An interview with Simon Gerrans, June 15, 2005
Signing with Ag2R Prévoyance in late 2004, Simon Gerrans has stormed onto the pro scene in 2005 with a string of top ten victories against stiff competition, including victory in the Tour du Finistère in April - and the 25-year-old Victorian has only just begun. Cyclingnews' Les Clarke caught up with Gerrans just after he'd finished the Tour of Luxembourg to see how this young gun is firing.
Moving to Europe and getting a start in a pro team is one thing, but getting out on the road and beating seasoned campaigners in notable races in your first year is something else altogether. Ag2R's Australian neo-pro, Simon Gerrans, has done this in 2005. After joining Vincent Lavenu's team in September 2004, Gerrans came out with all guns blazing.
Gerrans joined a growing list of Australians plying their trade in Europe in 2005, celebrating his arrival with victory in the Tour du Finistere, beating the likes of Cofidis' David Moncoutie, and eighth place in Brabantse Pijl, riding against stars of the sport such as Armstrong, Freire, Hincapie and Ekimov. By his own admission he's been shocked by such performances and now faces the possibility of riding the Tour de France after his team was granted a wildcard entry into le Grand Boucle.
"the team's really great - a great introduction to the pro ranks" -Gerrans on his pro team, Ag2R Prévoyance.
Having moved to Nice, Gerrans is enjoying the beginning of his pro career, saying, "It's really great. I've got my own apartment in Nice with plenty of other Aussies around to train with. It's fantastic being able to train with those guys and even the weather's been good." The big buzz around Ag2R right now is their wildcard entry to the Tour de France, and Gerrans explained, "The reception's been great; they were always confident of getting it [the wildcard entry], but we didn't know for that long before the announcement was made that we were a real chance of getting that entry."
And will he be riding the Tour?
"They generally don't take first-year pros, but there's always the possibility of a last-minute selection. From a squad of 14 there are three or four definite starters, and the rest are chosen in the last week or so before the Tour starts; for me, after the Tour of Luxembourg and Route du Sud."
"I've just finished Tour of Luxembourg, and I've come up really well through it after coming off the Tour of Rheinland. I felt good after Rheinland and have had a couple of good days; it should be a good Route du Sud."
So the chances are slim, but if Gerrans rides a strong Route du Sud he may well find himself lining up for the start of le Tour come the beginning of July. But this wouldn't be simply as a result of strong performances in this one race; after Ag2R's initial interest in the rider during April last year, Gerrans has been proving himself worthy of big rides since. He met with management during last year's Tour de France and by September was riding stagiare for them, signing a contract a month later - "Yeah, after that intial meeting I emailed the management [at Ag2R], letting them know how I was going and updating them on my situation. I won a couple of races in mid-August and at the beginning of September I was riding stagiare for them."
Gerrans finds that Ag2R suits his current situation, "the team's really great - a great introduction to the pro ranks, and being a continental team it's not too full on, but I still get to ride some higher profile races. The couple of Classics I got to ride were mindblowing, and with this team I get to ride a variety of races; I feel really comfortable here." Gerrans raced Brabntse Pijl as part of this varied programme, and took eighth against Tour de France veterans and World Champions, saying, "it was a real surprise - I shocked a few people, including myself. I had ridden a few flat pave races in Belgium before that and got my butt kicked a bit, so to come out and perform that well was a huge surprise. I guess it was just the right kind of race for me."
Another huge surprise came in the form of a win in the Tour du Finistere, a race Gerrans wasn't going to ride, until "a few people told me that it'd suit me, and that I should make it an objective. So I put my name down and made it an objective by April." This has happened on several occassions, and Gerrans cites the advice of French journalist Jean-Francois Quenet as a helpful influence when making decisions about races he has performed well in. Gerrans explained, "Now, when Ag2R comes to races with some hills in it they tell me I'll be riding it. There's a little more pressure after those couple of good results, but nothing too heavy - the leash is still pretty loose and the expectation aren't too high."
Quenet and Australian riders based in France such as Baden Cooke and Matt Wilson have helped Gerrans settle into pro life on the training and racing front, as has Scott Sunderland (Australian DS at CSC). But it's former pro Phil Anderson that has been the greatest influence - "Phil got me into cycling several years ago, and we have a quick chat before I start a race."
Joining the Australian 'Euro crew' means plenty of hard work, and Gerrans believes this is what makes Australian cyclists so well-regarded in Europe, saying, "Euro teams see the commitment by Aussie riders to their team and the hard work they're prepared to put in, and this impresses them. If you ask French riders if they'd want to move away so far from home to ride, almost all of them would say no." And if they win races whilst working hard for the team, it can only do the reputation of Australian cyclists in Europe a greater service , especially at a time when record numbers of them are riding Pro Tour races and challenging for stage and overall victories.
Looking at the racing situation in Australia as a stage for local riders to display their talents, Gerrans believes events such as the Herald Sun Tour and Tour Down Under are very important to the chances of young riders to make a name for themselves as these races increase in popularity and standing. He plans on racing with his Ag2R squad in both races, particularly hoping to raise the profile of the Herald Sun Tour, which he used as a springboard to bigger and better things. He said, "although it clashes with [the Tour of] Lombardy and Paris-Tours, we'll be bringing a team out for the race. Nearly all of the guys on the squad are keen to get down to Australia and do a bit of racing." And like most Australian riders he loves racing for his supporters back home - "it's great to race in front of my friends, family and sponsors."
It's not an easy financial task getting over to Europe to race, and Gerrans' personal sponsors, lifestyle clothing company 700c, have developed along the way as Gerrans has - "They started as a small company making clothing for cyclists off the bike, and they've just grown over the last couple of years. They used to just throw a few t-shirts and stuff my way when they started sponsoring me, but as they've grown, their sponsorship role has grown also. I really appreciate their help."
And with Ag2R looking to enter the Pro Tour at the earliest possible opportunity, Gerrans is happy with the progress he's making, saying, "as a first year pro, I'm happy with where I'm at right now. I'm really happy with the team and my position in it, and it all looks good," and judging by his results so far, it's pretty hard to argue with that. Keep watching on Cyclingnews to see whether this young Aussie neo pro will be on the startline come July 2.