A look back at a story i did on Tour de france leader Simon Gerrans a few years back, from Bicycling Australia
He’s an immensely gifted rider, and a true all-rounder – Simon Gerrans that is. The 28 year old from Jamieson has just entered his fourth year with a top European Pro Tour team, and his first with the French Credit Agricole squad after three very successful years with AG2R, another leading French team.
Prior to this Gerrans was an early extract of the AIS system, after having found his own way in Italy, and then later following on through the Ringerbike team in Norway and the elite U Nantes team in France. It’s been a long and varied road, but one that has grounded him well for the world of professional bike racing.
With a good and solid bag of wins and other good performances behind him he has become a prized rider, especially in France, where the style of racing seems to fit him like a glove. This year he has moved from a “near all French” establishment to the very “Anglofied” Credit Agricole team, which could well be seen as a stepping stone in his steady and sure career progression path.
Temperatures were sizzling, and the humidity stifling as the Credit Agricole team lined up for the Tour de Langkawi, hoping to retain the winner’s laurels they had gained last year through Anthony Charteau. But last year’s winner was absent, and wearing the coveted number one was Simon Gerrans, although his hopes were a little more open; “For me races like Langkawi are stepping stones to he bigger goals of the spring. I’m in good shape, and always come to race. I don’t have the best form, but if the chance arises then I will be going all out for a stage, or to help the team win.”
With the season of a Pro Tour rider being so long, certain sections of the season, and certain events have to be down prioritised; “You have to sit down with a sponsor and work out your mutual goals – they need to be similar. Luckily for me this was the case with Credit Agricole; my main aims are to be in shape for the last 2 classics (Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege), as they suit my abilities. Then it’s the Tour de France, Olympics and World Championships. Although this year the team have asked me to be in shape for the Dauphine Libre too, which is unusual for me but fine.”
With the “true” racing season beginning with the National Championships and Tour Down Under it makes for a long year; “I always try and take October off. I do no structured training, just the odd ride or so, and I also use this time to do gym work and put right any other issues; like dealing with injuries etc. After that I start training at a low intensity, to get into good enough shape to do Ok in the TDU, and then it’s into full swing.”
We all like to be in our best condition for racing, and as an amateur that’s much easier to do than as a pro, who has immense pressure and a heck of a lot of racing days each year. It must be hard going into a race knowing you are not at your peak? “I always try and have some kind of goal for a race; it may just be to get a good workout, to test yourself or to try something out. But we are all racers at heart, so if there is the chance of winning then I go for it. Here my aim is like many of the riders – to get some good training in the sun, not to get sick, and to come out of it in better shape than I went in.”
Things got off to a good start for the boys in green in the race; “We had a rider in the big break, which gave us a chance of an overall position, and Jeremy Hunt won a stage. It’s always good to get a win early on; it takes the pressure off and really helps morale. It was also good for Jez – I knew he could do it; he’s also new to the team, and it showed he could still do it. The team also worked really hard to get him in the position to win.”
Putting your entire team’s efforts behind a rider is a big gamble, how is that decided; “Sometimes it’s planned well in advance that a rider will aim for a certain race, and everything builds for that. But a lot of the time it’s down to a rider to put his hand up and say today I can do it, and I need some support.” It must take a lot of guts to stick your neck out that far; “Yeah, you need to have confidence and to be sure and honest. The first time I experienced it I had my director make the decision. I’d said months ahead that this particular race suited me, and in the pre race team briefing he said ok boys this one is down to Simon. I was quite taken aback, but luckily I won.”
We all know that decisions made on a start line don’t always pan out, how is this handled? “You have to be sure in the first place if you are asking for support. From then on instant decisions need to be made on the road. If you realise you are not as good as you thought you have to tell your team-mates straight away and a new plan is made. But sometimes it’s just a bad patch you are having, in which case you maybe just need some morale support from team mate – but that has to be decided on by everyone.” So often we see entire teams working for a rider, who simply does not achieve, how is this accepted? “It can go down pretty badly. If a rider simply does not say he is not up for it and everyone works for him then it’s frustrating. I have seen it happen at times.”
Mentally preparing for a race is often a very personal thing. Some riders find it wearing and stressful, while others seem to be incredibly relaxed. As a pro you race so many days each year that it must have to be managed? “You still always get that race buzz. But sure different races tend to mean different approaches. I have changed m approach over the years, and still often mix things. For my first Tour de France I didn’t even look at the race manual until the day before; simply because I knew it would psyche me out and the stress would be bad. But in other races, where I have a real eye on a result I am really focussed and take care of every detail, which keeps me calm.”
Attention to detail is something that plays a big part in Simon’s success, even in races like Langkawi, where a result isn’t always the main aim; “I asked a round a lot before this race, as a lot of rider get sick here – so I made extra special efforts to really watch my eating, and also to stay very well hydrated.”
But when you are looking for a result preparations is even more crucial; “I look well ahead with planning. When the Tour route is announced I look closely at the stages and see which ones will suit me, and also do the same with other races. Then I set about working towards them, training and preparing specifically, knowing every detail and arriving on the start line well prepared and ready to race. If everything has gone well it takes the pressure off and helps me to stay calm; it’s when things have not gone well in preparation that I get stressed.”
When things do go pear shaped, especially if it’s a long-term goal then it can be tough to recover; “The thing is to always try and remain positive, and to get something out of everything. Look at why things went wrong and try and rectify them – but don’t dwell on them. Maybe things were out of your control, in which case you have to move on and re-focus without thinking too much. You may see that you trained wrong, ate wrong, did something wrong tactically. These can all be treated as positive lessons.”
As Langkawi entered the crucial final hilly stage, and the overall showdown the team had had a good race, and Simon had adapted well to the roll of “domestique”, being the consummate professional; “If I am not at my best or another rider has a better chance then I will always work for them. We had Jean Marc Marino in with a chance of a top ten on GC, and had no real climber in the team. So my objective for the stage was to ride as fast as I could with him on the climb, to help him. He finished 20th on he stage – giving him 8th overall, so we were all satisfied, The team came away happy, and I came away with better shape – job done.”