A Chance In The Finale
2006 has seen a shake up in the team that his included the introduction of some real Grand Tour contenders in both stage win and overall terms. How has this affected a rider like Rubens and how does he perceive the team to have changed in comparison with other years? “Maybe last year was a little bit more free… This year we will do the Giro with Gilberto and the whole team will be working for him. We will try to help him.” After speaking with the other riders and staff during the camp, it is clear that the Giro is probably the top objective for the team in 2006; but what of the other races, after all, as Saunier doctor Inigo pointed out, there are 250 days of racing for the team. “In some ways it will be mostly the same [as previous years]” said Rubens. “I may still get some races to myself, a chance to go in the breakaway or maybe try in the finale.”
So what kind of races appeal to the Swiss rider? “I like the first Classics in the season very much, like Liege-Bastogne-Liege, even though this year I probably won’t do it as I’m trying to make a programme for the Giro d’Italia so I’ll be doing all the stage races.” I was interested to find out what his specific objectives were leading up to the big race. “For me, the Tour of Romandie and the Tour of Switzerland in which I’ve won before. I really hope to win a stage in the Tour of Romandie. I always go there well-prepared but have missed out on a stage. Two years ago they caught me in the last kilometre.”
Caught In The Closing Stages
A breakaway caught in the closing stages of a race provides one of the most exciting spectacles for fans, but how does it affect the rider who lost out on a chance of victory within spitting distance of the line? “It’s not easy because when I try something I go hard, but the competition, they are going really hard too. This year I hope to do better.”
A sentiment seems to pervade all of the professional cyclists I speak to; not particularly an unwillingness to dwell on the past, but an obsession with the future, with new opportunities. Perhaps this is what it takes to come back from the many setbacks and disappointments that characterise 99.9% of cycling careers. “I try to be realistic about my qualities” he said “about what I really can do in the race. When I think I have good form, I believe I can do well in any part of the race, a time trial or a mixed stage.”
But what about bad days, when the form is not so good? “I try to go to the maximum, to concentrate on an objective, to think about my goal.” The scientific approach to training has been a constant theme throughout the team. General manager Mauro Gianetti and team doctor Inigo San Millan are strong proponents of the new cycling‚ but I have encountered some riders in support and some riders with a more traditional style such as Gilberto Simoni. “I try to have a technical approach” said Rubens. “With my coach I train with heart rate but I also like to train with power because it is an important measurement.”
Rubens took the sprinters by complete surprise with a spectacular final K attack that netted him the huge win and the Maillot Jaune.
With regard to the coming season, I asked Rubens what he hoped to achieve. “The most important point in my career so far was the 2002 Tour de France when I won a stage. I really hope to return to that level. Though it’s not always simple. At the end of 2005 I think I was going as well as in 2002, but there was a lack of opportunities in races. In 2002 I had a very special year, everything went well, I had no problems, no crashes, no illnesses. Every year I hope to do better. I hope this year, I can do really well in one, two, or three races.”
Sometimes you need some alone time at camp.
An International Flavour
The team’s international flavour is a new characteristic in what has been a predominantly Spanish team in the past. What has this influx contributed? “It has brought more ideas, more ways of racing. It’s a very good team.” With the introduction of a definitive leader in the shape of Gilberto Simoni, how does this affect the way in which the team plans to race? “With the leaders in the race, it is more simple for the riders to be in the front of the group. Without a leader it is too easy to stay in the back. In stage races it is very important. You are there [at the front] with them, so it is easier maybe to do something for yourself. Like in the Tour de France  for example, on the last day when Vinokorov attacked, it was the right moment. I couldn’t follow him at the right moment. I had the legs to follow him but I couldn’t beat him in the sprint.”
Rubens has played a strong supporting role in the Saunier Duval team in recent seasons. I was interested to seek his opinion concerning whether the advent of the ProTour has increased the demands on riders. “In the small races, yes, like Tirreno Adriatico or Catalunya. Now they are more important. In races like the Giro d’Italia or the Tour de France it is always the same. They were important before.” Often we hear the severity of a seasons racing being quantified in terms of days racing. “I raced quite a lot last year, 95 days racing. Before with Lampre, I raced 110. I think this year will be less because we have many riders and the calendar is the same,” he said.
Many hands make light work baby!
Explaining Jokes To Americans
Despite the team’s regimented methods in terms of training, I sensed a relaxed atmosphere around the riders and staff. “It’s not like at a team like Liberty [Seguros] where Manolo Saiz is telling everyone what to do.” said Rubens. “Everyone here is professional, they know they have a job to do. After the training camp the riders will go home and it is their responsibility to make sure they are well-prepared for the races.”
So Aaron, did you hear that one about the three crazy Englishmen in the cornfield?
After observing some of the team’s fondness for joking around (the mischievous Piepoli springs to mind) I was keen to get the inside line on whether there had been any practical joking in the team. However, Rubens was a little too diplomatic and I’m suspicious that there have been some high jinx in Murcia. “In training everybody is concentrating on the training, but maybe at dinner someone will make a joke in Spanish and I will try to explain the jokes to the Americans. Everybody is enjoying the training camp.”
Gotta keep that brain from atrophying – reading is reported to help.
We often see the regimented, proficient mask of riders, but even top pros are people too. Off the bike, I was interested to find that he has a keen interest in reading. “I try to read a lot. Also, I am interested in reading books written in English to improve,” and finally, a few quick fire questions.
Swiss girls or Spanish girls? Well, my girlfriend is Italian so I’ll have to say Italian girls!
Espresso or Cappuccino? Cappuccino.
Pдella or Pizza? Pizza
So after a couple of interviews with the team, Cappuccino and Pizza and Italian girls are definitely coming out on top. Stay tuned to PEZ to see whether the feminine, caffeinated and culinary tide will turn with Aaron Olson, Charles Dionne interviews and the rest of our reports from the Saunier Duval-Prodir camp…
Check out more stories from the Saunier Duval-Prodir 2006 camp:
• David Millar Interview
• Gilberto Simoni Interview
• Saunier Duval Team Camp – Day 3
• Saunier Duval Team Camp – Day 2
• Saunier Duval Team Camp – Day 1
• SaunierDuvalTeam.com website.
• SCOTTUSA website.
• Scott CR-1 PEZ-Test.