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An interview with Simon Gerrans, July 9, 2008
Gerrans leads the Aussie charge
In a strong contingent of nine riders at the start in Brest on Saturday, Simon Gerrans will be one of the most experienced Australians although he's only in his fourth year professional. But that will be his fourth Tour de France as well – just like Cadel Evans who will attract most of the media attention this year. Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet caught up with the Crédit Agricole rider before the start in Brest.
Of the nine Australians to start this year's Tour, only Stuart O'Grady, Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke have started more Tours than Evans and Simon Gerrans. Milram's Brett Lancaster only had a taste of it last year as he had to pull out on stage five because of injuries, while Adam Hansen from Team Columbia, Crédit Agricole's Mark Renshaw and Trent Lowe of Garmin-Chipotle will be rookies in the Tour.
Nine isn't the largest number of Aussies to have raced the Tour at once. There could have been more, but Olympians Michael Rogers, Graeme Brown and Bradley McGee were not been selected by Team Columbia, Rabobank and CSC respectively.
"Being nine Australians isn't a record," Gerrans recalled. "In 2005 we were ten and all of us finished. Last year, after a couple of stages I only had Cadel to talk with [Lancaster, McEwen, O'Grady and Rogers crashed and pulled out before halfway, ed.]. As he had a lot on his mind, he wasn't there for much chatting in the bunch."
For the first time in four years of riding on French teams, Gerrans will be able to room with a compatriot – Renshaw. He was the only Australian at AG2R. His move to Crédit Agricole hasn't jeopardized his presence at the Tour de France, something he secured by winning stage one and finishing fourth overall at the Route du Sud. "At 6:30pm on Sunday I finally received the phone call I was waiting for," he said. "My directeur sportif Serge Beucherie confirmed my place in the Tour team. I was relieved to finally get the news. I had been a little worried following the Dauphiné where I didn't perform as well as I and the team would like, so it was important for me to perform at the Route du Sud. After that, I was confident again to make the Tour team."
"It was always going to be a little bit of a risk in a new team," the Victorian continued. "At AG2R, the management was reasonably well aware of my capacities of doing the Tour de France." Gerrans is a rider that a team or a captain can always rely on, whether it's for working for a bunch sprint or defending a position in the mountains. He might even work for himself sometimes.
"In my first Tour in 2005, riding for third place in Revel was a big result for me," he remembered. "In my second Tour in 2006, defending Cyril Dessel's yellow jersey in the Pyrénées was a fabulous adventure. My third Tour was the toughest of them all. Our team was based around Christophe Moreau. As he didn't meet the expectations, it was hard to change from riding GC to looking for breakaways. Then the doping scandals occurred and it was a very long three weeks..."
Gerrans left the 2007 Tour de France with a good showing though. His attack on the Champs-Élysées showed that he can still perform at the end of a three-weeks Tour. For him, the longer the races are, the better.
As the winner of last year's GP Plumelec, Gerrans could well have had his shot for glory on the first stage of the Tour when it finished on the same roads as the May race, but he ruled out any kind of pressure before the race began. "I'm not the defending champion in Plumelec. Thomas Voeckler is. He's the winner this year. Actually, I've never been a defending champion at any race I've won in Europe (he never rode the Tour du Finistère or the GP Carnago after winning them)... The Tour de France will be a different story though."
First and foremost, Gerrans is in the service of sprinter Thor Hushovd, who took his sixth Tour stage on the second day, and the overall goal of the green jersey competition. "Crédit Agricole has had a fantastic season so far with 20 wins collected by 12 different riders and we intend to keep the vibe at the Tour de France," said Gerrans who predicts a few late nights for Australians back home who will stay up for watching Evans and company firing up the French roads.
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Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net