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Tour de Georgia - Interview with Chris Wherry
By Staff
Date: 4/16/2007
Tour de Georgia - Interview with Chris Wherry

Chris Wherry gives us the low-down on Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team strategy and competitors before the 2007 Tour de Georgia

by Lyne Lamoureux

We caught up with Chris Wherry, from Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team before the start of the Tour de Georgia where he shared his thoughts on the strategy and the players in the upcoming stage race. Toyota-United’s eight-man squad for this year’s Tour de Georgia consists of Chris Baldwin, Ivan Dominguez, Justin England, Caleb Manion, Ivan Stevic, Burke Swindlehurst, Henk Vogels and Chris Wherry.

Lyne: What is the strategy for your team?

Chris: Obviously Discovery has Tom and Levi, and you know personally I don't have my top form right now so I think we will definitely look to Chris Baldwin & Justin England for our GC guys. But our main focus is a little bit like Tour of California, you know when you have some super heavy hitters coming over from Europe, well.... obviously we have aspirations of winning the race and we have aspirations of doing well in the GC , but we are also pretty realistic in the fact that one of our best chances to what we call having a successful race is just to get a stage win, and that is really important to our team. We know that Justin is riding well, we know Chris is riding well, so we'll try to get those guys to conserve energy in the first couple of days and the rest of the guys will look after Henk & Ivan. Henk is going really well, and going better & better and he's actually won this first stage before, Henk has, so he knows what it is like You know with Ivan racing really well right now, with the two of them riding together we'll just try and get them to the finish.

Lyne: Tell me about your main competition in the sprint, JJ Haedo.

Chris: JJ Haedo is obviously the no one threat as he won a big race in Europe about a week ago, and so, it will be fun to see former teammates going head to head in the sprints. We know how he races very well, and he knows how we race very well so we're just going to have to surprise him.

Lyne: Is that a plus or a minus that JJ used to be on the team?

Chris: I don't know, you can just call it a draw. Because we know JJ very well, and JJ knows us very well, so it's not too big of an advantage to either one of us right now.

Lyne: What about your other competitors for the sprint?

Chris: You never know, Freddie is obviously quick and Zanini is here and he's not slow, he is a good rider. Discovery is going to really focus on overall GC so they won't be going for too many stages however George's form is unknown. He is coming back to his first race so who knows, if George is there he is going to be fresh and excited because he hasn't raced in awhile. So we'll see what happens with him.

Lyne: What is your role overall?

Chris: I keep it all together, I had a decent ride at Redlands, I'm still not 100% as far as my form is concerned, but it's coming so I can surprise myself and I can surprise the team and have some good days in the mountain and really help Chris & Justin if need be. One of my goals in the start of the year was to come here with good form here and try to win a stage and maybe have a good ride overall. I don't think I'm exactly in the position I want to be for that right now, but we still have a really good strong team so I feel I can step back and help the guys more that I can go for my own aspirations. But I am in a unique position because I can help Ivan in the sprint and I can help Chris on a climb. It's very valuable to have a rider like that on a team someone who can do everything, it makes it for a hard stage race for me because I get called for duty on every single stage but that's fine and I love it and it's good. It's between Henk and I, as we sort of share responsibility of team captain and we come together on the road and take care of each other and make the call and see what happens.

Lyne: Tell me a bit more about your other teammates

Chris: We have a great team right now, everybody is riding really well, so Burke is one guy that you probably haven't seen with us a whole lot but he trains very well at home, he came from altitude and he looks super skinny, fit and ready to go, Burke is a great climber and he is going to be able to assist Justin & Chris more than anybody in the climbs. Caleb has had great stage finishes here, he's been 2nd & 3rd a couple of times I think.

And you know Stevic is always cagey and he's such a personality. Ivan knows he has good form and we know he has good form. Racing at sea level, racing in humidity and racing in this part of the country tends to really suit him well, I don't know why but it just does. He doesn't like long climbs but he likes stuff that is up & down all day long. He's really good at it and so Ivan can one a stage here, he is one of those guys that if he is in the right breakaway, and it stuck, he's very very experienced as far as being able to attack small groups, I think he is super dangerous in that situation so you know with Stevic & Caleb who are both really good at these kinds of races, as far as up & down all day long, and they are both very quick out of small groups so we'll race for a breakaway for those guys but you know Henk & myself are going to try to look after Ivan D the most and we'll save Burke, Chris and those guys for the climbs.

Lyne: What do you know about the first two stages?

Chris: The first 2 days are really important to us as I think we have a good chance with Ivan to possibly win a stage in either one of those.

Stage 1, Peachtree City to Macon - is a known finish: it is a hard finish, it is fatiguing finish after a 150 kilometers stage.

Stage 2, Thomaston to Rome - in that stage, a small group always gets away but then it gets pulled back by the finish, and those circuits in Rome are tough. And it's even harder for a small group to stay away there because the field is charging fast from behind and Ivan was second there one year to Lance which is kind of weird but ... so he knows the stage and he knows it really well. He's got 2 good possibilities in the next 2 days, I think we're going to focus on that to start with and then we just move on from there and then we just get into the mountains where Ivan just sits back & relaxes and just tries to make it home.

Lyne: What is your strategy for the first two stages?

Chris: I think our team is going to play it safe and make sure that we have representation in the breakaway. I think that if any group gets any advantage then Discovery is going to jump in the front, and then CSC is going to jump in the front, and we may even help them if we really want to bring it back for a field sprint because we are pretty confident that we have one of the fastest guys in the race.

I don't know what the weather conditions are going to be. It won't be super hot but warmer would be nice and we'll have to see about the wind. If it is super windy, it may shake things up a little bit.

For the first 2 stages, Discovery is not going to want to let any GC contender get 2 to5 minutes at the start of this race and so they are going to control it. I know that CSC is very confident in JJ as they should be and there they are definitely try and control things too, so we'll try to play off both those guys and not expand too much energy. If we have to help in the end, then we'll help.

Lyne: Now tell me about the next stages, the 3 back-to-back mountain stages

Chris: Stage 3, Rome to Chattanooga - it is going to be a hard stage for sure, those 3 climbs near the finish, I don't know them at all, I can't give you a whole lot of details on it, but it is going to be a smaller group for sure. Those are the days that guys like Caleb or Stevic are really dangerous. If we get to the finish and Ivan & Henk possibly don't make it over the climbs that's okay they need to just relax and save their energy and we'll just work on Caleb and Stevic. We have a lot of firepower.

Stage 4 Chickamauga to Lookout Mountain Individual Time Trial – the uphill TT will be a tough TT but Chris is one of the best in the business so he is the man for the TT. That is the only stage we really want him to focus on and everything else beyond that is a bonus. If he rides well for the rest of the Tour then that's a great ride for him. Justin is pretty focus on the TT, seeing it is pretty hilly. He had a pretty good TT last year and loves Georgia.

Stage 5, Dalton to Brasstown Bald/Towns Co – Brasstown is a hard day and that's Justin's day. He is probably one of the best pure climbers in the country and I don't think he's really come to pure form til this year. In Redlands, it was obvious that he's got some great climbing legs and he's a little guy and he's a great pure climber and so I expect him to go up the hill with the big boys... the big little boys.

Lyne: What is the plan for the sprinters in your team for those three stages?

Chris: We try to get those guys to the finish within the time limit with as little energy expenditure as possible. Get Ivan into the gruppetto that we know will make the time cut and make sure he has as easy a ride as possible. On those 2 days, I will be up front helping the other guys and Henk will have to look after Ivan and make sure he is getting to those finishes in doing okay. He'll be good, the TT for those guys is all making the time cut, they need to ride just hard enough to make it and try not to expend too much energy. The next day hopefully, the mountain climbers and every body else in the race is tired and they've conserved a little bit of energy.

Lyne: Finally, this leaves us with the last two stages:

Chris: Stage 6, Lake Lanier Islands to Stone Mountain Park - Up & down a lot, hopefully Ivan can just get his way through the mountains and recover as obviously this is a good stage for him and he is a good power sprinter.

Stage 7, Atlanta Circuit Race - It is once again going to a sprinters day. The team in the GC will probably control it, hopefully they are going to control the last few stages and then we can maybe assist them if we need to bring the group back into the finish if we want to get a field sprint. But on a day like this, it could be a good day for Ivan or for Henk. Henk is always good at the end of stage races, he never gets too tired and still has some energy in the finish, Henk can surprise some of the sprinters on races like that.

Lyne: Looking at the (tentative) start list, what are your thoughts on some of the teams?

Chris: Discovery & CSC are probably the two big hitters here and they are going to be going for the overall, however, CSC also has JJ and they'll probably try to get a stage win out of JJ. With Saunier-Duval, Simoni's form is unknown. Millar is an awesome time trialist, if he does a good time trial that means he has good form and he can go well up the mountains. He could be one of the surprise guys as far as the overall goes.

Once again, with Tinkoff, you have some very very impressive guys, Commesso is really quick. I spoke to Tyler last night and he said that he is not at 100% form but he is interested in having a good ride. Tyler is another guy going for the overall for sure. For Healthnet-Maxxis, ONeill loves to hard a good ride here in Georgia but obviously he was in a crash and we'll see what his form is. The GC surprise could be Ryder, it seems that his form is coming.

One of the guys that might be a surprise in the sprint is going to be Navigators' Ciaran Power, he has been riding awesome in Europe and he is super strong right now, so I think that Ciaran is a guy that we're going to have to look out for in the sprint. Lagutin has been doing good as well, and those two guys are going to be the ones to watch on that team.

I heard that Slipstream's Pate was riding well, he had just come back before US Open race and I know he was tired and jet lagged and it will be interesting to see if his form comes back. Moninger was riding really well for BMC. Moninger is a guy who is going to hide the entire race. You're only going to see him in the time trial and up Brasstown. He'll just be tucked in, you won't be see him til the base of Brasstown Bald.

Lyne: This is your second year with Toyota-United, has the atmosphere changed?

Chris: It has changed, it is actually better. As 80 % of the team is returning riders and so the guys that are new to the team are all guys that we know very well from racing with for years & years. Henk is such a good personality that he slots into any team very easily and everybody that knows Burke thinks he's a really funny guy and he's gotten along really well with the team and Caleb is a great guy too. So the camaraderie is the best on our team, often time I look around at the other teams in the dining hall and their guys are sitting there eating dinner, and our team is just cracking up, having such a good time and that is how it should be. We love racing with each other and having a good time and always having a good laugh. We have the best team in my opinion cos the guys are great.

Ivan Stevic and Chris Wherry hamming it up at Redlands
Photo c. Lyne Lamoureux

We'll catch up with Chris later this week to see if and how the team strategy has changed.

Related Articles
Tour de Georgia - Pre-race Comments
Tour de Georgia - Interview with Tim Johnson (part 1)
Tour de Georgia - Update from Chris Wherry

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