What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Interviews: Antonio Cruz, Part II

Grab some coffee, rub your eyes, try and wake up from that post-Thanksgiving coma: we’ve got Part II of our interview with Tony Cruz – including some great stories from Cruz’ big win in Europe in 2005 (Tour de L’Ain Stage 2), the 2006 USPRO Crit, his toughest race, his goals for 2007 and MUCH More!!!

PEZ: Are you looking to any particular Grand Tour for 2007?

AC: I’d like to do the Tour, that’s my focus for next year. It’s about the only race that I haven’t done, it’s about time to do it. There aren’t that many more years left for me. It’s kind of a bummer when people that don’t know about bike racing ask about me and the Tour – have you done the Tour? When I say no, it kind of sets the mood for the rest of the conversation: then the guy is like, do you get paid? do you have a real job? I thought about it and I said, man, I need to do the Tour, to silence everyone, but for myself too of course.

PEZ: Tell me about your first win in Europe – 2004, 2nd Stage of the Tour de L’Ain…

AC: It seemed like such a long time coming. I’d been close in a lot of races, but never actually done it. It was really funny having Jose Azevedo working for me that day. He came up to me and said that they would work for me. I never expected that from someone like Jose or someone of his calibre. There were times during that stage when I couldn’t even hold his wheel, because he didn’t realize how hard he was going and how long I was in the red for.

There was a circuit we were doing, and on each lap there was a climb of about about a k, maybe a k and a half. It was so hard. I knew that I needed to attack on the climb to get a gap, so that when they caught me I could go over the top with them and do the descent easily, otherwise, I knew I would have been dropped, and obviously the outcome would have been different.

So I attacked and a few other guys went with me, and right over the top I see the Blue Train coming over, I got on, and then Jose drilled it the whole way down the descent. Benjamin Noval took over after that, then AG2R started their lead-out train, but it was a bit sketchy, so I was able to steal the wheel of their sprinter’s lead-out guy, and they basically led me out. I got through the last turn cleanly and I won it pretty easily.

It wasn’t too easy though.

PEZ: How about USPRO Crit this year – that was quite a finish…

AC: The day before everything went to plan. We jumped HealthNet’s lead out and it was me and Ivan Dominguez (Tony’s teammate on Toyota-United) – he took the corner first and won easily.

The next day, Ivan never made it to the spot where he needed to be, top 5-6 guys. JJ [Haedo] was there, but he got bumped off my wheel, but of course I was there. Brad was leading it with two turns to go, but he eased up a bit, but now I have to go by myself and get around Brad, start sprinting. I come on his inside and he decides to re-accelerate, so we’ve got a drag race going into the final turn. I didn’t want to give up my spot, so I had to swing back into him and make the turn. We were bumping for awhile and he ended up hitting the brakes.

I tried to go through without brakes, but that was my biggest mistake. I skimmed the barriers, and ended up having to brake, by the time I was able to recover Hilton Clarke had come underneath both Brad and I, and Brad had already started his sprint. I got too anxious there at the finish. I should have just stayed behind.

I was like, great, we’re drag racing. What do I do? Bump him over as wide as I can and hope for the best.

Tony Cruz in the early break in Stage 20 of the 2004 Vuelta.

PEZ: You’ve done some serious Classics racing in your career…

AC: Yeah, I’ve done five Paris-Roubaix’s and Five Flanders.

PEZ: I remember seeing you in a few early breaks in those races…how are the early breaks?

AC: A lot of times I prefer to be out there, because it’s usually a big break of 10 guys, mostly working well together, maybe one or two sitting on. There’s a lot of chaos from behind – going into the first cobbled section of berg in Flanders and that’s complete chaos from 15k out and it’s a sprint from 5k out from section to section to be at the front. I think it’s kind of nice to avoid that once in awhile and have the other guys come up to me. Maybe one day the break I’m in will go all the way to the finish.

PEZ: How hard is it to get in the early break in a huge, long race like Paris-Roubaix or Flanders?

AC: It usually takes 4-5 attempts, seems to be the average, then there’s the breaking point. A lot of time I see that, then I’ll be the last guy to go across. I’ll follow wheels mostly, sometimes I attack, it’s not that hard because it’s such a long race, and a lot of teams are like, fine, as long as we’ve got someone up there.

PEZ: You got pretty close to a stage win at the Vuelta in 05 – the big one in ’07 perhaps?

AC: In 2005, I was pretty lucky. Floyd said after Stage 10 or 11 that he wasn’t good for the overall and that opened it up for everybody. We started swapping the jersey amongst ourselves and it gave me more opportunities and I was definitely trying to capitalize on that. I definitely see that at other stage races as an opportunity. I’m ready to win some races. If you don’t put it out there, you’ll never get the opportunity.

Mr. Cruz in his second go around at Paris-Roubaix in 2002.

PEZ: What race was your biggest struggle?

AC: I think it was the 3 Days of De Panne, my first year in 2001. You know, of course I wasn’t used to so much rain coming from Southern California. I wanted to arrive to Belgium a week before to get used to the weather, the food, show these guys that I was focused. It was so cold and rainy that year, Roubaix was so muddy.

That first day of De Panne though, I was so cold. It started to rain, so I go back to the car, get a rain jacket and gloves. I go back up to the peloton and get right in the middle, but I’m still so cold. I go back to the car again, put my thermal vest on over my rain jacket, get a thermal hat, and then sat in the middle of the peloton just shaking.

So I’m sitting there just dying and George and Christian Vandevelde come rolling up laughing at me so hard because I had the vest over my rain jacket. I was frozen. I was a popsicle. All my loyal teammates/friends could do to help was come up laughing at me. They were bringing Italians to come look at me, to see the sight.

I saw white flashes in front of me. I thought I was going to die.

It ended up clearing up, it was a quick little system, and I finally warmed up. I made the break with Tchmil, Eki, George, Museeuw, and it went from one of my worst races ever to one of my best finishes ever. I’ve never been so cold on my bike, everything hurt, I thought I was going to take out half of the peloton.

Antonio Cruz in his inaugural Spring Campaign in 2001 at the Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen.

PEZ: So did you do Paris-Roubaix in 2001?

AC: Yeah. It was crazy. We come into the first cobbled section, and of course it was a drag race to get there, and I could see the stretch of cobbles ahead of us. We’re going 60k an hour, it’s raining, muddy, and sure enough we hit these cobbles and there were guys crashing left and right, like we were on an ice rink.

I remember running over Andre Tchmil’s leg. He crashed right in front of me, and I couldn’t brake or move. I tried to jump over him, but I ended up running him over with my back wheel. The race was unbelievable. I couldn’t see anything, it was cold, and everytime you came up to a muddy section of cobbles (all of them), guaranteed 12-15 guys would go down.

PEZ: When will your season start in ’07?

AC: I’ve got camp in December in Austin, then I’ll sit down with Johan and Dirk and plan it out. I’d love to do some good racing before California that makes sense without overextending.

PEZ: So California is a pretty important race for you?

AC: Oh yeah, the finish of the final stage is in Long Beach. The final stage finishes four blocks from my house. One of my cousins was talking about doing a little detour to go right by my house. Right by where you make the little u-turn on the circuit before you go back downtown, it’s 4 maybe 5 blocks from my house, there’s no speed there, so it would be easy to divert and go through my neighborhood.

PEZ: Are there any riders that you admire? Or have you been around big riders for such a long time that they’ve kind of lost that magic?

AC: No, there are still those guys. Basso is one of those guys. He’s just such a superstar. When you race in Italy with or against him, the magnitude of just how big he really is hits you. His talent level is amazing. He’s definitely one of those guys. Azevedo is another one of those, Rubiera too, and definitely Ekimov. I’m bummed Ekimov is retired now. If there’s anyone that could go another 10 years, it’s Eki.

He’s such a wealth of knowledge in this sport. He knows everything about it. He’s one of those guys that can mentor any squad guaranteed. He loves to share information to help you, whether you’re trying to deal with losing weight or adapting to a different country or culture. He’s got a lot of good answers for those things.

– Thanks to Tony for talking with us and we’ll be watching in 2007! –

For more info see the Team Discovery Channel website.

ANTONIO CRUZ Interview Part 1
Antonio Cruz has gone through an interesting change of scenes over the past few seasons: ProTour Discovery to domestic pro team Toyota United, and now for 2007 back to Discovery. PEZ chatted with Cruz about the changes, time at home, training, Basso, and his thoughts on some testy topics in Part One of a two-part interview.

PEZ: First off Tony, the important question: are you doing cross this fall/winter?

Antonio Cruz: No, not really. It’s kinda hard, but I think I’ll just go watch my kids play soccer. I might go to one or two this year. I love ‘cross. It’s awesome.

PEZ: How old are your kids?

AC: Brandon is 15, Alexi is 11, and then we have a three and a half year old, Aidan.

Tony in 2005 in Discovery colors. He took a year hiatus to race domestically, but he’s headed back to Europe in 2007.

PEZ: So how will it work for next season, will you move back to Girona?

AC: I’ll definitely move back over. It’s really the hard thing, moving everybody over, making it so that it works for everyone. We’re looking into homeschooling everyone; homeschooling for 3-4 months and letting the kids play soccer over there. That’ll be good.

PEZ: The last few seasons have seen some serious team changes from Discovery to Toyota and back again, what’s the story?

AC: Leaving Discovery was more to be with my family. It was a big transition phase, especially with Brandon starting high school. The opportunity to race for Toyota came up and it just seemed perfect, but after a couple of months racing here it just wasn’t as motivating and fulfilling. Then I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my career, and thinking about going back to Europe. I started discussing it with my wife, and when I finally convinvced her, I called up Johan. He was surprised to hear from me, but he was more than willing to offer my old spot up.

PEZ: This is a different Discovery that you’re returning to…

AC: Yeah, it’s going to be interesting. When I called Johan, I wasn’t expecting these changes: 10-11 guys moving on or retiring. Then I started looking at it in a more positive way and realized that I’d have some seniority and possibly some opportunities for myself, as well as helping George in the Classics. It seems like it’ll be a really different program; I’m looking forward to it. It’s pretty dramatic, but I think it’ll work out to my benefit.

PEZ: You are gaining one teammate in particular that is causing quite a stir at the moment: Ivan Basso. Your thoughts on Basso?

AC:Just from racing with him, I think he’s a class act. He’s a guy that can show class and be a gentleman on and off the bike. I think that’s really hard to find from someone of his calibre.

I look forward to racing with and for him. I think it was a very smart move by the team.

PEZ: What are your thoughts on the ongoing fight against doping, some might call it a witchhunt – has it personally affected you?

AC: It’s really affecting everybody, the racing industry, riders, everyone. It’s such a mess and it makes everyone look to me, like idiots in the world of sport, and that hurt me personally. I want to continue being involved in cycling when I’m done with my career, but you don’t hear about stuff like this in anything but cycling, and it bums me out. My friends call me and they ask me what’s up, and I don’t know.

We have to have a union, there has to be some cameraderie – what a union has to be for all of the cyclists, because that’s how other sports avoid having their name plastered across the world in such a negative fashion.

A lot of people, when I talk to them now, the first thing they want to know about is doping, and that’s not why I race my bike, it’s not why I do this. Doping is a problem in sport, not just cycling.

So I guess I do take it personally.

I’d really love to start a union to get things going, I’m going to talk to George and see what we could do. It may help everybody. Dopers might have to deal with the union before anything happens, because we won’t accept that – we’d clean up the sport and avoid this kind of bad press in the future.

PEZ: What are your thoughts on the DNA controversy?

AC: I don’t know if it’s the solution. I think it’s sad that it’s coming to that. I think there has to be other way to pursue before we get to DNA. I just don’t know if it’s the solution. I think there are other avenues. It just seems that there is absolutely no trust at all, and it doesn’t make me feel like a professional at all.

PEZ: After this year you spent in America racing, what would you say are some of the changes you’ve noticed?

AC: I did notice in the US that a lot of really good stage races are gone, and there are a lot more in the way of crits. Then you have awesome races like Georgia and California and now Utah. It seems to be making a swing back to stage racing. I can’t remember doing so many criteriums before. I like criteriums, but I really like stage racing and good, long one-day races, and you don’t realize that until you come back. I know it’s different, but unfortunately it wasn’t anywhere near the same.

I got used to doing San Sebastian or Milan-Sanremo, but we just don’t have that kind of stuff here. Philly is the closest we get to the big one-day races, so after five years in Europe of doing the biggest and hardest stage and one-day races I came back and thought: What am I doing?

Tony Cruz plies a lonely furrow in the Ghent-Wevelgem.

PEZ: What does your winter training look like right now?

AC: I started back at the beginning of November. I’m really going to try and focus on gym work this winter, but this week hasn’t been so hot. I really want to focus on getting some of that power back. I seem to lose a lot of muscle tone in general just from riding the bike constantly. I’d like to focus some on my upper body and build a little more in the legs.

On the bike I’ve been riding 3-4 hours usually, no intensity, mainly with friends and groups. I should be receiving a training program soon, something a little more structured from Pepe Damarti [Discovery team trainer]. I’ve worked with him on and off for about four years. He’s a really good guy. Every year he learns tons more and tries to tweak the training a little bit to make it even better.

PEZ: DO you do any other sports?

AC: I like running. My cousin moved down here from Merced, and we’ve been running together, but now he’s out in Texas for a month and I’ve lost my running partner. I’ll try and get out there for a little bit though. I’ve always liked running. It’s kinda like biking: pick where you want to go, weather doesn’t really matter, plug in your iPod and just go.

PEZ: So how’d you get started racing bikes?

AC: I used to play basketball and run a lot of track, those were my favorite things. My dad got into cycling, probably when I was 7 or 8 and he started going to the local races, and I remember when he bought his first race bike, it was a Masi. It cost him a boatload of money! I started going to races with him and saw that there were a lot of kids my age doing the whole thing with their bikes and helmets, and I wanted to try it. I was 12. I thought it was pretty cool, and I liked it. Every weekend I was pretty much racing. By the time I was 13 or 14 my Dad and I were traveling quite a bit around California, even getting as far out as Colorado for some races too.

Tune in Friday for Part II of our interview with Tony Cruz – and some great stories from Cruz’ big win in Europe in 2005 (Tour de L’Ain Stage 2), the 2006 USPRO Crit, his toughest race, his goals for 2007 and MUCH More!!!

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