Simon Gerrans has yet to make his debut for Team Sky, with the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol starting February 21 set to be the Australian’s first outing in his new colours. But after spending much of the winter training in Spain, he is optimistic he will be in more than decent form for his first major target of the year, Paris-Nice.
The ‘race to the sun’ should offer a clue as to whether Gerrans, who has won a stage in each of the last three Grand Tours he has started, can re-style himself as a general classification rider. The 29-year-old is taking a new approach this season, targeting week-long races, though he hopes to maintain his well-deserved reputation as a master opportunist, with an apparently innate sense for sniffing out the right break, then winning from it, on tough stages and in one-day races.
He offers a neat, if rather modest, explanation for this ability. “I’m not strong enough to go with the best climbers, and not fast enough to win a bunch sprint, so my best opportunity to win is to go with the breakaway,” said Gerrans. “By putting that emphasis on it, and working really hard at it, the luckier I’ve got.”
But this season he is planning to add another string to his bow. “I want to put an emphasis on Paris-Nice and target the overall,” said Gerrans. “It’s not something I’ve really done for European races before, and I’m not expecting big things in the first year, but it’s something I want to work towards.
“I want to keep my strengths in one-day races,” he added. “But I also want to start working on new things. I think week-long stage races can complement [my goals in one-day races] quite well. I can try both, and if it doesn’t work out I can go back to what I know I’m good at.”
In terms of what he could be capable of in Paris-Nice, Gerrans confessed he doesn’t know. “It’s a learning thing, but if I think that if I get to Nice in the top 10, that’d be a fantastic result for my first go,” he said.
As part of his new approach Gerrans has been spending more time on his time trial bike, as well as in the wind tunnel in Southampton. “I learned a hell of a lot from the wind tunnel,” he said. “I tweaked my position, but you find that you don’t need major changes to get big benefits. You can get as aerodynamic as you like but if you can’t pedal in that position it’s no good. So it’s about finding a balance, but I’m much more comfortable on my time trial bike now.”
Another goal for Gerrans is the Ardennes Classics. He placed top 10 in all three last year, but doesn’t hesitate to say he’d swap such consistency for a podium finish, or better, in one. “Last year at Amstel I felt I was good enough to be on the podium, and in the others I was only a step back,” he said. “I think if I keep progressing there’s no reason why I can’t go for the podium; and if you’re going for the podium, you’re going for the win.
“I think we have a great Ardennes team,” he said. “Thomas Lofkvist is consistently up there. Kjell Carlstrom is strong in those races, so is Serge Pauwels. Nicolas Portal will offer strong support, and Wiggo [Bradley Wiggins] is going to ride a couple, I think. We haven’t got anyone in the team who’s won one before, but between us we’ve got a few top tens, and I think we could have some numbers at the finish.”
Though Gerrans is yet to race for his new team he has enjoyed its successes so far. “It really creates good morale and momentum,” he said, knowing - having been with Cervelo last year - that a good start is essential for a new team.
But he believes that in other respects there is no comparison between his new and old teams. “The only thing this team has in common with any other team I’ve ridden in is that we’re riding a bike,” he says. “Everything is different.”
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