Caught in a split with about twenty kilometers to go on the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the Groupama-FDJ riders were not able to perform as well as they would have hoped for in their first participation in the event this Sunday. Marc Sarreau still gave his all until the very end with the help of his colleagues to get a top 20 which brings the Australian campaign to a close.

Never in the first five editions had a massive sprint crowned the winner of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. The Groupama-FDJ cycling team therefore had a real challenge to take on with his leader Marc Sarreau. “After we did the course recon, we certainly understood that it was not an easy route, but we still had real ambitions,” said Jussi Veikkanen. However, before entering the final, decisive circuit featuring the small wall of Challambra Crescent, there were some tricky parts to handle while an Australian duo (Carter Turnbull and Elliot Schultz) went on to form the morning breakaway.

“We were hoping for a bit better”, Jussi Veikkanen

“The race got immediately very nervous due to the wind. The peloton split in half after only ten kilometers and we were not alert enough at that point, noted Jussi. Fortunately, it all came back together. We also knew that halfway point, there was a good chance of echelons. This is what happened. The guys were more attentive this time, we had the riders we hoped for in the front even if it came back together again. Then we got to the final circuit, and on the second time up the hill, a group of five went away with Fabian Lienhard in it. It wasn’t necessarily planned and Fabian wasted some energy because of that”.

The young Swiss and his breakaway companions never got a solid gap and Mitchelton-Scott then put the hammer down with 25 kilometers to go. “After the third climb, a large group of seventeen got away and we didn’t have anyone in there, which was a bit of a shame,” regretted Jussi. “It was a mixed group, with punchers, climbers and 2-3 sprinters. We missed the split like NTT and others. The chase was on behind but they were also well organized at the front and it never came back together. Marc finished in a third group and got 18th. He was obviously disappointed at the finish. We were hoping for a bit better. Of course the victory was out of sight, but I think we could have done better today, especially in the teamwork”.

Despite this slightly disappointing conclusion to the Australian campaign, our sports director Jussi Veikkanen made an encouraging balance, pointing out some very positive signs before the next appointments.

Jussi, what balance can be made with four top 10 finishes but no podium in this campaign?

Result-wise, we hoped to do better, but we also knew that there would be a quality field of sprinters here. It’s a shame not to have been able to get a victory, which would obviously have do go to the group. When you are three weeks together, it always gives more moral boost when you win or achieve great performances. However, we saw that the whole group was committed and we got some decent placings with Bruno and Marc. Overall, the guys are getting better and it’s going to pay off soon.

“It’s an amount of work that will pay off later”

The work that has been done here is as important as the results?

We spent three weeks together here in Australia and each one of them obviously improved along the stay. This is a good thing and they will use the momentum in the next races, after a few weeks of rest and recovery. Our riders got here while they were ending their winter preparation. Some of the others riders here, especially the Australians, were completely ready. For us, it’s an amount of work that will pay off later. It’s important to be aware of that.

What was the atmosphere like within the team during this stay?

They weren’t locked up in their hotel rooms for three weeks. So I think everyone has been able to enjoy the cool side of Australia. For some it was also a discovery, like for Bruno, Fabian and Marc. I still have to talk to the guys to get their overall feeling about the stay but I think it pleased the whole group very much.

“It wouldn’t have bothered some to stay a little longer”

It was also Fabian Lienhard’s first racing experience with the team.

On a human level, I think he’s a guy who fits in very well with the group. Then, he does not yet have the experience of a big team, so he still needs to adjust in racing but it will come with time. He’s a guy who’s ready to give everything to the team and that’s the most important. I hope that he will be able to implement what he learned soon, especially on Marc’s train.

What is the program before the return flight?

We will be staying on Monday and there will be a small recovery ride for the riders. Then we will repack all the equipment and we will leave on Tuesday with the suitcases and around twenty packages to Europe. If it had been possible to stay a few more days here, instead of going back to Europe, I’m sure 2-3 guys would have gladly accepted. It’s not super hot, but it’s quite nice. However, it was my ninth time here, as a rider or sports director, and I had never experienced such temperature and weather variations before. The day before yesterday, it was 40°C. The women had rain and 15°C yesterday. There was a storm last night, and today it was 20°C with a strong wind. But despite all that, it wouldn’t have bothered some to stay a little longer…

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