BUNINYONG, Australia (VN) – Simon Gerrans accepts his role on Orica-Scott is now different than “a couple of years ago” when he was still the Aussie team’s best winning hope.
The 36-year-old winner of Milan-San Remo (2012) and Liége-Bastogne-Liége (2014) spoke of the change on Saturday as he prepared for Sunday’s 186.3km Australian men’s elite road title race at Buninyong, Victoria that he won 2012 and 2014.
His is a stellar career that includes a Tour de France stage win in 2008 and 2013 [when he wore the yellow jersey for two days], a stage win in both the 2009 Giro d’Italia [in which he wore the pink jersey for one day after stage 1 in 2015] and 2009 Vuelta a España, four Tour Down Under wins (2006, 20012, 2014, 2016), two in the Herald Sun Tour (2005, 2006), wins in the 2012 and 2014 Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and 2014 Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal, and a silver medal at the 2014 world road race championship in Ponferrada, Spain.
“I have always been very team orientated, but now we have some younger guys [who] have really developed in the team that are out-and-out leaders,” Gerrans said before his planned 90-minute ride. “They merit full support in certain races … I think if you back tracked a couple of years ago, I was probably shouldering a fair bit of that responsibility.”
Don’t be mistaken. Gerrans, who is off contract this year but still undecided about how much longer he wants to race, is not throwing the towel in on his winning ambitions. But the Australian is embracing the idea of becoming a road captain.
Then Orica-Scott team now has Colombian Esteban and Britons Adam and Simon Yates as contenders for the three week grand tours, and Matt Hayman, Luke Durbridge, Michael Albasini, and Jens Keukeleire for the one day classics.
Then there is Orica-Scott’s young sprinting star Caleb Ewan.
Gerrans: “I’m still hungry … I’m still motivated …”
When asked about his ambitions for the year on Saturday, Gerrans said: “I am very much goal driven, goal orientated …
“I have obviously put a big cross against this month of racing in Australia. And from then it’s on to the classics as the next objective. And then the Tour de France is always a major goal for the team. So they are my three major ones for the first part of the year anyway. [But] that’s not saying that [with] each one of those goals I will be targeting victories.
“I will be targeting to be in my best shape for the Tour de France, but that I think will be very much in a support role of Chaves. So what my role is has yet to be decided in each and every one of those goals, but they are the three major points I will be targeting to be in my best form for the season.
“[In previous years] … there was a very good chance I was the one they were turning to for results. Now that’s not always the case. As I’ve got a little bit older I’ve sort of probably taken a little bit more that road captain responsibility on.
“We have some great options in the team. We saw Michael Albasini … second in Liége last year. If he’s in that kind of shape this year, he will deserve support from the team.”
But then Gerrans added: “In saying that, hopefully when I put that big emphasis on being in my best condition, I am [up] there and I do have that opportunity to go for a result.
“It’s not [in] every race that I’ll be the guy earmarked as road captain. But particularly in the grand tours and maybe the week-long stage races in Europe, [road captain] will be more my role in the team. [But] I’m still hungry. I’m still working hard. I’m still motivated to get some results for myself too.”
Great way to start the year: “fit, healthy, injury free”
That Gerrans is able to start the 2017 season fully fit and with his body intact – unlike after recent crash marred years – has further stoked his optimism for the year ahead. Gerrans’ myriad injuries since 2014 have cruelly derailed his seasons.
“I’m confident … we have a great group of guys in the team, I’m really happy with my training, I’m fit, healthy, injury free,” he said. “That’s just a great way to start the season.”
Although, Gerrans admitted that because of his spate of injuries in a professional career that began in 2005 on the French Ag2r team, his body does require constant repair.
“When you get to the point where I am in my career, it’s sort of ongoing maintenance stuff to keep on top of any niggling kind of injuries,” he said with wry smile. “When you have broken as many bones as I have you are sort of constantly seem to be doing rehab and physiotherapy. I am well and truly on top of that at the moment. So I am feeling good.”
Gerrans is currently focused on the Australian season that after Sunday includes him racing the Tour Down Under (January 14-22), the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (January 29) and Herald Sun Tour (February 1-5). He will then take a break before re-building for the classics and Tour.
As for his post Tour schedule, Gerrans remains open minded, including whether or not he races in the world road titles. “The second half of the year will be built around how the first half of the year goes,” Gerrans said. “When you put such a big emphasis on the early season stuff, generally by world championships time – unless everything has gone really smoothly – you are kind of running on fumes. We will see how the first part of the year goes, see what results I can get a long the way … and what sort of role may be offered to me at the worlds [which] will depend on whether I go or not.”
No doubt that will also determine how much longer Gerrans continues to race; or if this year becomes his swansong to a career that, however it ends, will go down as remarkable.