Tour Talk: Paul Sherwen
Interview: Just before the big Tour de France kickoff tomorrow we managed to catch up with Paul Sherwen, one half of cycling’s most famous commentary team to get his thoughts on the big race, predictions and more.
PEZ: What is the feeling in Harrogate with the Tour de France coming to town?
We just walked up the street and everybody is very excited. I was very lucky to see those knitted jersey that one little village had to take down because of health and safety. No, everyone is very excited; people rushing out of shops to watch Katusha riding up the main street just in training. It’s good; I think it’s going to be great, fantastic.
PEZ: About the Tour course, how important do you think the cobbles are going to be?
Everyone is making a big deal of the cobbles. The big thing about the cobbles is going to be the weather. Obviously if it’s dry it will be completely different than if they are wet. I always say to people the cobbles in the Tour are completely different, it’s not Paris Roubaix. You have to bear in mind when you ride Paris-Roubaix the majority of the field are Classics riders, where as when you ride them in the Tour you might have 10 or 15 classics riders and the rest of the guys are trying to survive on the cobbles and not getting involved in accidents and looking after themselves. It’s a completely different approach, it’ll be interesting. It will be chaos if it rains.
PEZ: You weren’t too bad on the cobbles yourself, Paul. (Ed: Our interviewer Alastair was actually Paul’s Pro Team mechanic many a year ago…)
Yeah, I was alright, not too bad. I preferred it in the wet though.
PEZ: What about the mountains this year?
I think it’s fairly well spread out. I think the day to Chamrousse will catch a lot of people out, that’s a very difficult climb. We will get our first indication when we get to La Planche des Belles Filles, obviously that’s a climb Mr. Froome knows rather well. That was where we saw a little bit of a weakness in Bradley Wiggins on the climbs in his win in 2012. It’s not a great climb, its 5K’s long, but it did some serious damage last time they went there.
PEZ: Is Alberto Contador going to push Chris Froome to the edge?
Yes, I have always said; Contador is what I call a bike racer, he will race the race, doesn’t try to wear people out. If you like he resembles Claudio Chiapucchi, he doesn’t use the manual all the time, he throws it out the window and he attacks with his heart and with his guts. As he did in the Dauphine, slightly to his own demise. If tactics had gone a different way and he hadn’t waited so long. He was probably riding a little in awe of Froome and Sky and delayed chasing Talansky on the final day; otherwise he would have won the Dauphine. But if’s and but’s… Contador will race the race.
I’m in Harrogate in Great Britain, that’s not far away from Wigan (home of Bradley Wiggins), the question has to be asked; “should Sky have put Bradley Wiggins in the team?” If something happens on the cobbles you need a bit of fire power and at the end of the day, Bradley has got an awful lot of fire power if needed and I’m sure he would have had that fire power if needed. It’s a hard decision, I can understand Brailsford’s thinking behind it, this is a team for Chris Froome and I know that there is definitely animosity between Wiggins and Froome. I was talking to someone the other day about a chap by the name of Alex Ferguson; most Americans don’t know who Alex Ferguson is.
PEZ: Sir Alex Ferguson I think.
Sorry, Sir Alex Ferguson yes. He managed some of the great personalities. I mean David Beckham, Rooney and all those guys, the guys who are earning 100’s of thousands of pound a year and he had to manage those kinds of personalities and sure there is a problem between Wiggins and Froome. I saw Bradley in the Tour of California this year and I thought he was brilliant. He had a bad year last year, things weren’t right for him. This year he seems right, mentally he seemed to have his head on, very friendly, very approachable, and confident. As a manager it would have been a very, very difficult decision to keep him out of the Tour. Add the fact that he rides for Sky, which is a British team, in Great Britain; it’s a tough call to leave him out.
PEZ: What do you think of the lack of British riders in the Tour, or should I say British born riders?
Hey, don’t go down that route with me! The question is that Great Britain and its cycling was coming right up all the time, but I think it’s a sign of the times for International cycling. If you look at two of the British riders at the Tour they are on foreign teams. David Millar for a long time flew the flag for Great Britain at the Tour, but you now have so many youngsters coming through, it’s a little bit tough and of course it’s exaggerated because it’s in Britain. Next year in Holland we might have 10 British riders on the start. Who Knows?
PEZ: Looking at the two Yates brothers; they could be phenomenal.
Well yeah, even as we speak we don’t know what is happening at Orica-GreenEDGE, because we hear that Michael Matthews has had a bit of a prang-up and had to have a stitch that could put a question mark over his Tour participation. We could have two Yates riding the Tour de France if that decision goes down to the last minute, well they could be calling in the other Yates brother at the last hour. I hope not as Michael Matthews has had a breakthrough year.
PEZ: Apart from Froome and Contador, who would you put your money on?
Nibali is always a good contender, he’ll be ready and I think he will be very confident after just winning the Italian National championships. It’s tough for an Italian to make the sacrifices and think about the Tour de France. I think he’s a good racer and I think he will take it too them. In all the races up to now he has just been a little below, but we are now in July and everything before is like revision for your exams and sometime people don’t do the revision too well, but still come out with a good result, when it counts, in the exam and that’s the most important thing.
PEZ: He hasn’t really done much up until the Italian championships; it was his first win since the Giro d’Italia in 2013.
Again, it’s difficult these days, before we used to look at guys like Kelly who would race from February right the way through to the Tour. Things are different now, people start to ask me in February; “who will win the Tour?” You can’t even get an inclination until the Dauphine and then the Tour de Suisse. The guys these days have only had 25 to 35 days racing before the grand tours. We now know that Kreuziger has been pulled out of the Tinkoff-Saxo team due to things that happened a couple of years ago, but he will be more than replaced by Mick Rogers. He is coming into the Tour with something like 22 days of racing, but those days were the Giro d’Italia. So he will be right up there alongside Contador, no one would have talked about Rogers at the Tour Méditerranéen. So it’s always hard to predict the Tour de France.
You talk about the first week and the cobbles, but what about here. You know what this part of the World is like, if it rains on Sunday on the road between York and Sheffield, these roads are narrow with the stone walls at the side, and they are twisty roads. We could see a surprise break away and on these roads it’s hard to organise a chase. We could be in for a big surprise in Yorkshire.
PEZ: Do you see a battle between Cavendish, Kittel and Greipel on stage 1?
I think the first day is the sprinters day on Saturday. York to Sheffield is the dangerous day, it’s very lumpy and if you get a lot of rain it will be by far the harder, heavier day than the first day. But last year, in all seriousness going into Corsica, who would have said Marcel Kittel. It was the birth of a new star. Even after he won the first stage people were saying he was lucky because Cavendish fell off, Greipel fell off, but sorry he went on to win three more stages. It will be a battle, but it will be controlled because Greipel has just won the German championships again, he’s in great form, he rode superbly in Luxemburg, he won a sprint and a stage on his own.
I like him as a fighter. We are right in the middle of Harrogate here and it’s not an easy finish. It’s a slight up hill, but you have a run up at it, even so it’s a dodgy finish and that’s where the addition of Mark Renshaw could be vital to Mark Cavendish. The sprinters know they have a great chance and the three teams will definitely control it. But the next day the sprinters will already have said “we’re stuffed!” Going round Holm Moss and all that stuff round there and it will be “hello, throw out the sand bags!” So I don’t see the teams of Greipel and Cavendish controlling things on the second day.
Then they go across to Lille, if it’s a windy day over there it will split things to pieces. The first week is going to be more unpredictable than it has been for quite some time.
PEZ: What about the young American BMC rider Tejay van Garderen?
Tejay, well I don’t know, he has been very promising since he finished 5th. I think he would be very upset with his race last year, he’s had all the pressure on his shoulders this year, he’s been given the opportunity to prepare, he missed the Amgen Tour. He has no responsibility to Cadel Evans, so he has no excuses. He might be spurred on by Talansky’s performance in the Dauphine. It’s an important year for Tejay, to come out and prove he can do better than 5th.
PEZ: Do you think this is going to be one of the better Tours for a long time, looking at the course and the start list?
That’s what I’ve been saying for the last few years, it’s fantastic to look at the names and then look at the ages of the riders; 21, 22, 23. What about Peter Sagan, it feels like he has been around for years, but he is cracking into 24 years of age, that gives us the unpredictable Tour. There is no hierarchy and no respect for the old boys anymore, these guys just go and do it. If you look at the map of the course, it goes down to the Planche des Belles Filles and then the Alps and the Pyrenees, but that doesn’t matter because there are so many other places where stuff can happen. And that’s what I think is going to make this Tour very difficult to predict, at least for the first ten days, at least all the way down to Grenoble and that climb up to Risoul.
PEZ: There is no real boss is there?
No, already Froome is trying to deflect that responsibility away from himself which is always the best tactic; you don’t want to be the No. 1 favourite.
PEZ: What do you think about Sagan for the Green jersey again?
It’s his to lose. What I like about Sagan is; you can’t call him a sprinter, but he’s a man who is Mr. consistent, to me he’s like the new Sean Kelly. A bit like Thor Hushovd who would take off in the mountains to collect green jersey points. Sagan is the same, on the stages where Cav and Kittel and all that lot are going to be left behind. From a Spanish point of view he is like Oscar Friere, he would still be there when there are only 50 men left and if there are only 50 men left and Peter Sagan; then who is going to beat him?
PEZ: What about the Pyrenees?
The Pyrenees; Hautacam and Pla d’Adet as always give a little bit of suspense to the Tour. Those two climbs back to back down at the bottom end of the race will make it very difficult. People forget the climb of the Hautacam, it’s a very, very difficult climb and if you get down there in the Pyrenees and you get bad weather, that makes it worse.
PEZ: What about the time trial, do you think it will be important or more of a confirmation maybe?
I’ve been looking at Froome’s time trialing performances and I’m wondering if he has improved his time trialing and lost a little bit in the mountains. If Contador went into the final time trial with a minutes lead over Froome (hypothetically), I could see that being turned around. I’ve a feeling by the time we get down there though the race will be done.
PEZ: Which TV companies are you covering the Tour for this year?
Primarily NBC Sports Network, followed by ITV, then it gets syndicated to SBS in Australia, TV New Zealand and about 140 different English speaking countries, which is not too shabby.
PEZ: Cheers Paul, all the best for a Great Tour!