Reaching the Giro on fire

JJ Haedo is heading into the Giro d'Italia after a tremendous spring campaign which saw him take...

An interview with Juan Jose Haedo, May 10, 2007

Argentinian Sprinter Juan Jose 'JJ' Haedo made a name for himself by winning two stages of the Tour of California and one in the Tour de Georgia while riding for the domestic Toyota United Pro squad. His finishing kick caught the eye of Bjarne Riis, and a year later, the 26 year-old is preparing to start his first Grand Tour for Team CSC. While he has had an excellent spring campaign, Haedo knows that the Grand Tours will be an entirely different scene. Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez spoke with Haedo about his expectations for the Giro d'Italia.

JJ Haedo is heading into the Giro d'Italia after a tremendous spring campaign which saw him take five stage victories in just 46 days. The speedy Argentinian won twostages in the Tour of California, one stage in the Tour of Georgia, and the Colliers Classic in Aarhus (Denmark). But perhaps his most important win was in the Rund um Köln in Germany, where he took on both Graeme Brown and Alessandro Petacchi and came out on top.

Haedo's form is clearly reaching a high point as he heads into his first ever Grand Tour, the prestigious Giro d'Italia. While he has taken on ProTour sprinters and won, battling the likes of Alessandro Petacchi (Team Milram), Norway's Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) or Australia's Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto) all at once will be a much more complicated task.

Cyclingnews caught up with the Argentinean rider while he was hurriedly packing his bags in Gerona in preparation for his flight to Italy - or rather, flights. The distance between the two countires is not vast, yet he will fly from Gerona to Barcelona, Barcelona to Rome and then on another flight to the island of Sardinia where the Giro kicks off with a stage one team time trial on Saturday.

"It's very important to know the races, know the roads, know the climbs, know how much more you can suffer, know how much less you can suffer." -JJ Haedo explains why not being familiar with the Giro will hurt his chances

Haedo's recent triumph in Aarhus shows was a good confirmation that he is on track for the 'big show'. "The race in Denmark wasn't one of the biggest races, but it was very important for the team, and important to know that I am in a good condition for next week," stated the Argentinean.

The win was made more special because it was on the team's home turf. "It's like every place", said Haedo. "We're the local team. The team comes from Denmark. Saturday's race, [the GP Herning] which was won by my teammate [Kurt-Asle Arvesen], was in a city where Bjarne Riis was born, so everything has a special meaning. Not as meaningful as a ProTour [event], but important in terms of sponsors and in terms of racing where the team comes from."

Coming off of two solid races, Haedo will have extra confidence going into his first Grand Tour, but while he has succeeded in 'smaller' races, his abilities in the Giro will be unknown because, along with this being his first Grand Tour, it is also his first season of racing in Europe and riding at the ProTour level. "I'm coming into the race in good form, but I don't know if I will be at my very best, at 100 percent. It's my first year here [riding in Europe]. The team arranged a program for me in order to start the Giro fit - the program was based on preparing me for the Giro more than for any other goal."

As a Giro rookie, Haedo is well aware that no race can prepare him for the ferocity with which riders battle in the bunch sprints on the first few stages. "Considering it is my first year, my hopes are mostly to gain experience. I have to get the most out of the race - be it one week, two weeks or three weeks; it is to gain experience for the future. Considering that, then any result that might appear will be welcomed," the Argentinean assured.

All the while Haedo insists he is at the Giro for experience alone, his CSC team has announced that it has no intentions to fight for the final maglia rosa. Instead, the Danish team will aim for stage victories. His team director Riis said "Haedo has already shown that he is able to compete with the best in a sprint," but the modest rider declined to say that he was their hope for the stages.

"I'll seek out any opportunity [to win], but I can't guarantee that I am going to win a stage in the Giro d'Italia," said Haedo. "I didn't even look at the race parcours. I know the first three days are flat without big mountains but I have no idea beyond that," he stated.

"The first day is the team time trial, and the CSC team is very famous for this kind of stage, so we will try to win the first day. And then we will go searching for stage wins. It's a pretty young team, so that's why we're focusing on getting experience for the future. Andy Schleck who is 21, will ride his first Grand Tour, Matti Breschel who is 23 is also going for his first Grand Tour. We're going into the race with an opportunistic team, but without any pressure, which is something important."

Haedo came to Riis's team this year from the American Toyota United Pro team, but he didn't have a problem fitting in from the start. After five years in the USA, Haedo speaks English well, which helped his integration into the team. "The team language is English and everyone speaks the language so there is no problem with the communication," he said.

After several seasons of racing in the US, Haedo built up a great deal of confidence. But now that he's on unfamiliar roads, things are different, and he's aware that this will be a big influence on his Giro d'Italia. "I knew the races I won. It's very different to ride races one knows and to ride races one doesn't know. That's why I can't say anything about the Giro d'Italia as I don't have experience in that race. One should always know races. It's very important to know the races, know the roads, know the climbs, know how much more you can suffer, know how much less you can suffer. That's a very important factor," said Haedo.

However, unfamiliar roads didn't stop him from sprinting to victory in the Rund um Köln last month, and this will help his confidence. "It was my first victory in Europe so that makes it special. To win in front of [Alessandro] Petacchi [Team Milram] and Graeme Brown [Rabobank], I think it makes victory a little bit more important," said the Argentinean.

As he heads into his first Grand Tour, Haedo reflected on the roots of his career in Argentina. Like most bike racers in his country, 'JJ' picked up the sport from his family. His father, Juan Carlos, owned a bike shop, and got his son started in the sport. "No one in Argentina goes and takes a bike just for himself when his parents didn't ride nor have anything to do with cycling. On the contrary, it [riding] is something done through tradition."

Still, Haedo started a bit later than most of his peers. "I started riding bikes when I was 14 year-old. My father had a bike shop, and that's the reason why I'm riding bikes," explained Haedo. While cycling has come a long way in Argentina, it's still a fringe sport when compared with other sports like soccer, so Haedo didn't have any cycling idols. "Luckily I don't have a sporting idol. Obviously the person I had to imitate had to be my father, and he is the person from whom I learned to do what I do," told Haedo.

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