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2002 Giro

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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

An interview with Magnus Bäckstedt

A day off in Napoli

Magnus Bäckstedt is one of Team fakta-Pata Chips leaders in the Giro d'Italia, with his specialty being long breakaways and bunch sprints. Cyclingnews' Jeff Jones caught up with the big Swede on the rest day of the Giro, just before he was about to have dinner.

Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

Magnus Bäckstedt

Born: January 30, 1975
Place of birth: Linkoping, Sweden
Resides: Zulte, Belgium
Height: 193cm
Weight: 90kg
Family: Wife Megan and 17 month old daughter Elynor
Nicknames: Polar Bear, Big Dog, Maggie
Turned pro: 1996
Team: Team fakta-Pata Chips
Website: www.magnusbackstedt.com

Career highlights


2nd, Nokere Koerse
2nd, GP d'Ouverture la Marseillaise
3rd, GP S.A.T.S
5th, Stage 4 in Giro d'Italia


1st, GP Fina-Fayt-le-Franc
2nd, Stage 1 Tour of Qatar (4th overall)}
4th, National TT championships
4th, GP Eddy Merckx


1st, Stage 1a in Postgirot Open
1st, Stage 4 in Tour of Poland


2nd, Swedish Road Championship
2nd, Stage 1 in Quatre Jours de Dunkerque
9th, HEW Cyclassics


1st, Stage 19 Tour de France


1st, Duo Normand
1st, Stage 4b In Postgirot (2nd overall)
7th, Paris-Roubaix


1st, Grand Prix Isbergues


2nd, Grand Prix Isbergues

Magnus Bäckstedt's rest day was pretty much that, as he explained. "We woke up at about 8:30, had brekky and did an hour and a half on the bike, nice and easy. Then Julian and I went to the internet cafe and read our emails, and after that we crashed on the bed and took it easy."

Unlike some of his teammates, he didn't take advantage of the nearby gelateria however, "not being one for ice-cream". He also pointed out that having a day off "is kind of hard. You're relaxing but not completely..."

With 11 tough stages ahead before the next rest day, it's not surprising that it's hard to unwind in such a short space of time. But these days are still important, with the goal of regaining as much energy as possible for the next block.

Although Magnus Bäckstedt has ridden the Tour de France on several previous occasions, the 2003 Giro is the first time that's he's raced Italy's national tour. But he says his Tour experience has helped him. "I think I've got a bit of a routine in doing a three week tour. The Giro seems different though - it's a lot more Italian style racing. It's piano for the first 120 km then they turn it on at the end, and it's even faster than in the Tour. The first couple of days were hard, getting used to it mentally. If it's a 200km stage I prefer to race for 200km and get to the finish completely whacked."

"From my point of view, it looks a bit like that the guys have been waiting for Cipo to win these two stages. They've almost been giving him a free ride to the finish. That's the feeling I get. He's had two good chances already. But I reckon from now on it's going to be a bit different - more undulating roads, and there'll be more opportunities for more attacking riders. We'll see after the first proper mountain stage where the GC is made."

In the break
Photo: © Yuzuru Sunada
Click for larger image

"I would like to see the pink jersey to be sorted out before I go in big breakaways," added Bäckstedt, who ignored this when he took off at the start in stage 6 for 165 kilometres. "Once we've had first mountain top finish it will be easier to get in the break afterwards. At the end of the day, 20 bonus seconds doesn't mean much. The team that's got the jersey with a fairly solid lead can sit on the front and keep the speed at a decent level, but they're not going to chase anything down."

Pick a stage, any stage

"There's a very undulating stage coming up in two or three days so I'm keeping my eyes on that," says Magnus of his plans for going for a stage win. It's a good day to go in an early break. But from now on I'm going to take the opportunity when it comes. Tomorrow [Stage 6] is going to be like Stage 4 - I think it will sort itself out. I've been climbing fairly well for being me, better than Cipo and Svorada. Hopefully I get my arse over the climbs and be there for the sprint. I'm open to ideas."

As previously mentioned, Magnus attacked in this very stage after 50 km in the company of Cristian Moreni and Constantino Zaballa. The trio built up a lead of 8'50 before eventually being chased down by the sprinters teams. Magnus was the last rider to be caught with 5 km to go. As he said, he'll take the opportunities as they come.

In the next two weeks, the team will think a little more about the general classification. "We're going to start having to look after Kurt Arvesen a bit more," said Magnus. "He can ride a good GC, but what good means I'm not too sure yet. It's a three week tour and he's going to have a good crack at possibly top 15. He's got that in him, as long he can be consistent from day to day, and not have a bad day."

39 x 28 for Zoncolan

Answering the hard questions
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

One of the biggest challenges that the 1.93m/90 kg Swede will face in the coming days is the Stage 12 climb to Zoncolan, a very tough mountain that's been compared with the Angliru in Spain. "Well I haven't seen it yet but I've been looking in the race book and it looks pretty nasty," says Bäckstedt with some trepidation. "The steepest part is 22 percent and the average is 9.5 percent for 16 km. It's mega steep. In the last kilometre it's a dead straight road 18-20 percent all the way up."

Such a climb requires some seriously low gearing, as the gradient is too steep for a standard 12-23 on the back with a 39/53 on the front. "We're thinking of 39 x 28 or something like that," says Bäckstedt. "A lot of teams are going for triple chainrings, but it's a lot of hassle just for one stage. We'll try and work it out somehow. The thing is before the climb the whole day is fairly flat. If you're going to sit on the 28 all day with 13 as the smallest cog you're going to end up with mountain bike style jumps in your gearing..."

A step up for Petacchi

The current leader of the Giro d'Italia is Alessandro Petacchi, who has won three out of six stages and has shown himself to be clearly the best sprinter in the Giro. Bäckstedt comments that Petacchi "looks like he's taken a step up . He's a lot more confident in what he's doing. He's beaten Cipo straight up two times now, and that's gotta boost your confidence. The way he's climbing, he's definitely looking really, really good. No-one's going to take the throne from Cipo though - he's always going to be Cipo."

Of the GC riders, Bäckstedt is hard pressed to pick a favourite. "It's very hard to say because none of them have really shown themselves yet. Pantani is looking good, but I'm not sure how he'll be in the big climbs. Casagrande is always there, and he's probably my number one favourite. I'm not too sure about Frigo, but Simoni should definitely be there. He's looking comfortable all the time. We'll have to see once we're over the first proper climbs."

No rest until July

With teammate Scott Sunderland
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

Once the Giro is finished, Bäckstedt says that he won't take a well earned rest for a while. "I'm going to keep on going if I'm feeling alright once I'm out of this tour," he explains. "I'll have a couple of days off, then ride the Tour of Germany or Tour of Austria. I'll try and keep my legs going up until the Nationals. If I have a break after the Giro I won't be able to get my legs going in time."

"After that I'll have a bit of a break in July. I'll take a week off then start training again. Hopefully we'll get to do a few World Cups at the end of the year such as Hamburg. I'd like to do that one or Paris-Tours."

With that, I let Magnus get back to his dinner, which he was late for. But he must have made up nearly all the deficit, given his performance in Stage 6.

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