Australia's Simon Gerrans says that Team Sky's recent withdrawal from the Vuelta a España will affect his approach to next month's world championship road race but completely understands the reasons why team principal Dave Brailsford concluded the squad's race prematurely.
Speaking to reporters from Vittoria, Spain, where he will be attending the funeral of Txema González today, Gerrans said that the Vuelta was an important part of his preparations for the world championships but he'll now return to Australia and prepare with Dave Sanders, the Victorian Institute of Sport head cycling coach.
Of the decision to withdraw from the Vuelta, Gerrans described his emotions, which were mixed on reflection of what Txema meant to the team.
"It was a decision our team principal, Dave Brailsford, made; he spent quite a long time thinking about it and speaking with the board at Sky about what the best option would be. He said, 'I appreciate that everyone has their opinions on this, and you can see many reasons why we should stop and why we should continue' but he made the decision and took the responsibility to pull the team from the race," said Gerrans.
"Initially I thought, 'Wow, that's pretty extreme... life sort of has to go on' and all the bosses have asked us to be there and as much as we felt the loss of Txema, but when you sit down and look at it a little more closely you can see the reasons why he decided to pull the team out of the race.
"He [Txema] was a really important part of the team and you realise how close everyone in the team is when something tragic like this happens," he continued. "The staff are really like family - if you count the number of days they spend together throughout a cycling season, they spend a heck of a lot more time away working with the team than they do with their own family. So they all become pretty close."
According to Gerrans this latest setback is a massive blow to the his season; he didn't feature in the Ardennes Classics after recording top 10 placings in all three last year and then his Tour de France was brought to a halt during the first week due to a broken arm. He had just overcome a tough opening third of the Vuelta before Txema's untimely passing.
But despite the testing season he's determined to end 2010 on a high note. "It's hard to get back up when you keep getting knocked down like I have been this year; it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to race the world championships on home soil, so there was no way I was just going to put the feet up after this setback and call it a year.
"There's always that extra motivation there to continue and push on through this latest setback and get to Geelong for a result," said Gerrans.
"To be honest, I really think I have to reassess my aspirations for the Worlds because I know how critical the Tour of Spain is for that preparation. It's definitely lowered my expectations of what I'll be able to achieve at the world championships but I still think we've got a fantastic team with Matt Goss and Allan Davis getting better and better every day here at the Tour of Spain. If it comes down to it they might really be the main guys."
Change of tack required...
Gerrans believes that while he was hitherto aiming for a world championship win in Geelong on October 3, this latest development will undoubtedly set him on the back foot in preparations ahead of the fight for the rainbow jersey.
"It's actually a huge blow - I based my preparations for the world championships around completing the Vuelta, as a lot of guys do," explained Gerrans. "I started the Vuelta a little bit under form from where I need to be in order to be competitive, with the aim of using a three-week race to improve throughout the event. I actually suffered a little illness throughout the first week of the race and really struggled during the first couple of days and did everything I could just to get through.
"I got through what I thought was the hardest part of the race and to have to abandon after seven days of racing is a massive blow. It's probably really changed my aspirations for the world championships. I've got to make the most of the situation... so I'll be back in training and trying to simulate the racing that the guys will be doing at the Vuelta and also doing some specific training for the parcours of the [world championship] circuit around Geelong.
"What I've decided to do is go back to basics; unfortunately I haven't got any other racing in Europe on my program, so I'm going to come back to Australia in the next few days and at times like this you go back to what you know works.
"I'll head back to Australia and meet up with Dave Sanders and chase him on a motorbike around the Mornington Peninsula. It's proven to work in the past and when it comes down to it you've got to go back to simple things like that and really make the best of the situation," he continued.
"My training will involve six- or seven-hour training rides with the help of a motorbike to keep the pace and also a lot of explosive training sessions to simulate racing the two short climbs on the Geelong circuit.
"I'll really be honest with the guys in the team meeting before the race and tell them what sort of condition I'm in, what sort of preparation I've had... and if it's all gone really well I think I can be in great shape. But for the guys who have done the Tour of Spain, if they've come out of it well they should be at another level altogether."