This is your second time at the Tour de Georgia, right?
Were you the designated leader when you were here before with Postal?
No, I can't say so. It was my first race after I
broke my hip so we had more of a general plan. We didn't have one specific
How do the responsibilities feel different to you in this
year's race as the leader of the team?
At that point it was more of a time I was trying to make
progress. For myself I didn't have any goals except to see how I could do.
Now with six other guys trying to help me, obviously we have Robbie Hunter
(winner of Stage One) and Aurelien Clerc so we'll be helping those guys in
the sprints. Yeah, so there is a little bit of pressure when the other
guys are working for you.
Will Phonak be defending the jersey today?
Yeah, I don't know how much work we'll have to do.
Hopefully there is a break away with some other teams that want to ride for the
sprints. The best thing for us is a sprint, that's how we can keep the
jersey. That's our hope anyway.
How are you handling being the designated leader for Phonak
It's an adjustment, you know. When I agreed to come to the team I wasn't
agreeing to be the only leader since Tyler was supposed to be here. So
it's a little more than I bargained for but I'm adjusting.
When you originally signed with Phonak, were you going to
work for Tyler for the Tour? You would have had other races that were
yours, but it would be for Tyler at the Tour?
Yes, that was the plan.
When Phonak initially wasn't accepted into the ProTour,
what were your concerns about the progress of your career? Were you
concerned that you had made a mistake leaving Postal?
Well, at the time I made the decision to go to Phonak there
was no reason to believe it was a mistake. It's one of the best teams in
the world, and probably the best organization and sponsor there is. They
do a very good job. Things are by the rules. When all the problems
started it was a very stressful month. I didn't know what to
do, if I should try to find another team or for that matter just hang around and
see what happens. But we all set down and had a meeting in Switzerland in
December I believe and Andy explained to us what their plan was and how they
were going to change things. We really didn't expect the decision from the
court of arbitration to give us a license. We'd pretty much written that
off. And so we'd hoped to get to the Tour in a round about way, as a wild
card of sorts. So I believed in the team, and Andy Rihs still had the same
charisma for the sport and he wasn't ready to just give it up. It would
be a disaster if he decides to leave because he's the best sponsor we've got.
I decided that since they had faith in me in the beginning I'd hang in there and
see what happened. Obviously I was concerned about losing a year of my
career but it wouldn't be completely lost because I knew we'd do a lot of good
races. The Tour is not the only race, but in America it's the big
show and since Lance has been winning it, it's the only race people here know
about. But as far as cycling goes, there are hundreds of races.
So you felt a big commitment regardless of how things were
going to go with the bid for the ProTour because it had been talked about
already with the management. But it came as a huge surprise to the fans.
Well, it's obvious now due to the fact the court of
arbitration agreed that we hadn't done anything wrong. From my perspective
when I made the decision there was absolutely nothing that Phonak had done.
It was just poor decision making on the part of the UCI. Complete
discrimination is what it was. So in that regard they certainly didn't
deserve everybody to just pack up and leave because they hadn't done anything
wrong, certainly that anyone else could tell and no one from the inside thought
that either. So all of that had a lot to with the decision I made.
Phonak seems to want to develop young talent in cycling.
How much input now do you have now in who is signed to the team?
John Levonne is the manager who makes the final decisions.
I certainly have some input. If I think somebody is of value I will talk
it over with him. But I still want to be a bicycle racer, not a manager.
Maybe later in your career?
I hope not! (Big laugh.)
Is there any difference for you in being on an
team and then a Swiss team?
Really the only thing about the American team that was
American was the sponsor. There were very few Americans on the team and
there were quite a few races I'd done with Postal where I was the only American
out of the staff and the riders, so there was really no adjustment at all.
Is English spoken much at Phonak?
There are a few riders who speak only Spanish, but I speak Spanish too, so that's
What qualities do you bring to the team that make you a
good leader? (Pause) Or are you a good leader?
Well, I don't know! I think a lot of what I have over
some of the leaders in the sport is that I've been in a position of helping a
leader for quite a long time so I can relate to them. Lance is one of
those leaders. He never had to do that. He can't possibly relate to
what it's like. I think I have a better idea of what they're feeling and
how to explain to them how to do things better. Not that Lance is
a bad leader. He just didn't have to play that role since he was nineteen
years old. And the majority of the leaders on the teams are the same
way, they never had to make their way up. So in that way I think I have a
good advantage, but it is yet to been seen if I'm a good leader.
When I interviewed Eki a few months ago he said he'd
like to be a director someday. Since he's been a rider, he feels he knows
what is good for a rider.
Oh man! (Laughs.) It looks like he's going to race
for the rest of his life, so it's not looking to be too promising for that
Do you think Phonak had a hard time switching from Tyler to
you as their designated rider?
There wasn't just one moment of adjustment.
Everything got changed. The whole atmosphere and the dynamic is different.
Most of the people aren't around anymore from when Tyler was there, so
everything is different now.
Was it difficult for you to deal with Tyler's loss and your
gain, from your friendship point of view?
Yes, absolutely. It's terrible. I haven't
talked to him since the decision was made. I don't know. What can
I hope we see him race again.
I do too, absolutely.
It's a tough one.
Yeah, it is.
You did great work for Lance last year in the Tour,
especially on the Col de la Croix-Fry on Stage 17.
What was that day like for you? Did you think you were going to win the
No. Well certainly before the stage I didn't think at
all that I'd be in a position to win a stage. But obviously Lance was very
generous and was trying to let me win. But I think the Germans knew they
weren't going to win the race so they were going to try to win a stage. In
the end Lance made me look smart because he won the stage. I think we did
everything right. There was nothing else we could've done, but the Germans
wanted to win, so ...
That was my favorite stage. At the end when Lance
powered up and came around Kloden, he just looked like a little kid winning his
first bike race.
That was one of the few times I've seen him smile like that
when he won. Normally he's all serious. There he even seemed
surprised that he'd won. Normally he's Mister Cool and Calm.
What are your goals for the 2005 Tour?
Do you hope to podium, or will that take awhile?
At some point that is my goal, but I don't
know the time frame right now. I've never had to race the Tour with that
much pressure. We have other guys that can be leaders of the team, too.
I don't believe we'll race the Tour the way Postal does for Lance. We'll
do it more like what T-Mobile does. I think that's the wise decision.
I mean Lance deserves eight guys to work for him and that's the way it should
be. But for most of us, it's too much risk. The fact is whether
Lance wins or loses, he gets more press than anyone else and he's earned it.
I just don't believe it's wise for any other team to do that.
What did you think of Lance's announcement the other day?
I honestly thought he was going to retire after the sixth
one. So until he announced he was going to do the Tour again, I really
thought he wasn't going to. Hopefully American cycling can find someone
else to focus on.
It could be you.
Maybe it's me, or someone else.
Certainly what he's done for the sport won't go away anytime soon.
Can you envision yourself in a role like
(Big laugh) I don't know if I can handle the amount of stress he has. He
does most things bigger than most people would attempt to do. And the fact
that he handles it is something to be amazed by. He can handle more stress
than anyone I've ever seen. I would have to change my whole life and I
like to sit in Starbucks and drink my coffee and no one bothers me. He
can't do that. In that respect, I don't want everything he has. But
I respect him and I knew sooner or later he was going to retire. I think
he's happy with his decision. I talked to him yesterday, and he said he's
known for awhile that it's time, so I imagine he'll be as good as ever at the
I think it can be good for the sport.
Sort of inject new energy into the sport.
I don't know if you should make innuendos
(We both laugh) That's right!
I'm going to edit myself when I print this interview!
We chatted a few more minutes about
living the good life in California, the upcoming Tour of California, and Phonak
possibly training there next year. Later in the evening I ran into Andy
Rihs, Floyd, Rene Savary and the entire Phonak team enjoying a team dinner in
the restaurant of our hotel. Andy wanted to see a wine list, but when no
list was available, I had to remind him he was in Rome, Georgia, not Rome,
Italy, and we all had a good laugh about that. The server was having a
hard time believing they really wanted 16 rib eye steaks AND 16 fettuccine
alfredo dinners! The team preferred marinara sauce so I was sent into the
kitchen to chat with the chef, but alas, only cream sauce was available.
When Celia asked if she could take their photo, Floyd shouted out, "As long as
it's not for the FBI!" The team was enjoying recounting the tales of the
day and regrouping for the upcoming Time Trial. And after all, we're
located in Floyd County for these two stages, so good things could be
headed Phonak's way! Good luck, guys.