Matt Conn spoke with Cameron Wurf the day of the Giro’s first mountaintop finish on the Monte Terminillo, Stage 8.
As another of the up and coming young Australians who has a big motor and likes to ride against the clock, Cameron Wurf is a little different in that he didn’t make his progression to the professional ranks on the road via a stint in his country’s endurance track program. Wurf does however know a thing or two about endurance sports, having represented Australia at the Athens Olympic Games in Men’s lightweight double sculls. Before we got onto talking about just how it was that he made the transition to dry land, we asked the Androni rider how things went on the foggy finish of the Giro’s eighth stage on Sunday.
PEZ: Today’s stage to Monte Terminillo looked hard with the finish up the Giro’s first real climb of 2010. How was it for you?
CW: It was actually really hard at the start. It seemed to take about 80km for the break to go and I was doing a lot of jumping to try and get in the move. Eventually we had riders make the break so I was left back to try and look after Scarponi for the rest of the stage.
PEZ: In the final today, Scarponi looked pretty good. How are things going there?
CW: Yeah he was jumping around a bit there at the finish, but he also needs to as he has some time to make up. We lost a bit in the TTT and he also had a bad day yesterday. I flatted at a bad time while we were working to get back to the front and then Michele actually fell off, so we didn’t have a great day yesterday.
PEZ: You appear to be a rider who does a lot of self analysis in public, via your Blog. Is that something you have brought with you from your rowing background?
CW: Definitely. In rowing there aren’t a lot of big races or events that you do, so it is vitally important that you go an analyses everything precisely and see where you went wrong and what you can do to improve next time. In cycling, every race is a big race and I still go thorough that process.
PEZ: Would it be fair to say that in cycling, though, you are not going for the win every time you pin on number?
CW: Absolutely. I have been fairly critical of myself and my performances and in the beginning it was hard to come to terms with the fact that you weren’t going to be successful every time you raced. It was hard for me to imagine that you could have a successful day when you didn’t win.
PEZ: You have had some satisfying team performances. Is that enough for you to be satisfied with your own performance now?
CW: This year has been good and a huge learning curve. In Tirreno it was really satisfying to work for Michele, even though he was rolled right at the end for the win. I finished in the last group every day but feel I rode really well. So I can look at that as a good performance, despite my personal result. I still would like though to have that opportunity to experience that feeling for myself and to take my own chances.
PEZ: What would you say is the biggest positive crossover from between rowing and cycling for you?
CW: Probably the team aspect is the thing that has helped me most in cycling. When I was rowing, the team aspect was vitally important, especially in the lead in to the Olympics. The pressure of that situation, was incredible but you had to remain on good terms with the guys you were rowing with and the also competing with for one of the two places in the boat. You needed to fit into the group, work well as a group and maintain those good relations throughout to make sure that you got the best performance out, no mater who you were rowing with. Many of those skills I have found important being part of a cycling team.
PEZ: What have you found to be the biggest difference (ignoring the obvious boat-water-bike argument) between the sports?
CW: One of the hardest things that I had to adjust to was the fact that in a bike race, it takes a lot of effort to be “in control”. In a rowing event, when your form is perfect, there isn’t a lot else that you have to worry about. There are eight lanes if guys doing their thing at the same time, but in isolation. The fastest and best prepared gets to the finish first. In cycling, there are up to 200 guys all fighting for the same few metres of tarmac. I found myself not being able to influence the outcome of the race. Due to the strength and the experience of the other guys I was racing with, I was being forced to do what they wanted to do in the race and not what I wanted. One of my goals is to get myself to the point where I am one of the ones making the decisions in a race.
PEZ: It must be nice not to have to drag yourself out of bed at 5.00am to go training any more?
CW: True, but it wasn’t that bad really and I don’t mind getting out on the bike for an early start. One thing that has definitely carried over from my rowing however, is that the rain really doesn’t worry me. I don’t like days when there is a light drizzle as it makes the road slippery, but days like Saturday’s 7th stage when it was pouring, don’t phase me at all. I had a lot of years when I had to train and race in the wet, so it’s no bother.
Making The Move Off The Water
Wurf works with one of cycling’s most respected trainers in Aldo Sassi. As part of our discussions on how he made his way into the sport, we asked him how he came to know the man who runs the famed Mapei Training Centre in Italy.
CW: It all started through Cadel Evans, actually. I was at a pre-Olympics screening camp in Ballarat in Australia in 2008 and I was out training with Cadel and it ended up being just the two of us. I managed to knock him off his bike and well, that sort of broke the ice between us. In the end we found we had similar interests in cars and I got to talking about an XU1 Torana [Cameron assured us vehicularly challenged folk at Pez that this is in fact a type of car] that my Dad had recently sold and through my Dad I was able to help Cadel in trying to find a similar one for himself.
Cadel also gave me some advice on my bike position, which was along the lines of “God your position is terrible!” When I moved to Europe, he already had me booked into the Mapei centre for a bio-mechanical analysis and I also did some tests there. That was in early 2008 and then I finally got around to answering Aldo Sassi’s email during July and in August he agreed to take me on, partly because he was interested in the different physiology that I had from my years as a rower.
PEZ: How exactly did you get into cycling. Was it something that you were already doing as part of your rowing training for extra fitness?
No not at all. I had a wrist injury while I was based out of the AIS centre in Varese and when I wasn’t able to row, Shayne Bannan organised a road bike and an ergo for me for three weeks. When I returned to Australia, my dad actually bought me an ergo for my birthday and I continued to use it to maintain my fitness. I was advised not to row the Worlds that year, but did anyway. Representing my country has always been a huge thing for me and even though we came fourth, I ended up doing more damage to my wrist in the process. I ended up racing the Australian Road Nationals at the start of 2007 and finished fourth.
For a newcomer to the sport with no racing experience, that must have been a very pleasing result?
CW: That’s what everyone else seemed to think too, but I was really disappointed. I had been training with an SRM power meter and my numbers for the day of the race were way down on what I had been producing in training. When I looked at what I did and what I knew I could have done, I didn’t really look on it as a good result. It did get me noticed, however and when the Shayne Bannan and Kevin Tabotta approached me about being part of the cycling program, I told them “sure, but..” and looking back now it was probably a really arrogant thing to say to the head of the national program, I told them that I was only interested in riding if they would consider me for Olympic Selection. They said yes, so I said yes and here I am.
PEZ: You started out racing in the US. How was it that you came to be in Europe?
CW: I already had contact with a team in the US prior to my result in 2007. That fourth place got me a few more offers, but I went to Priority Health Cycling Team and my first race was the Tour of Georgia where I went quite well and then I rode another NRC event and went well there too. I felt, however, that I really wanted to be in Europe. That was cycling to me and that was what I wanted to do, so for the last few months of the season, I actually came over to Italy and raced with the amateurs.
From there I got may place in the Volksbank-Corratec team and after one year I signed with ProTour outfit Fuji.
PEZ: What happened while you were there? You left after only one season.
CW: I had a really good start to the year and did some good races, but then I started getting sick and as the year went on I got worse and worse and worse. Eventually I went and had a blood test and was diagnosed with glandular fever and I didn’t race for the last four months of the year. For 2010, there were going to be a lot of changes at the team with a new name, new sponsors etc and I guess after my finish to the year, they didn’t want to take the risk with me for 2010.
PEZ: But Androni did take “the risk”?
Thanks to my good friend, journalist Jeff Quenet, Gianni Savio knew who I was and had seen me put in a good performance at Langkawi in 2009. He agreed to take me on with no pressure. I would be able to start my season when I was ready, and so I am racing for Androni and that’s also why I had a late start to the year this season.
PEZ: So apart from cars that you mentioned earlier, what else interests you away from the bike?
CW: I completed my university degree in Finance-Economics in 2008 and would like to explore that further. I really found out last year when I was sick that in this sport, when you are ill or injured there is a lot of time to sit around and think and that can actually be a bad thing. When everything else is going bad you get quite run down and need to other things going on to keep your mind off things. The guys and I often have discussions about investments and other things related to setting up for a future after cycling and I have also had discussions about doing some work experience in the field when my cycling permits. I really would like to move back into that area when I finish racing, so am trying to get as much experience now as my time permits.
PEZ: This year you have moved to Monaco. How has that change been?
CW: It has been really, really good. There is a good group of guys there as well as some from Tasmania. My training group normally consists of Wes Sulzberger, Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd as we all like to head out around the same time every day. It has made a huge difference to me this year living in the same place as these guys.
Is it an additional motivation to see how well the other Australians are going at the Giro?
It’s a huge boost to me. If you take a guy like Richie [Porte], he’s going fantastically well. We actually rode together in many of the same amateur races for the three month period when I first came over from the US and we have been pretty close that whole time. To see him go and do that is inspiring for me and I’m sure too for the other Aussie riders in the race as well.
PEZ: Michele Scarponi was one of the pre-race favourites and still riding well after this first week, so you will have more work to do for the team, but what are your personal goals for this Grand Tour?
CW: My first goal is to do and be able to do everything that is asked of my by the team. That is normally getting into the breakaways and if I don’t make the break, then I have to stay with Michele as long as I can and do whatever he needs me to do. A huge goal for me, however, is to get to the finish and be stronger. I don’t just want to struggle to the finish. I want to come out of this race and know what I am capable of and then use that experience to look at what I will then know I am capable of doing in other races.
We wish Cameron all the best for the rest of the Giro and if you want to keep up to date with what he is up to over the coming weeks, check out his Blog and keep it tuned to Pez.