Relaxing with Matt

An interview with Matt Lloyd, January 19, 2008

The newly crowned Australian champion Matthew Lloyd is about to embark on his second season in the ProTour ranks. After taking a surprise win in the nationals in a race he wasn't targetting, Lloyd is looking forward to bigger and better things in the upcoming season. Cyclingnews' Paul Verkuylen caught up with the affable Victorian in Ballarat.

Going into the Australian championships as his first race of the season, Matthew Lloyd wasn't expecting to be pulling on the green and gold jersey on the podium at the end of the day. Instead, he was hoping to go into the early season with a more relaxed attitude, knowing there would be plenty of time for suffering later in the season. However, the plans for a low-key entry to racing were set aside when Lloyd bridged up to the winning move and then rode away to win the rights to wear the Australian colours for the next twelve months.

"It's a bit bogus having today's race and winning, because I didn't expect it. But when you're out there and you win it, I'm not going to pass that up," he said shortly after the race. Lloyd snuck away from a constantly changing lead group, and when the rest of the players realized he was gone, it was too late. To win without intending to was a nice bonus, but Lloyd will take a more tempered approach to racing in the coming months.

"I have been trying to be a bit more relaxed in the lead up to the season as opposed to in the past, because in the past I have been trying to be a professional, whereas now that I am [one], it's more a matter of targeting races or bigger races overseas," he explained of his build up to the event. "Having seen what it is like overseas, and getting a grasp, I understand how deep you have to go later on."

Lloyd is just beginning his second season with the Belgian ProTour team, Silence – Lotto, which he joined after graduating from the South Australia – AIS squad in 2006. He gained noticed after making the podium in the '06 'Baby' Giro d'Italia, and is hoping to work his way up to proving he is one of the biggest climbing talents Australia has ever produced.

With a 100% record so far in 2008, he has proven himself worthy of the team's investment, but Lloyd hasn't felt extraordinary pressure from his team to perform. Rather, he had ample opportunity to find his strengths in 2007. "[It was] really good, they have been very supportive. They were really flexible about the race schedule and tailoring it to not kill me. They also allowed me to experience a wide variety of racing, giving me a little sample of each type," he explained.

After enjoying a "few drinks" on Sunday night to celebrate his victory, Lloyd, a former ice hockey player, will refocus his energies on the first ProTour event of the season, the Tour Down Under, where Silence-Lotto will be expecting some similar performances of the rider who finished fourth overall last year, just 13 seconds behind winner Martin Elminger. "Being Australian and having a good result there last year, the team and a few other people want to see the same sort of thing," Lloyd continued. "Just being there and knowing the race and feeling stronger, having another year under the belt probably holds me in good stead to hopefully do something good there. But I am not really aiming for it to be a specific pinpoint of the season."

The recent upgrade in status to the ProTour for the Tour Down Under will see the best ever field assembled in Adelaide, but Lloyd believes that although there is more at stake, the position on the calendar doesn't lend itself to extraordinary performances, as the majority of riders will come from the Europeans winter with no racing since late October last year.

"It has become almost obligatory for ProTour teams to place some importance in it [the TDU]. But with the scope of the whole season, they have to take into account so many other things. While it has become more serious, it can't be a full steam ahead sort of thing for the European guys."

Looking further ahead in the 2008 seasons, Lloyd believes that he will follow a similar program to what he did last year. "The team is quite eager for me to do the Giro again," he explained.

A berth in the squad for the Tour de France is definitely something that Lloyd would like to achieve, but admits that there are many factors to consider before he thinks more seriously about this years edition. "A lot of that has to do with the lead up races, potentially the Giro, and factors like how Cadel feels about it and the other team-mates and staff. With that in mind, it could be an interesting year.

"Eventually I want to target the tour, if you didn't you would be kidding yourself, everyone wants to do it at some point. At the moment that is just sitting at the back of my mind, The team sees me at the Giro and maybe the Vuelta for 2008. But there are plenty of other races in between: Tour of Austria, Tour de Swiss as well as a load of good racing in Spain."

In 2007, Lloyd was introduced to racing in the Belgian Ardennes and the hills in the Dutch region of Limburg when he took part in the Amstel Gold race and Flèche Wallonne, and he found it was something he truly enjoyed. "That week of racing is fantastic," he said.

"It means a lot to the guys from Holland and Belgium, but as you can see through the results, the Italians and everyone else takes it very seriously, so hopefully in the future I can participate in those sorts of races.

"I really enjoyed how those races unfolded, I wasn't in particularly good shape, especially to be featuring against the top 30 guys at the end, but it felt good in that scenario so hopefully it bodes well for the future."

The Evans factor

For his first season, Lloyd based himself in Varese, Italy just 15km from team-mate and good friend, Cadel Evans, something that Lloyd feels has had a positive influence on his development. "The information and the experience that he has had is probably the best way for me to have some light shed on how the sport operates, and the best way to approach certain situations and different races," he explained.

Being so close has allowed Lloyd to tap into Evans' knowledge during parts of the season that he would otherwise not see the runner up from the 2007 Tour de France. "In the first half of the year we do a lot of similar races, so we see a lot of each other. Later on with his Tour stuff it's hard to catch up, so that [living so close] provides a bit of an avenue to see him and train with him.

"For me it has been a really crucial thing, I can't thank him enough for that help."

On the Olympics

Even before his win at the Nationals, Lloyd had been earmarked as a possible candidate for a place on the Australian squad for the Olympic Games. As a member of the 'shadow squad' for the Games, Lloyd is realistic about his chances. "Obviously I would love to get involved, I think everyone would. But it is the Olympics, so there are limited spots."

With that in mind, he is planning on approaching the season as normal, not placing too much emphasis, and the stress that comes with that, on one race.

"I will approach it as I have approached most racing, which has been pretty relaxed. I will just see how it unfolds. I think with the Olympics and stuff like the world championships, if you place too much pressure on yourself then you are already one step behind. At last year's Worlds, I went in very relaxed and it went really well. So I am trying to do the same sort of thing with the Olympics. If I get in the team that would be a huge bonus."

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