What's Cool In Road Cycling

Steffen Wesemann: How To Win de Ronde

Like winning any ‘monument’, winning the Tour of Flanders is no easy task, and something never forgotten by the lucky few who have conquered the cobbled Belgian bergs. I was there to witness the action in 2004 when Steffen Wesemann killed it on the Muur and outsprinted his two breakaways, and when I talked to Steffen about the win a few months later, it was like the race had just finished – here’s how he did it.

-This story first ran in 2005, and is worth reading again.-

Steffen speaks very good English, but with a distinct German accent. He’s happy to chat and lights up when I ask about his brilliant Tour of Flanders win, – it feels like I’m right there in the break with him as he describes the day. Steffen is a refreshingly honest guy, which made for one of our best interviews yet…

I talked with Herr Wesemann just before Christmas. This is his second year doing winter base miles in Tucson – and he was there with teammates Torsten Hiekmann (Berlin), Stephan Schreck (Erfurt) and Christian Werner. He used to train in Adelaide Australia as tune up for the Tour Down Under, but admits that 2 days of travel each way from Germany were a bit much.

The thrill of Victory as Wesemann confirms his place in history at Flanders.

In Arizona he’s found great weather and good roads, and a couple of new training buddies in Gord Fraser and Mike Sayers, who helped turn him on to PEZCycling News (thanks guys!)

Wesemann has been a pro since 1993, and ridden only for Walter Godefroot and Telekom / T-Mobile. He admits to becoming a more serious rider in the last few years, and it’s obviously paid off, as in 2001 he was 7th in Paris-Roubaix, then took 2nd the next year. His strength in the Spring Classics was confirmed this year with a huge win – beating two Belgians on their home soil at the Tour of Flanders.

Having witnessed his win first-hand on my own first trip to the Spring Classics, this was a logical place to start our interview…

PEZ: So Steffen – the first thing we like to ask our new interviews is what you think of PezCycling News – have you seen our site?

Steffen: Yeah – I had a look at it because Heinz [his manager] sent me the email and then I talked to Gord [Fraser] and Mike [Sayers] about it and they tell me “yeahhhh it’s pretty good…”!

The group is all smiles and jokes in the Brugge town square – oblivious to the 270km ahead.

PEZ:Cool… So, I have to ask you about the Tour of Flanders this year – I hope you’re not sick of talking about it yet?

Steffen: No – for sure not… If you want to win Flanders – it’s 40 years since a German won it – it’s a monument for me and I like to talk about it!

PEZ:Yesterday I watched the race again and that exciting finale, and wanted to ask you to describe how it all went down. Coming over the Muur, the group was all together, and then somehow near the top you go that gap, and then you just turned it on. What were your sensations and what were you feeling at that moment?

Steffen: If you are in this race, you have your own story… When I watched the race later, I’d watch for one hour – didn’t see me, then watch another hour – didn’t see me – So I’m wondering about this but then I think this is normal – for the whole race I’m somewhere – not behind but never in the picture, never in the focus – and that was the best thing to do – to keep your power, be safe but never be in the wind…

Flanders ’04: 86km into the race – Steffen is out of sight and out of trouble inside the bunch.

“The problem was after 120km I had a crash”
Steffen: … somebody in front of me crashed and I jumped over… fell on my knee, and it hurt, and the first thing I think is “fuck! The race is over for me.” Stefan Schreck, he waited for me and he said – “hey the race goes on for another 160km – get on your bike come on come on!” And the team car is beside me and they say the same thing. And I want to stop.

But they said – “the race is not over. They’re quiet in the front. We’ll bring you back and then we’ll see.” So we go – bit by bit, minute by minute and after an hour we’re back in the race and I didn’t think about the crash, I just began thinking about the final.

We had a really strong team, and I didn’t have to do anything, just go to the Muur – and go full speed up it. Walter Godefroot told me a couple of years ago – “if you come to the bottom of the Muur, you have to go FULL – every time – FULL UP – and then look what’s going on.”

That was the only thing I was thinking.

Just at the bottom of the climb, just past the little market, both groups came together, so I’m just thinking go FULL UP. On the way to the top I catch Hoste, and Bruylandts was about 5 meters behind.

Wesemann hot on Hoste’s wheel as the race-winning move develops on the Muur.

PEZ:So somewhere on that climb, you had to pass everyone in the break – you had to get past about 20 guys?

Steffen: Yeah – about 20 guys. A year ago, they re-did the Muur with new cobblestones, but before this, it was hard to ride on every side – there was a special side to use… This year, 1 day before I went with my car to have a look at the Muur, to see it. I stepped down, looked at the dirt, every corner, see which is the best way to go, and put some sand from the Muur in my pocket just for my … mentality – …

PEZ: For good luck…?

Steffen: Yeah yeah – good luck… cool! [laughing] and this helps me – and from the top, I know I can do the down hill full speed.

Then in the race the team directeur in the car – they’re yelling at me “STOP IT STOP IT – Don’t go so fast!!”

And I’m “Shuut upp! in my ear, I know what I’m doing…” And I go full speed, and the get a gap of 10 meters on the other guys – . But I know I can go full speed downhill, and that helps.

PEZ:I rode over the Muur in the Spring, and that drop over the back is steep – with a couple of pretty tight turns… and you were flying down there… how quickly did you know you had a gap and had to turn on the gas and get going?

Steffen: Well, I worked together with Bruylands, and my computer was always 50-52-55kph, and I was thinking “they have to go 60kph to catch us”, even if it’s just 10 seconds…. So there was always 10-15 seconds, and I was thinking “go full!” and anyway, if they catch you , it’s over… But then the gap was, at about 10km or 7km to go, the gap was about 20seconds, so I was thinking – now it will work out nobody will catch us… And the team directeur said the same – and we had Andreas Klier in the group behind us, and he didn’t work – and if they catch us Klier would win the race… it was good to have the strongest team at this time…

Fuelling up with the heads of state just after the Koppenberg. – Pic:GNava

PEZ:You did so much work in the last 10km – you were always, always on the front of the group…

Steffen: I had a really good feeling, and I was feeling the other guys were not so good, and from these 3 guys I’m the best sprinter… and it helps to do the work.
But it was unbelievable – I was waiting for a big victory for 5-6 years…

PEZ:Those last 10km, because you were on the front so much did you ever think “maybe I’ll use too much energy before the last km”?

Steffen: No. No – there is no time to think about it…

PEZ: What about in the last km, when Bruylands attacked and got that small gap?

Steffen: Well, I’m 33 years old now and I know the Belgians wanna win this race, so Hoste stayed just on the wheel, he was thinking “okay, I got it today”, and I said “man, if you wanna win, you gotta close the gap” and if not, I’ll be quiet. If he didn’t do anything, he’d be really really bad in Belgium – I know all the relationships between the teams, I know all the rules and that helps – and it worked out for me…

I know that Bruylands wasn’t so good to make a big big gap, it’s a bit uphill to the finish – you know it? – and I know that if he had 50-60 meters in the finish, then I can catch him in the sprint. But I have to wait until (phew) – the last 300m and then do my sprint, pass him just on the line and then I got it.

But it worked out for me to wait – Hoste took over and closed the gap and it was easy… well not EASY okay… ?

This is what it takes to win Flanders.

PEZ:Well – you made it look easy! I was standing on the famous Muur de Geerardsbergen about 17km from the finish when you guys came by, just before you made the move of the race. Then after the race went by I ran down to a pub to see the finish – and when you won the sprint – all the Belgians in the pub – were completely silent – they didn’t make a peep!

Steffen: Yeah – my wife was there too on top of the Muur. Then she also went in the pub, and somebody said to her “yeah what are you thinking? Who wins? Who wins?” And she said “Er… my husband.” And he’s looking at her… “…what? Your husband, who’s your husband?”

She says: “Wesemann. I’m the wife of Wesemann.”

And he was totally silent, and he says… “no no, it’s Belgians who will win…”

PEZ:I couldn’t believe it myself – the reaction of the Belgians… I was excited because it was such great race – going right down to the final – I was thrilled to see a great race, but these Belgians – they were so disappointed that their guys lost – .

Steffen: Well the Belgians are fair sports people – okay at the choice moment they think “the Belgians have to win”, but then they were ALL happy with me – the next day… it was UNBELIEVABLE. Everyone was happy with me – they said “you were the best on this day, and that is correct…” That’s fair of them, they accept that if you win you are the best and they are happy for you.

I like Belgium – for cycling it’s a perfect country.

PEZ: Yes – it was my first time there, and I really wanted to see the great races, and ride on the cobbles of Roubaix…

Steffen: (laughing at me) What’s the reason to do this…??? Except to race…??? On these dirty roads, in bad conditions – 260km, all on the cobblestones…??? It’s crazy!

PEZ:Because we’re true fans – we want to be right in the heart of our sport!

Steffen: Hey – once a year for me, as a professional to do the race – is more than enough – I can’t understand some of these people – they train – like 100km a day or something just so they can go and do Paris-Roubaix cyclotourist ride! No way for me – I can’t understand it … but it’s okay…

For us during the race – we have a special bike with special tires, but for them going on a normal bike with normal tire and it hurts so much man…!

PEZ:Well, for me I don’t know when I’m going back, so I’m really glad I did it once.

Steffen: Yeah okay I understand that is maybe part of it to do, to say “now I know what it’s like on the cobblestones.”

Phew – If you’re anything like me, you need a cold one and a rub down after riding along with Steffen – what a day! Stay tuned for part 2 where we talk more Classics, Grand Tours, and why T-Mobile has been such a great team for Steffen.

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