Fredrik Kessiakoff Interview: Tour of Austria winner back to speed with Astana
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Monday, July 11, 2011

Fredrik Kessiakoff Interview: Tour of Austria winner back to speed with Astana

by Ed Hood at 7:46 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour of Austria
 
Swedish rider gets career back on track with strong display

Fredrik KessiakoffThe crash-fest taking place in France isn’t the only national tour taking place this month. High in the Tyrolean meadows the UCI 2.HC Tour of Austria was fought out over eight stages from Dornbirn to the country’s capital city of Vienna. These included monster climbs such as the mighty Grossglockner, and later a crucial time trial.

The man who took and held yellow after that Grossglockner stage was Astana’s 31 year-old Swedish mountain biker-turned stage race rider Fredrik Kessiakoff. He grabbed the jersey on stage two which finished atop the brutal 1670 metre ascent of the Kitzbuheler Horn, then he and his team defended it all the way.

It’s taken the affable Swede three seasons to break through; but he’s done 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 but 2011 has seen the man from Nacka begin to exploit his true potential.

Kessiakoff spoke twice to VeloNation about the Tour of Austria; firstly the day after his stage win, with a nice fresh yellow jersey hanging over the chair, then after the finish when he won the race ahead of Leopold Koenig (NetApp) and 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre (Geox TMC).

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VeloNation: Congratulations Fredrik…can you tell us firstly about your stage victory?

Fredrik Kessiakoff: My first win has been a while coming, but it was a good one – an honest win, I let my legs do the talking.

Coming to Austria I knew I was in good shape with strong motivation; I knew the finish from having ridden the climb before – it’s the type of steep climb which suits me when I’m going well. The team had confidence in me, I felt good and when I went I didn’t look back!

VN: What would you say was your best result before Kitzbuheler?

FK: I had good legs two years ago in Romandie and was fourth on a stage and ninth overall.

I was also fourth that year on the Genting Highlands stage of Langkawi – that result got me a lot of attention.

VN: How did day one of the jersey defence go?

FK: Really well, we had to ride on the front for 100 kilometres because even though the best guy in the break was four minutes down, we didn’t want it to get out of hand and have to stress at the end.

It was a long way and a hard day but I felt that if I was tired, then so were my rivals.

VN: After that day, were there any moments of concern?

FK: As my team was so strong, I never felt pressured during the following two mountain stages. The time trial was my biggest concern, but I knew I was in good shape, and I managed to do a solid ride.

VN: How was the Austrian race organisation?

FK: It’s a very well organised race – it’s one of the nicer tours to ride.

The scenery is very beautiful and the roads are good; it’s perhaps not the biggest race but it’s very well supported by the media and the fans – like I say, a nice race.

VN: There are some strong guys in your team – Kiserlovski, for example…

FK: For sure; the team is riding really strongly – I didn’t know my real shape or that of the team until the race started, but we were all going really well.

I had no problem sleeping at night knowing that I had the kind of back up which I did.

Another thing you must remember about the race is that there were no radios allowed so you couldn’t sit back and play at tactics. But with the team I had, I was convinced that I could take the jersey all the way to Vienna.

VN: What's your reaction to the overall victory?

FK: I'm really happy and very relieved. After I won the second stage I slowly started to realize that I had a chance to win the overall. Thanks to my strong team we managed to keep the competition behind us all the way to Vienna.

VN: So how big is the result for your morale and motivation?

It's huge. I needed a morale boost, and this couldn't have come at a better time. Now I know what I'm capable of.

VN: How did you get the ride with Astana?

FK: It’s a long story! There was a fusion of Garmin, which had maybe 28 riders and Cervelo, which had maybe 20 riders and that needed to become a total of 30 riders.

They offered me the option to leave; it wasn’t a great year for me so I was happy to accept – I wanted to make a fresh start on a new team.

My manager has good contacts with Giuseppe Martinelli at Astana, who remembered me from the Giro with Fuji, and a contract was agreed.

It was good for me because at 31 I’m not the youngest rider in the peloton, and 2010 wasn’t great for me. But they gave me a two year deal.

VN: Astana is pretty cosmopolitan…which language so you speak?

FK: The main language is Italian but on this race it’s more or less English, although the Kazakh guys tend to communicate with each other in Russian.

So there’s English, Italian, French and Russian all spoken; but in the end it works – we’re all from different backgrounds but we’re all visitors to the countries we race in so it pulls us together as a group.

VN: I hadn’t realised you were stagiaire with Barloworld in 2006?

FK: The record books show that, but I never actually rode for them.

I rode for the Cannondale mountain bike team at the time and there was a connection because Barloworld rode Cannondales.

I met with the manager, Claudio Corti and my bike, clothing and the paperwork were all sorted out – but then I broke my ankle the week before my first race! So I never actually raced for them.

VN: Tell us about Fuji Servetto 2009.

FK: It was an excellent team for me – I went straight from mountain biking to Pro Tour.

It wasn’t the biggest team but it had all of the organisation and you were well taken care of. The team didn’t have a natural leader and when I started to ride well the put a lot of belief in me and I was given an excellent race programme.

I rode Langkawi, Milan-Sanremo, Pais Vasco, Amstel, the Giro, San Sebastian, the Tour of Poland and the Vuelta.

After San Sebastian they flew me straight to Poland the same day so as I could ride the tour. It was a great programme and intensive schooling – but maybe too much.

VN: It must have been a shock to your system going from mountain biking to a programme like that?

FK: Yes, the main difference between mountain biking and road racing is that off road you generally only race once each week; you go home, recover, train then ride the next race.

But on the road it’s different; if it’s a stage race programme, then you’re racing every day – and I was unused to that.

VN: How was your time with Garmin?

FK: A very, very difficult year; it was a combination of over training, over ambition and bad luck – I crashed in the Algarve and had to have eight stitches, then I broke my ribs before Paris-Nice.

VN: Do you think that this year you’re beginning to see the best of yourself again?

FK: I think so, apart from anything else, I’m one year older and wiser and I’ve learned a lot. In the winter I didn’t over do it, I concentrated on basic fitness and ensuring I had good health.

VN: Have your physical characteristics changed from your mountain bike days?

FK: I’m maybe less explosive, more of a diesel but with better endurance. I think one of the problems I had when I changed over was that my body didn’t want to shed any weight; in fact in Grand Tours I would gain weight.

The constant struggle in my body over nutrition,coupled with over-training was probably at the root of my problems.

VN: And is le Tour on your ‘to do’ list?

FK: It’s one of my ambitions to be one of the best nine of a group of 27 top riders and to make the team, yes.

VN: Will you ever go back to mountain biking?

FK: No, I’m going to stick around and get the most out of myself on the road – I’m not the oldest guy in the peloton, but I’m not the youngest, either!

VN: I see the yellow jersey in Austria is sponsored by a wheat beer company – did you get any free samples?

FK: Come to think of it, no – maybe I have to ask?

We had some champagne when I won the stage but maybe I’ll get a six pack or two of wheat beer in Vienna?

VN: And what about that giant sausage you won?

FK: My family and friends were asking about that too.

Let’s just say that the Astana support staff were very happy with it!

VN: Finally, what's your programme like now?

FK: I'll do Poland and then probably the Vuelta…

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