An interview with Allan Davis, January 27, 2009
Allan Davis' return to the fold of pro cycling and the Quick Step team paid dividends in Adelaide as he took out the Tour Down Under. Cyclingnews' Les Clarke finds out that some hiccups in the past should fade into insignificance for this Classics contender in 2009.
There's a quietly confident aura surrounding Allan Davis this year. Whether it's following yet another Tour Down Under stage win or in the packed bar at Adelaide's Hilton Hotel following his overall victory, the boy from Bundaberg in northern Queensland finds himself in a different predicament as the 2009 season begins.
It's not just his general classification triumph in Australia's premier stage race, of which he's contested every edition since its inception in 1999. Three stage victories and a 25-second margin over local hero and two-time victor, Stuart O'Grady, is just the beginning of what could be Davis' biggest purple patch since becoming a pro with the Mapei team in 2002.
The 28-year-old has shown ample promise during that time, and was riding the Tour de France before many of the Australian stars we now see on France's roads in July. Various events conspired to make the road ahead a tough one, although you get the feeling the possibility of giving up the sport during these challenging periods never really crossed his mind.
"I've been very harshly done by. It's actually made me a lot tougher mentally. I stay relaxed now and I know I'm stronger than I've ever been mentally as well as physically." - Allan Davis learned a lot from his rough post-Operacion Puerto years.
An alleged association with the Operación Puerto saga, followed by claims and counter-claims that he was indeed one of Dr. Fuentes' clients came about due to the fact he rode for the Liberty Seguros team in 2006 when its director Manolo Saiz was arrested for his involvement in the Spanish scandal prior to the Tour de France. Davis vehemently denied being involved and had to fight to save his name in 2006 and then again in 2007 after the UCI tried to block his entry into the World Championships in Stuttgart.
He's come back to the pro ranks twice after effectively being 'blacklisted', although he says that might have worked in his favour. "I've worked extra hard, and although I've had some bad breaks I'm not trying to think about it too much and look to the future," says Davis.
"It's true – it's fact – that I've been very harshly done by. It's actually made me a lot tougher mentally. I stay relaxed now and I know I'm stronger than I've ever been mentally as well as physically. Maybe I'll look back when I'm 40 and decide it was a good thing."
His tenacity, combined with natural talent and speed, has not just kept him in the sport, it has also meant that when the wins come, he knows he has earned them. His first Tour Down Under stage win came in Hahndorf in 2006, and he added one more that year and another again last year.
This year he doubled that tally in just one race, after having waited seven years for his first stage win. It took him to the overall victory, and it was clear for all to see that he wasn't hiding his emotions during the week-long event.
So how does the events of the past week compare to his Down Under experiences of the past? "It's sensational," he says. "They're all special; every victory is special but I'd have to say this one tops it off – getting the overall. This is the first time I've won a stage race.
"Just the whole way it's gone, with Lance coming back from retirement... it's just worked out to perfection. I couldn't have planned it any better. The season is starting off on the right foot and I'm really looking forward to the next couple of years."
The next couple of years should see Davis winning even more races, with the most notable being Milan-Sanremo. He placed second in the 2007 edition, didn't ride last year's and is shaping up to be one one of the favourites in 2009. His emphatic victory in stage two of the Tour Down Under, on an uphill finish perfect for a punchy Classics sprinter, indicated that Davis is in stellar form. Milan-Sanremo has, "a special place in my heart," he says.
"It's a race that suits my characteristics and always a goal of mine at the start of the season. All of my training the last couple of months has been based on a peak in form in March. Hopefully this is the start of a few good things to come."
These two comments indicate the level of optimism Davis is approaching his season with, the result not only of this latest result but of an enhanced feeling of trust and security that comes with riding for a team that believes in his ability and will do what it can to help him succeed.
Davis constantly praised the efforts of his teammates during the Tour Down Under, and it's obvious that chemistry between them is something that will count for a lot on the Via Roma in March. He's not sure who will be the designated leader in Italy's premier Classic, but he maintains the team focus and knows having two fast guys for the finale will only be good for Quick Step.
"We've got another pretty good sprinter in the team, Tom Boonen," he says with a wry smile. "With both of us there we'll be a pretty good chance in the race, no matter which option we go with. The year I was second, he was third. We've both been on the podium of Milan-Sanremo, so it's nice to go into the race with so much on offer from the team perspective."
Davis will most likely be pushing for honours against countrymen Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady, who both showed they have great form heading back to Europe after a solid off-season. Each is ahead of where he wants to be in terms of early-season condition, although Davis isn't fazed - he's in a similar position, too.
"No matter who it is, you're always there to get the victory; all you think about is getting in the right position coming into the sprint, making sure you haven't wasted any energy... whether it's Robbie or Petacchi, it's the same," he explains.
"We've had a good couple of duels – myself, Robbie and Stuey – in those Classics. There have been quite a few occasions in the past when the three of us have been in the top six or seven - Paris-Tours, Sanremo (the year I ran second Stuey was just behind). The one-day classics suit us for sure."