Edmondson relishes in under-23 Tour of Flanders victory

A surprise win as Australian thought he was racing for fourth

As Alex Edmondson prepared to watch Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, the Australian had reason to feel a special buzz that was different to what anyone else probably shared.

Why? On Saturday, the track endurance-turned-road racer, who is less than a month into his road season on the Australian Jayco-AIS-World Tour Academy team, became the first Australian to win the under-23 Tour of Flanders by outsprinting Italian Gianni Moscon from Italy, while in third place at seven seconds was Norway's Truls Korsaeth (Joker).

Edmondson, 21, said he was feeling "buckled" as he spoke to Cyclingnews from Gent, Belgium. But excitement was still in his voice as he spoke his second win of the season - his first being in the Grand Prix Rancilio in Italy on March 29 – and for what awaits him before he switches back to the track in December and the build-up to next year's Olympics in Rio where he hopes to win gold for Australian in the team pursuit. Edmondson has signed a contract with Orica-GreenEdge that starts next year with a view to making a full transition to the road after next year's Games.

In the meantime, there is plenty of satisfaction for Edmondson to tap in to from his Tour of Flanders win, including a moment he can now laugh about - that being his revelation that he didn’t even know he had won until he was told so by his team soigneur after beating Moscon in a sprint to the line he thought was for fourth place.

Rupert Guinness: How much of an objective was Flanders for you?

Alex Edmondson: After last year, having worked for Caleb [Ewan] in the race [and finishing 68th], I said, 'As much as I enjoyed racing for Caleb I felt the race suited me and if I do everything right there is no reason I could not be up there at the finish. So, I came with the expectation of wanting to win, but having an expectation is different to [matching] it. There were 150 guys there … 150 guy who wanted to win.

RG: Obviously, you relish these types of northern European races?

AE: Yeah … It was a gruelling day – we had rain, we had wind. It was interesting seeing in the first few sections of cobbles, some of the guys … how they handle themselves. Probably there are some guys who don't want to be there and are just getting through whereas there are other guys who think it's fantastic and loving it. It might be my downhill [mountain bike] background [of four years before switching to the track]. I enjoy riding on the dirt … the cobbles. It's the one race where I get an excuse to ride on the dirt, as much as the mechanics don't like it. Ever since watching Stuart O'Grady win Paris-Roubaix [2007] that is something I have wanted to do.

RG: What are the challenges of switching from the track to the road seasons?

AE: It is getting a lot harder. With track racing now the times are getting so much faster, you have to be stronger. You have to spend a lot more time in the gym. That is one of the biggest things – doing the track work of sharp, short efforts and then on the road it is all about long distance. While I am here it is all about the road, but I have Rio less than a year away, so I have to maintain my strength, picking up in the gym. I love the track and I am so motivated to get to Rio. At the same time I really enjoy the road.

RG: What is it like to be the first Australian under-23 Tour of Flanders winner?

AE: I have dreamed about this so many times. I have sat down with my coach Tim Decker and my family – I have probably driven my family nuts about saying how much I want to win this race. There have been a few times in my life where I have knuckled down and said I really want to achieve something. The first was [winning] the individual pursuit at the 2014 world titles as well as the team pursuit. I did everything 100 per cent for that. Then when we got third at the [2015] track worlds [in team pursuit] at Paris, I said, 'This didn't go quite to plan, but I am going to do everything I can between now and there – to Flanders – to make sure that it is worthwhile.' That's what makes it so special – you know that all those times you have dedicated on the bike … when I was that tired, when I thought I couldn't go any further but knew I had to give as much as I could to make it worthwhile. To be the first Australian makes it even sweeter. It is good to show the Europeans that, yeah … we might come from Down Under but we are still able to be up there on the cobbles.

RG: Winning Flanders is not just about being strong physically, but also mentally …

AE: I did it last year so I knew what I was getting in to. You have got to ride a good position. Everyone knows the course. Everyone knows where you have to be at the front. Everyone is nervous … there is a lot of pushing and shoving and a lot crashes. There are the cobbles. So you have to look after your bike equipment … your tyres. Get a puncture or mechanical, you can go from the front of the race to the back. Luck was on my side. I managed to look after my equipment and myself and thanks to my teammates get to the finish the freshest of all. Alex Clements and Harry Carpenter worked their bums off. They made sure I was second or third wheel going onto the cobble sections and the Koppenberg. On the last lap Alex led me to the Koppenberg. I hit it on second wheel. By the top there was just me and the Italian [Moscon].

RG: How did the race unfold for you and Gianni Moscon after the Koppenberg?

AE: I didn't really attack. I just tried to get up it because it is so steep, and it was wet weather and slippery. I got three quarters up, looked over my shoulder and had a 50-100-metre gap. I eased off a little bit because I knew I had to save something for the finish, then all of a sudden [Moscon] came across to me. So over the top there was me and him, and then about 300 metres was the guy from Norway [Korsaeth] and a German. One kilometre down the road they caught us so there were four in the lead group. A 'Frenchy' managed to get across just before the next cobbled section, but he blew just as we hit he cobbles. We blew the German out the back up a slight hill, so then there was the three of us. Up the Taaienberg, [Moscon] attacked and I was the only one who managed to stay with him. We rode well. The Italian was pretty strong and attacked again up the Eikenberg, the last climb of the day. I started to struggle.

I felt if I let the wheel go here it would be all over. I had to turn myself inside out.

RG: With the two of you away, how much did the mind games play into affairs?

AE: With about four kilometres to go, I thought we were in the lead group, but I wanted to make sure. One of the guys on the motor bike who shows the time gaps said it was 50 seconds and another that was a minute 15 …and I thought,"What the hell, maybe we aren't lead group." So I called the motor bike up and said, "What are we racing for? Are we the lead riders on the race?" All he did was hold up four fingers and I thought, "Geez, maybe we are racing for fourth," All of a sudden my mindset changed. One moment I thought we were racing for first. Then I thought, 'I don't need to save energy, I have to work as hard as I can to get to the finish and maybe if possible catch the three guys in front.' So, as stupid as it sounds, in the sprint I thought I was racing for fourth. It wasn't until after I finished, turned around and saw our soigneur had he had his hands in the air. I thought, 'What the … Who won?' I said, 'Did I get fourth?' He said, 'No … they just said you won.' That also made it special …. I thought I had got fourth but all of a sudden I had won Flanders in the weirdest way. I've been copping a lot from my teammates for not knowing I had won. That’s Flanders. To be like that I must have been out of it. I was pretty spent



RG: Your teammates' work earlier on helped you to be fresh enough at the end?

AE: If it wasn't for my teammates I wouldn't have been able to be on that top step. In cycling you only see one person on the top step, but for mine, I would have all my teammates there. They put in so much for me. To get the win for them, I hope they also feel that it was also a victory for themselves. I am looking forward to being able to change roles and [help] them be on the top step. Hopefully, I can give them the easiest ride to the finish to help them get a victory. I owe my teammates a big one and am looking forward to the hard yards, getting on to the front of the bunch for them.

RG: Have you got a taste for the WorldTour Flanders and Paris-Roubaix races?

AE: It's a big step from what we've done. I'm looking forward to hopefully being able to step up and ride the elite Flanders or elite Paris-Roubaix. I've won the under-23 Flanders but it is not the professional one … that's the one I really want to win.

Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)

Related Articles

Back to top