Here we are at the Tour Down Under and everything is shaping up really well - and I'm back writing for Cyclingnews!
I think I’m about 95 per cent. What’s left is the racing that will bring you up. With my trainer, we came up with a program that would give me the best shot at getting good results in the Tour Down Under. I’ve done a really good strength block, and a good speed block with the scooter and when it comes to the sprints, I definitely have the form to be there for the win.
The Tour Down Under is getting huge. This year we see there’re probably five or six teams that have brought big sprinters. We’re missing Cavendish, Hushovd and Farrar – they’re the three big names that are missing. It’s going to be quite hard to win.
I think there’s still good opportunities for sprinters although the General Classification will go to a more punchy rider like Gerrans or Valverde - apparently has come back with a vengeance. I can see him being in the mix. Not doing the Bay Crits I think it’s just moved my season one or two weeks back. I’m in as much form as what I was last year riding the Bay Crits. I’ve done enough intensity at home to emulate the Bay Crits. It is great to ride them but on the days that the guys were doing an hour of racing and maybe one or two hours in the morning I was doing five hours with the scooter and six hour rides at home so while they’ve prepared well with some racing I’ve also prepared well with the scooter. I’ve preferred this year’s build up.
The first stage into Clare will be my main objective following the Down Under Classic. I get the faith from the team and I’d love to come out and win a stage straight up. But I know it’s going to be hard with Andre, with Petacchi there’s so many good riders here. You just hear the rumours about form. Andre’s obviously going pretty well. There’re also the other Aussie guys. I think Andre’s going to be the hardest competition for the sprints but you also have Boasson Hagen and Gerro for the overall.
A lot of questions are being asked what form the Rabobank leadout train will take. We’ve done some training as a team. The train itself is hard to emulate in training but with Graeme [Brown] and Michael Matthews we’ve got more than enough power. Tom Leezer is really good. He was the last lead out man for Brown the last few years and now he moves into fourth so if he can put us into position I think we have enough power. Jos Van Emden and Tom have been out in Australia since mid-December so they’ve prepared really well.
Onto that other talking point over summer – the Australian road nationals. I was quite surprised with my performance in the road race. I’m a little bit heavier than what I was the last few years but I think I’m also pushing 150 watts more – big power so it’s a bit of a compromise. All the training I’ve done has allowed me to put on more muscle. The form on the climbs has surprised me a little bit, but in a good way. But I was a little bit disappointed that my timing was out in the criterium and I missed the win there.
When it comes to my views on the Buninyong course and the fact that we need variety, I find it funny that there’s not many people backing me up – not many riders anyway. There’re a lot of journalists and fans that feel the same. My point is that I don’t want an easy circuit. All I want is some variation. It’s hard to get motivated for a course like that when I know that both Simon [Gerrans] and myself use the same trainer. All I have to do is ask my trainer can I beat Simon Gerrans on this course and he’ll laugh and say it’s not possible. It’s physically impossible that I can beat Simon. I can do it on the circuit but I need 17 teammates, I need a headwind up the climb, I need everything to go right.
On the eve of the Tour Down Under I can say there’s no pressure from the team yet but if there is pressure it’s what I’m putting on myself. I didn’t get criticised for leaving Cav but I think a lot of people were happy to see me take a chance myself. It is risky. It was a big decision and I think it was the right decision. I had to do it now, I couldn’t wait any longer I’m 29, I’m not getting younger. It would have been crazy to finish my career and say I wish I had of had a go and not took the opportunity to do it.
This year if I could a win a stage in Down Under, Tour of Qatar, have a good spring classics, Paris-Nice, perform well in San Remo, and a stage win at the Tour – that would be above expectations and I’ll be happy with that. It will be a good year, everything’s going to plan, it’s about settling into the team as well.