by Stephanie Gutowski and Lyne Lamoureux
The four-time NRC champion Health Net Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis Tour of California squad is lead by 2007 NRC Individual points champion Rory Sutherland and new roster addition Phil Zajicek. Rounding off the eight-man squad are U.S. National Cyclocross Champion and super domestique Tim Johnson, Australians Karl Menzies,
Rory Sutherland, Frank Pipp, Matt Crane, Roman Kilun and John Murphy.
The intrepid RoadBikeReview duo met some of the squad to get their thoughts before the Prologue.
Rory Sutherland (AUS), 26
Tell me about the prologue.
It’s definitely different from last year. It’s, from what we seen going out there today, the course looks exciting for the crowd. It looks like there is a lot of interest in Palo Alto. That’s pretty cool. It’s definitely an interesting course….the circle at the end there. I think AEG has really looked and concentrated on how to make it race for the people….but also make it exciting for the riders at the same time. It’s a pretty special thing.
What stages are you looking forwards to?
I am looking forward to the stage that finishes up through Sierra Rd and into San Jose. I am a big guy….I think what is before Mt Hamilton will be interesting and the decent will be very decisive. We rode it the other day…..and I know in the race it will be different…when the roads are fully closed. If it’s dry it’s going to be dangerous…if it’s wet it will be insane. I am a bit apprehensive about that one. I do think it’s a great addition to the race but…it’s borderline kind of crazy. I think the fact that it’s a long distance to get to the bottom…and there is still a Sierra Rd to come…which means even the front group is not going to race down it. The only thing that is going to be dangerous is people trying to get back to the front group…who take risks. There is a lot of corners there. You don’t know until you see it….whether they are going to take the risks. Some places there are no guard rails. It will be interesting
What are your goals for the season?
I think for the domestic guys this is the beginning of the season. This race is really important for our sponsors. This year USA Cycling has changed the NRC program to make it not less competitive but much more realistic for the teams and then budget of the teams. We are going to Redlands in April and that’s a pretty important race. I am really looking forward to that one. I think what we are going to do is what we did last year. The NRC is a goal…it’s attainable…but not necessarily the strive goal for the team. There were a couple teams that did that last year and it kind of brought down the quality of how races were raced. They were racing people….they were not racing races. What our philosophy has been since last year is that for one we race races….we don’t race riders….if we start a race we race to win. I think by racing that way it kind of works itself out.
Roman Kilun (USA), 26
What are your thoughts about the Tour of California?
It’s my fist time here so I am really excited to race. It feels like a hometown race for me. Today is a good opener. It’s not critical but you do have to do a good ride. If you don’t ride fast today you don’t have a whole lotta chances later in the race. I definitely want to show the fans a good race. I am personally excited about the Santa Rosa stage. It’s a beautiful stage on Highway 1….its a nice and challenging with the climb on Coleman Valley…but not overly hard….it’s not a crazy climb. It’s interesting to ride into Santa Rosa….lots of breakaway opportunities. I went and rode it the other day and definitely got excited about the race.
What’s on your calendar after this?
I am going to go do the Tour of Taiwan after this race is done. It’s an important race for us. Maxxis is a great sponsor and they are based in Taiwan. They are always looking for us to do well there. I’m also riding Redlands
Tim Johnson (USA), 31
What does it feel to win the National cross championship again?
It felt great, it was nice to have it happen after so many years, to win again this year made m realize that I’ve been around for awhile, it’s been 8 years between wins.
Was it sweeter the second time around?
I think it was for sure because the first time was a big surprise and this time, definitely something that I wanted, it was good.
How were the races after in Europe?
I didn’t get everything that I wanted out of the whole trip, I had some good races, some good parts of races. Overall to finish the Worlds in whatever position I was in was just something I had to take, it wasn’t awesome but I had a good time anyway.
What’s the plan for the team for Tour of California?
The plan for the team is we want to try and have a stage win by the end of the week, it’s definitely the most important and besides that is to make sure that we give Rory and Phil a good chance for the overall and let them work their magic. Phil is a great climber, a good time trialer and the same with Rory so if we can keep them up front and out of trouble and give them a chance at having their best results then that’s good for us but definitely a stage win for Health Net is number one thing.
Are you targeting any particular stages?
I think, definitely the stage into San Luis is going to be a great chance and then following that the one into Santa Clarita and then the last stage depending on how GC is settled, because once those other competitions are getting sorted then it’s easier for opportunistic stage win, so we’ll see what happens.
What are your thoughts about stage 3?
I don’t think it’s going to be that hard.
(laughs) no it’s going to be brutal. If we can have Phil and Rory in the lead then that’s going to be a success for us.
Any riders that might surprise during the race?
Yeah, someone like Bajadali who can climb, time trialist, I think you’ll today on the prologue that Dominique Rollin on Toyota can have a good ride and Zirbel, and Ben Jacques-Maynes on Bissell. I think that domestically we’re going to be able to show that racing here in the US, riding for a US team is going to give us just as much of a shot at winning as a ProTour team.
What’s on your schedule after the race?
I take a break, I don’t race again til Georgia.
What’s the mood on the team this year?
I think a lot of us are looking at it just like it’s the same as last year, because you know with injuries and having people out for different reasons it’s twelve guys but I think we have just as much quality as before, you know the team, everybody is pumped up and ready to race.
Phil Zajicek (USA), 29
What’s the plan for the prologue and the time trial?
Pedal fast, I think today it’s not going to be separated by much time, the tour isn’t won today, it’s definitely going to set the tone and see who is going good. For me it’s just a matter of getting through today, getting through the next two days and then Wednesday, the race begins. So for me, it’s just a matter… yeah looking forwards to Wednesday.
How is your form?
I was really sick at the end of the year. I had a good winter, I was in Boulder, I think it’s good. It’s hard to tell, the first race of the year, it’s really tough to day, I think pretty good but for everybody is just going to be on Wednesday.
Is it going to be decided on Wednesday?
It will be decided on Wednesday and Friday.
So what’s the plan on Wednesday?
I’m just going to climb with the best guys in the race, stay with Levi and Horner and Voigt and those guys, you know and just all the best.
What the mood on the team?
I know that every one is riding well, training camp was really impressive, everybody is really on top of things. I think as a team, we’re definitely one of the strongest teams here, but you know, after that, it’s such a good race, everyone comes in wanting to do well. Everyone is really happy, everyone smiling, everyone’s friendly, it’s super organized, it’s fun. It’s going to be a fun year.
What’s on your program after Tour of California?
Nothing until Redlands, so back to Boulder and local races in Boulder, then Redlands, just focus on the big stage races this year, Redlands, Georgia, Hood, Cascades, Philly Week.
Karl Menzies (AUS), 31
What’s the plan for the Tour of California for you and the team?
Stage win, for a US team, definitely a California-based team that’s the biggest thing for the year. Start of the year, first race for everyone but if you can win a stage here, it’s just massive so that’s our goal. Definitely, it’s not going to be easy, you’ve got a world class field of sprinters, climbers, time trialers but we’ve got a strong team. Starting from today we’re going to be giving our all to try and win a stage.
Are you targeting any particular stages?
Most of them, everyone is very rounded but that’s every team, we got a few climbers, a few time trialers and some sprinters but when you are racing a guy like Boonen and Freire, the list goes on, but we’re definitely up there trying to mix it with them. My particular way like everyone will be aggressive and trying to win.
What’s your role on the team this week?
I think I’m being marked as a sprinter, that’s my goal. Domestic sprints… these sprints are just.. there’s that many guys.
Is having so many sprinters in the race going to help or hinder?
Oh hinder. It means instead of racing a couple of fast guys like in the US, now you’ve got that many guys. But you know, it’s definitely good because if you do win a stage it means a whole lot more.
Are you going to try to follow anyone’s wheel in particular for the sprints?
That’s definitely something that I’m going to look into because there’s that many sprinters and trains going by, you have to pick someone and go do it, you just can’t lead it out, you haven’t got QuickStep or whatever, that’s the kind of sprinter Boonen is, I guess, so I’ll probably be catching wheels as high as I can.
Just tuck in and go…
Yeah, wait for that moment and sprint. 200 to go, and see what happens, you never know.
What do you think of stage 3?
Who knows. People will set up their climbers and go up there as quick as we can. If I have to descend fast to catch up with a group, I can do it, I can drop like a stone if I have to (laughs) but you assume there’s going to be a breakaway so our goal is to set up our GC guys. That’s where your job changes, the first few days are probably going to be sprints and then you swap, flip that over, become a domestic and get them to the bottom of the climb with everything they need, and get up there as quickly as you can yourself, who’s the know. And that’s the same for a few of the stages, your role definitely changes day to day, today is just go as hard as you can for a few miles.
What do you think of short prologues like this?
I like it, definitely as short a time trial as can be is good, it’s not a 40k to just slog, but it’s just leaves it so open, so many great time trialists, so many good prologuers, so many just plain strong guys, you just throw a dart at a very big dartboard.
So how do you get ready for such a short prologue?
Lie around, and watch TV (laughs) do an hour spin in the morning I guess, roll out, I’ll go out about an hour and half before my start time, warm up on a trainer, everybody does about forty minutes, an hour on the trainer and then you go. You probably warm up more before a short time trial then you do for a long one because you have to be ready to go, four minutes. So quick, crowds, it will be huge.
What’s on your program after this?
Redlands after this, pretty much, there’s no racing in March, well there’s racing in March but no NRC or UCI stuff. I’m going to be out here, so I’ll be probably be doing San Dimas and Sequoia Classic and… we’ll go but it won’t be team stuff. Our next team stuff is Redlands, and then we have Ojai.
Third year on the team, what’s the mood on the team this year?
Good, you know you don’t really notice it that much, I mean you probably dropped three guys, just a tighter group, a great group of guys, it definitely changes, you look back and definitely it seems like, a more well-rounded team, guys have got their specific jobs. It’s a more well-rounded team actually, we added a few more climbers, we’ve got the core guys from last year who did an awesome job and we topped up where we needed to be topped up. It’s a smaller team, and a young team, we have guys who are developing and great guys, John Murphy, Matty Crane, just awesome last year. It’s great to see these guys do well, I think if they get the opportunity you never know.