Fredrik Kessiakoff Interview: Beating Cancellara in Suisse TT, ready for likely debut Tour ride
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Monday, June 18, 2012

Fredrik Kessiakoff Interview: Beating Cancellara in Suisse TT, ready for likely debut Tour ride

by Ed Hood at 4:23 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
Astana rider’s career on the up after big time trial result

Fredrik KessiakoffOne of the big surprises of the Tour de Suisse was the defeat inflicted by Astana’s Swedish ex-mountain biker Fredrik Kessiakoff on Olympic time trial champion and current ‘Chrono King,’ Fabian Cancellara in the stage seven 34.3 kilometre time trial.

Cancellara came unstuck with prodigy Peter Sagan in the race’s prologue but was expected to restore honour in the mid-race stage against the clock.

It was not to be as Kessaikoff, twice a podium finisher in the Swedish elite time trial championship, proved too quick for Cancellara and handed disappointment to the partisan home crowd. It was a huge result for him, and a blow to his rival who always likes to perform at home.

Prior to his role as ‘Cancellara tamer,’ the 32 year old is perhaps best known as the man who took and held yellow in last year’s Tour of Austria on the fearsome Grossglockner stage.

He grabbed the jersey on stage two which finished atop the brutal 1670 metre ascent of the Kitzbuheler Horn; and then he and his team defended it all the way to the finish.

It took the affable Swede three seasons to break through as a road rider; but he did so in the grand style – alone at the top of a berg to take yellow.

Kessiakoff originally came late to the pro peloton after many years as a top line off-road exponent. He was a multiple Swedish champion and top performer in World Cups.

But in 2009 he swapped fat tyres for skinny ones and took the plunge with Mauro Gianetti’s Fuji-Servetto Pro Tour team.

In his neo-pro year he rode a packed programme which included Langkawi, Pais Vasco, Romandie, the Giro, Tour of Poland and the Vuelta, with a top ten on GC in Romandie showing his potential as a multi-stage rider.

A shift to Garmin for 2010 was disappointment due to illness, but 2011 saw the man from Nacka begin to exploit his true potential with Astana.

As well as his Austrian success, he enjoyed a spell very close to the top of the Vuelta GC in 2011 before illness ended that dream.

VeloNation caught up with him today, one day after the Swiss Tour finished. He reflected on the performance and also on other aspects.

VeloNation: Before we discuss Switzerland, tell us about last year’s Vuelta – you were very well placed.

Fredrik Kessiakoff: I caught something and had a fever for a couple of days; I was very ill but recovered sufficiently to finish the race – but I had lost my GC place. At the time it was very disappointing because I was in a very good position.

But looking back I view it as a positive experience because prior to that I had never ridden well in a Grand Tour at that level. So my performance gave me encouragement for the future.

VN: What were your goals going in to the Tour of Switzerland?

FK: To be honest, I was just looking to get some race days in so as I could go to the next level. I’ve been behind again, this year – but I’ve identified it as allergies.

It was at this stage of the year, last season that I started to feel energised and come good. But you need race days, you can’t simulate them.

VN: You rode a good prologue in Switzerland, netting fifth. Did that give you encouragement for the full distance time trial to come?

FK: Not really, it wasn’t the usual prologue course; we had one kilometre of flat then a two kilometre climb and a technical descent after it. I expected the time trial stage to be one for the specialists, the guys who can pull a lot of watts and stay aero.

But it was actually a parcours which suited me, with climbs, descents and fast but technical sections.

VN: You were fifth in the time trial in Tirreno; is it something you’ve been working on?

FK: No, I haven’t been specifically working on it; I think it’s something that I think have from my mountain biking days.

There’s no draft, no tactics, no help from other riders – your legs have to do the talking!

Fredrik KessiakoffVN:

It’s said that MTB guys usually make good TT riders?

FK: That’s the case on a course like the one in Switzerland, but not so much where it’s your ‘typical’ time trial – 50 kilometres and flat with no corners.

VN: Your position looks good; have you been in the wind tunnel?

FK: No, but I’ve had some feedback on that aspect and have been experimenting with my position on the bike and with things like how I should hold my head. I’ve been looking at the specialist time trial riders and how they look on the bike.

VN: Is Astana a ‘techie’ team like Sky or Garmin?

FK: Yes and no.

In many ways it’s very Italian and they’re not so much into the detail. The DS expects you – as a professional – to turn up at races in good condition.

But on the other hand, with Specialized we have a very hi-tech and innovative company as one of sponsors. I feel that perhaps some riders focus too much on that kind of detail. What matters more is your base and your training.

I think that for young riders it’s perhaps good that everything is analysed – but for me, ‘old school’ is best. The DS has confidence in you to be in good shape, and then you let your legs do the talking.

VN: Are you an ‘equipment guy?’

FK: I’ve changed a lot from when I was a mountain biker. I used to be into every detail – tyre pressures, light weight components . .

But the equipment is so good now that you don’t have to worry about it. I’d rather focus on training and recovery than spending time in a cold garage messing around with bikes. But all of that said, I still have my old habits – I check my brakes, quick releases and tyre pressure before every race.

VN: Have the UCI rules on time trial bike positions caused you any hassles?

FK: No, my saddle position and handlebar reach are all within the permitted limits. But my opinion is that if the UCI make rules then they should stick to them and they should be applied uniformly at all races.

Just now it’s inconsistent. You might show up at a race and your bike, which was fine at the last race, doesn’t comply – you shouldn’t be worried that you’ll be surprised like that.

VN: Tell us about your time trial philosophy.

FK: I always ride the course before hand – and during that time I’ll be thinking about what gear I’ll ride, whether it’s a big ring or small ring climb and how best to carry speed through corners.

For the time trial in Switzerland, I asked the mechanic not to show the display on my SRM. The SRM is a great tool and I train and race with it all the time, but I didn’t want it as a distraction during my effort.

I just wanted to go as hard as I could. I didn’t want my heart rate or watts to dictate my pace to me – I wanted to follow my sensations, not the other way round.

Maybe you’ve decided to ride at 178 beats, but on the day, maybe you could achieve 188 – the training and racing sensations from my body have always been very important to me.

VN: It’s not just anyone who has beaten Fabian Cancellara in a time trial…

FK: Lots have guys have come up to me and said the same thing, or told me that this specialist guy or that one has never beaten him. With hindsight, I’m happy that I beat him…after all, he’s probably the best time trial rider in the world.

But it was a good day and a good course for me, and what I’m proud of too is that we weren’t far apart on the road. So the weather didn’t favour either of us.

It was an honest result, like when I won the stage in the Tour of Austria which gave me the lead. It was the toughest stage of the entire race – I win when I’m 100% and turn myself inside out.

VN: You’ve been third twice in the Swedish elite TT championship – is that a goal now?

FK: No, I won’t ride; it’s 50 kilometres and absolutely flat – so different from Switzerland. I’ll give that one to Gustav Larsson; I wouldn’t beat him on that course.

VN: And what about the Olympic and Worlds time trials?

FK: No, again they’re for the specialists – but in future, maybe, we’ll see.

VN: Will you be defending your Tour of Austria title?

FK: It’s still to confirm but I think I’ll actually be going to the Tour de France. It’s not 100% certain, but it’ll be a nice step in my career.

I’ve ridden the Giro and Vuelta, but I feel that my career as a rider won’t be 100% complete until I’ve ridden the Tour de France.


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