Back to that previous winner’s list at Westrozebeke though – ‘We need to talk to the man about this one’ we thought to ourselves – but best wait ‘til after the BMC rider’s home race, the Tour of Utah.
PEZ: You finished 10th in Utah Jeff, are you happy with that?
Jeff Louder: Yeah, I’m pretty happy, the race has gone up a big step and I think a podium would have been a pretty tall order.
Top 10 was my goal and I achieved that.
PEZ: The Colombians from Gobernacion de Antioquia provided the surprise package.
JL: We expected that they would be good, they’re a group of guys you don’t see much in the US – although we knew they’d be good at altitude.
They were an unknown quantity, there have always been stand out Colombian guys – but to have a whole team at that level was pretty challenging.
PEZ: Has Utah become too hard?
JL: I don’t think so, there just wasn’t enough depth to the field; there was a 25% DNF on the last day – but it’s not like you’re climbing the Galibier and l’Alpe d’Huez!
I think it’s a good race for up and coming young climbers to come against the top guys – there aren’t a lot of places where that can happen.
PEZ: You won the race in 2008, how much has it changed since then?
JL: The parcours haven’t really changed but the quality of the field has; 2008 was one of my best years as far as my physical condition goes and I don’t think I’m that far behind that level, this year – but instead of winning I placed 10th.
The standard of promotion gets better every year and it’s a very professionally run race.
PEZ: You ride well at altitude; you’ve had some strong performances in the Qinghai Lakes in China.
JL: The Lake sits at 3,000 metres and the mountains climb from there – I don’t see myself as a good climber but I can climb well at altitude.
PEZ: And the upcoming Colorado race is even higher.
JL: I haven’t spent much time there but if you think that we were crossing passes at 8,000 feet in Utah – in Colorado we’ll be going over passes at 12,500 feet.
From what I’ve heard, the gradients aren’t as steep, maybe 5% as opposed to 7% in Utah but they’re much longer so difficult in a different way – and of course there’s the altitude factor which makes it a completely different deal.
PEZ: Let’s go from Colorado to Westrozebeke 2002.
JL: That was my one big victory in Belgium; at that time I’d been living and racing there for five years so I knew the races and the kermises with their attacking style suited me.
I was with Landbouwkrediet and under the wing of Michel Vanhaecke – he was a good one day racer, he won Nokere Koerse, the Championship of Flanders and was on the podium of the Belgian elite championships and Het Nieuwsblad.
He was a good guy, taking the young American pro under his wing and advising him on training.
I did a lot of work for him in races and I think that day at Westrozebeke was his way of repaying me.
Before the start he’d said that we could do well and that I could win – that prediction gave me a lot of confidence and he coached me through the day.
I made the selection and won on my own – but it was a unique day in Belgium; 40 degrees, baking hot, and I was just back from Utah, training at altitude and was in good shape.
In the US people don’t really understand about the kermises; they’re hard fought races.
PEZ: How did you get the Landbou gig?
JL: That team has been around forever in one form or another, Gerard Bulens is the manager – it was Tonissteiner-Colnago in 2000 and became Landboukrediet –Conago in 2001.
I was riding for an amateur team near Ostende, just doing my own thing and was getting a few results – that caught the eye of the guy who had the local bike shop, he helped me and another US guy get a ride with a small amateur club.
We got a bike, jersey, lived with a family and it raised my level, I got three wins so that gave me an intro to Gerard.
The day before we met I’d actually won a race – that kinda sealed the deal and I turned pro.
My dream had come true and I was with them for three seasons.
PEZ: Then you had three seasons with Navigators?
JL: Landbou was like university for me, learning the ropes.
With Navigators I rode a good programme, in the US and Europe – and we rode races like Qinghai and Beauce.
PEZ: Then two years with HealthNet?
JL: Again, the programme was good, the first year we did the Peace Race and Dunkirk; but the big thing about Heath Net was that I came into contact with guys like Scott Moninger and Mike Sayers who taught me a lot and helped me evolve as a rider.
PEZ: And these last four seasons with BMC.
JL: I came to the team in 2008 and it was apparent that it was a team on the ‘up’ – well organised with a good infrastructure.
In 2009 the goal was to ride the Tour in 2011 – but we actually rode in 2010 and won it in 2011.
It’s been rapid progress and I’ve seen the riders and staff grow.
PEZ: I’ve heard you’re not renewing with BMC for 2012?
JL: What you’ve heard is true, I have irons in the fire and I have to do what’s best for my family – this is my job and I have to find options that suit my lifestyle.
My daughter is just starting pre-school for instance and I want to be around for that.
Things are looking good and I’ll still be on the bike – I still have the passion and I think have a lot to offer in developing young riders.
PEZ: You’ve been around the US domestic race scene for a long time – how has it changed?
JL: It’s really evolved; there have been a few hiccups on the way, but it has definitely grown and become better.
I turned pro in Europe and didn’t know much about the US scene – but it was smaller back then and the biggest races were pro-ams.
You had a couple of strong teams which dominated; I rode Georgia with Navigators and you could see the bar beginning to raise – small teams stepping up to become Continental teams.
You could see the evolution continue, teams getting that much better with a whole lot more depth – not just pros on paper and not just about two teams.
Now we have three big stage races attracting international fields and the young US guys can cut their teeth against some of the best riders in the world – look at how riders like Andrew Talansky and Matthew Busche have developed.
I’m a little jealous of the young guys starting out, now.
PEZ: Unfinished business?
JL: A national championship, I’ve been very close a few times, there are a lot of things I haven’t done in cycling, but the main thing I’d still like to do is to pull on a national champion’s jersey.
With thanks to Jeff for his time and also to Sean Weide of BMC for setting the interview up.