An interview with Charly Wegelius, May 10, 2005
British rider Charly Wegelius has carved himself a solid career as a reliable domestique for Italian teams, but he recently showed a hint of something greater when he finished third on GC at the Vuelta a Aragon. Right now, he's at the Giro supporting Liquigas-Bianchi's triple threat Stefano Garzelli, Dario Cioni and Danilo Di Luca, and - Aragon notwithstanding - that's just how he likes it, as he tells Shane Stokes.
With 2000 champion Stefano Garzelli, Dario Cioni and Danilo Di Luca providing a potential triple-whammy for the general classification, Liquigas-Bianchi heads into this year's Giro as one of the strongest squads in the race. Backing their three captains along the way will be the 27 year old British rider Charly Wegelius, who will use his hill climbing talents to set them up for what the team hopes will be a victorious campaign.
Wegelius took what was probably the best result of his career in the recent Vuelta a Aragon in Spain, finishing second to Comunidad Valenciana's Ruben Plaza in the uphill time trial on day four and ending the 2.1 ranked event third overall. Since then he has prepared methodically for the Giro, completing a tough block of racing in the Giro del Trentino and the Giro dell'Appennino and then training hard and resting well in order to ensure he began the Italian tour in the best possible shape.
"Winning riders who don't win much are not much good to anybody. But a helper who wins every so often, that is always good." - Charly Wegelius on his place in cycling and Liquigas.
Despite Wegelius's good showing in Spain, he remains very much committed to his role as a domestique. "I feel that I have found my space in the sport and I am trying to my job as best as I can," he told Cyclingnews in recent days, stressing that his ride in Aragon wasn't going to change anything. "I didn't think that I was capable of doing a thing like that. Taking a stage race like that would be nice, at some point in the future, but it is not going to change the focus of my career. Winning riders who don't win much are not much good to anybody. But a helper who wins every so often, that is always good."
With that in mind, Wegelius has a clear idea of what he would like to achieve in the sport. "I would like to be part of a team which wins a three-week race. I think for someone who does what I do, that is the biggest thing you can hope for. I'm aiming to achieve something like that."
If things work out as he hopes, Wegelius could achieve that goal sooner rather than later. He pinpoints Simoni, Cunego, Basso and Scarponi as dangerous riders for the Giro, but believes that Liquigas's strong line-up and excellent team spirit could see the team end up on top.
"I think we have a really good chance of winning, precisely because the atmosphere the team is so good," he explains. "Going into a big race with two leaders isn't easy, but it is when you have two people like Garzelli and Cioni. They are both really good riders and they are also really smart. I think the fact that everyone gets on so well is going to be our strongest point when things get hard. Besides, if you look at the line-up that we have got, this is a pretty good team! I think we have got a really good chance."
Cyclingnews: You had a great ride in the Vuelta a Aragon - do you consider that as your best result to date?
Charly Wegelius: I think so, yeah. I have never really done well in the overall classification of a race like that before. I had a good result in the Tour of Switzerland a few years ago, getting third on a stage, but it was nothing really as good as that.
CN: Did you have any indication beforehand that you were in such good form?
CW: I did a test at the Mapei centre just before heading to Spain and that showed that I was going quite well compared to my own previous form. But I didn't think I would go as well as I did in the race.
The idea of me going there (to the Vuelta a Aragon) was to get it a bit easier, to have a quieter build-up. Originally I was supposed to do the Tour of Pays Basque and do Romandie, but the team changed my programme to try to give me an easier ride before the Giro. Going to these big races means you can end up riding a lot on the front because they always end up getting a leader's jersey of some sort.
I didn't really go there thinking about doing anything special. But the race was kind of closed up before the mountain time trial because there were always sprints, so I just sort of sat there in the bunch. Then I did the time trial flat out and that is how the overall result came. It all came by accident!
CN: How has the rest of the season been?
CW: I started at Paris-Nice, after a month at altitude in Mexico. Four of us went there. I think that the work I did there has given me a really good base for the season. I don't think that I am going that much better than last year, but I am a lot more steady. I don't have quite as many up and downs.
I did Paris-Nice and the Coppi-Bartali race in Italy. I came home from that and then did Aragona (Vuelta Ciclista a Aragon), the Giro del Trentino and the Giro dell'Appennino. So that was a big block of work together because the races were quite close. Since then I have just been resting until the Giro.
CN: How have things being going with the team?
CW: Really, really good. A lot of the people that are there now I know from the past, so getting into the squad was quite easy for me. The atmosphere is really, really good, and it is a really big team. Things are going really well. It is a new team and things aren't always that straightforward, but everything has been really good and we have been getting results straight away. I think that shows that the team is working well.
CN: How did the move to Liquigas-Bianchi come about?
CW: It was after the Giro last year. We just talked about it and it came about quite easily, to be honest. It didn't take much time.
CN: Presumably your role in the Giro will be to be a helper for Garzelli?
CW: Yes. Garzelli and Cioni will be going into the race on an equal footing and my job, along with Noe and Miholjevic, is to try and be there in the mountains and help them out in those stages.
CN: What are the team's chances of winning?
CW: I think we have a really good chance of doing that, precisely because the atmosphere the team is so good. Going into a big race with two leaders isn't easy, but it is when you have two people like Garzelli and Cioni. They are both really good riders and they are also really smart. I think the fact that everyone gets on so well is going to be our strongest point when things get hard. Besides, if you look at the line-up that we have, this is a pretty good team! I think we have got a really good chance.
CN: On recent form, who do you see as being the biggest rivals?
CW: Simoni looked really good when I saw him. I didn't think that Cunego was going that well, but I think he showed in the Tour de Romanie that he is in shape. Then, obviously, Basso. But I think there might be some other riders from foreign teams that maybe the Italian press haven't paid so much attention to. In Italy at the moment the newspapers are playing a lot on this Cunego-Basso rivalry, but I think there are some riders that maybe people aren't talking about much that could really put in a big surprise. Like Scarponi, who rides for Liberty. I think he could be a big contender. But it is a long race, so you will soon see who is going well and who isn't.
CN: Do you think the ProTour has had a big influence in raising the standard? There seems to be a lot of big names taking part this year.
CW: Yeah. I think it has certainly been a good thing for a race like the Giro, because it is obliging teams to go that maybe usually don't have that much of a focus on Italy. So I think it is a good thing for the race.
CN: There was talk recently that the teams may boycott the race over the money issue. Was that a real concern at the time, or did people within the peloton feel that it will be sorted out?
CW: To be honest, I heard about that when it was all over, really! I was concentrating on my own stuff, and then I heard something about it. But I never really read about it in the papers.
CN: Obviously, Mario Cipollini's retirement has been big news. What has been the team's reaction - did they know for a while or did it come out of the blue?
CW: I don't know. The team will have had much more contact than I have had. The last I heard, he was getting ready for the Giro. It is a shame for the team, but he has still brought a lot to Liquigas-Bianchi. For a new team, to have someone like that as part of the line-up is a really big advantage. They got lots and lots of publicity from him, and for a new team to have a focus of someone like him was a really good thing. But as I said, the last I heard he was getting ready for the Giro.
CN: Presumably it is going to change the team plan, the structure of the team.
CW: Yeah, maybe for the first week it will be different for us. Obviously with Cipollini there we would have been one of the teams keeping things closed up, but we have also got the Di Luca card to play. I think it will change the way we race, but hopefully we will still get results in the first week.
CN: How has your form been since that good ride in the Tour of Aragon? You say that you have been training and resting - has your condition been building nicely?
CW: I was quite tired after that block of racing, because I did two stage races with just one day in between. Then I did that one-day race on Sunday. I'm not really used to riding for the overall classification in things so [Aragon] was quite stressful for me. But I took three days easy and I feel really good now. I had a long ride today and I felt great. So from now until the Giro it is just about saving energy and not getting stressed out. I have done the training and I feel good.
CN: Is there room for any individual goals during the Giro?
CW: No, not at all. We are going to the Giro with three leaders. I feel that I have been hired for this job, so I can't expect to go there and do my own thing! That is what I am here for, so there is no problem accepting that.
CN: After the Giro, is there a possibility of you doing the Tour de France, the Vuelta, or what is your plan?
CW: I think that it will be to do another big tour, probably. The Tour has been mentioned but we are just going to sit down and draw a line in the sand after the Giro and see how things are then. It depends on the objectives of the team, and it depends on me too because I can't really say... I am not such a strong rider that I can say before the Giro that I will be able to do the Tour. I am just concentrating for now on doing the Giro and will then sit down with the team management afterwards and see how we work things out.
CN: It seems that things are progressing quite nicely for you, in the last couple of seasons.
CW: Yeah. I think I have just found what I can do, you know? I feel that I have found my space and I am trying to do it as best as I can!
CN: Have you set any long-term aims?
CW: Well, I would like to be part of a team which wins a three-week race. I think for someone who does what I do, that is the biggest thing you can hope for. I would like to do something like that.
CN: So it is more a case of team goals, rather than individual ones?
CW: Yeah, because that is what I do.
CN: But did a ride like that in Aragon not make you feel that you could win a shorter stage race, for example? Have you looked at that possibility?
CW: I never really thought about it, to be honest. I didn't think that I was capable of doing a thing like that. Taking a stage race like that would be nice, at some point in the future, but it is not going to change the focus of my career. Winning riders who don't win much are not much good to anybody. But a helper who wins every so often, that is always good.
Aragon it was a good experience for me, because you forget how to ride races to win for yourself, because you never do it. So it was quite a good experience.
I would like to think that the next time I find myself in a situation like that, I can make the most of it and do the best I can. But it is not going to change the way things are going in my career.