Ochowicz Q&A on classics: ‘There are no guarantees, but we will be there’

BMC Racing boss talks mixing superstar personalities for the cobbles

The 2012 classics campaign did not start the way BMC Racing would have liked.

The team’s new superstars — Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert — were out of the running for the season opener at Milan-San Remo. Hushovd didn’t start while Gilbert crashed on the Cipressa.

With the real meat of the Belgian classics in their sites, BMC Racing is hoping that their troubles are behind them ahead of the season’s most important dates. The team will certainly bring one of the strongest rosters for the classics, but it also comes loaded with pressure and responsibility. The world watched as Garmin-Cervélo struggled with a star-studded lineup last spring — until Johan Vansummeren played spoiler to Hushovd’s Paris-Roubaix ambitions and scored the team’s biggest classics win to date. Will the sport’s newest super team rise above the pressure and deliver in Belgium?

Team boss Jim Ochowicz tells VeloNews that the team is up to the task. Here are excerpts of an interview on expectations for the looming classics:

VeloNews: The team has taken a huge step forward this year; not only do you have the defending Tour de France champion, but also the best classics riders. How do you balance the needs of the team?
Jim Ochowicz: Well, we plan these things way in advance. So we’re prepared to race an ambitious program. The real season started at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, then with Milan-San Remo. We’re heading into the most important part of the season. We’re excited about this part of the year. Classics are a big part of our recruitment, a big part of our growth, of where we want to be as a team. We will make all the efforts to be in contention in all the one-day races coming up.

VN: The classics team is so deep, you have four or five potential winners in every race you go to. How will you handle that dynamic of balancing the ambitions?
JO: Well, that might be a bit of a stretch, but we do have riders to be competitive in every classic we start. We have talked through the scenarios. We don’t how the race is going to unfold, but we have made some predictions. Depending on how those scenarios play out, we will have plans. A lot depends on weather and health and other factors, so when the race day comes, we’ll make decisions on the day.

VN: You have Gilbert and Hushovd, and behind them, you have George Hincapie, Marcus Burghardt, Alessandro Ballan, Greg Van Avermaet, guys who’ve all won big races. That’s a strong team.
JO: It’s a strong team, we’re pretty happy. We’re looking forward to the challenge. There are no guarantees, as you know. I’ve been around long enough in cycling to know that. We’ll do the best we can. I think we’ll find our moments when they’re there. You cannot make predictions. Some people make predictions, but I do not. All I can say is that we’ll be in the race and enjoy the outcome, whatever it is.

VN: What will it be like to have all that pressure to win, with Gilbert and Hushovd as favorites for every race they start?
JO: We’re used to having pressure. These guys have been around a long time and are used to pressure. This team is used to pressure. That’s not an issue. When the gun goes off, it’s a race and we race.

VN: And they’re good friends, so that takes the edge off any possible conflicts?
JO: They’re training buddies, but aside from that, they’re professionals. They get paid to race their bikes and they’re on the same team now. They’ve got similar goals, but yet, they’re not that complicated. We have pretty good communication on the team. I am not worried who’s doing what or who’s going to give up for another. It will happen during the races. Until then, we cannot make conjectures.

VN: A lot of people say this is similar to the Mapei team a decade or so ago, when they could dictate the winners of such races as Roubaix …
JO: I don’t think we’re going to go one-two-three in Paris-Roubaix or anything like that. I remember those days. There’s no one that’s going to dominate. There are great teams out there — Sky, RadioShack, Garmin, Liquigas, Omega — we’re looking forward to going head-to-head with those guys.

VN: If you could win one of the spring classics, which would it be?
JO: They’re all nice, but Flanders-Roubaix, I wouldn’t mind seeing the team do well there. They’re all big.

VN: What’s the mood with Gilbert? He had that magical season, what’s he like coming into this season?
JO: He’s a serious professional. He works hard. He’s got a big engine and a great sense for bike racing. He gets it. When he’s in a break, he feels it out and decides on whether he can go alone or not. When we get to those races, I am pretty confident that he knows what he needs to do to get it done that day. Whether you win or lose, it’s just so hard to predict into cycling. There are a lot of things going on: weather, flats, crashes, etc. No one knows what’s going to happen until the morning of the race.

VN: How does Hincapie fit into all this?
JO: He’s got a bit of a free hand to move around. He goes to the start line as a worker. He knows that. He understands that role. He’s been in that role for 10 years. He’s never been a rider to let loose and go crazy because he’s too beneficial to the team to be a worker, to be there in the critical moments. George is going to be doing the same thing he always does. If he gets the chance to go away, and it stays away, then he can ride for the win. You cannot predict those things.

VN: And with Evans, will he be racing the Ardennes classics?
JO: Oh yeah, he’s on board for Amstel through Liège. He wants to do them. Those are his races; he loves them. Then he’ll do Romandie.

VN: What will be his schedule from here to the Tour?
JO: We’ll be doing a lot of recon. There are a lot of new Tour finishes this year and we want to check those out. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the months of April and May to catch up with those new routes. That will take up a lot of time between races. Then the Dauphiné and Tour, with another training camp.

VN: How much stronger is this team compared to last year’s team for the Tour de France?
JO: Well, we had firepower last year, whether people believed it or not. We controlled the race. We really didn’t need the team in the mountains because it didn’t play out that way. This year, we have a few more climbers, Tejay van Garderen, Steve Cummings, a couple of other guys to fill that gap. We’re still expecting the race to be pretty hard the first 10 days and we’re counting on having a team that can bulldoze through the Ardennes and plow through northern France.

VN: And for van Garderen, is he going to step into that role as the final climber for Evans?
JO: That’s a responsibility that he wants to take on and it will be a mentoring role for Cadel to gauge his efforts, to make sure we can utilize him as best we can in the right moments of the race and make sure there’s a balance there. The goal is to give Tejay some experience and give him races like (Paris-Nice) to give him a chance to ride for GC. He’s ok with that. I like the fact that he can handle responsibility.