Xavier Tondo Interview: late career breakthrough with Cervélo Test Team
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Monday, October 25, 2010

Xavier Tondo Interview: late career breakthrough with Cervélo Test Team

by Shane Stokes at 3:58 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Spanish rider will chase Grand Tour success with Team Movistar in 2011

Xavier TondoIt’s inaccurate to refer to a 31 year old rider as one of the most successful newcomers in cycling, but Xavier Tondo’s 2010 season made many outside Spain wonder just who he was. Prior to signing for the Cervélo Test Team, Tondo raced with the smaller Andalucia-Cajasur formation in 2009 and, before that, with teams such as Relax-Gam and LA-MSS. And while he won a number of races including the 2005 Volta ao Alentejo, the 2007 Volta a Portugal, the 2008 Subida al Naranco and a stage in last year’s Tour de San Luis, the fact that his biggest results came on the Iberian peninsula meant that he was overlooked by many outside those borders.

There was little danger of that happening this year. Having got a big opportunity from the Cervélo squad, he quickly rewarded their faith in him by taking a stirring sixth stage of Paris-Nice. He was part of a 23 man move which went clear 40 kilometres into the 220 kilometre race to Tourrettes-sur-Loup, attacked with Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) and Cyril Gautier (BBox Bouygues Telecom) on the final climb of the Col du Vence, then dropped his two breakaway companions and held off a fast-closing peloton to win.

Tondo relished in the success and topped the podium again on stage three of the Volta a Catalunya, finishing the event just ten seconds behind overall victory Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). He then went on to ride strongly in the Giro d’Italia. Tondo was sitting third overall in the general classification until stage 15, when he began to be affected by the illness which eventually caused him to quit six days later.

Dropping out was a double blow: not only had he shown he could have fought for a podium finish, but he also had looked set to complete his first Grand Tour. He would have another chance, though, with a strong performance in the Vuelta a España leading to a final sixth place overall in Madrid.

VeloNation sat down with Tondo recently, speaking to him on the eve of the Tour of Lombardy. That was his final European race with the Cervélo team, and so was an emotional time for many of the riders. He remained upbeat, though, saying that he was going to miss his team-mates, but that he was also looking forward to what he hopes will be a strong, successful 2011 with the new Movistar formation.

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VeloNation: The Tour of Lombardy is the final race in Europe for Cervélo Test Team, the squad deciding to stop at the end of the year. You joined it at the start of this season and have been part of the setup since then. What has the experience been like for you?

Xavier Tondo: I really enjoyed being part of this team. The only bad thing is that it doesn’t continue next year. But it was really important for me, it was the first time in a big team and luckily the good results started very early in the season. That made things easier.

There were only some bad moments, like in the Giro when I stated to feel sick two weeks in the race while sitting third in the general classification. Pulling out was hard, as was the moment in the Tour of Poland when I broke my collarbone.

Of course, there were also some good moments like the victories, or like the first time I finished a Grand Tour. That was the Vuelta a España, and I wasn’t in a bad position [sixth overall]. I hope the Grand Tours will get better again for me.

VN: You started your season a week before Paris-Nice and then that race, you had a very impressive solo stage win. Apart from that being a success in itself, was it important to show the team how strong you are?

XT: Yes, of course. It was my first time in a big team and to take a good result with them. On Saturday everybody watched me, I attacked 40 kilometres from the finish, and I won by just five seconds. I didn’t see the stage [a recording] but the people told me it was really, really nice. Also in Catalunya, I was second on GC and I won a stage.

But I think more about the next races, about next season…I don’t like to think too much about the past.

VN: Were you pleased with how things went in the Vuelta?

XT: Yes, I was happy because for the first time, I could complete a Grand Tour. Last season, I also raced in the Vuelta a España but I had two crashes and then I developed tendonitis in my left knee. This year on the Giro, I thought I was also in a good way to be in a good position in a GC, but after my problems, it was impossible to finish.

So, being the first time to compete a Grand Tour, it is good. But when you analyse the race, you try to think in a positive way for the future. I hope that in the next year if I arrive in some big Tours, I can do even better.

VN: The Bola del Mundo stage was the last showdown in the mountains. You were fighting with some of the guys for GC there, with everything being settled on that final climb. You were distanced a little, but right at the end you came back to riders like Schleck and Roche.

Did you deliberately hold back at the bottom of the climb, because it was quite steep, or was it more the case that you suddenly felt better near the top?

XT: I checked out the stage in June. That was good for me because then I knew that the last two kilometres is really, really steep. My characteristics are always the same – when they start too fast, it is a problem for me. But then if I feel good, I can get back or maybe attack.

I was fighting with Nicolas Roche and Franck Schleck for fifth position in this stage. I caught Nicolas and I also tried to catch Franck in the last metres and to drop him, but it was impossible. I did my best, and finished sixth. If I’d got a few seconds more, I think it would have been fifth in GC. I tried to do my best – it was a really spectacular stage, I think.

VN: The podium was not terribly far away – you were just one minute 50 seconds off third place. Does that encourage you for next season, make you believe you can finish in the top three of a Grand Tour?

Xavier TondoXT: Yes, the problem was the two stages in Asturias. They were the worst for me, in Lagos and Cotobello. Before these days I felt really good in the mountains, but these two days I didn’t feel super. Then I lost too much time to fight for the podium.

I don’t think about these two days…on other stages I felt really, really good. Also, the TT was good for me. We can think about the future…

VN: You weren’t the sole team leader there…

XT: Yes, it is different if you start one big Tour thinking only of helping Carlos [Sastre] than if all the team believe in you, work for you.

I don’t want to say that it is for this reason that I didn’t do better, but it is another mentality, it is another approach that maybe can improve things in the future.

VN: The way you describe your climbing sounds quite like Carlos’ style – he often finds it hard to match the initial pace on climbs, then comes back. How did you feel things worked with you and Carlos this year?

XT: Well, it was important for me. I can learn a lot of things about Carlos, he taught me in some good ways, but also I learned a lot about Inigo Cuesta or about Thor Hushovd. It was really good for me, being in a super team for the first time with really good riders. Normally in the other teams I have been in, I have been the best man for the GC or for some races.

So then being in one team where I am not the first rider was good for me for learning different things.

VN: The Cervélo Test Team decided to stop at the end of the season….very few outside the team saw that coming. Was that a very big surprise, and were you worried at that time?

XT: Yes, it was really bad news. It’s one big team with a different mentality – I think they showed another way to work. I really like this way – I like the contact with the partners, I like to try to develop the bikes or the frames or the helmet or the things. I don’t just like races, I also like cycling, and it was really disappointing that the team disappears.

Also, some team-mates don’t have a team for next season, or some masseurs or some sports directors. Like Alex Sans [Vega] – he was the sport director who really believed in me, who really helped me to be in this team, and now he doesn’t have a team for next season.

It is really sad….the person who really helped me to be here doesn’t have a team for next season.

VN: So do you hope to work with him again?

XT: I hope so…I hope Eusebio [Unzue, Movistar general manager] can give an opportunity, but it is difficult as they have different sport directors for the team. But of course Alex helped me…if one day I can help him, I can try. As I said, he really helped me by being in this team.

VN: You got a contract with a big team quite late in your career. Why did it take a while?

XT: I don’t know! This is a question that maybe it is better that you put to the sport directors, because in 2005 I won races. Only in 2006 I didn’t win races, because I had mononucleosis. Each season I won races in the different calendars, different teams – I won mountain stages, TT stages, I won overall GCs. I don’t know why it was only after seven years as a professional that they give me an opportunity with a big team. Now everybody wants me…

I don’t want to say that I had bad luck, because I know other riders with good condition who had worse luck than me. Anyway, I am happy, because I am here. Maybe the way it happened wasn’t easy, but I am here now. It is my passion to be a rider, it was my dream since I was young. So now I can only say good things…

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In part II of this interview Xavier Tondo, he explains how a peculiar twist of luck helped him land his new contract, and discusses his aspirations for 2011 and beyond. He also reveals an unusual extent of affection for the sport: for some it’s a job, but for him it’s far more than that.

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