PEZ: I have read that Steve Bauer and Bernard Hinault were influences of yours. Tell me, what was it about Hinault that interested you?
Gord Fraser: One of the earliest races that I saw was when Bauer joined La Vie Claire and he was riding with Hinault. What strikes me most is when Hinault crashed and broke his nose and he crossed the line with blood streaming down his face. That type of thing, that character that he showed was moving for me – just the fact that he probably was the last rider like that.
Gord took a huge win over Freddie Rodriguez at Trenton this year. One part of his HealthNet team’s clean sweep of the three race Wachovia Series.
I haven’t been in Europe for a long time, and I don’t know the affect Lance had on the Peloton. Hinault was the Patron of the Peloton. I just don’t think you will see another rider have that type of influence that he seemed to have. Following Hinault, that experience of trying to find magazines that covered European cycling back in the 80’s when I first started out, cycling was a ‘still’ sport.
There wasn’t very much on video. You know the Tour that we got was on CBS. The Tour was not as well covered as it is today. Following the Tour back then was kind of exotic. The European classics were captured in stills for me. There was kind of a mystique to it. He kind of was the top of that mystical place to race your bike. It was nice to finally get over there and race. When I was an amateur, I won a big classic in Brittany. It was in Bernard Hinault’s hometown.
You know it is funny, years later when I won a stage in Criterium International which is a Sociйtй du Tour de France race, Hinault remembered that I won that race in his home town. I thought that retention was pretty impressive to know what amateur won your hometown race. He is pretty high up, and he is definitely one of the riders that will always be a hero of mine. To this day, when I see him, he’s just got that panache.
HealthNet went 1-2 in the final stage of the Tour of Georgia with Fraser winning and Greg Henderson following in 2nd.
PEZ: Do you remember when Hinault came over to the US for the Coors Classic in 1985?
Gord: I remember that he came over and there were some photographs of him in a cowboy hat, or some sort of a Western theme shot. He seemed to enjoy his time discovering America.
PEZ: Viatcheslav Ekimov commented that when he first started racing, the peloton would race fast only when they had to – for example to catch a break away, or for sprint points. Now though, the peloton races fast all of the time. Your thoughts on this?
Gord: I think that the riders realize that they have certain races where they can get results. There is always somebody taking the opportunity. In the early season races back in the day, a lot of guys would kind of ride into shape but the opportunities for someone like the lesser and younger riders, they understand that winning a stage in Mallorca or the Etoile de Bessиges or some of the early season races can go a long way, and this might be their only chance because they will have to start working for the main riders in the Classics and the bigger stage races.
Gord usually starts winning early – this year was no exception – taking a fine sprint win at the San Dimas Stage Race.
It seems like the lower riders, the average domestique kind of riders or young riders are taking their shots anywhere they can, so that leads for fast racing all year round. Maybe there is some more pressure from the teams to get results. The small French teams are taking their shots. When I was in Spain, the small Spanish teams were always lighting it up right from the gun, which was king of unnerving to the bigger teams.
PEZ: Let’s talk about your days with Motorola. Tell me what your role was back then and what you have learned from that experience.
Gord: I didn’t have a real defined role. Looking back on it, I probably should have picked up on things a lot quicker than I did. I certainly was not given any benefit of the doubt regarding my abilities. So, it was kind of a sink or swim type of thing.
If I had known then what I know now, I probably could have made a larger contribution to that team. I certainly didn’t feel like the team was willing to go the extra mile to help my development. I probably should have figured things out a lot sooner on my own.
Having said that, I had some great teammates. In particular Frankie Andreau was very, very helpful to me. He seemed to be responsible for any good result that I had. Frankie was there at some point, helping me or giving me a lead out. So that was really great. I appreciate everything he did for me.
Fraser on the podium in 2004 as the winner of the Points Classification.
When I first turned pro with Motorola, Lance was already World Champion. Watching a rider of his age being kind of this public figure, and how he handled it was very impressive. Already in 1994 he was 23 and a World Champion, and you could tell that he was destined for bigger and better things. His maturity and the way that he handled all of the extra things that go with being a celebrity.
For example, we would pull up and everyone would just want to see him and the World Champions jersey. It was very impressive how he handled that. Being put in that organization, and the professionalism of it was also something that has yet to be matched with any team that I have been on in terms of staff and the operations. Having the opportunity to race all of those big races.
I didn’t get a chance to ride the Tour obviously because I was such a low man on the totem poll, but I was able to race Paris-Roubaix and Flanders, trying to help George or Lance. So that was a great opportunity. I just wish I had some better instincts, because I probably could have done a little better with it. A bit of regret there, but it was a great opportunity.
PEZ: You are known as a team leader: what skills and qualities do you consider important in a team leader, and how do you show that to the team?
Gord: I think just by the experience and the confidence that an older rider shows. We have a lot of leaders on the team. So we all bring a different flavor. We have Sayers who is super intense, and if guys are slacking he will whip them into shape just because he is a very competitive guy. Moninger is a leader because he is 39 years old and you know what you are going to get from him. He is the ultimate professional. He is very thorough with his preparation and many younger riders can do well by emulating the example that he sets – just his pre-race rituals and his consistency.
Gord beat Mario Cipollini in a straight-up sprint at the 2004 Tour of Georgia – that’s not too bad.
The thing that I bring to the team is just the fact that I like pressure. I have always had some pressure to deliver results. It is something that I embrace. I don’t always rise to the challenge. I might not always deliver but I certainly never back away from it. And I think that is a hard characteristic to develop in a rider. We all bring leadership qualities to the table, and we are all different personalities. There are many guys on this team that lead in one way or another. Hopefully the young guys will clue into that and try to emulate.
PEZ: When you watch racing like the Tour de France on TV, what do you look watch specifically?
Gord: If I am watching Tour coverage, obviously I get into the bunch sprints. Most people are waiting for the mountains, so they can watch Lance and his team destroy everyone. I really take a special interest to the sprints and all of the tactics leading up to the sprints. Certain examples like how many teams are chasing, how hard they are chasing, the amount of time they are trying to bring back from the break, the lead outs, how that is playing out.
I think that many people might have missed the fact that Julian Dean, one of my ex-teammates from Mercury, had a phenomenal Tour in 2004 and he was certainly a dramatic influence on the way the sprints were played out. That was really exciting for me watching guys that I have been teammates with have a profound affect on the biggest race.
On the podium at the 2005 Tour of Georgia after winning the Final Stage in Alpharetta.
The year before it was Baden Cooke. Henk Vogels ‘discovered’ Baden and brought him to Mercury and he has gone on to great achievements. So to watch the guys that have come up through the ranks especially with the teams that I have raced with has been really rewarding, and I feel a sense of almost pride in a way watching these guys. It might sound silly because they are achieving more that I ever did over there, but Floyd is another case in point. Watching with great interest the friends and the former teammates that I have had has been really great. I also like knowing who won before I watch, so I can follow his progress.
I actually pick up a lot of pointers watching the Giro. In particular the stage that Fred Rodriguez won was a fantastic lesson in sprinting. The courage that he showed to take a chance, and risk everything, even risk losing the sprint by jumping early and just taking it to Petacchi, that was great for me to watch that because it showed it can be done. I complimented him on that and then he went on to beat me in Trenton.
I am a fan still. I love watching the Tour. It is good for the sport that OLN is showing so much on TV. They used to show a few more domestic events. Lets hope we can provide a product that is sellable in the future.
PEZ: Gord, thanks for talking with us and good luck next season!
For more stories on the HealthNet’s wildly successful 2005 campaign, check out the Team HealthNet presented by Maxxis website.
Interested in a November training camp in lovely Tucson, Arizona with Gord Fraser? Check out Gord’s new Training Camp.