Fredrik Kessiakoff Interview: Vuelta TT winner on his career-best season
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Friday, September 7, 2012

Fredrik Kessiakoff Interview: Vuelta TT winner on his career-best season

by Ed Hood at 5:36 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
Swede speaks about Tour de France King of the Mountains battle and more

Fredrik KessiakoffAlready a big winner in the Tour de Suisse time trial, Astana’s Fredrik Kessiakoff pulled off his second major victory against the clock this season when he won the Ponteedra TT in the Vuelta a España.

The stage 11 ride saw him beat Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Tinkoff Bank) by 17 seconds, and followed on from his surprise TT win in Switzerland. It was a confirmation of that earlier result, and one he savoured. “I was waiting a long time. I am very relieved to win. I knew I had a good time when I finished and was pleased to beat Richie Porte, who I knew could be very fast,” Kessiakoff told reporters after the finish.

VeloNation spoke to the Swede before the race and also on Tuesday’s second rest day, both about his season and the Vuelta itself.

The 32 year old Astana rider did much to enliven the mountains classification in the Tour de France, and his excellent Tour was instrumental in recently securing him a two year contract extension with Astana

The former mountain bike was perhaps previously 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.

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

Kessiakoff 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.

The start of this season was compromised by allergy problems – but a Cancellara-beating time trial in the Tour de Suisse announced his return to form.

He made the podium in the Swedish road race championships just before the Tour and then embarked upon his campaign to win what is one of the most desirable jerseys in pro cycle sport. While he eventually lost out to Tommy Voeckler in the mountains classification, he wore the jersey for several days and finished second.

He hasn’t had the same climbing legs in the Vuelta due to fatigue, but was still able to pull out that superb TT win.

VeloNation: First off, how do you feel about the Vuelta time trial victory? How does it compare to previous results by you?

Fredrik Kessiakoff: I am very happy about the win, especially beating the riders who were behind me.

All my victories are equally valued by me, they have always come at welcoming times and after extreme efforts.

VN: Did you expect to win?

FK: I rode to get the maximum out of myself, and I was hoping to get maybe top five. Winning is always difficult, but when I crossed the line I knew I would have a chance as I was very happy with my performance.

VN: Let’s jump back a little earlier in the year… You had good form going in to the Tour de France – you were third in the Swedish National Road Race Championships…

FK: I was working so hard during the pre season, both physically and mentally, doing two altitude camps, spending a lot of energy - but with the allergy problems I really got nothing for it.

I don't think people realize just how hard I worked during the first part of the season because I could show nothing.

Things only started to change a little at Tour of Switzerland. At the Swedish Championship I don't feel I was on my top level after all the problems I had during spring.

It was only as the Tour started that I had a good progression as the race went on.

The Swedish Championships were OK; it’s very hard being one of the few pros in the peloton to create a hard race.

For a climber like me the course wasn't perfect either; but I really enjoy doing the Nationals as one of very few chances to race in Sweden.

Fredrik KessiakoffVN: Was the Tour King of the Mountains a pre race goal for you?

FK: No, it wasn’t - I actually didn’t really start thinking about it until I first took the jersey.

VN: Stage eight; you took the jersey and it looked like you might take the stage - tell us about that, please.

FK: I took a chance, gave it all but it didn't really work out. My team manager told me to go for the mountain points so I did, as he said that "they could be good to have".

No one was following me so I just continued. It was disappointing to miss the stage win [Kessiakoff just failed to get back up to FDJ rider Thibaut Pinot, who held on alone to win the stage – ed.], but the jersey gave my some satisfaction.

VN: You’d won the time trial in Switzerland. So how do you feel stage nine of the Tour went?

FK: I took it easy to save myself for keeping the jersey. I know a lot of people have been expecting a lot from me since I won the TT in Switzerland, but I would like to remind them it wasn’t a normal time trial there, but more of a mountain TT,

VN: From there to the finish it was a real yo-yo battle between you and Voeckler for the KOM title…

FK: When I lost the jersey on stage 10 it was only by a few points and I knew I had the chance to get it back. I got it back on stage 11 and gave my everything to keep it for a few more days. But hats off to him, he did it in such style on stage 16, taking all points that day.

I did what I could in the first mountains and thought the GC guys would catch up in the last mountains, but he was riding so strong. From that point on he was going too well.

VN: How was support from the team?

FK: Of course the team was supporting me, they were all doing what they could. But in the mountains it always comes down to your own legs.

It was however a big blow for us, losing Kiserlovski in the crash caused by the tack sabotage.

I managed to stay out of trouble that day, but realized something weird was going on when everyone around me started to get flat tires. It was a scary descent and I was worried I would get a flat too.

VN: Did you do well from the post Tour criteriums?

FK: I did seven Post Tour Crits, taking a train to Belgium the day after the finish in Paris. To me it was a very good way to continue training.

After that I went to Livigno for altitude training, but I had to go home from there – I had allergy problems again They were cutting the grass and some trees were still dropping pollen.

VN: The Olympics - was it a disappointment not to ride?

FK: Not really, I did both Athens and Beijing, and since Sweden, only had one spot to London the right thing was always to send Gustav for his TT chances.

I hope the other Swedes and I get more chances to ride for ourselves with our teams in the coming years so we can qualify more riders.

It would be nice finishing it all off with one Olympic ride on the roads in Rio.

VN: Another two years at Astana - you must feel comfortable there?

Fredrik KessiakoffFK: I am very comfortable here; they give me the perfect balance of freedom and support. I get to do great races often, with a lot freedom. We have the best materials and it all works great for me.

VN: There's quite an influx of new riders at Astana for 2013. How do you think that will affect things?

FK: I think it is good that such a big and great team as Astana gets a good GC contender. I don’t think that there will be too much of a change for me.

VN: Back to the Vuelta – how has the race in general been, and what goals do you have between now and the end of the race?

FK: Apart from the time trial, it hasn’t been great. I still feel the efforts from the Tour; I wasn't able to build up enough after the Tour to be really competitive here. I am hoping to feel better now after the second rest day and possibly go in a breakaway, but I'm not too optimistic that I'll be good enough to get away.

VN: What are your targets for the rest of the year? Is a medal in the world championships time trial possible?

FK: I am hoping for good performances, like in the TT here in the Vuelta. If I have a good race in the TT worlds I believe I could finish within the top ten or even five, but I need to have a good day.

Other than that I hope to have a good performance at the worlds road race and Lombardy, should I be up for racing there.


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