An interview with Michael Rasmussen, May 9, 2006
Michael Rasmussen's triumph in the mountains contest in the 2005 Tour de France was marred a train wreck of a penultimate stage time trial. The former mountain bike racer known as 'Chicken' for his skinny legs and frame is planning to repeat the polka dot performance, but not the time trial debacle, and preparing for the 2006 Tour in his own way, as he tells Björn Scheele.
With his grand solo ride through the Vosges mountains in stage nine of last year's race, Danish Rabobank rider Michael Rasmussen proved that he can play a leading role in the Tour de France. But his unfortunate time trial in the second-last stage cost him a place on the podium. Nevertheless, he retained the polka-dot jersey of king of the mountains and is preparing for this year's Tour de France with the goal of winning that jersey once again.
And the Tour is approaching swiftly. Likely contenders Ivan Basso, Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer have already had some good results this year. But Rasmussen is preparing very quietly for La Grande Boucle, without having achieved any victories.
Rasmussen's form is likely to remain a secret until right before the Tour de France. And no one will meddle with his training because when the Tour comes along, Michael Rasmussen is all there. Like no other rider, the former mountain bike pro manages to ride himself into shape without winning any races on the way - or even riding very many.
"Everyone has their own methods," Rasmussen told Cyclingnews shortly before the start of the Giro d'Italia. "During my time as a mountain biker I raced a lot. But it's a lot less dangerous to train than to race. I rarely have any crashes, so that's a good thing about it. When I train, I'm very good at motivating myself, though, and I can push myself very hard. Of course, racing kilometres are important, but I can compensate for that pretty well."
So far this year, Rasmussen has ridden the Vuelta a Murcia, where he dropped out in the final stage, and the Criterium International (47th overall). Now, he's riding the Giro, as he did last year. Then, he used the Italian race to get into shape for the Tour de France - without ambitions for the general classification. This year, he is not expecting any stage wins either. And the skinny Dane knows that there is no way around racing.
"I do need racing kilometres, and the Giro is perfect for that. I will try to reach the finishing line in Milan as quickly as possible. That sounds easier than it actually is. But the Giro stays a race that I do for training reasons."
The 31-year-old will put his focus on the time trials in this year's Giro because he wants no repeat of the hell ride at last year's Tour de France. Rasmussen started the day in third overall, ahead of Jan Ullrich, but it all unravelled as he crashed twice, changed bike three times, lost seven and a half minutes on Ullrich and dropped to seventh on general classification.
It's no surprise that he can't forget that time trial disaster, which caused him so many sleepless nights, but Rasmussen tries to see it from a different perspective now, he said. Things change when you look at them from a distance. "I still wonder, how could it possibly go so wrong on such an important day? I haven't found an explanation that makes sense. It's best not to use my energy thinking about the past but to think about what I can do better in the present and the future," he said.
According to B.S. Christiansen from the Danish CSC team, Michael Rasmussen failed at the time trial because he was scared. He attacked 'Chicken' in Denmark's BT newspaper for being a selfish loner. But even though it seemed there was a huge rift between the two, Michael Rasmussen shows no resentment.
"I don't think Christiansen has a problem with me," Rasmussen said of the incident. "His statement was taken out of the context of an interview in the magazine Pro Cycling. They basically printed all his negative remarks. After that, he actually called me and apologised. He was really sorry about the whole story and that I hadn't had the chance to comment to it at all."
Nevertheless, Michael Rasmussen's image as a loner sticks. Even his former manager Bjarne Riis said that he is no team rider. But how does he see himself?
"Of course I have my own ideas about how to do things. At my team Rabobank they respect that. I am as much a team player as anybody else. If I'm not the team captain, I do my job and work for others," he said.
When asked about his notorious relationship with staff and mechanics, Rasmussen replied, "I've always been honest with people. So whenever problems occurred I brought them up straightaway instead of holding anything back. And the story about them sabotaging my time trial bike - that just didn't make sense."
Whether Rasmussen is a team player or not, there will be different roles at Rabobank this year. Denis Menchov, for instance, did not live up to expectations in last year's Tour. However, this year he is in much better shape and Rasmussen believes he will be the better time trial rider at the Tour. "He has proved that he is certainly very capable. There's no doubt that Dennis will be the guy for the general classification," said Rasmussen. "He didn't do that well at last year's Tour de France, but he was right on top at the Vuelta."
Rasmussen knows his own role as well: "I guess, I will be the anarchist in the team and stick to what I'm good at, such as winning a stage in the big mountains."
The anarchist's team management accepts his individualistic ways - after all, he won the polka dot jersey in 2005. That earns you the right to do things your own way. Expectations are up a notch this year, but Michael Rasmussen's own outlook is optimistic: "If I can do as good a job this year as I did last year, I'm more than happy," he said. "If I come home with a polka dot jersey and a stage win, then I think I have fulfilled the expectations."
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