Race distance was a dry and dusty 190 kilometres; 57.2 kilometres of it on gravel roads – the ‘strade bianche’ – with 3000 metres of climbing, and a lot of that occurring with no tarmac under the rider’s tyres. Thomas Lovkvist (Columbia & Sweden) was first into historic Sienna’s beautiful Campo – scene of the legendary horse race.
PEZ: Who was nominated leader in the team?
Dan: Me, sort of, the DS asked if I wanted protected status, but I thought that it was a bit too early for me to ask riders of the stature that are on this team to ride for me. I said that I’d let him know once we were on the road; as it happened the break went early, so at the start we were just watching and waiting.
Martijn had a fantastic ride in 2008, but bad luck put paid to his chances this time around.
Martijn: Ryder Hesjedal (Canada) and me, but we agreed that it was an open card and if someone felt good then they should go for it.
PEZ: What was the team plan?
Dan: The usual, if the early break had a decent number of riders in it then we should cover it, if there’s four or five, don’t bother because it’s a suicide job. Then keep as many riders at the front as possible for the gravel sections; in the end we had seven out of a group of 50, but we didn’t dictate the race.
Ryder and Martijn were the co-leaders, but after Martijn crashed, it was up to Ryder.
Martijn: Like I said, if anyone was feeling good, then we would ride for them, in the end though, it was Ryder and I who had the best positions – until I crashed on the sixth section.
PEZ: Tell us about the difficult moments.
Dan: Because I wasn’t riding with confidence, I wasn’t fighting as hard to be at the front coming into the gravel sections as I should have; that cost me a lot of energy. There was one gravel descent where I was on Pozzato’s wheel and he wasn’t taking it too well, with the result that I had to chase on the next climb to get back – the energy I used there was my finishing burst. I was delayed too, an LPR rider was coming backwards through the race and when I moved to get round him, he changed direction; I had to stop, put my foot down, then a Garmin guy rode into me. But it’s my first year in a big team and my first Eroica, so I’ve learned a lot from the experience.
Martijn: I was with the lead group until the crash, on the sixth section of gravel; a Cervelo guy had gone off the road and then bumped back on to it again in front of me, I rode into him and went down. I crashed in the Algarve a few weeks ago and the wound took a long time to heal; this has opened it up again.
PEZ: What about the parcours?
Dan: I came from a mountain bike background, so this is a nice race for me, there’s nothing stupid, the roads aren’t that crazy but the gravel climbs tend to be a lot longer than you think they’re going to be. People compare this race to Paris – Roubaix, but it’s nothing like it; there’s 3000 metres of climbing, with a lot of that on the gravel, sometimes as long as three K at a time.
Martijn: It was dry, it was OK, it’s not like riding the cobbles, some sections of gravel are rougher than others, it’s more the constant climbs – they come one after another; Tuscany isn’t flat!
PEZ: ‘Tricks of the trade?’
Dan: With a mountain bike background, you learn always to be looking for the best lines; the hardest surface is where you want to be riding – some of the gravel sections are very long, up to 12 K. And it’s all front wheel braking; I had virtually no front brake blocks left by the finish.
Would you care for some dust with that swig from your water bottle? Or perhaps some dust in your eyes and ears?
Martijn: There are a lot of dangerous descents, you have to be very concentrated and choose the best lines; sometimes that’s on the inside of the bend, but it might be on the outside, so you have to be watching all the time.
PEZ: Who was impressive?
Dan: No one stood out, I was keeping an eye on O’Grady (Stuart of Saxo Bank & Australia) but I don’t think he was on a good one, today.
No one stood out, but Lovkvist wasn’t bad!
Martijn: There was no stand out; Cancellara was head and shoulders last year, Gerdemann (Linus of Milram & Germany) was strong, but I think it was a much more open race, this year.
PEZ: Any special equipment?
Dan: No, just 24mm Vittoria tyres which are designed for the cobbles; apart from that it was just my usual bike.
Looong stretches of strade bianche characterize this one of a kind race.
Martijn: I was on my normal bike but with special Zipp wheels which they’ve designed for Paris – Roubaix; we were testing them here. We were running 24 mm tyres on those.
PEZ: The finish is pretty tricky.
Dan: It’s technical, twisty, but it’s been whittled down by then, so it’s not really dangerous. It’s very up and down though with the last section bumpy on big sandstone slabs – it’s a beautiful place to finish a race, though.
Daniel continued his fantastic early 2009 with a stellar 9th place finish in Siena.
Martijn: This year it’s different, they’ve put in an additional climb in the last kilometre. There’s a tight turn with 100 metres to go, if you want to win, you have to be round that first.
PEZ: What’s next?
Dan: Tirreno starts on Wednesday; we have a long training ride tomorrow then two easy days into the race.
Martijn: Tomorrow we go to Pisa and train a little, then on Monday we’ll have a long ride, looking at the first stage of the Tirreno; it’ll be an easy day on Tuesday then the race on Wednesday.
No rest for those wicked pros!
With thanks to Dan and Martijn for their time and wishing them, ‘all the best’ in Tirreno.