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South Africa's next Tour rider?

An interview with Ryan Cox, January 27, 2005

South Africa's next Tour rider?

When the 2005 Tour de Langkawi gets under way this Friday one of the big dangermen will certainly be 25 year-old Ryan Cox of the Barloworld-Valsir team. Last year he finished second, just 48 seconds off the yellow jersey of Colombia Selle Italia's Freddy Gonzalez; this time round he is determined to go one better and win the prestigious early season event, as Shane Stokes reports.

Cyclingnews: The team has expanded quite a bit this year - what do you think of the new lineup?

Ryan Cox: I think it is good, there are some big guys. There is a bit of mix. In the beginning I think it is hard for everyone to cope and to understand each other, but when we are racing in smaller groups and the guys aren't just around their own nationality, we will mix a bit more. The team has upped its game a bit and we are going to be bigger and better for sure.

CN: What are your initial impressions of Igor Astarloa? He is obviously the biggest name.

RC: Good, perfect. The first time I actually spoke to him he was friendly. To ride alongside the ex-world champion is great. For me it is perfect, for the team, the marketing and everything. It lifts everything, it feels like the whole team has this eye on us - not just him - so if we are doing well it will get us more attention.

CN: How do you communicate?

RC: He speaks some English, and he speaks Italian. I speak about 40 percent Italian.

CN: It is motivating for the other guys on the team...

RC: I think so, yes. Especially for new riders. If you just turn pro and you are with the ex-world champion, you can hardly be on a better team for your first year.

I am excited by the prospects for the team. I want to do the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta...I want to do a Grand Tour, that is where I see myself going. Not only doing it but winning a stage. So when you get guys like him in the team it helps gain entries.

CN: Have you any idea what chances the team has of getting a ride this year in one of those big Tours?

RC: Well, I heard for the Giro it is about fifty-fifty. Because of Astarloa, I think the Vuelta should be about ninety percent...

CN: You look in good shape, how is your form for this time of the year?

RC: Really good. I did about 8,000 kilometres from the middle of November. Everything is going well here this week. With the cold we are taking it a little bit easier. But we are going to have a strong team going to the Tour de Langkawi. Early season racing for us is perfect because we are coming from our summer and there are a lot of us who have really good training, good form. So I think we are going to be contenders. And I want to win in Malaysia.

CN: You went very close last year, you finished second, 48 seconds behind Freddy Gonzalez. Where will the difference be made up this time?

RC: Well, there are just two mountain stages but one of those isn't too difficult. I think we did it last year and it normally ends up with a group of twenty or thirty guys. So that is not something to really worry about. The problem is with so many flat stages, you have to watch out that you are not left out of the action and a big group gets away and gets ten or fifteen minutes, because then you are going to be the loser. But I think the time trial will be important - if I can do a good time trial, I can get time out of the smaller climbers. I don't think they are going to ride away from me on the climb, so it will be half-won there.

Genting, that is the other big GC day. If you have done a good time trial and you are up there already, Genting is the day where the gaps will come.

CN: After Langkawi, what other races are you looking at?

RC: For me I am trying to plan the season in three. It will be Malaysia first and then we will go back to South Africa for the national championships. I would like to win it for the second year, that would be quite nice for me. Then I will do the Giro Del Capo, a big South African Tour. So that will be the beginning of the season for me. It is quite big and for the team it is pretty important.

Then, if we get into the Giro d'Italia that is the next aim for me. And then towards the end of the year, when it gets warmer. I don't go so well in the cold. I am trying to plan it now that I get Malaysia and South Africa in the summer, and then when it is summer here again I will try to do the same again.

CN: Were you happy with your performances last year?

RC: Very happy. It was the best year I have had so far, and hopefully I can improve on that. Obviously the same thing this year as last year, but just improving on what I did. Maybe bigger races, better results and instead of the top ten and top fifteen places, the top three and top five are what I am aiming for now. Every year you put more more pressure on, you get stronger and you get better. I am twenty-five now, twenty-six later this year, so I am at a time where I should get stronger and stronger and also more clever. Maybe I will do something wrong at a race last year but this year I will know the race; we are doing some of the same races as we did last year so for me it will be the second time. For some guys have done the same races ten years! So it is the experience of the race that you build up each year will also will save power here and there and can use it later. So I think that will help too.

CN: You won in China last year, at the Tour of Qinghai Lake...

RC: That was really good for me. It was planned before the Olympics to go there and the Olympics was also good for me, getting in the breakaway and going out there and showing people this is who I am. But China was good, I like racing at altitude so that was probably a good help for me. The whole culture there and having a bike race at such altitude is just different. It is a different atmosphere, different everything.

CN: Was that your biggest stage race win?

RC: Yep, my only stage race win...and I didn't even win it at the time, I became the winner afterwards. (note: Phil Zajicek was disqualified after testing over the limit for cathine (norpseudoephedrine)). For sure it was big for me, as was winning the national championships and taking second in Malaysia.

For me, it (the Tour of Qinghai Lake) is not really a full win as I didn't put on the jersey. But that will come!

CN: Longer term, looking three to five years ahead, what would you like to achieve in the sport?

RC: The Tour. If I can ride the Giro this year and the next couple of years and get into it...because one you have ridden a big tour you automatically become a bigger, stronger rider as your body takes knocks for the three weeks.

So the plan is to do the Giro and the Vuelta for the next two years and then, hopefully, in the next five years the Tour. Because when you are a young guy, that is what you want to do...become a pro and then ride the Tour. Then we will go from that to chasing a stage, or something like that.

CN: Heading into a race like that, what do you think you could achieve?

RC: Well, because I don't do a great time trial I think I will more go for a stage or for the King of the Mountains classification. I am going to try to do that from now on, because always riding for a top five or top ten is sometimes better if you get a jersey. I have the ability to win King of the Mountains jerseys. So it is something that I want to work on and go for, instead of getting a top three. I think a jersey in a Grand Tour or any tour is a good aim.

CN: And you are happy in the high mountains?

RC: Yes, I prefer the mountains. When it goes uphill that is what I like.

CN: Obviously it will be a huge thing for South African cycling if the team makes it to the Tour?

RC: Huge, totally, totally huge. Cycling is South Africa is really big and there are so many followers of this team in South Africa, so whenever we are there - even training - there is always this huge 'Barloworld, Barloworld'. When we go to events there are a lot of teams scared we are doing those races. The people watch the Giro and the Tour live on TV so if we can show those guys what we are doing in cycling in Europe, it would just be amazing for them and for us.

CN: It seems a very exciting time for the team. It appears to be on the cusp of some big things.

RC: Yeah, I think a lot of things are happening. It has taken a while to bring things together but I think from now it is going to be a bit smoother because everything has fallen into place. Everything is getting finalised and when we start racing, I think things are going to get better and better.

I am very excited. The early season for me is always, I just want to get down to the racing!

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