At the tail end of a stop-start season marred by seven crashes, Simon Gerrans is one of two riders in the nine-rider Australian team who are rated as a contender for Sunday’s men’s elite road race championship at Richmond. The other is Michael Matthews, with the two sharing team leadership of the Australian team.
Gerrans has been forced to make comebacks from injury time and time again this season. His first crash came when mountain biking before the Australian road title and Tour Down Under in January. He crashed again during the Strade Bianche race in March, Liege-Bastogne-Liege -where he was the defending champion, and then again at the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. He has suffered broken collarbone (mountain biking), a fractured elbow (Strade Bianche) and fractured wrist (Tour de France) plus a myriad cuts, abrasions and bruises. Yet despite his setbacks Gerrans is ready to try and better his second place in last year’s race in Ponferrada, Spain. He is also confident Australia has the team to optimise its chances of clinching a win and the rainbow jersey - whether it is him or not.
Cyclingnews: Simon, how are you feeling generally after finishing the Vuelta?
Simon Gerrans: It is no secret that is has been a pretty turbulent season for me. It seems like it has been a season full of setbacks. But there have been a few lessons and one of those has been about resilience. I have worked just as hard in this season as I have in any other. I don’t have any personal results to show for it, and every time I seem to get close to top form I have had another set back. It’s obviously been a tough year but from the positive side of things I have been involved in some fantastic team results. That kept the motivation going and me inspired to continue working hard.
CN: Can you compare your form now to this time last year at Ponferrada?
SG: As far as preparations and seasons go, you couldn’t have had two more contrasting ones. Last year, everything seemed to go right; whereas this year… It’s also a different course this year too. Last year there was a lot more climbing, it was a physically more demanding circuit. But the sensations are really good and preparation in the last period has gone really good. I feel like I am nearly on track.
CN: With so much uncertainty, will you have to rely more on racing smarter?
SG: Very much so. There could be a significant number of guys at the finish. Tactically you are going to have to be very astute to be there and judge your efforts. If you are not the quickest guy there, it will be a race that comes down to tactics.”
CN: Have you been able to cast aside your disappointment of last year’s second place in the world title race?
SG: I was bitterly disappointed following the race last year, but when you put it into perspective it was a result that I was really proud of. I had a huge amount of pressure going into the race. I had a fantastic team and went in as favourite. It was a new experience. It wasn’t a win but it was next best thing: a result I can look back and be proud of. It probably couldn’t have been more contrasting to my lead-in this year.
CN: Where did you put your silver medal – in a trophy cabinet or sock draw?
SG: I don’t have any of my trophies up around the house. They are in storage. Home is not somewhere I have cycling memorabilia, but one day when I do that silver medal will sit proudly with my other trophies. Everybody is different. I don’t feel the need to have all that stuff around the house as a constant reminder of what I do. I am always focused on my racing and training. It’s nice to be able to come home and switch off.
CN: Which of your seven crashes this year was the most despairing?
SG: I stopped counting after the first couple of them to be honest. I have had so many friends in the peloton when we are racing put a hand on your shoulder and just go, ‘I cannot believe how much bad luck you have had this year.’ And you start asking the question, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I doing that?’ So for many of my crashes I have been at the wrong place at the wrong time and on the receiving end. That is cycling. It’s hard to put a finger on what has been the most disappointing crash for me because they have all been at such an important time.
CN: After crashing out of the Tour de France with a fractured wrist, what did it mean to finish the Vuelta with Orica-GreenEdge’s three stage wins and Esteban Chaves’ fifth overall?
SG: It was always going to be really close to even make the start of the Vuelta. To get there was an achievement. I knew I was going to be underdone and the tactics would be to try and improve my form throughout and finish a lot stronger which I feel I achieved. To have a rider up in general classification and a take few stage wins was a thrill. It was one of the races I am most proud of, and I didn’t feature anywhere in the results. To see the team evolve has been a fantastic experience.
CN: What about the thought of winning the world title and the rainbow jersey?
SG: It’s not hard to get excited. It’s not often that we get to race for Australia, wear the green and gold and get to race alongside a group of Aussies. The world championships are the pinnacle, a race I’d like to win, you get to wear the rainbow jersey for 12 months. Those factors have an extra element none of the other classics have.
A last shot at the rainbow jersey
CN: At this stage of your career, do you feel urgency to win the world title?
SG: I’m not going to say it is my last chance, but it is pretty much my last shot at the rainbow jersey. As far as urgency, I wouldn’t really call it urgency to win, but it would a phenomenal achievement. When you look back and think some of the best bike riders in the world have never won a rainbow jersey, and some have won several.
CN: Despite your misfortunes do you expect your reputation for being able to target a race, prepare for it and perform will still make you a marked rider?
SG: It’s something I don’t think too much about. I think I will be in that group of guys considered as a contender purely because I have had some great results on these sort of courses. I have a good history of coming up for the occasion. I think I will be going in as a contender, but not as a big favourite. And that doesn’t worry me.
CN: How will the Australian team manage Sunday's race with two contenders for the world title?
SG: We have a really strong unit of guys and I think that will be our big asset. As far as tactics and leadership, out of respect to my teammates and [sports director] Brad McGee, it’s not something we should really talk about until we have sat down together and had a chat about how we want to go about the race and what our options are. Once we’ve established that tactic, I think you guys will see it unfold on Sunday.
Rupert Guinness is a sports journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media).