MSR - Pre-Race Interviews

We are following Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first all-diabetes pro cycling team, throughout their second appearance at Milan-San Remo.

Conquista spoke to the team before the race started to understand their goals & strategy for the race and beyond. 

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How is Milan-San Remo different this year from last year?

Chris Williams: The weather. One of the hardest parts of last year was dealing with the weather. We learned a lot during that race but I am so happy that this year will be sunny and we don’t have to deal with cold and wind.

The start to my season has been completely different this year. I raced in Australia (Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and Jayco Sun Tour), went to the Tour de Filipinas and then was able to keep training at home (Australia) for several more weeks. I like to race into form and I feel good about where my season is at this point.

Kevin De Mesmaeker: I think the biggest difference from last year and this year is the weather. Last year was really tough because it was raining, cold and windy for 200 kilometers until we hit the coast. This year, especially the Spanish guys, are much more motivated because it’s going to be sunny. 

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What have you learned?

Javi Megias: (raced Milan-San Remo two times previously): Every year we need to improve, especially in these types of races. The key to tomorrow is to race together in good position, otherwise you cannot do anything in this race.

We don’t need to race top 30 the entire race, but it is important to race together. We don’t need to be in the front, but we can’t be at the back. In a race like this, position throughout the whole day helps you save so much power for the final climbs.

I think this year will be harder. Last year it was raining and the peloton wanted the break to go. This year, it will be full gas all day.

Andrea Peron: (in the breakaway in 2015: I know what I have to do tomorrow. I know what to expect. But when people say this year will be harder than last year, I don’t think they realize that for the first 30 minutes of last year, I had a 55 k per h average.

This is the biggest one-day race in the world. You need to be focused. There is pressure but no more pressure than last year even though I was in the break. It is a big race. Additionally, I don’t think I have any more pressure than the rest of the team just because I’m Italian.

Charles Planet: Starting tomorrow feels about the same as last year. I have one more year of experience and I feel stronger, so I just want to do better this year.

I already know I can finish the race. I don’t want to just finish. I’ve done that. This is Milan-San Remo. Now, if possible, I want to do something bigger for the race. I want the feeling that I did better than last year. That is my goal.

David Lozano: I feel much better than last year. It isn’t raining, it’s sunny and it isn’t windy. Last year, I had just come form the Dominican Republic and Drenthe and I had a big block of racing and arrived a little cracked. I feel so much more experienced, rested and prepared.

Joonas Henttala: A big thing for me that I gained from last year was just racing 300 kilometers and all that goes along with such a long race, including eating and drinking. Last year, the weather was so bad and clothing and layers played a big part in the race. I’m looking forward to racing without the weather playing such a big role.

Kevin: This year I will try to get a better position in the bunch. Last year we were near the back and lost a lot of energy riding in the wind. It was a struggle to get near the front of the race. This year my goal is to save more energy the first 200K so I can start the last 100 more fresh. Everybody is tired after 200K, but we need more energy left to do something in the finish.

Every year you gain experience and after San Remo last year I had a long season and I finished a lot of hard races so I got stronger. Also, last year was my first year at MSR and I learned a lot. Last year I didn’t even know if I could finish the race and this year, this is the minimum goal for me. All our riders know better how to train this year after competing in last year’s race so we feel better prepared. At this point, I think I’m stronger this year than last year and I’m excited to race.

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How was your training different than last year?

David: For the past month, I have done at least six hours or more training every week so that means my legs and body are better prepared for a race like this.

Charles: I raced at Drenthe last weekend, with its cobblestones and small roads. At first, I didn’t feel so good and it was full gas. Then at the end, I still had a lot of energy and I felt really good. I feel I’ve been training so well this year with long rides and that is why last week I felt so good. I feel stronger and we will see tomorrow if that translates in the race. 

Joonas: I had a bad crash at the end of last season and took an extended period off the bike to recover. This meant I showed up to training camp in January with form that wasn’t where it normally should be. But each week I’m improving. In previous seasons, I would hit plateaus at this point in the year but this year, I can just keep feeling myself improving. Despite the crash, I’m actually feeling more confident in myself than this point last year.

Kevin: We had a short training camp the week before and had a couple of hard days. Monday, we did endurance training with strength efforts and Tuesday was long ride of 200+K riders with intense blocks and we also did motor pacing yesterday behind a car to help us get speed in the legs. It was a hard week, but we also took recovery seriously so I think we will start fresh on Saturday.

Preparing for a race like MSR is a bit different as you see a lot of guys do big endurance rides, 6-7 hour rides. For stage races, you wouldn’t do such long rides to prep.

Javi: I trained together with the guys at a small training camp this week. We were getting massage every day and really focused on relaxing.

We had a longer training camp this year to recover and prepare for the race.

Andrea: I don’t think my training is any different from last year. More or less, it was the same. 

David: For me, it was pretty much the same all season leading up to now except I have been in the gym more. Also, I have done less racing at this point compared to last year, but I still have lots of hours on the bike. I think it is a good build up. For me, all my numbers are the same or better. 

How do you feel about your form?

Javi: I think I started better earlier this season but the past few weeks have been rough for me. I want to do well tomorrow but no matter what, I must finish.

(Martijn Verschoor chimes in: Don’t worry about Javi. Every time he says he is bad, he pulls a result.) 
 
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Explain Milan-San Remo.

Javi: This is a Monument; it is the first Monument. It starts the Spring Classics. Yet that doesn’t add pressure. For me, I’m not a specialist for these types of races, but we definitely have some strong sprinters that can do well here. We are still figuring that out, but I know we have guys in our roster that can do this.

I’m aiming to get over the climbs in the first bunch. If I can do that, then I’ll try to do the sprint. On these climbs, position is key, especially in the first climb. On the Cipresso, I need to be in the top 50, then I believe I can survive in the first group. From there, we will see.

Charles: At Milan-San Remo, the climbs aren’t so hard, it is more that it is 270 km into the race when they start. This race is all about good position and still having legs.

Joonas: It is the first Monument, it is the longest and it has all of the best riders. I think there is something about Italy and the long history behind this race that makes it so special.

Chris: All my family and friends in Australia will be watching this race. The whole bike racing world is focused on this race. For the past week, all I see on social media is a countdown to Milan-San Remo. All anyone wants to talk about is Milan-San Remo. There is basically no other race that builds up like this.

Andrea: It is Milan-San Remo. This is the history of cycling. There is the Tour de France, the Giro de Italia and San Remo. In Italy, if you say you were a professional, you need to do Milan-San Remo to count. For the Monuments, I think this is the biggest one.

Charles: I think it is every rider’s dream to do this race. For me, of course it is a big dream. I watched this race so many times on TV and now I am at the start. I don’t want to just be in the bunch. I want our team to be aggressors in the race. I want to be a part of it.

David: It is the longest Classic in the calendar. This might not make it the hardest, but it is still so special. The climbs at the end might not normally be big climbs but after 270 km, they count as really climbs. Everyone wants to go well here.

Kevin: Milan-San Remo is one of the oldest and the longest classics so it is super special to start in this race. It also provides a huge platform for the team to inspire, educate and empower people affected by diabetes all over the world. I’m still young and this year marks the second time for me to start at MSR, so I hope I get to ride here many more times in the future.

What are your goals for the race? 

Chris: I would love to be in the breakaway. Our team’s goal is to make the break and if that is me, it would be an incredible honor.

Also, Javi is good. What people forget is that he can be strong and can sprint in a finish. I want to help him be in the best place in the finish and then let him see what he can do.

Joonas: I’ve finished Milan-San Remo. I know I can finish it. Now I want to race it. I expect more out of myself than just finishing it.

Javi: Top 25 is realistic for our team; anything above top 20 will probably be hard. You have to be in the first group and then stay there. I guess we will see tomorrow.

Andrea: I want to be aggressive in the race. I don’t want to just start and finish. I want to make a difference in the race. There is no race bigger than Milan-San Remo. It is the first race, it is long and it is so iconic.

Charles: First, I will see what my boss tells me are my goals. I know the team’s goal is to be in the break. My aim isn’t to be in the break but if I need to be, I will go. In the end, it is the biggest Classic of the season, so it is hard to know if we can have a good result but we aim to have one guy in good position before the last climb. We never know. It is a one-day race, anything can happen.

David: First, I want to find my position in the bunch or the breakaway. I know I will be one of the guys who will need to try and make the break, if I do, I will try to stay as long as possible. If I am in the bunch, I want to be as close to the front as I can.

Kevin: One goal for the team is to be in the main breakaway. Last year, Andrea rode in the break all day and this year it is a major goal again. The next goal is for all the riders on the team to finish. If our team leader, Javier Megias, is feeling good, we hope he can try for a good result at the finish.

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Compared to last year, how do you feel the team is prepared for Milan-San Remo?

Vassili Davidenko (Senior Vice President, Athletics of Team Novo Nordisk):

It is our fourth year as a professional continental team and we’ve made good improvements over the last year. All our numbers show we are growing. We had a training camp with good weather while other teams were at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico with bad weather and cancelled stages. We are racing against the best guys in the world and I truly believe that we are ready.

Same roster, greater expectations?

Vassili: Obviously yes, I know the guys are stronger and they have more experience. Looking at physiological testing, the improvements are there. I’m excited to see them tomorrow. The weather will be nice and it’ll be more aggressive, but I truly think we will be ready.

We want someone in the breakaway and we want our guys to finish better, closer to the front.

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How have you seen the season up to this point?

Phil Southerland (CEO and co-founder: Team Novo Nordisk): 

So far this year we are really happy with how the team has ridden together. We’re definitely stronger as a unit. However, that hasn’t quite translated into better results. We feel like we’re missing that last little bit, maybe luck or execution, to get the results that reflect the strength and the power the team has this year. We always have a “turning point” race every year and I’m hoping Milan-San Remo proves to be the turning point for us this season.

What are places you’ve seen the riders grow?

Phil: The development of our pipeline is strong and the athletes who have ridden on the pro squad for 2-3 years now are more confident and not intimidated by racing against the best teams in the world. Our depth is our biggest strength and the bond the team shares along with a devotion to win as a unit (versus win as individuals) is a marked improvement. The riders believe in themselves more now. They can go into any race, be it Milan San Remo or Tour of Poland, with the same objective to win as the other guys, and that is a big step forward.

Where do you still see a need for improvement?

Phil: Ultimately, we need to improve upon our results. We need that last little bit of execution to put our guys into a position to win.