The Tour of San Luis in Argentina grows in stature each year and this season it’s the tune up race of choice of Italian champion, Pippo Pozzato (Katyusha) and Tour contender, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) to name but two. The Shark’s – as Nibali’s fans call him – team mate, Brian Vandborg is Pez’s man on the spot – we spoke to him as the discs were still swishing in the stage four time trial.
They don’t call him the Shark for nothing. I actually just made that up.
PEZ: Brian, thank you for taking the time to talk to us; is this your first trip to Argentina?
Brian: No, I was here for this race last year – it’s a good event, there are no big cities, the transfers aren’t too bad and coming from the really bad weather we’ve had in Europe, to here – where it’s 35 degrees – is great.
PEZ: Liquigas got off to a great start with Francesco Chicchi winning stage one.
Brian: We knew he was in good shape; we arrived here a week early and could see that he was going well – he’d have taken stage three too, but he went just a little early.
On stage one, we took responsibility, along with Katyusha and set it up nicely for him.
Chicchi on top!
PEZ: Were you in the train?
Brian: I did a lot of work from 100 K in, but I did my last pull at around 3.5 K to go.
For stage three, we helped Fuji to control it, pulling the break back and keeping Chicchi up there.
PEZ: How are the roads?
Brian: Yesterday the roads were good, there were only about five corners in 200 kilometres, and one of those was an ‘S’ bend.
There were two turns in the last 1500 metres, so safe roads; some of the surfaces are a little rough, but it’s not so different from being in a European race.
PEZ: One hotel for the whole race?
Brian: Yeah, that’s pretty nice! It was a 230 K transfer after the race yesterday, but that’s the only real long one – the time trial start and finish, today is 50 metres from the hotel. We have an hour before and after the race on Friday, then two hours on Saturday; but no complaints.
Brian Vandborg before the start of last year’s Amstel Gold Race.
PEZ: What are the fans like?
Brian: They’re very ‘into’ the race, I’m not sure that they know exactly what’s going on, but they’re very enthusiastic.
I think that the city of San Luis is sponsoring the Argentinean team; San Luis is a good area to base yourself, if you’re a cyclist – there are flat roads, mountains and it’s not too busy.
In Buenos Aires, there are no mountains and it’s very busy, so I think that a lot of Argentinean racers base themselves here.
PEZ: Are the local riders safe?
Brian: This is their Grand Tour, the high light of their season and they’re in good shape; especially the Argentinean guys.
The racing isn’t as controlled as it is in Europe; there was a break away of five or six and the Cubans had three in it, they just kept firing guys up the road, the tactics are strange, if you’re used to European racing.
The standard is good, but we’re better organised, that shows in the sprints – but in the mountains it’s a pretty equal contest.
Vandborg had been hoping to make a break, but he’ll be protecting Nibali’s lead from here on out.
PEZ: What’s the Liquigas goal for the race?
Brian: It’s good preparation for the new season and we wanted a stage win – Nibali is out on the time trial course just now; so maybe we’ll be leading the overall by the end of the day, he’s in good shape.
PEZ: Stage two was a mountaintop finish.
Brian: That was tough! It wasn’t that long, but the road dragged up to the start of the climb.
Friday has the hardest climb, 9.5 K and very steep; there are18 K after the summit to the finish, but it’s not really downhill.
Saturday is a mountaintop finish, but Sunday’s not so bad, it will suit Chicchi.
PEZ: Valls from Footon-Servetto won; a surprise?
Brian: Definitely! I’d never heard of him, but he was going fast and strong. What helped him was that everyone was watching Rasmussen and Nibali – but he was certainly going well.
Pippo, Mazzanti, and Nibali get together for a little pre-race photo op.
PEZ: How’s Nibali going?
Brian: He’s got good condition and . . . excuse me, he’s just about to finish the time trial!
The TV is turned up and a Spanish commentator works himself into frenzy, as I listen down the phone line.
Yeah, he’s just taken the lead, there are four guys to come, but I don’t think they’ll beat him.
His big goal this year is the Tour; Basso and Pellizotti are our riders for the Giro.
The racing in Argentina has been perfect for January.
PEZ: Loddo from Androni Giocattoli won stage three; another surprise?
Brian: Yeah, but he’s a good sprinter; he knew he had to stick to Napolitano (Katyusha), he did that and he was a little lucky because Chicchi went just a bit too early. But Loddo is good; he’s had 30 wins (including five stages in the 2007 Langkawi) in his career. They’re the three best sprinters in the race; they were well clear at the line.
PEZ: Are the sprints wild?
Brian: Normally I don’t get involved in sprints, with the elbows and all that! But here it’s not like that; we took control along with Katyusha and I think that’s made it a lot safer.
PEZ: How has Rasmussen been received back into the peloton?
Brian: His story has been discussed so much in the Danish press that I don’t want to talk about what happened; but his penalty should have been two years, not two-and-a-half years.
I know him, we’re both Danish; he’s a nice guy, that helps him a lot and I think that most riders have no problems with him being back.
PEZ: Pippo seems to be going well.
Brian: He’s got such enormous power, he’s been leading Napolitano out right into the last 500 metres; he’s a little bit behind where he needs to be for the Classics – but not much.
PEZ: How was the stage four time trial?
Brian: It wasn’t technical, more or less out and back – tough into the wind, but it was very fast back – never less than 60 kph.
Right on cue, the TV blasts again, Jeez that Spanish commentator can talk fast! Yes, Nibali has won the time trial and taken the lead in the GC.
PEZ: What are your goals for the race, Brian?
Brian: It was to get in a break; but now it looks like I’ll be trying to defend that jersey to the end – and looking after Chicchi for the last stage!
Brian will be chatting to us again, after the finish, on Sunday – can ‘The Shark’ remain king of the deep, right to the end? keep it Pezzed! #