It’s been a grim spring for pro bike racing; Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Nokere Koerse had to be cancelled due to foul weather and Sunday’s Milano-Sanremo was compromised by snow.
One recent race which did go ahead despite savage climatic conditions was the UCI 1.1 196 kilometre Ronde van Drenthe in The Netherlands.
The race was first run in 1960 and boasts previous winners like Hennie Kuiper, Rudi Kemna and Kenny Van Hummel.
The man who won was – appropriately – a Scandinavian.
NetApp’s Swedish ex-mountain biker, Alex Wetterhall is the man who tamed this beast of a day; and to make it a perfect day for Endura, his team mates Markus Eichler and Andreas Schillinger took second and third spots.
Wetterhall came to the road from the world of fat tyres, having competed at the highest levels off road, he rode for Magnus Backstedt’s Magnus Maximus Coffee road team in 2009.
He made an auspicious pro debut, taking the Swedish Elite Time Trial Championship.
For 2010 he was with Team Sprocket and took a fine GC win in Ireland’s Ras – not to mention a stage win in the tough Ringerike stage race in Norway.
Seasons 2011 and 2012 saw a raft of top placings in races from Argentina to Estonia by way of the USA, Spain, France and the UK – but no wins.
But that was put right at Drenthe; Alex took time to tell VeloVeritas about his fine win.
Great ride, Alex; you went solo with 30 K to go, that’s a long way in a race at that level.
“Yes, that was what I was thinking as well; the longest 30k of my life!
“But coming closer to the line motivated me when the legs screamed for mercy.”
Tell us about the parcours and your ride, please.
“It was almost 200k with many narrow sections, tight corners and over lots of cobbles.
“We climbed the steep climb of VAMberg five times. And the combination of this tough course and the typical classic weather – rain, wind and two degrees – made the day epic for all riders.
“The first part of the race was hard for me and it took 60km for me to get started, but from there on I felt better and better. I attacked with 70-80km to go and stayed up front from that moment in different groups.
“I managed to win the last three hill primes over the VAMberg and this boosted my confidence. The front group stopped riding a little bit towards the end and attacks started.
“I attacked, myself, with around 30km to the finish-line and managed to get up the road on my own. I stayed as low as possible, gave it my best and soloed to the finish line.
“I’m so happy about the victory; a win I’ve chased for so long!”
There were a huge number of non-finishers and just 33 actually finished – a tough old day.
“It was an epic day – there was actually a group of around 20 riders who were wrongly routed and came out in front of me in the last kilometres! This group obviously had to be pulled out of the race.
“But yes, a large number had to withdraw from the race; that says a lot about what kind of race it was.”
NetApp Endura 1-2-3, one doesn’t see that very often.
“We really had a great day and everything worked out for us. With Andreas Shillinger up the front in the first break we were always in the mix. We made the race a perfect run for us and our teamwork paid off.
“With me in the end being up front alone chasing the finish line my teammates had a huge advantage and were able to sit in and out-sprint Vacansoleil-DCM to make it a full Team NetApp-Endura podium on the day.
“A great day for the team.”
Some nice UCI points for the team; riders seem more conscious of the points, these days.
“Points are very important; for your own ranking and for the team’s.
“It makes you more valuable on the market – that’s it. Even though you always race as a team the points are just coming to the rider, a bit strange I think.”
Did all that rough Swedish weather you’ve been through help you at Drenthe?
“It’s easy to say ‘yes,’ I have been through a lot of cold weather during my time as a cyclist in Sweden.
“I kind of like it in some strange way – when you wear the proper kit and you´re not cold.
“I did many muddy, rainy and cold XC MTB races during my earlier years so this felt natural.”
How are things since the teams merged – what’s changed most?
“It is always hard to be involved in a merger, even though I was one of the lucky ones that continued with the Team NetApp-Endura. And it is not only the riders; it’s everyone around the teams.
“I do think it has been good, we are getting along very well together. The first training camp in December we had was a lot of Endura Racing and Team NetApp colours and it felt like two teams training together.
“But the second camp in January, we had the same kit and bikes – it already felt like we were one team.
“For me personally the biggest change is that we always do big races against the best teams with their best riders for that specific day.
“And that is BIG!”
What’s it like getting used to new bikes after at least a year on the original team’s bikes?
“That’s always a nice feeling, getting new kit and equipment. It’s like Christmas all over again! The measurements are the same but for sure it is a bit strange.
“Every bike has its own ‘personality’ but I´m really impressed by the Fuji Altamira over the cobbles.”
You rode San Luis, that’s an early start to your year – has it changed much since you rode it in 2011?
“It was a big event back then but it is just getting bigger and better each year with even more fast names on the start-line. The parcours are nearly the same though and the weather is still hot.”
And you’re still strong in the TT – top 12 at San Luis.
“The TT´s I like, it is one time I really can compare myself with other riders. You can’t hang around and play hide and seek in the peloton here.
“It’s only about going as fast as possible and the time will show who the best is. I had a good run in Argentina; I was pleased with that result.”
How was Oman; do you think it’s essential to ride the Tour Down Under or San Luis plus the races in the desert to be competitive in the spring ?
“Oman was a good experience for me even though my shape was not the best. I could do lots of work for my team and didn’t save myself. The season starts early and for me it’s good.
“A few years ago you could ride these races to get in shape but now, phew! The riders come to the races in great shape to rock ‘n roll from the start – all looking to get a win.”
Was the Duo Normand your last race – how much of a winter break did you have?
“Yes it was, I did it with my good friend Jack Anderson who I met first time during the year in Team Sprocket 2010, we´ve been team-mates since, until this year.
“I took all of October off, just did a few MTB sessions with my friends back home to keep my knees and muscles in some kind of shape.
“It’s good for the head to do something different.”
Has your winter build up changed much over the years?
“Every year I’m putting in more and more hours but the kind of training is more or less the same.
“And I love to be back home during the winter do my training and then relax in my own home with my family; that’s quality at its best.”
What’s your programme now – is a Grand Tour possible for you?
“We are doing all the biggest classics and the Team believes in me – giving me the chance in these events.
“So I will do my best there!
“I would really want to do a Grand Tour, that I´ve been looking forward to since I switched completely to road racing in 2010.
“Fingers crossed we´ll get an invite and then it is up to Team NetApp-Endura if they select me or not.”
2013 will be a good season, if?
“2013 is already a good season for me so far.
“I just need to keep up the good work and we’ll do good things together out there in the races around the world – we’ve got a great team!”