Feature: Linus Gerdemann feeling good about his comeback to cycling - “I am optimistic…I think I can perform well”
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Friday, January 10, 2014

Feature: Linus Gerdemann feeling good about his comeback to cycling - “I am optimistic…I think I can perform well”

by Shane Stokes at 3:24 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
German rider speaks about his return to the sport with MTN Qhubeka, aiming for Giro and more

Linus GerdemannGetting back to the pro peloton after a season out of competition, 2007 Tour de France stage winner and yellow jersey wearer Linus Gerdemann has spoken at length about his imminent return to professional cycling. The German rider was left on the sidelines when the RadioShack Leopard team didn’t extend his contract at the end of 2012. That decision came at a late point and left him very little chance of finding another ride.

While Gerdemann was a full year out of racing, he feels that he is in comparable shape to this point of time in other seasons. He consequently believes that he will be competitive when the hammer goes down in races.

“I wouldn’t say I am ahead of schedule, I think always at this time of the season there is some things to improve, but I am quite happy,” he told VeloNation this week. “For the moment, it couldn’t be much better.

“I am happy with where I am right now…if we think about it, it is just the beginning of January, so I am happy with everything right now.”

Asked if lacking a year of racing in his legs was likely to make things more difficult in terms of getting back to speed, he said that time will tell. However he said that early indications are positive.

“I’m not sure about that. In the end I’ll be able to give you a real answer when I’ve actually been racing. But so far when I train with other guys I feel quite competitive,” he explained.

“That said, racing is racing – racing can be quite different to training. Maybe it will take a bit to get back into the race rhythm. But it could be different…I am that kind of rider who trains quite intensely. I don’t think I am struggling with that.”

Gerdemann has taken a number of big results in the past. In addition to his aforementioned Tour de France stage win, he was also victorious in the overall classification of the Tour de l’Ain and the Deutschland Tour in 2008, the 2009 Bayern Rundfahrt and the 2011 Tour of Luxembourg. He’s also taken stages in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Suisse.

His competitive nature reveals itself when he speaks about what will be his first race back, the upcoming La Tropicale Amissa Bongo race in Gabon. The 2.1-ranked race begins on Monday and runs until the following Sunday. While he accepts that it might take him a couple of races to get back to sharpness, he is also looking for opportunities to take an early result.

There’s no pressure on him to do so early on, but he’d like to get back to the podium as soon as possible.

That said, he expresses concern about the nature of the course. “I am actually feeling quite well, but the problem is that I don’t think the route is so selective,” he said, when asked what his expectations are. “It will be a little bit more like gambling [about when to attack]. It is not like there will be final climbs where I can say I can drop everyone or I can go with the best.

“It is a bit difficult to say how selective the race is. I don’t really know what to expect from the race. I feel good about my condition but I don’t know if I can profit from a race like this, in terms of my own results. I just looked at the profile. If it is the real profile, then it seems super flat. If so, perhaps it will be difficult to make a difference with the sprinters.”

Still, he’s not dismissing his chances. Perhaps the profile is not as it seems, he reasons.

“I hope there are some surprises in Gabon. Maybe a climb that isn’t as it seems in the profile. Sometimes it looks a little bit hilly in the profile at the end, really short hills, but then you look at the specific profile for the last three kilometres, and sometimes it is quite different, perhaps completely flat.

“So I hope the profiles are not one hundred percent correct. Maybe there is a little more climbing than it looks like. Anyway, I will take it day by day and try to do well with the team. Then we will see.”

Linus GerdemannGerdemann’s place on the MTN Qhubeka team came about in part to fellow German Gerard Ciolek’s contract there. The two are friends and the latter told Gerdemann about the structure of the team.

In addition to that, he would have been able to vouch for Gerdemann once MTN Qhubeka started looking at the possibility of bringing him on board.

Ciolek had a superb 2013 season, notching up a number of wins including Milan-Sanremo. Gerdemann confirms that he will not be racing in Gabon, and so instead another of the team’s riders will have to come up with the goods in the sprints.

“It is more an African selection which will be going there. I am not 100 percent sure, but I think I am the only European who is going there from on the team,” he said.

“We will see what we can do there. Gerard is our main sprinter. Although he is not going there, I think we still have some good, fast guys. We will see. It is the first race of the season, so I think it is always a little bit about knowing each other better from racing and seeing how it works.”

Settling into a new team setup:

Gerdemann had the chance to meet some of his team-mates in September when he spent time at the European base in Lucca, Italy. He did bike fit assessment and some testing, and became acquainted with the team and its setup. He also spoke about his time away from the sport in this video interview.

While the team is not yet at the WorldTour level, he sounds impressed with what he has seen thus far. “It is very professional. I wouldn’t say I am surprised about that because Gerard told me before that they were working quite well,” he said. “Everything is well structured and I think we have the best conditions to perform well. It is very well organised.”

After his stint in Italy, he met up with the team again when they spent more than three weeks together. “We went with the team to South Africa, which was a nice experience.

“We saw the Qhubeka foundation,” he said, talking about the charity that is a partner of the squad. “It was very interesting to see it and to really see what kind of incredible work it is doing there. It was actually for me like a lifetime experience.

“Apart from that, training went well. I think everything is going to plan and I am quite optimistic for the start of the season.”

Outside of his time in Africa, Gerdemann has split his time between Mallorca and the Monaco area. He likes both locations, and sees each fulfilling a certain goal. During winter, the mild weather and light traffic in Mallorca is something he believes is perfect for racking up kilometres of training.

Then, as the weather in France improves and the need for more intensive work builds up, he will be based in Monaco. “It is probably better as I can really work on the climbs,” he explained.

“I find it more challenging there. When it gets warmer, I think I will spend a lot of time in the south of France.”

Fingers crossed for RCS Sport’s decision:

As the team is a Pro Continental setup, it is reliant on wildcard invites to WorldTour races. The team should learn next week if it has been selected for Tirreno-Adriatico, and also the Giro d’Italia. If it gets the nod for the latter – and it is tipped by many to have a strong chance – it will be the first time for the team to ride a Grand Tour.

Linus GerdemannGerdemann is awaiting the announcement for both races, knowing that his programme will only be finalised once that is done.

“Normally I will race Mallorca after doing Gabon, then hopefully some of the one day races in Italy. And if we get the invitation for Tirreno, normally my plan would be to do Tirreno and Sanremo. That is my provisional schedule.

“Riding well in the Giro d’Italia would be one of my main goals. Hopefully we will get an invitation for it. I think we are a really strong and competitive team. I am optimistic, but we need to wait and see what the decision is.”

The signature of Gerdemann and others such as John Lee Augustyn gives the team an additional element in stage races. While it was quite a sprint-focussed team in 2013, bringing riders who are good at climbing on board means that MTN Qhubeka can also look at chasing leader’s jerseys.

Given that he has already worn yellow in the Tour de France, pushing to grab the Maglia Rosa in the Giro will be an objective. He said that he is satisfied with the Giro route that was unveiled in October.

“I think it is a difficult Giro, as it is every year. At the end of the day you need to be in good shape to perform well there,” he stated.

“I have only ridden the Giro once. That year, in 2010, it was probably the hardest stage race I ever did. There were thirteen days of rain and super long stages. So it is definitely a tough race,” he said.

Asked what he would like to achieve in his comeback season, he preferred to give a general answer rather than getting specific about any particular race.

“It is difficult to say right now,” he answered. “I will take it step by step. I would like to see the African guys racing well and maybe able to give them a little bit of my experience, to teach them a little bit in Europe.

“But of course I want to win races. I am motivated and I feel good, so I am optimistic. I can’t really say precisely I want to win this or that race, though. I will take it step by step and see how it goes in each race.”

Sometimes riders come back stronger after a break; time away from the sport puts things in perspective and can help them focus more when they return.

Gerdemann said that he believes he could reap some benefits, specifically from what he was able to do away from the bike.

“I was actually always motivated, it is not that I was lazy in the years before,” he answered, when asked if the time away would make him work harder. “But maybe I was able to work on different things during the summer. More core training…perhaps you don’t have the time to work on it if you spend six hours each day on the bike.

“I think I will profit from that. Mentally I am fresh, so I am looking forward to racing again.”

He laughs when asked if he believes he could end up being a better rider in this second phase of his career. “I wasn’t a bad rider before,” he said, with some humour.

“I am just 31 now. I think that in cycling, that is actually normally the golden age. So I am optimistic…I think I can perform well.”


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