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An interview with Gord Fraser
A healthy lifestyle with Team Health Net
by Jeff Tse
Team Health Net registered their second victory at the McLane Pacific criterium with a sprint finish win by their star sprinter Gord Fraser. Jeff Tse caught up with Gord and Team Health Net the night after their big win.
I met the team at the home of the McLane Pacific race organizer who played host to the 20 plus riders and staff. To show its appreciation for his hospitality, the team visited local schools in the town of Merced days before the race, giving kids an idea what the sport of cycling is all about.
The win that afternoon ended in a field sprint, exactly what Gord Fraser and Team Health Net were hoping for. In talking about their strategy for the win, Fraser made it known that they are not as talent-filled and experienced as Saturn. That, however, did not stop them from winning.
After Saturn tried to launch Chris Horner and other riders off the front throughout the race, everything came back together in the final five laps and Saturn put all their guys in the front to lead out their sprint man Ivan Dominguez. Without their own sprint train, Fraser and Mike Sayers sat comfortably within the pack letting Saturn keep the pace high. Having the experience of working together the last several years, Sayers and Fraser know how to put together a good sprint. The two kept communicating with one another and within the final 500 meters, Sayers put in the strong pull to put Fraser into the position to "freelance it". And that he did.
Fraser was not on the original roster of the team during the team launch in Oakland several months ago. At that point, Sayers was the undisputed leader of the team. He would make the calls on the road as well as plan the strategies.
So how does the addition of the sprinting star affect the dynamics and leadership of the team?
Apparently, it doesn't. Fraser noted that he was brought in to do his part as the sprinter. Sayers is still the leader. As a new team, Fraser states that they are not at the level of Saturn but they race to win and in a lot of instances, they still come out on top. As of the week of March 22, Gord Fraser leads the standings in the National Racing Calendar. Their goal is to capitalize on whatever situation is presented to them as demonstrated in Fraser's win at the McLane Pacific Bicycle Classic.
When asked about his personal goals, Fraser gave a different perspective to a lot of the other riders. He does not have a main goal of the season and plans everything around it. While he wants to do well at the races that matters more to his team, he races each race pretty similar to all others.
In past years, he was able start his season at the "best possible condition and stay there as long as possible" to the end of the season. He doesn't want to focus only on certain events because that will distract him from other races that also matter. He takes every race as seriously as the last. When asked what his favorite venues are, Redlands is on the top of the list and so is the Athens Twilight criteriums. Of course, US Pro and the San Francisco Grand Prix are favorites because of the crowds and atmosphere.
During the prime of the Mercury team, Fraser had a successful European depute with a sprint finish win at the Criterium Internationale. Does Fraser miss his experience of racing in Europe? Not as much as we would expect. While he was presented with an opportunity to ride with the division II team Marlux earlier in the year, he found the offer with Health Net more to his liking.
Even after the Health Net team was all set and finalised in March, Fraser came into the picture through his best friend Mike Sayers. Fraser went to the Tour of Langkawi to "find a job" and surprisingly when he returned home, the offer from Health Net was on the table. On the same day he got the offer from his new team, Fraser also found out that his wife was pregnant. Getting the job he wants and knowing his wife is expecting is about all the good news any guy could handle in one day. With the new member of the family coming, he is happy to be staying home in the US.
So how does racing in Europe compares to racing in the US? Fraser labels the pro riders in Europe as being more "workmen" like. It is certainly a lot more competitive. While there are 20 guys that have a realistic chance of winning at any given race in the US, Fraser says there are about 150 in Europe. The conditions are also more challenging with extreme weather, longer and more difficult courses, and the suitcase lifestyle. While bike racing is more like work in Europe, Fraser finds that it has a more enjoyable quality here in the US, and is hoping to finish his career at Team Health Net.
At the Tucson Classic several weeks ago, a young rider from north of Los Angeles was involved in a crash that killed him as he hit an oncoming car during the race. The Health Net team was split on their decision to complete the rest of the race. While in the overall lead, Fraser decided not to stay in the race even though the Tucson Classic is a race he has won two times and it is his home town race.
From Fraser's perspective, he sees that there are more important things in life than bike racing. Not racing was his way of mourning and showing respect for the fallen rider. The team was divided equally on this point. Some felt that they should race to show perseverance. Interestingly, the division on this point of view was split not only within Team Health Net but throughout the peloton as nearly half the riders abandoned with the other half continuing to race.
Team Health Net's main goal is now the Sea Otter Classic as their Californian-based sponsors will be on hand to watch. With Fraser having won the Canary Row criterium decisively last year, we can be assured that the team will aim to have Gord repeat his win plus more as the year progresses.