I have to admit I was kinda nervous going into this. I didn’t want to sound cheezy or ask the same questions Gerro has heard time and time again. Lucky for me his reputation as a down to earth guy and good all-round bloke is every bit true.
Yesterday morning I met Gerro at a cafe in Brighton and we got an outdoor table in the sun. Without even asking the waiter brought us both a fantastic yogurt fruit cup compliments of The Pantry. Jackpot! I gotta hang with Gerro more often!
So, when did your life change from simply ordering your breakfast at a cafe to being provided with complementary fruit cups?!
Gerro: After a couple of years of racing the Tour. Fortunately for me, the first year I rode in the Tour was the first year it was televised live in Australia – not just the highlight package. For the Tour followers in Australia I was there from that first televised year and every year after so people were starting to get to know me a little bit. People often ask me if I get recognized in Europe but I never really get recognized there apart from bike races. Once in awhile you’ll get a few avid cycling fans who see you out training or see you at a cafe and will come up for a chat.
Just how hard is racing the Tour de France? Is it as hard as it’s made out to be – even during the flat stages when the peloton is coasting along while the doomed break-away is up the road?
Gerro: When you’re suffering, that first hour is hell and you’re just praying for that breakaway to get away as quick as possible. You really want to have one of those breaks that just goes bang right off the line and when it goes you’re just crossing your fingers that no one goes after it. If that happens the breakaway is on for the day and you’re in for a fairly easy start. But sometimes when there’s a heap of teams that have the order to be in that breakaway it’ll go for 80kms. Its (the pace) breakneck speed just as fast as the finish. And that’s when guys get eliminated – when they get popped at the start. Those really hard starts late in the Tour when everyone’s so tired they might get popped on a climb and it doesn’t slow down. That’s when the Tour finishes for them. You don’t see that bit on T.V. They should show highlights of the first two hours.
Looking back when you were a developing rider, what do you wish you had done differently in training knowing what you know now?
Gerro: I wish that I focused more on what I was good at earlier on. As a young rider you try to be good at everything. You’re trying to be sprinter, a climber, in the breakaways…everything. Ultimately your goal as an amateur rider is to be professional. Its really hard when you don’t have a strength – like the guys who are great sprinters. They win a lot sprints from a young age, turn professional and they become sprinters. It has taken me until the past couple of years to figure out what I’m going to be good at. I was figuring it out as I went. I was a smaller guy so I thought maybe I could be a climber but I’m not going down that path. It was eating at me that I was a jack of all trades but master of none. Then I realised that there’s a career in being a jack of all trades…and its in the breakaways. You have to be able to climb, sprint, and spend the day up the road. Consequently, I’m finding out that I can do pretty well in the Ardennes Classics. So basically find out what you’re good and you’ll develop as you get older.
With regards to training, what do you see as the biggest mistakes in developing and amateur riders?
Gerro: I think a lot of them over-train. Many young riders do way to much volume. I think its an important phase in your career, to do a big block of volume to get those foundations at the beginning. But I think you’ll get so much more out of your training by doing specifics. I did a lot of volume early when I was racing for Australia in the U23 and I do less volume training now. This is because a lot of our volume comes from racing. I use big races as my volume but what I’m trying to achieve out in my training is to get stronger and improve specific areas rather than just ride my bike. Its very rare that I’ll train more than 5.5 hrs. From what I understand you get the same endurance benefits out of a 4 hr ride as you do out of a 7hr ride.
It’s interesting that you quote your training volume in hours. A lot of people around here state their training in kms. Why is that?
Gerro: Because its easy to punch out heaps of kms down Beach Road and back. My training at the moment is two long days a week (4-5hrs) and probably three 3hr rides with intervals and two easy days. So not a huge volume of training.
Can you think of some profound or wise cycling advice that someone has given you over the years that you keep in the forefront of your mind?
Gerro: Probably the wisest words that I’ve come across are the words I didn’t get all the way along. When I was first starting out I remember waiting for that key message that’s gonna give me that edge. And once I was told that, I would be able to win. What I’ve discovered is there is no key message. There is no one training tip that’s gonna turn you into a world champion and I think the big thing to remember is that there’s no substitute for hard work.
You’re the master of the breakaway. How do you know the timing of when a break is going to stick and which one to go with?
I’ve been getting better at it. Mainly because that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the past few years. You can go with a hundred attacks and none of them will work and then you see some guys just floating in the back and go bang and land the right one. So a lot of it is luck. I’ll wait for the stages where I’m pretty confident a breakaway is gonna go. You wait for the GC to pan out, you wait for a hard enough stage that the sprinters aren’t going to want to have to get it together with their teams on the front. You basically have to wait for the right situation in the race for it to be a breakaway day. You can pretty much pick it before the race starts. When I get the race book, I can pretty much go through it and say “this is gonna be right for a breakaway” and then from there I’ll think this stage is good for me and that’s the stage I’ll aim for. This year I made one breakaway at the Giro and one breakaway at the Vuelta and that was it. Once you make that breakaway and you’re out there busting your ass all day – that puts me in a lot of hurt for the rest of the race. You go deep on the day and basically put all your eggs in one basket.
What keeps you motivated on those days you don’t want to get out and ride?
Gerro: One of the good bits of advice I got on this subject is from one of my first coaches, Dave Sanders, who I still get a lot of advice from. Something he used to say that is very true is “the hardest part about going training is putting on your socks”. Once you’re in the motion of getting ready then it’s easy. You’re on your way out the door and you’re doing it. The key to staying motivated is surrounding yourself with a group of motivated people. Even if its a miserable day, there’s always someone who’s motivated.
Is there anything you’re doing differently with this year’s training than you’ve done previously.
Gerro: I’ve just started things a little slower this year. I started my training a bit later. The only thing I’m trying to do at this stage is get three months of training in before I pin on a number and get into any serious racing. I haven’t taken a whole different approach this year. I’m starting my season in February, similar to what I did last year, because I found that worked really well for the Classics for me. This year I’m going to put a bit of emphasis on Paris-Nice and I’m heading back to Europe soon where I’m about to do a couple serious training blocks.
Do you wish the Australian National Championships were held at a different time in the season so you could possibly get that title?
Gerro: I really put a focus on the Nationals for the first few years of my career and its such a hard race to win. You can be in the best form but…The year than Will Walker won it, I was going quite well and I was really hoping to win it but then I crashed and that was my race pretty much gone. I feel I did pretty well the year that Matty Lloyd won it and there’s been quite a few times where I’ve been around the mark but it hasn’t worked out for me. Now I’m putting more focus on the European Spring Classics and its kind of hard to do a peak in January for the National title. The way I see it, you have about three peaks in a season and any more than that you’ll really struggle. In 2008 I came up good for the classics, I came up good for the Tour and I held that on through to the Olympics. After that, I tried to ramp it up for the Worlds and I just didn’t have anything left in tank.
Are you excited about the Worlds being held here in Melbourne next year?
Gerro: Yah! I looked at the course a couple of weeks ago and its going to be exciting. I don’t think its a sprinters course that everyone’s talking it up to be. And I’m not just saying that because I’m not a sprinter. There’s a couple of tough climbs in there and I think the last lap will really blow the field apart.
What’s your favourite pre-race meal?
Gerro: It took me a long time to get this right. When I went through the Italian amateurs its traditional to eat a bowl of pasta and then you’ll have some ham and cheese or something and then go off to a race. I found out that that’s the worst thing I could possibly eat before a race. Over time I found out what works for me and I’ve done some testing and have since found out that I have a wheat intolerance. So I should avoid any type of pasta because I don’t digest it well. Now I stick more to grains and rice and I feel much better for it in the race. The night before I like having risotto and then in the morning I’ll have porridge or something like that.
Any Bay Crit TIPS for me?
TIPS withheld until after the Bay Crits. They’re GOLD!