September 6, 2007 – Here is Part 2 of our Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast interviews with Martin Gilbert, whose recent victory at the USPRO Criterium Championships (Aug. 19) is the most important win for the team to date. KBS is a first-year America Tour UCI Continental Team based in Minneapolis, Mn., that has the most Canadians of any US squad – Gilbert, Keven Lacombe, Dominique Perras, Ryan Roth and Mark Hinnen. (click here to read KBS Interviews Part 1 with Jonas Carney, here for Part 2 with Martin Gilbert, and here to read an earlier interview with Martin Gilbert, Ryan Roth and Mark Hinnen).
You’d been so close to victories this season so often, lots of seconds and thirds… how big was your win at the USPro Criterium Championship for you and your Kelly Benefit Strategies team?
Martin Gilbert: I think that win was pretty big and pretty good for everybody, for me and the other riders, for the team as whole and for the sponsors. I think every sponsor flew in for this race, a lot of them flew in only for this event – so all of the sponsors were there and the whole team was there. It was a big win because all the guys had done a pretty good job the previous weekend at the Tour de Toona -all season but mostly in Toona we got closer to winning – and in Elk Grove we had a second place, a third place, and a sixth place. So I think everybody was really thinking that we can win for sure so everybody just got to the front with 15 laps to go and worked really hard until the end and it ended up pretty good.
With the field of most of North America’s top teams and all the Americans wanting to win the race to be the USPro Crit champion, how important is it to know that you are one of the fastest guys in North America and your team can win in that field?
MG: It’s really nice to see that now we can say, ok, pretty much every race with a sprint in it we can contest for the win. Yeah, for me it’s really great and for the whole team when everyone knows that there’s one, or two, or three guys who can finish the job and be able to win a race. For the final sprint now everybody is able to put 15% more than normal because of the way we think now and everybody is really motivated. In general this win is great for the team and it’s really good for the future because everybody is ready now and pumped for next year and for the remaining races this year.
Tell us about how Jonas Carney, who won this race twice before, played a role in this victory, and how he helped you and Keven Lacombe with the course.
MG: We had a good meeting with Jonas with the whole team, and later, we had a little specific meeting just Keven, myself and Jonas to finish out every corner and where it was best to take them – inside, outside etc. I was in agreement with everything and we discussed as well that we wanted to take the sprint at the front. All year we raced more from behind and tried to win sprints coming from like 10th place or something like that. We decided that for this race it would be a lot easier for two sprinters, if we not in any trouble for the last ten or fifteen laps, to go from the front and that’s exactly what happened. The guys did a pretty nice job keeping Keven and I out of trouble for the last fifteen laps so we arrived at the sprint pretty fresh and able to put 100% out for the last lap or two. Keven and I led for the last 2-3 laps, but we’d expended less energy before so we were pretty fresh. I think Jonas is pretty good with tactics and things like that as he raced those races many times on lots of courses, so he knows how to do it for sure.
Do you feel like Jonas is the perfect director for racers like you and Keven?
MG: Oh yeah, for sure. Jonas won a lot of races and he knows how to do it and he’s the same kind of rider, maybe not exactly… I think Jonas was a little bit better than us speedwise. He had a lot more power and speed for the sprint finish, and we’re a little bit more like road race sprinters. When we discussed things with Jonas we just adapted our style a little bit – he knows how to adapt a strategy with our style of riding which is similar to his style. He knows how to finish a race in the sprint so it was perfect for us.
You’re still pretty young, are you planning to develop more power and skills?
MG: Oh yeah. I think at 24-years-old it’s what I have to do right now – Keven as well. As cyclists we have many years in front of us and can increase our power, speed, endurance etc. At this age if you keep riding and training you’re likely to improve year after year, so I think we have a lot to look forward to.
What part did you play in helping to get Keven on the Kelly Benefit Strategies team and have you been surprised at how well he’s done with the team so quickly?
MG: I raced a lot with Keven in the past and he’s a pretty good friend of mine as well in everyday life. I wanted to bring him on to the team in January and pushed a lot with Jonas. He was willing to take him then but Keven wanted to make a good impression when he began racing for a U.S. team. With his injury last year (broken femur) he wasn’t sure if he would have the fitness so he told me, “I prefer to wait for half the year and if in June I feel good and don’t have problems with my leg let’s go.” And that’s exactly what happened. In June I spoke with Jonas and told him, “I think I can have good results but if I can have one guy who is able to bring me 3-4-500 meters to the line I think it would make all the difference between finishing 5th, 6th, 7th or even 3rd sometimes – and we could start winning some races. Jonas said “Ok, I believe you, let’s go.” So Keven came on board and his first race was the Tour de Toona. We already had two podiums (Lacombe 2nd, Gilbert 3rd) and then after that, Elk Grove two podiums again (Gilbert 3rd, David McCook 2nd) and then we won the USPro Crit. So I think Jonas is pretty happy about that right now and if we have any other good recommendations maybe he will listen to us again.
He definitely will. He told me that if the team adds one more guy from Quebec he’ll start working on his French with books and tapes. Does that give you incentive?
MG: Yeah, exactly! I think right now the team has three French guys (Martin, Keven and Dominique Perras). It’s true, we try and speak English but, instinctively, if we want to say something quick we often speak in French between us (laughs). I think if we add one more Quebecer… maybe some guys on the team will try a little French lesson when we travel in the car or something.
The last time we talked at the Nature Valley Grand Prix Ryan Roth and Mark Hinnen were making fun of your English. Maybe you can return the favour with their French?
MG: Yeah, maybe, (laughs) yeah, yeah, we can start to do that for sure!!
It’s all part of your plot to have a majority of Canadian on the team right? With another Canuck you’ll have more Canadians than Americans.
MG: Yeah, for next year I think the team will grow a little bit. We have 11 riders this year …. we’ve had a lot of guys injured so you want to make sure we won’t have problems with that next year. So maybe we’ll become a team of 13-14 riders and for sure I know Jonas is speaking with a lot of guys, some guys from Quebec and other parts of Canada, too. If we get one more Quebec rider it’ll be really nice. It’s nice to have guys from everywhere but I think it’s also nice to have your friends around as well when you travel. For example you can meet up in Montreal to take the plane together.
What’s next for you?
MG: I’m off to Atlanta next Monday and then head to the Canadian Track Nationals the weekend after (Sept. 6-9). Then I’ll have one or two weekends off and head to a big Criterium in Las Vegas (the World Criterium Championships). I think some guys on the team will do that. Following that event I will kind of switch to the track season but will still do the Tour of Chihuahua in Mexico in mid-October to work on more endurance and power.
Is it tough for you to constantly switch back and forth from the road to the track?
MG: It’s getting pretty hard. With the resources we have for the track it’s not that easy in Canada right now. Presently the track program is more self-funded so if I want to achieve my goal and go to the Olympics, as I’ve wanted to do for the last six years, I need to go to Australia, Beijing, Denmark, L.A. For those races, my teammate Ryan McKenzie and I have to find sponsors and materials and book our airline tickets, hotel, car, everything. So these days it’s not that easy because you can’t just focus on training, where your coach or the team manages everything else. In October I will not be able to ride in Quebec because it’s too cold so I have to head somewhere warm and plan the flights etc. is not so easy. I can’t just focus on training – wake up, eat, train, sleep etc. – while planning ahead with a specific goal for an upcoming World Cup. So it’s bad in that way.
But you’re going to keep doing it because that’s how you’ll have the best chance to get to Beijing?
MG: Yes, the best way to make it to Beijing is on the track, primarily in the Madison. It’s a race that I like a lot and I’m always thinking about doing well in it. But to achieve that I have to sacrifice a lot of things – school first, and road cycling second. For sure I could be a little bit better in different ways on the road if I only trained for it. Right now if there was a National Team program or something with structure and coaches, it could be a lot different and really motivating because then you’d know what’s planned for each day, and you’d race and train in certain ways to be prepared. Right now I work with a coach, but my coach doesn’t even travel with me. If I want to leave say a month before the first World Cup then I’ll be going by myself. And if I head to Australia I’ll need to find somebody who will be able to drive a motorcycle for us for example and plan time to use the track etc. So it’s not well organized right now…
That doesn’t sound easy to manage. What are your goals on the road for the rest of the season?
MG: For the rest of the season I have two or three more races. Las Vegas will be a pretty good trip, I think a lot of people will be there so it would be good to do well there. I might not have help from my good teammate (Lacombe) as he’s going to Europe for the Tour de l’Avenir hoping to get selected for the U23 team for Road World Championships (up to five riders from the Tour de l’Avenir team will be selected for Canada’s U23 Road Worlds team). If he’s not in Las Vegas other guys on our team will be there so it will still be good. And afterwards I’ll race at the Tour of Chihuahua as I mentioned. We looked at the course and there are two or three days that can finish in a sprint, so those stages will be goals for me. After that I’ll be back on the track and will focus again on the road in February, March and April of next year.
Do you expect to be back with Kelly Benefit Strategies next year?
MG: It’s hard right now with everything that’s going on… I have a couple options on the go but I think there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be back. I like Jonas, I like the way the team is going, and I like to have some good friends on the team, that’s important for me. I’ve spoken a lot with Jonas and there’s a good chance I’ll return, but I’m still looking at the other options and speaking with other people to figure out what is the best plan for me.
Good luck with everything.