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USPRO Interview Series: Petra Rossner
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 6/3/2002
USPRO Interview Series: Petra Rossner

Saturn's Petra Rossner is a world class athlete who has been racing full time since 1988. Her palmares are as long as your arm, including the Track World Championships and an Olympic gold medal. In the past two years she has placed in the top ten of dozens of US and European stages, and this year has won the Number One and Number Two Women's World Cups.

Were this not enough, she is the defending champion of the Liberty Classic Cup for the fourth straight year (with a total of five wins), and is returning to Philadelphia this year for another go.

Petra graciously spoke with the Daily Peloton from Montreal recently.

Daily Peloton: You have won the Liberty Classic the past four years, and a total of five times. What is the combination of course, rider and team that have made these wins possible?

Petra: First of all, you have to be happy with what you are doing, so you are really on a high energy level. And I really love riding my bike and I'm really fortunate to be still able to ride my bike at that level and to get supported by my Saturn team. The thing is, to win a race like this, or to win any race in general you can say, you need three things; thatís what I always say. You need a strong team, you need to be fit and motivatedÖand you have to have luck. And only if you have all three of these things then you can win a race, and I have had that the last four years.

It's not the course; your fitness makes it. Any course can be hard; it always depends on how strong the riders ride it. I can have a really hard race on a totally flat course, if you just go fast enough. But you can have a really easy race on a very hilly course if the people go slow. So it always depends on your form. But the first thing is how good your team is, because these days you don't win a bike race on your own, and like I said, how good your fitness is, your form and your motivation, your energy level, and how lucky you are because you need luck to win a race. Any bad luck and you're out of it, eh? You can lose a spoke and you can't win Philly anymore, or any other race.

DP: Are there any riders you consider a challenge at Philadelphia?

Petra: Always, always, always. The thing is, the day you think you are good is the day you become worse. You never should think you are good, if I would think I don't have a challenge or I have no people who challenge me or our team, that would be the day where we lose races because you always have to become better and better to still be up there. If you're not improving, and standing still, people overtake you right away.

Unfortunately it is not a World Cup race anymore, and I think some teams are just going right to Idaho or in altitude in between and not coming to Philadelphia. But you always have this race on a very high level because itís so popular, it gives a lot of publicity for all the American teams so it's very important for all the teams, and a lot of spectators, so it's a very important race even if it's not a World Cup race. But for our team, we always try to reach the highest, reach to victory and no matter how the race goes, we still think we have one in our six-rider team who can win again.

DP: You routinely place first in US and international races, have two World Cup first places this year alone, are an Olympic Gold Medallist and a World Championship winner. What is the pinnacle for you - the overall goal you have yet to reach?

Petra: I don't know. There's a lot of races where I was really, really fit, and really, really happy with winning it. Still races surprise me now, where you think you have had it, you know, but I've gotten stronger now every year. Riding with Saturn I have become a better rider because I always have a goal and a job to do, even, I'm a sprinter on the team, but I still can help my climbers to bring them to the bottom of a climb in any race in front, you know? So it's different. I became a better rider and I realized I've gotten stronger and stronger, so I don't know - did I reach my pinnacle, did I not, you know?

I was thirteen years old when I was dreaming of becoming a World champion and an Olympic champion. And then I reached it kind of early in my career. In 1991 I won Worlds and in 1992 I won Olympics, and since, I have become a much better rider and I have improved as a person from riding and all the travelling and getting to know people, you know; it's like an education, you get more and more every year from travelling around the world. So I enjoy it and I have come to a higher level. But my goal when I was a kid was to win Olympics and to become a World Champion. I had this dream - I never talked to anybody about it but I wanted to do this.

DP: So it's the continuing experience that is the goal?

Petra: Yes, I want to improve as a person because it's good for my life, I mean, I enjoy what I'm doing, that for a start - it's really, really positive, and I can only tell you what was my pinnacle of my career when I finish, when I've quit. So you don't know - are you on your way down, are you still on your way up? I mean, I don't know! (Laughs)

The goal in general in life for me is to become a better person, to get more basic knowledge about life. And I get that every day on the road, and it's actually a goal, you know?

DP: Your Saturn bio states that are your own trainer. Is that true? Give us a little insight into how you make it work.

Petra: Yes, since 1989. I used to have a coach who taught me the A-B-C's of cycling and that gave me a lot. And because I used to be a runner before, I was a track and field athlete for seven years, so by the time I quit with my coach after three years of cycling, I had an advantage. I learned the A-B-C's about cycling from my coach, and I knew my body already pretty well from seven years' running. So then I was always interested and I studied P.E. So all this together and having the goal always to get to know myself better - so listening to my body - I improved my own system for myself, which works only for myself, and I'm the one and only one who knows myself, so, I enjoy doing that even if it's hard sometimes. Sometimes I would love to have a coach, or kind of a psychologist who motivates you, because sometime you get into a routine or into a rhythm, which is not really on the highest motivation level. It's not about training methods anymore. I know exactly when I want to peak - on Day X, I can peak on Day X - I know what my body needs, I know how much resting I have to do, and what can I afford, you know?

DP: Then it's not technique anymore.

Petra: No, it's not technique anymore. I mean, I know how to ride in a bunch, I know how to descend, I don't think I have many potentials left there, you know? I mean, I haven't done anything else for seventeen years.

DP: So while it would be nice to have somebody who was "external" to you to maybe look and see what you were doing, nobody knows you better than you.

Petra: Yes. Training methods-wise, I can't imagine anything better because nobody knows me as well as I do. But like I said, on the psychological side, it would be nice sometimes to have people to say, "Ah, it's raining today," and not making an excuse, but saying okay, I don't want to ride. And I find an excuse as a coach, telling "my Petra," you know (laughs), "Ah, it's okay if you don't go." But actually sometimes it's a problem to just be motivated and need a little bit of a kick in your ass, because human beings are meant to be slack, or going the easiest way, you know? But that doesn't bring you further in higher world class level sports.

So sometimes I would love to have somebody who gives me that little kick in my ass. You don't have a coach you have to tell, "Oh, I didn't ride today because it was raining." No, I don't have to tell anybody, eh? So on the motivation of the thing I would love to have a partner who knows me, like a person who knows about psychology - how to kick my ass and how to get me, you know. But so far I haven't had problems, I have pretty much managed to kick my ass myself, but that's the hardest part of it.

DP: So if you have an excuse, it sounds like a good one to you, right, 'cause it's yours?

Petra: (Laughs) Yes. You turn your story around, yes!

DP: You're obviously an inspiration to so many women because you have accomplished so much. What inspires you?

Petra: I get inspired by things in life that have probably nothing to do with cycling, you know? I get inspired by happy people, by shiny people who are happy with what they do. So as long as I'm happy with what I'm doing, I want to do it, I have my goals, you know? In my case, in the three years with Saturn, this whole team is inspiring to me.

The thing is, we are all friends, we have this nice chemistry within the team, and sometimes if one person is down and needs to be inspired, it automatically comes because the chemistry is so good that we all care. So we are all there. Like when Anna was injured, we all gave her the feeling that we were all behind her, because we felt so sorry and we wanted her back on the road. And she had bad days, of course, if you're injured and you've had four years that you've been number one in the world, and then all of a sudden you can't ride. So it's like family, you know? It's this wonderful thing I have never experienced before I came to Saturn, with a team. And sometimes I hesitate, like, "Ah, I don't know, maybe we can't win today because of this and this." And then five riders talk to me and say, "Petra. We can do it. We can do it." Or if you hesitate with yourself, I mean, there's four riders who are totally true to me and totally honest to me and they say, "Petra, it will be hard but, you have done this and this, and you have done that and that," and then they give you all this energy. And you go out of the room after the last team meeting, and you just want to do it, and you want to achieve this goal as a team and then everybody's inspired.

And the staff, in this team, when I talk about "team" it's not like it's only the girls; it's as well the team staff and manager. If the whole team atmosphere is great, everybody's inspired. It's like we see it on the road; we do more than we had actually thought we could do. And you come home, and the soigneur is giving you a better massage than ever, because the soigneur is having the same feeling. And it's like a push up - like everybody is pushing everybody.

Thank you very much, Petra, and we look forward to seeing you in Philadelphia.

You can read more about Petra and her palmares at the Saturn Cycling Team site.

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