As a professional cyclist, crashes are something Rory Sutherland knows well. But the crashes at this year’s Paris-Nice are a whole new experience for him. After six years away racing in the United States, Sutherland has just made his comeback to the WorldTour, and the Australian has jumped straight into the action.
“I picked the interesting race to come back to, I think,” he says wryly. “It’s one of the most nervous races of the year. The bunch is always nervous in the wind, and there’s a lot of crashes.
“It’s a hard and very prestigious race, and I think a lot of the French teams and a lot of the teams in general are starting to get the selection for the Tour de France, so they start to look at who’s doing well. It’s a big thing for France and in the WorldTour, but there’s a lot of people back there complaining about how scary it is and nervous and so many crashes, so it seems like I’m not the only one.”
Sutherland made his neo-pro début in Europe with the Rabobank Amateur Team in 2001, before moving to their professional team in 2003. Now, returning to the WorldTour from racing with the American based ProContinental team UnitedHealthCare, it’s like starting all over again.
“So far, some teething problems,” Sutherland describes his first few days at Paris-Nice. “Six years in the States, with big roads and quite a relaxed atmosphere, it’s a little bit of a shock again. It’s like when I went through it back in 2002, not this race,” he clarifies, “but racing in Europe, in this level of races. Looks like I forgot it all and gotta re-find it all again.”
But for the 31-year-old, the intervening six years have changed more than just the racing.
“The thing is, at my age it’s a little different as well,” Sutherland points out soberly. “When I was doing it when I was 22, 23, 24, I didn’t have anything to lose, so I probably didn’t find it as scary then. Now I’ve got a wife and a child, and you don’t take maybe as many risks as when you were young and dumb.”
Now riding for the Danish team Saxo-Tinkoff, Sutherland says he ‘couldn’t be happier’ with the team and the support he’s received. “The team’s great, fantastic with the guys,” he said. And he’s not the only new guy, either. “There’s a lot of new riders on the team so it takes time to kinda gel together and really figure out what people are good at and where they fit in.” At this point, Sutherland’s not quite sure where that is for him. “We don't know, I have a question mark on me; I climb pretty well but normally I climb better after I race a little bit.”
He plans to race for the team during Paris-Nice and use it to warm up for the races later in the year. “It’s building for me for later on in the season, to the middle of the year where you’ve got those big races and a Grand Tour behind your back,” he explains. “You can use that experience and the harder stuff that you’ve done by the time you get to, hopefully, the middle of the year.” In the meantime, Sutherland’s goal is to find his feet again in the WorldTour.
“Yeah, find it again, learn to fight again.”
Note: A one hour Highlights package of the 2013 Paris-Nice can be seen on SBS TWO on Monday March 18th from 7:30pm.