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Tour of California 2009 – Canadian Interviews with Rollin, Tuft and Barry

by Amy Smolens

February 14, 2009 (Sacramento, CA) – While in Sacramento for events surrounding the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, I had the opportunity to speak with three of Canada’s foremost pro cyclists – Dominique Rollin (Cervélo Test Team), Svein Tuft (Garmin-Slipstream) and Michael Barry (Columbia-High Road). All of them had successful 2008 seasons, and all of them are optimistic going into the 2009 campaign.

Dominique Rollin (Cervélo Test Team)

The last time I saw you was last year at the Tour of Missouri and your Toyota-United team was closing up shop. You signed on with a fantastic team, Cervélo. How did you end up with them?
Dominique Rollin: Just trying to make the jump over to Europe, and after a good early start of the season last year, my name was getting my name out there following the results I had at the Tour of California. I was hoping to go back to Europe after being there as an amateur. I was talking to teams and when Cervélo (a Canadian company) came on strong I think they were psyched to try to have a Canadian on the team and I came along!

What is your home base over in Europe?
DR: I’ll be based close to the Service Course outside Lucerne in Switzerland, a good place to ride. But I just finished a one-week training camp and just getting over the jet lag coming from Europe. We were training just outside Malibu in the mountains – not too bad for a place to train – good terrain, good climbing. Getting ready for the big climbs this year at the Tour of California.

Cervélo’s Time Trial bikes are world famous – are you going to turn into a TT rider?
DR: I’m working on my Time Trial. We’ve done a lot of training on the TT bikes. It’s the most comfortable bike and it feels really quick so I think we’ll have good results here and throughout the season.

How would you compare the organization and team structure to teams you’ve been on in the past?
DR: Cervélo seems quite similar to Toyota-United but for sure on a bigger scale. We’re talking about 25 riders, so bigger, and better support for covering your health, making sure everyone’s doing ok. We have a clinic in Switzerland that’s overlooking any health issues, or making sure that we’re ready for races and there’s nothing wrong. Otherwise, they do so much such ensuring we have the best equipment to work with. I think that’s the main difference from everything I’ve seen so far and every team I’ve seen at the moment. We’re sort of a factory team, where we work directly with the product manufacturers. Along with Cervélo we work with 3T (handlebars,), Rotor (components), Castelli (clothing) to improve the equipment. And at the moment it’s already paying off. We’ve seen some change in the materials we’re using and some cool stuff is coming up the road.

What’s it like being on a team with world-class riders like Carlos Sastre, and Thor Hushovd?
DR: Oh, nice, relaxed and funny. Actually, Carlos is kind of the clown of the team so it’s pretty good to see from someone at his level so down-to-earth, enjoying life and making fun of himself when he can.

What can you pick up from racing with Thor?
DR: We’re pretty similar types of sprinters. We’ve done a couple sprints against each other in training and we’re pretty close to one another so that’s good to see for myself – just reassuring myself that “yeah, I’m actually a sprinter.” But also I think that our size and just the way we approach the race, we’re pretty close to one another. So that’ll be another good thing on the road as a cohesion, just to help each other and improve.

Is it pretty inspiring to be racing with the Tour de France champion and a former Green Jersey winner?
DR: (Laughs) Yeah, I think so, it is. The first few times you meet them, you stay shy, you’re just afraid to talk to them, but it didn’t take long to feel that yeah, we’re part of a unit and whatever results we bring in is a plus for the team and the riders.

What is your program as far as you know it?
DR: So far I’ll be competing mostly at the classis. So after California I’m flying straight for – I can’t remember the new name – but Het Volk (note: the race is now called Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after Het Nieuwsblad took over the Het Volk newspaper), and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Then I’ll carry on with Tirreno-Adriatico and the main classics like (Tour of) Flanders and Paris-Roubaix (breaks into big smile and begins to laugh.)

Paris-Roubaix sounds like something right up your alley, you like to suffer”¦
DR: I love the hard races, the ones that challenge you. So yeah, I think they’ll be a good try just to see what it is. I’ve dreamed of being on those roads for years. I had blips of being there as an amateur but it’s nothing like being part of the show, being part of the real deal so it’ll be fun, I think.

What are your team goals here at the Tour of California and how do you personally follow up on last year’s epic win?
DR: I think following up on the epic win”¦ well it’s raining today so here we go – it’s off to a good start for me! We have a strong team here with a couple guys going for GC – I don’t want to give too much info, but Carlos is mostly just getting ready for the season so don’t expect him to be out showing himself. But we have strong guys and a couple of good guys to shine like Thor Hushovd for the sprints; Brett Lancaster, who was the last man for (sprinter Alessandro) Petacchi the last few years; Hayden Roulston, who comes from a track background and was Olympic (Silver) medalist (in Pursuit) last year in Beijing. So strong leadouts, strong guys – I think we’ll have something to interesting to show here.

Good luck!
DR: Thanks.


Svein Tuft (Garmin-Slipstream)

When World Time Trial Silver Medalist Svein Tuft’s Symmetrics team folded at the end of last season, the Langley, BC native landed firmly on his feet, signing with ProTour team Garmin-Slipstream.

After winning the ITT silver medal at the 2008 Road Worlds was this your most enjoyable off-season ever?
Svein Tuft: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to end your season. Sometimes you end a season really tired and burnt out but that just left me wanting more. So yeah, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish last year.

Tell us how things came about for you to sign with Garmin-Slipstream?
ST: You know, I’ve been friends with Jonathan Vaughters for years now and it’s always been on the radar. We’ve chatted often and I’ve said that if Symmetrics didn’t pull through that would be the team that I’d end up on. I’ve always appreciated their program, I’ve watched them throughout the years and seen how they were stepping up and I just knew that would be the team to progress to.

And is it nice having two other Canadians, Ryder Hesjedal and Christian Meier on the team with you?
ST: It’s great. Canada has never been in this position to have this many guys in the ProTour and this many opportunities to be racing such a high quality, high level of racing in Europe with such good teams backing them. So yeah, it’s really cool and yeah, all of us are excited.

And you have to be happy that all the other Symmetrics riders found teams, too.
ST: Yeah, I mean it just goes to show what our program was doing. It developed all these guys into riders that teams wanted. It was a really hard market last year for a lot of guys and I think a lot of directors looked at our riders and said you know, the way they’re riding, not getting paid, but still doing their jobs and still gutting it out for each other – that’s what we were doing for each other. I think a lot of people saw that and had a lot of respect for it so I think that’s a huge reason why everyone did get a job.

How would you characterize the organization and the team structure of Garmin?
ST: I think that one of the things on Symmetrics we learned that worked really well for us is that everyone unites and works as one team unit and that was so important in the culture. I sometimes worried about that, moving to a bigger organization, if that’s going to be retained, and I’m finding that they’ve done a really job with the culture. You have 30 guys who are all pretty much on the same page and I just think that’s the way it has to work. You can have bunch of strong guys but if they’re not willing to throw down for each other, it just becomes a bunch of guys doing whatever they want to do!

And you guys had a training camp to help with the bonding, right?
ST: Yeah, yeah in November. Some of us new guys, the first day they drove us out to the paintball area and handed us all guns and basically said to go at it. We went into teams and it was a cool, cool way to start out because right away you’re bonding with people you didn’t even know so that was fun. And just training camps and all that stuff, being with guys for over three weeks and riding every day, you’re going to learn everything about everyone so that’s good.

What’s your program for this season as far as you know it?
ST: As far as I know, I’ll do Tour of California, head over to Europe for Eroica (Monte Paschi Eroica,) Tirreno-Adriatico, Three Days of De Panne, Milan-San Remo, Flanders, Roubaix, and then the Giro and then the Tour.

What are your thoughts on racing in Grand Tours?
ST: We’ll see. At this point it’s all talk and until I get through the Giro and do well for the team, right now it’s just talk. So I’m excited and I’m looking to do my best there and we’ll see what happens in May.

Does your World Championship silver medal give you confidence that with your time trial abilities, in a race like the Tour of California, you could podium if you can hang in the mountains?
ST: Yeah, I mean that’s the biggest thing, hanging in the mountains, the guys here are world class. And we have some guys going on the team now that are just ripping in the mountains. I mean you never know what will happen and if the race plays itself out and I can hang in there and have a good time trial, you never know. But I really do see a couple of other guys on our team right now with some super form. I’ll be there to do my job and if that means I have to try and ride in a GC position, then that’s what I’ll do. But that will work its way out on Stage 2.

This past week I looked at the front page of Sunday’s New York Times sports section and there’s A-Rod”¦ and then there’s you! How did that come about – making the front page of the sports section in one of the top papers in the world?
ST: I don’t know, that was a bit of a shocker for myself! I mean I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know it was going to be that big, I thought it would be a little side story somewhere. I remember talking with Juliet Macur, the lady who wrote the article, in camp. You know, I didn’t know that depth of it and what it really meant at that time so you’re just having a chat and talking about your life story. And then a few weeks back she started calling and I heard she’d been getting hold of all my different relatives and friends, people who know me to basically verify my story (laughs) and I thought, “wow, this is getting really serious, she’s actually going to do this!” At first I thought it would be something they were going to maybe have on the side if something happened down the road. But yeah, it really went off and she did a good job!

And did your friends and relatives like it?
ST: Yeah, yeah (laughs,) they love it. They’re just like me, they’re just shocked at where it appeared. But I guess it makes sense – people like a different story these days than the usual.

So after a silver medal at the Worlds last year what’s your goal for this season?
ST: For me, I don’t ever start the season out saying, “Oh, I wish this would happen” or “this would be the greatest thing if this would happen.” I know I’ve been progressing every year and as long as I keep doing that, that’s what makes me happy.

Thank you!
ST: You’re welcome.


Michael Barry (Columbia-High Road)

I figured that Pedalmag readers would be hearing a lot of nuts, bolts, sweat and gears cycling talk over the coming week. So for the ProTour veteran, Team Columbia’s Michael Barry, I decided to veer off onto some more offbeat subjects.

How was your off-season and did you spend it mostly with Dede and the kids?
Michael Barry: Yeah, we didn’t get back to Canada during the off-season. We were in Girona the whole time and my parents came over. It was actually really nice and made the off-season easier just being in one spot. It’s the first time in my career that I’ve been in one spot through the off-season so that was really good. And it also gave me the opportunity to spend a lot more time with the kids and Dede.

You’re easily one of the most eclectic riders in the peloton – what are some of the off-the-bike projects you have going? I read that you were going to try to learn Catalan”¦
MB: Yeah (laughs,) well I think that sadly, or maybe kind of neat also, is our little son Liam – he’s 3-1/2 years old now – is kind of slowly teaching us Catalan (laughs). So”¦ yeah, he’s fluent, so he’ll tell us words for things and that sort of thing. But yeah, I want to go to school and learn more Catalan. I’m fairly fluent in Spanish now so that’s the next goal because most people around there speak Catalan. Otherwise, I’m working on a book (note: Barry has written two books already) and I enjoy writing so whenever I have a chance to do that I try and do it.

And you’ve also always enjoyed riding since you were a kid. What’s the most amazing place you’ve ever ridden?
MB: Most amazing place, hmmm”¦ that’s tough, there are so many places – it’s quite intriguing. Actually, I really enjoy riding in Girona and around there and I find new roads all the time. This past off-season I was riding quite a bit with David Millar and Daniel Martin because they were living there as well and we went on some great little dirt roads. Also, you know, back in Toronto there are some great roads, outside of the city, out in the country on dirt roads, very quiet and peaceful.

After the Beijing Games I did a bike tour in Yunnan Province – have you thought of going back there when your kids get older?
MB: Dede and I have been speaking a lot – our team works with “Right to Play” and they go to remote areas and developing nations and teach kids how to play sports and that’s something we’d really like to do with the kids, maybe in five or six years when they’re a little bit older. We’ve seen most of Europe and North America. I haven’t been to South America or to much of Asia, so there’s a lot of the world still yet to discover. I was fortunate that when I was a kid my parents took me all over the place and showed me the world and kind of taught me how to travel and see things and open my mind to them. I really hope to do that with our kids, as well.

On the team website there’s a question about what you last listened to on your iPod and you answer Leonard Cohen. Who are some of your favourite Canadian artists?
MB: Yeah, I listen to Leonard Cohen quite a bit, actually. Canadian artists”¦ Neil Young, obviously. I used to listen to The Guess Who a lot, but not so much anymore.

Not “American Women””¦ Dede wouldn’t like that?
MB: No (laughs)”¦ yeah, exactly!!!

Back to cycling – in this economy with many teams folding, it has to make you feel secure and comfortable to be in your 3rd year with Team Columbia.
MB: I feel really fortunate to be part of a good team. We have a good environment and we have a lot of fun together and that’s the most important thing, that’s what makes the team successful. It’s hard to see cycling in the state it’s in right now but that obviously just mirrors the global economy and hopefully we can dig ourselves out of it soon. But you know, cyclists can be inspirational and athletes can be inspirational and in tough times I think we can have a really positive influence on people that are down and kind of struggling financially or whatever it may be. So that’s one thing that’s really positive about what we are doing.

How positive is it that during these tough times many Canadian riders found new teams – guys like Tuft, Meier and Rollin will be in the European peloton with you?
MB: Last fall Christian and Svein were in Girona and we were training together before the Road World Championships and then Dominique came to Girona over Christmas and we had a lot of fun riding together! It’s awesome that there are five Canadians in the professional (European) peloton now, which is the most there have ever been. And also guys that are really at the top of the sport now, so that’s great for Canadian cycling.

And great to see Svein on the front sports page of the New York Times?
MB: Yeah, I was really happy to see that and I think that a lot of the world read it because I noticed that it was one of the most read articles for quite a few days. He really deserves it. I mean, he’s a super, super nice guy and just grounded. He’s one of those people that when you’re around him he has such a lot of positive energy that you just have fun. He’s relaxed and a good person and I really enjoy being with him.

One final question about the Amgen Tour of California – what are your team and individual goals for the race?
MB: We have several riders who can do well in the General Classification so I’ll be working for them and also Mark Cavendish for the sprints. Coming back to North American it’s important for me and also for the team and I hope to add some solid individual performances as well. If I have opportunities I’ll take them but otherwise our major goals as a team are to help out Mark and go for a good place in the GC as well.

Good luck and thanks for your time.
MB: Sure, thanks!

It will be exciting to see Dominique Rollin, Svein Tuft, Michael Barry, Ryder Hesjedal and Christian Meier locking horns with the world’s best cyclists here and in Europe in 2009, and we look forward to providing interviews as their seasons progress.

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