Ready for a new start

For Simon Gerrans, the 2007 season was full of ups and downs. He began the season as always with the...

An interview with Simon Gerrans, October 14, 2007

Two-time Herald Sun Tour winner Simon Gerrans has a history of winning in his home country - in 2006 he won two of Australia's biggest stage races, the Sun Tour and the Tour Down Under. But this year the 27 year-old Australian has decided to skip the Sun Tour in order to concentrate on his preparations for the first season with his new team, Crédit Agricole. Cyclingnews' Paul Verkuylen spoke with Gerrans shortly after he completed the World championships in Stuttgart.

For Simon Gerrans, the 2007 season was full of ups and downs. He began the season as always with the Bay series criteriums, where he began honing his form with aggressive racing, taking a stage and second overall. His luck quickly turned at the National titles, where he dropped out, and then at the Tour Down Under, where he lost his chance to defend his win of the previous year when a break with his team-mate, Swiss rider Martin Elminger, took 26 minutes on the field on the first stage.

The hard work he put in during his time in Australia paid off when he went back to Europe, and in February he took a close second in the French semi classic Tour du Haut Var, where he was beaten to the line by Liquigas' Filippo Pozzato, who would go on to win the traditional Classics season opener, Het Volk, in Belgium just over a week later. Gerrans continued to show good form, placing fourth in a stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe in April, but then things went downhill again at the Tour of Romandie where he crashed in the prologue and then dropped out the next day.

"Yeah, it was a season of ups and downs, I started out riding really well and began getting some strong results. Then I had some problems, I got sick and had a fall in Romandie, and the middle part of the season wasn't the best because of it," Gerrans explained.

"Races like the Ardennes Classics and week long stage races are what suit me." -Gerrans on his goals for 2008

Gerrans was however able to pull himself out of the hole that he found himself in, and in the lead-up to the Tour de France, when riders are fighting for selection to race the biggest event of the year and are desperate to show they are worthy, he scored his first win of the European season at the Gran Prix de Plumelec Morbihan.

With a win in the bag, he was soon lining up for his third Tour de France in as many years. "After that [the Tour] my form got better and better, but unfortunately the results are just not there to prove it," he said. This phenomenon seems to strike many riders after a few seasons in the professional ranks - after a few seasons of building strength and results, taking a win here and there along the way, they emerge stronger and more confident but the wins somehow elude them. The lucky ones emerge from this lag with a break-out performance, the unlucky ones never get past it.

Gerrans isn't worried - quite the contrary, as the tough Aussie has seen it all before. Since he won the Australian under-23 title back in 2002, he been through many of the trials and tribulations that can confront a professional athlete. At the beginning of his career he came to Europe and raced for various teams in France and Norway, at times questioning whether he had made the right choice in pursuing his dream of becoming a professional cyclist.

Gerrans spent the 2003 season racing for the Norwegian Team Ringerike before heading to France where he rode with Team U Nantes-Atlantique. It was in France where he caught the attention of Ag2r's of Vincent Lavenu, and finished the season racing as a stagiaire for that squad. His second place overall in Paris-Correze which he took as a stagiaire earned him his first contract with a ProTour squad when Ag2r offered him a place on the team.

In 2004, Gerrans had his first shot at the elite World Championships in Verona, which for most riders is one of the last races of the season. For the Australians, there is plenty of racing to be had back home, and Gerrans, after a full European season, went on to nab his first stage win in the Sun Tour that year.

Gerrans raced the Worlds for the fourth time this year, but after his 66th place in Stuttgart, Germany, he decided that he would call an end to his season in the Ag2r colours in Europe, rather than heading for more racing in Australia. The Stuttgart race went well for Gerrans, but Australia just missed the podium with Cadel Evans in fifth place. "We had a good day, all of the guys rode well and did the jobs that they needed to," Gerrans explained, "but unfortunately we didn't come away with the jersey."

Gerrans spent the early part of the race in the break, playing out team tactics for the Australian team who were riding for Cadel Evans and Allan Davis. "I felt good on the day, the legs were good. I got into the early break but they weren't working that well together," he said, explaining the lack of cooperation within the group. For Gerrans the race wasn't over after the break was caught with three laps to go though, as he was determined to finish the race. He surprised even himself when he was still in the main peloton when the final lap started. "I was still there with a lap to go, so I was happy with that," Gerrans said.

Crossing the line in Stuttgart was the symbolic end to Gerrans' 2007 season as well as his time with the French Ag2r squad a team he has been with for three years. Next year Gerrans will get a chance to brush up on the Norwegian that he learned while riding for the Team Ringerike as he lines up next to the powerful Norwegian sprinter, Thor Hushovd.

Gerrans decided that after three years with the French squad it was time to move on and tackle new goals with a fresh mind set. He sees the move to C.A. as a step towards achieving his own personal goals, but has only good things to say about his time with Ag2r. "They were the best possible team for me to start with," Gerrans said of the team. "I was able to make it into their Tour team the first year, which was a great experience. They are a great team and a great bunch of guys that I will miss," he explained.

"The decision to leave was to do with progressing to the next step. I am leaving there on excellent terms, and definitely no hard feelings. After three years with them, I just felt that it was time to move on, have new goals as well as new surroundings - to try and take my career to the next level."

Indeed Gerrans is looking forward to riding alongside fellow Australian, Mark Renshaw, as well as his old team-mate from his time in Norway, Gabriel Rasch, who is beginning his professional career with Crédit Agricole next season. As well as these two old friends, Gerrans will be surrounded by an English speaking contingent on the French team - a surprising benefit. "Yeah, next year will be great, with guys like Thor, Mark, Gabba [Rasch] and Jez [Jeremy] Hunt there; it will be a really good English speaking crew. I am looking forward to it."

For Gerrans, the decision to move to Credit Agricole was made after carefully considering his options as well as discussions with the French outfit as to where they saw him slotting into the team. "Obviously if they wanted me just to lead Thor out in the sprints then it wouldn't have worked," Gerrans explained.

"I spoke with them before I signed and they seem to be on the same page as me. They want me to focus on the areas where I believe my strengths lie, and races like the Ardennes Classics and week long stage races are what suit me. Of course the Tour is a major objective, and I will be helping Thor as well as targeting some stage wins myself."

Gerrans has his goals for next season in mind, but first he needs the approval of the his new team. "I would like to be competitive in races like the Ardennes Classics as well as week long stage races like Paris - Nice and Tirreno - Adriatico. I think that I can hold my own in races like that, and be competitive. I have a meeting with them to discuss the up coming season, so until then it is hard to say exactly what my targets will be."

This meeting with Crédit Agricole is one of the reasons which has kept Gerrans from defending his title in Australia's oldest stage race. The other reason for Gerrans skipping the Sun Tour is his objectives for next season. He believes that after riding the Tour for the past four years running and burning the candle at both ends, the extra break will benefit him next season.

"I have ridden the event for the past few years, which makes it a very long season. We start in January and to finish in October with a stage race makes it tough. Like burning a candle at both ends, after a while something has to give. That few extra weeks' recovery at the end of the season can make all the difference when it comes to the major objectives of the season."

Some things won't ever change however; Gerrans will continue to race the Bay Series in early January as preparation for the Nationals and the Tour Down Under, as well as to catch up with his fellow country men to chew the fat.

The 2006 edition of the Tour Down Under saw Gerrans claim the title, this time around for the tenth anniversary edition as well as its first as a ProTour event, Gerrans will be again lining up for the Tour yet he is still unsure if it will be a major target. "My first race for the season with CA will be the Tour Down Under, which I am looking forward too. I am not sure yet if it will be a major objective for me yet, I have to discuss that with them. If they say they want me to target it, I will. If they want me to save myself for objectives later in the season then I will take it a little easier before then."

2008 is set to be an exciting one for Gerrans who should be coming into his physical peak. With the motivation of a new team as well as new objectives, it may very well be the season that sees him arrive as one of the new breed of Classics specialists.

Read the 2004 interview with Gerrans here.

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