January 16, 2007: Down Under Classic
I know I've been in pretty good form. I've come off the Bay Crits in pretty well, and I've used that as specific work for the Tour Down Under. It's a shame today's just a one-day race; I would've liked to grabbed the first stage of the tour, but that's now a new objective for tomorrow.
But, yeah, I've kind of been pretty serious this off season. I've been back in Bathurst and tried to do everything right; I s'pose I've eaten a little bit better and stayed off the alcohol, done my stretching... and it seems to be paying off. The other thing is, I'm into my fourth year as a professional now - the strength gets better each year.
I'd actually done more training [last year], so I definitely thought I wouldn't be going as good as last year. [In 2006], I was coming into a contract year, so I wanted to come out stomping at the start of the year. I was on a one-year deal with Credit Agricole, but I re-signed for two more seasons.
I haven't done the quantity of training this year, but I've done a bit more quality. So, after the Tour Down Under, I don't have any more racing till the Tour of Med; I'll do some long rides [in between] and by the time get to Europe, I'll have enough hours under the belt to do the long ones [races].
After the Bay Classic, I was surprised how well I came up... and so quick. I hadn't really done too many long rides - just a bit of intensity behind the motorbike, that kind of thing. It seems doing the little things pays off. Not taking anything away from the Bay Classic, though, it's a totally different kettle of fish [here]: each team has one or two world-class sprinters, whereas the Bay Classic was more of an Australian field.
But it's always a good gauge; I thought I had some form after that, and was hoping to do a lot better at the national titles on Sunday, so I'm on an up and down roller coaster. Seems I'm on the up at the moment...
Throughout the race [tonight], I was feeling okay - I didn't feel super. I had [a look] at my heart rate there and it wasn't getting too high and it was dropping down quick when the speed was down. So I knew I was feeling good and had done the intensity.
The last three laps were the most important. There was a big move up the back straight with Botcharov, the little Russian in our team - he'd done a really good job and he did the last two laps with a couple of CSC guys. The second last corner, the tight left-hander, I kind of had a bit of trouble with Hilton Clarke - we were fighting for McEwen's wheel. From then on, it was kind of slow-mo: I had the run down the left-hand side, and I just had to get past Baden Cooke; I knew I was either going to win the race or hit the deck!
It was one or the other: if Baden went right, then I was hitting the deck; if Baden stayed where he was, then I was going to win the stage. I just needed a little bit of luck for the door to stay open, and it did.
I spent the first two years [of my career] trying to keep upright and stay out of trouble, and I s'pose you need to do a bit of an apprenticeship in the peloton. Now I've got a bit of respect amongst the other sprinters, but you still do you see a few falls. This year I'm probably going to hit the deck more than what I usually do because I'm going to start pushing those boundaries a little bit more, and if I get a start in the Tour de France, then that's just part and parcel of the game. Julian Dean showed how it's done - [last year] I think he fell over two days in a row!
I think tomorrow's going to be the GC day. I think it's going to be similar to last year, same kind of stage: dead roads, hot and windy - once 20 guys get up the road, the race is going to shut down and that's going to be the GC. It's just that kind of race: there are a lot of guys who are motivated to win, there are a lot of guys just here for training; once the guys that are motivated get up the road, that's the race.
Last year, I came sixth or seventh [overall]. You need a little bit of luck, but you need to make the luck, and now that I've got some strength, it's a lot easier to push that window a little bit further.
It's not a hard tour compared to the ones we race in Europe. There's definitely no reason to say I can't win [overall] - I finished top 10 on GC before. But as I've said, this year I haven't done the big k's I've usually done - I've done more intensity - but they're only short stages, 150, 160k; I might die towards the end, but then again, I might get better each day.
One glass of champers [champagne] was all I had today. Okay, maybe two! There was one extra, so I got the extra one. Oh - and we also managed to have some extra champagne at lunchtime! It was our directeur's birthday. He's on a big winner now: he saw a koala and then found 10 dollars; then it's his birthday and I won a stage - and he also drew the number one car tomorrow!
There's a bottle of Bollinger on the table, so we might be drinking through straws tonight! But nah, I'm going to stay serious. I want to win at least one more stage and be up there on general [classification].