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91st Tour de France - July 3-25, 2004
An interview with Scott Sunderland, June 30, 2004
Back for another crack at the Tour
Scott Sunderland last rode the Tour de France in 1996 - more than half of his professional cycling career ago. After his 1998 crash in the Amstel Gold Race, he thought he would never have the opportunity to ride it again. But things have turned around and he will take the start in Liège on July 3 with his Alessio-Bianchi teammates, all eager for success in the greatest race of all. A few days before the Tour, Cyclingnews' Chief Online Editor Jeff Jones caught up with Scott for a pre-race chat.
Cyclingnews: How does it feel to be coming back to the Tour after all these years?
Scott Sunderland: It's great. The feeling of excitement hasn't set in as yet, but I expect it to well up in my stomach once I get to the hotel in Liège. I'm actually really relaxed with the thought of riding another Tour. Only wondering how I'm going to get everything in that one suitcase!
Judging from the dozens of emails coming in, it is the greatest thing for my supporters. They're all so geed up for it! But, me riding the Tour de France was already discussed in January, so the selection wasn't a big surprise to be honest. One of the reasons why I signed up for Alessio-Bianchi at the end of last season was because I wanted to ride another Tour de France.
Also with this being an Olympic year. The Olympics are a very important goal for me this year and the Australian selectors consider the Tour de France to be the ideal preparation.
Alessio-Bianchi's Team manager Bruno Cenghialta knows very well what my exact abilities and qualities are. There wasn't much more I had to prove to him. The fact I finished 22nd in last year's Giro d'Italia didn't go unnoticed by the teams looking for Tour riders.
CN: Are you happy with your condition and preparation?
SS: I feel fresh; the legs feel good. I've done the preparation needed for this race, so I am not unhappy with the current form. I wouldn't have said no to being able to test the climber's legs a bit more in the lead up to this month. The racing in Switzerland was hard and fast, but that bit of a sciatic problem held me back from digging deep in a couple of the stages where I could have done so.
CN: What will your role be within the team? And who are your main spearheads?
SS: My role is one of support to our team leader Pietro Caucchioli and GC rider Andrea Noè. Also, to go in the breaks with the aim of a stage win myself.
Everyone knows there's no luck involved in winning the Tour de France overall - it's something you can achieve only when you are the best. But in winning a single stage - and mainly in getting in the right break or in perfect position to take that one victory - there's a lot of factors but also quite a bit of luck at play. Well, in most of the stages that is. There's so many different scenarios possible.
Mainly, I want to enjoy the racing. I want to taste the atmosphere, the electricity in the peloton, the energy rising up from the public, it is truly a unique experience. In no other sport do the supporters get to be so close to the athletes. The buzz in the air in the villages departs in the mornings before the stages, in the hotel in the evening after a stage win or just after a good result by the team, it's absolutely fantastic to experience. That's got me hooked.
CN: Are there any stages that particularly catch your eye?
SS: For myself, an exciting stage is the one to Wasquehal (stage 3). The three stages following the first rest day in Limoges (stage 9-10-11) and then stage 15 and 19.
Why? Mainly because those are difficult stages for the sprinters and not that interesting for the GC riders.
CN: What will it be like riding over your own training grounds in Belgium?
SS: It will be easier than for, let's say the Spanish riders, that's for sure! [grins]. Especially that stage into Wasquehal might prove a bit treacherous for many.
CN: So do you think the cobbles in stage 3 will make a big difference?
SS: It might make no difference for some, but be hell for others. It surprises me to see this sort of route in the Tour de France; some GC riders could lose their Tour already at that stage. Classics riders are used to this sort of parcours and for Lance Armstrong I don't see this being a major hurdle, as he has ridden the cobbles quite a bit. But some of these guys have not ridden one Belgian classic before, so it could be disastrous.
CN: Did you ever think you'd see this many Aussies (10 at last count) start in the Tour?
SS: I smiled when I read in an Australian mag that this is my first Tour de France, hey, and that at the youthful age of 37! Really, cycling in Australia has come such a long way since I decided to have a go at racing in Europe...it's been interesting to have experienced the evolution first hand.
I see it as a privilege to be part of cycling since the days Anderson, Peiper, Wilson, Hodge and Stephens were racing and to see all the younger Australian talent making their entry in the European racing. Nine Australians, in different roles, and in different teams but with a common goal: to make a living from racing a bike. And we all know that is still met with disbelief by most Australians.
But, the idea of an Australian team is getting more an more interest from the business world in Australia. It's not a utopian concept, and maybe I will even be part of that in the not so far-off future. Although I probably won't be riding the bike myself at that stage!
CN: Having the other Aussies there, will that help the motivation?
SS: No, not really. As I said, we all ride in different teams and we're all different types of riders, sprinters, climbers, all rounders. Maybe the sprinters among us will get motivation from the hunt for the same goals, so that might spice things up a bit.
But there's definitely going to be a lot more of Aussie slang being spoken while the peloton crosses France!
CN: Who are your top three? green jersey? polka dot?
SS: My personal favourite for Yellow is Lance Armstrong, because I'd really like to see him win again. I think Jan Ullrich will make it hard for him. It's going to be very, very close. Hamilton is my third bet.
Green Jersey: Alessandro Petacchi; with Stuart O'Grady hot on his heels. Polka dot: Iban Mayo, definitely with the new points systems installed for the mountains jersey. It's going to be a pure climber winning that jersey this year.
CN: Thanks for your time Scott and good luck in the Tour. We look forward to reading your diary!