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Photo ©: Bettini

87th Giro d'Italia - Grand Tour

Italy, May 8-30, 2004

Brad McGee: "More than I hoped for"

By Chris Henry

Bradley McGee (FDJeux.com)
Photo ©: Sirotti

When Cyclingnews caught up with FDJeux.com leader Brad McGee on the afternoon of the Giro's first rest day, the amiable Australian was relaxed and in good spirits after a casual training ride. As do almost all riders, McGee and his teammates took to the streets for a few hours to turn the legs and prevent their bodies from getting too carried away with a day of rest. For McGee, enjoying himself on the bike on his day off was a good sign.

Also on the agenda for the rest day were several chores to throw himself back into the real world. A trip to the cash machine, a stop at the hair dresser... Basic activities which, somehow not surprisingly, brought with them a few other glimpses of 'normal' life. The cash machine wouldn't accept McGee's card and the hairdresser was missing in action after a supposed five minute break. No worries, at least things are going smoothly on the bike.

In a way, McGee's Giro d'Italia began at last month's Tour de Romandie in Switzerland. McGee entered the week-long race tipped as a favourite for the short, technical prologue in Geneva, and promptly made due on the promises of others, taking the first leader's jersey. Several days in yellow and a fine second place in the closing time trial behind double champion Tyler Hamilton and McGee was well on his way to top form for a crack at the first grand tour of the season. At the Giro's debut in Genova, McGee was once more tipped as the man to beat against the clock. Once more, he came through.

"The pressure was really on," he said of his status as prologue favourite. "Not only would second place have been disappointing, it would have been downright embarrassing considering how much I had been built up."

McGee has felt his share of pressure lately, including the Manchester round of the Track World Cup, Romandie and the Giro prologue. McGee has handled the pressure, and in his words has been able to 'play up to it'.

"It's been more than I hoped for or expected," McGee said of his successful first week in the Giro. "Second on the [stage 7] hill climb opened up a whole big bag of worms as far as my future goes... It's coming at the right time and I'm ready to take advantage of it."

Photo ©: Sirotti

With a prologue victory, second in a sprint from a big group in stage 2, and second again behind young Italian sensation Damiano Cunego on the second hilltop finish in stage 7, McGee has proven he can compete on the varied terrain of a grand tour. Despite being "well over the red limit" in the finale, he summoned the strength to sprint, knowing that the fast climb would suit him better than a steep one. The Giro has yet to hit the high mountains, the final variable in the equation, but with a 52 kilometre individual time trial coming on Saturday, McGee could once more find himself back in pink.

"It's something we've talked about... It's a possibility," he said. "That would be pretty exciting, coming so late in the Giro, to be back in the fight for the jersey. The major climbs come later in the tour, which leaves me still in the fight for now."

Having already exceeded his own expectations for the first week of the Giro, McGee makes no secret of his desire to finish the race well. Calling his current form perhaps his best ever, sitting 1'49 off the race lead on the first rest day inspires confidence. Nonetheless, nothing is certain and McGee isn't eager to overextend himself and jeopardize the Tour de France.

Having missed much of the early season due to a knee injury, McGee isn't worried about burning himself out at the Giro. In fact, his form is so good that he's eager to figure out just what he's done in recent months. In the end, McGee doesn't expect the Giro to do anything but benefit the rest of his season.

Maglia rosa McGee
Photo ©: Sirotti

"I'm taking it day in, day out," McGee said simply. "I'm on form, I'm getting results, so we'll go with that. But if it proves it's killing me and compromising July and August then we'll reconsider. But I really want to finish. I've got my taste buds on the end of the race.

"At this point I feel better than I ever have in a grand tour," he added. "Today was a rest day and I was out riding my bike. I could do what I want, but I love riding my bike."

In the Giro, though, it's all about McGee. In a leadership role and also that of team captain, McGee is supported by a young team picked by director Marc Madiot to gain experience for the grand tours to come. Four riders on the team are in their first grand tour, but McGee feels the experience is coming.

"I think they're starting to get into the groove, it's just a day in and day out battle," he explained. "Initially I think they were a bit tentative, a bit reserved, but now they're calling to the occasion. I never ask too much of the guys. I've got Matt Wilson, who's basically my right hand man. Without him I'd be in a pretty vulnerable position. But we've also got Philippe Gilbert and Nicolas Fritsch who are both riding well. I think Philippe is ready to do something."

For now, McGee will just focus on staying in contact with the leaders of this year's Giro and staying out of trouble. With several wet, tricky sprint finishes under his belt, and one or two minor crashes, McGee knows that fortunes can change quickly. Everything changes when you're riding for a GC position, he said, but clearly this is a change McGee is happy to accept.

As for the Tour de France, McGee will naturally be looking to repeat his prologue victory from 2003, but he insists he does not have a one track mind when it comes to the opening test against the clock.

"People say I'm a prologue specialist, but what do I really change?" he asked. "It's only the day before that I look at the course and start to get ready. Sure there's a lot of mental strain in the day leading up to it, but I've managed to whittle down the mental stress in the moments beforehand."

McGee's plan of attack for the Tour will be refined after the Giro and in discussion with FDJeux.com's star sprinter Baden Cooke, who will likely aim to take an early stage win and begin the battle for the green jersey.

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