG: Yeah, definitely. I always try to put a big emphasis on the world championships at the end of the season. I love racing the world titles, I love representing Australia and I always go there and give my all. From all reports, it is going to be a nice circuit this year down in Spain. So I will be doing my best to be in great shape for the world titles at the end of the year.
Having said that, it is a heck of a long time since I first pinned my number on and I was in good shape in January. To be doing that at the end of September is a heck of a long season, but I will be giving it 100% at the world titles again this year, that’s for sure.