An interview with Karin Thürig, June 20, 2008
Karin Thürig of Switzerland is tuning up her form at the Grande Boucle Féminine International, where she is eyeing Friday's time trial. But the race is just the first step toward the much bigger goal of the Olympics in Beijing, where she will aim for gold in her specialty discipline. Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake spoke with the Cervélo Lifeforce rider at the start of the race in Gent.
Karin Thürig knows the feeling of winning a major medal well. She has won the time trial World Championship title two times in her career, in 2004 and 2005. Additionally, she has been Swiss time trial champion in 2002 and from 2004 to 2007. But even this impressive list of achievements doesn't make her the favourite for Friday's race against the clock in stage five; her main competition could come from within her own team.
Fellow Swiss rider Priska Doppmann secured her 2005 Grande Boucle win in the final time trial that year, while Austrian Christiane Soeder won the bronze medal at the time trial Worlds in Stuttgart last year. Carla Ryan, a new addition to the team, is the 2007 Australian time trial Champion.
With such a powerful team, Thürig joked, the Cervélo Lifeforce team's best event would be a team time trial, "over 100 kilometres." With 40.1 kilometres against the clock looming on stage five, Thürig wasn't sure if the time trial would be the decisive part of the race given the stages to follow. "It is difficult to say. The stages on Saturday and Sunday have many vertical metres." But she admitted, "The time trial is important for me personally and I think also for Christiane and Priska. Otherwise, we try to do something as a team. We will look day by day."
The team aspect is indeed very important and Doppmann is not necessarily the protected rider. Thürig explained, "We want to win as a team. Christiane is also very strong; Carla too. It is also difficult to say as we didn't have a race in a while, so you don't know where you are [in terms of race fitness level]." Having just returned from a break from racing, the Swiss rider said racing could be a bit difficult on the body for the first few days.
So it all depends on how things go. "We will take today's race [stage 1 - ed.] and then see where we are. Today is not a hard race. Then tomorrow, there are two stages. But even today something can happen."
Indeed, as predicted the race did break up a bit on its way through Belgium, and Thürig was alert enough, despite her break from racing, to make the front groups and was sitting in fifth overall, 34 seconds behind Diana Ziliute after three stages.
The parcours for the Grand Boucle is very diverse - with cobbles, short hills, a long time trial and big mountains. Thürig emphasised, "It has something for everyone. A few flat stages, the mountains, the time trial. I think an all rounder will win the race."
Historically, the race was the women's equivalent of the Tour de France, and was 15 stages long and more prestigious, but Thürig couldn't tell from her own experience if the race had changed over the years. "I only did the race once before, last year. The race had a similar format." She didn't mind the shorter course. "I had a long period of training. Now, I need to get back into the race rhythm, so it's not so bad."
Eyeing the Olympics in Beijing
Everything Thürig does these days is done with the goal of the Olympic Games in her mind. "Yes, that's the big goal, for everyone. You can ask anybody here, that's their main goal," she made clear that she isn't the only person out there focused on one big season highlight.
Even though all the riders will represent their respective countries, she will get to meet many of her team-mates in China in August. Not only has she and compatriot Doppmann been selected to go to Beijing, but Soeder will represent Austria and Kristin Armstrong has qualified to represent the U.S.A. "Yes, that's great," she confirmed. "Meeting team-mates is a bit different than seeing just any other person."
She and Soeder already had a look at the course in Beijing. Thürig described, "The parcours is tough. It's not technical, but the profile is difficult. You reach the top 14 kilometres after the start. It's not uphill all the time – there are two descents. The total elevation difference is 400 metres. So it's not that much over a 40-kilometre time trial. The course is not very rhythmic. It's not like there is a two-kilometre climb with the same percentage. The gradient changes constantly. On the way back, there is an eight-kilometre stretch on a large freeway, with a five-percent downhill."
The race itself, in her mind, is wide open. Overall, she thought that it will be the same riders contesting the medals, despite the unusual time trial profile. "I think there will be 10-12 women fighting it out for the medals. The course has something for everyone, although I don't think there is one flat metre in there. When you go downhill it is of course different if you weigh 45 kilograms or 65 kilograms. In the end, a lot of things have to fit together that day. I think you also have to be able to go past your limits. Maybe there will be someone that we don't account for right now, that's of course possible."
She didn't want to give too much thought on the pollution in Beijing. "It is the same for everyone. July and August is the rainy season, so if it just rained, it's not that dramatic. The time trial is north of the city, whereas the worst pollution is inside the city. The wind comes from the mountains. And they want to shut down factories and reduce the traffic," she thought that the circumstances will be reasonably well for the riders.
She also didn't want to draw a comparison to the marathon race, which Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie had pulled out of as he was afraid of the health impacts. Thürig acknowledged that " the marathon is inside the city, right in the centre. And a marathon is different than a time trial. It's a two-hour effort." She will want to reach the finish of her time trial much faster than that and dream that at the end she will receive one of those Olympic medals.
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