What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZClusive Chat: Sanremo Winner Gerald Ciolek!

Interview: Just days after his huge victory in Italy, PEZ tracked down MTN-Qhubeka’s Gerald Ciolek at his home in Germany to ask him about his history making ride. It’s a PEZclusive chat with the 2013 Primavera champion!


It was 2005 when Sunday’s Primavera winner, Gerald Ciolek, at just 18 years of age, left big-name sprinters Robert Forster and Erik Zabel in his wake to win the German Elite Road Race title.

And one year later that sprint took him to a World U23 Road Race title. The big pro contract didn’t take long to sign. He left behind second string team Wiesenhof for the now notorious T-Mobile team, making the step up for season 2007 and picking up a clutch of wins in Austria and Germany.

When the scandals became too much for the German telecommunication company to bear, the squad became High Road for 2008 and then Columbia. Ciolek remained, surviving the changes and collected another clutch of wins in Germany and rode his first Tour de France.

That Tour saw him take four podiums and boded well for the future. But with Milram for 2009 he couldn’t replicate his Tour debut promise, although he did score a Grand Tour stage victory in the Vuelta.

That team was destined to fold at the end of 2010 and whilst there was another Tour ride and wins in lesser German races that year, there was no breakthrough.

In 2011 and now with QuickStep, he rode both the Giro and Tour; but second in the German Elite Road Race Championship to the surprising Robert Wagner was as close as he got to a win.

Last season saw him back atop the podium for a stage win in the Algarve tour and share in a QuickStep TTT win in the Tour de l’Ain; but it just wasn’t the same as he’d achieved in the past. Time is very much on his side, though; despite the fact that 2013 will be his ninth season as a professional, he’s still only 26 years old.

Winning in 2012 with Quickstep.

He surprised many with his choice of team for this season, going to newly-promoted South African Pro Continental team, MTN-Qhubeka. It’s an interesting team, being the first of its level from Africa, and its co-sponsor Qhubeka has a mission to supply bicycles to disadvantaged African children.

Ciolek started his 2013 season with a fine fifth place in Laigueglia, took 11th in Het Nieuwsblad and then won a stage in the Three Days of West Flanders. A strong Tirreno had me tipping him for a podium in Sanremo, but he surprised even me as he left Sagan and Cancellara to the minor placings – all of a sudden his choice of teams made perfect sense.

Ciolek took time on Wednesday to talk to PEZ from his German home about his great ride on Sunday.

PEZ: Gerald, congratulations, you’re part of history now, has it sunk in?
Yes, I think so, I realized soon after I’d finished – you should remember that this is a race which I’d focused on and planned to be on top form for.

PEZ: Did you get the chance to have a celebration, after the race?
We had a nice dinner with the team, it was calm with maybe a few beers – but the guys were tired and still frozen; and some had to leave for the Coppi e Bartali.

PEZ: How long does it take you to recover from a day like that?
Today, I feel good but on Monday I was tired – my body was exhausted. But after three days I feel like I’ve recovered.

PEZ: What did you wear on Sunday?
I had on an under vest, a racing vest, a thermal jacket and a rain jacket – layers, a bit like an onion! Nobody likes riding in those conditions but it doesn’t affect me too much from riding in normal conditions.

Layering up like an onion before the start.

PEZ: What did you eat on Sunday?
The first half of the race I didn’t eat much; it was just too cold and I couldn’t feel my hands. On the bus – once our hands had warmed up – we had Power Bars, hot tea and the sandwiches we usually have after the finish!

The second part of the race I had Power Bars and gels – that wasn’t as bad as the first part.

PEZ: I heard that Chava slept a little on the bus, did you?
No, you have to stay focused. The first thing I did – once my hands warmed up – was to get changed into dry clothing. To keep focus, I listened to music, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, not exactly aggressive but something to keep you motivated.

PEZ: It must have been hard to get out of that bus?
No one likes to go out to race in conditions like that, mentally it’s hard but I had to focus on the second half of the parcours – and on the finale.

PEZ: The Poggio looked savage.
It’s the same every year on the Poggio, the attacks go in the last kilometre and you have to be alert because if a group goes over the top with a couple of seconds and it’s the right guys then sometimes it’s enough to stay away. I had to make a big effort in the last few hundred meters to get with Sagan and Cancellara.

Ciolek getting ready to make a big effort on the Poggio as Cancellara prepares to jump across to Sagan.

The descent was good for me; I had complete confidence in my bike and in my tyres.

Descending the Poggio with Cancellara.

PEZ: It was a huge race for your team mates too.
Yeah, it was difficult for everyone – but especially for the guys coming from 35 degree heat in Africa. Andreas Stauff was particularly good, he guided me through much of the race – but the boys were all good.

PEZ: What was your toughest moment?
There were two; the last five kilometres before we stopped to get on the buses, I was just suffering so badly from the cold. The second was the last hundred meters on the Poggio where I had to make the effort to get with Sagan and Cancellara – that was really tough.

PEZ: Tell us about the sprint.
Coming into the last 300 meters I knew that a good position was possible. I was in Sagan’s wheel waiting on him making his effort – I don’t think he went too early, he had to respond when Chavanel went, but I waited on his wheel and then managed to get ahead of him.

PEZ: You must have had a good winter – your first result was fifth in Laigueglia.
Yes, I had a good winter. I trained with the team in South Africa in December and then had Xmas and New Year at home – which was nice. Then I had three weeks training with the team in Mallorca before we travelled to Luca in Italy for another two week camp.

That was a five week block of work which I think did me a lot of good.

PEZ: You were strong in Het Nieuwsblad, winning the bunch sprint for 11th spot.
Het Nieuwsblad was a little disappointing – yes, it was nice to win the bunch sprint but I missed the break – just a moment of not concentrating cost me my opportunity to get with them.

PEZ: That was a good stage win in the Three Days of West Flanders.
That was another very cold day – but at least it was dry!

PEZ: Tirreno was good for you, too.
Yes, Tirreno was good, as the race went on I felt better; and I was climbing well. For me it was important that extra day between Tirreno and Milan-Sanremo – in the past I’ve made the mistake of taking it too easy between the end of Tirreno and Milan-Sanremo.

But this year with there being an extra day between the two races – because Sanremo started on Sunday – and the fact that the last day in Tirreno was a time trial it was possible to strike a balance between doing hard training and rest.

PEZ: What’s next, Gerald?
I have the Three Days of De Panne then a series of one day races in Belgium. I’ll take a rest in April and then it’ll be the Tour of Turkey – or maybe the Giro . . .

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