An interview with Brad McGee, May 10, 2006
Pieces of the puzzle
Brad McGee's performance in stage one of this year's Giro came as a surprise to the Australian, and signalled his emergence from a pretty long trough in form. Cyclingnews' Les Clarke caught up with McGee before stage 3 of the Giro in Perwez and found out how he has made it all fit together.
Brad McGee has won stages and prologues in the Tour de France and the Giro, and finished the 2004 Giro in eighth place on the general classification, a result that gave McGee even more ambition to chase the overall lead in Grand Tours.
But after a less-than-successful tilt at the 2005 Tour de France, he decided to target the shorter stage races, such as the Tour de Romandie, Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour de Suisse.
But the results he'd hoped for didn't quite eventuate, and following a tough year in 2005 and a difficult opening to 2006, McGee knew he had to go back to the drawing board.
"I run on emotions - I run on being in that state of mind where you have to pull the big ones out"
- McGee explains what makes him perform so well in the big situations
The tough stretch culminated in a poor showing at the Tour de Romandie last month, where McGee had hoped to win the prologue, but came out empty-handed and feeling pretty low.
It was then time for the Giro, which the Olympic gold medallist came into with a low profile and mixed emotions. He came out in the prologue in Seraing and clocked a time of 8'01", 11 seconds behind fast-finishing stage winner Paolo Savoldelli. It was a great turnaround in form - not from the perspective of taking a win, but how McGee felt inside.
So what was it that surprised McGee about his Giro stage one performance? "Basically just coming out of what happened in Romandie," said the Francaise des Jeux rider. "I went in there feeling okay, but still searching to just put it all together - I managed third in the prologue [at Romandie] but knew there was something missing. I expected to come through Romandie in good offensive form and come out with all guns firing."
But instead of going on the offensive at Romandie, McGee found the going tough, and did the week-long tour tied up in knots, so to speak. McGee told Cyclingnews the problem was, "a mechanical, kind of structural thing on the bike; just [a matter of] putting that last little piece of the puzzle together.
"At Romandie it was anything but good for me - it just tied me up in a bigger knot, and we spent all week trying to unravel that knot. I mean, even on Wednesday, we went out for a four-hour ride and I had to get in the car - it just plays with your head big time," he said.
It makes McGee's Giro stage one performance that much more notable given that he only had one week to make some quick adjustments and get his show back on the road. "The whole week's really been a mental struggle to put it all together, and in that condition you never know what job you've done until you get 500 metres down the start ramp," he said.
"That was when I was like, 'all right, let's go - I'm good!' I was just really focussed in that tunnel vision I put myself in for prologues and time trials. In the end it was an enjoyable day - second isn't that enjoyable, but the performance was enjoyable."
The solution saw McGee work with team staff and get back to basics - breathing techniques and mental preparation. "I concentrated a lot on breathing, because it is such a pivotal point in whether you feel calm and relaxed and able to build your confidence through zoning in. Also, physically, my breathing was blocked around the diaphragm and things like that," he said.
"There are two edges to it - mental and physical - put them both together and you're going nowhere."
McGee also praised his team's staff for the work they've done with him, which has facilitated his change in form. "We've got some really good people on the staff now - physios and the like - and I think we did some good stuff for the week."
What does McGee now hope to get out of this year's Giro? "Just go with the good feelings and keep bringing them up, increasing the form; I do need three weeks, or at least two, of good hard racing," he said.
"I could still pack an extra kilo or two just in muscle bulk from not having done many tours this year, which kind of rips you down for that 'lean mean' attitude," he added.
McGee said his strong days on the road are ahead, but he's looking forward to them. "I'm looking forward to hitting them hard when we head down to Italy - the stages between stage seven and 11 look good - they look like attacking kind of stages that could come in for a small bunch finish," he said.
Possibly the most important part of McGee's rise in form is what it means for his Tour de France preparation. "That's the first thing a couple of people close to me said after I crossed the line of the prologue the other day. 'You're second, which is fine, but it looks good for the Tour'," he said.
"It's given me a little bit of a taste of it, and I'll run on that for another month and a half or so. I run on emotions - I run on being in that state of mind where you have to pull the big ones out, and at this stage we've come back from a bit of a trough and it looks like it's all in the right direction."
As for even further down the track - Francaise des Jeux has lost three members of its Australian contingent, and will McGee also depart for different shores, so to speak?
His performance in stage one may change things, but he's not giving anything away. "There's another year there [on his contract] if I want it, " he said. "I can go if I want, but I'm not even thinking about it at this stage. I'm just focussing on chasing some results."