• Gearing up for the Giro... Simon Gerrans' season has taken a different focus (Getty Images)
Simon Gerrans’s late decision to race at the Giro d’Italia has softened the hurt of not being fully fit for the Ardennes Classics in which he normally thrives.
Sophie Smith

24 Apr 2015 - 12:39 PM 

The 34-year-old became the first Australian to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege last year but after a succession of injury set-backs this season is realistic about defending his title on Sunday.

Gerrans finished one minute and 32 seconds down on winner Michael Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) for 70th at the Amstel Gold Race on the weekend where he rode in support of Orica-GreenEDGE team-mate Michael Matthews, who finished, like Gerrans last year, third.

The 2014 Australian road champion is on an upward trajectory from a fractured elbow he said “broke my spirit”, and while hopeful of a better run at Liege is now firmly focused on a career second appearance at the Giro.

“Hopefully with another 10 days of training in my legs and the race (Amstel) I’ll be much closer to the front for Liege but I’m still not expecting big things. I know what condition you’re meant to be in to do well in these races and I know I’m not there yet. I’m quite realistic about my chances,” Gerrans told Cycling Central.

“It’s disappointing knowing I am at these races where I’ve had some great results over the past few years and I’m not in top shape. I’ve always put such a big emphasis on this part of the season every year so it’s hard. I’m probably racing in a little bit of a different mindset this year. I haven’t put huge expectations on myself for a big result so it’s a bit of a different way to approach the season.”

The consistent puncheur has endured a difficult start to 2015 in which he has not been able to compete in pinnacle events, like the Tour Down Under and Ardennes, he's made a name in.

Gerrans broke his collarbone in a mountain bike crash in December, which sidelined him for a couple of months and ruled out a title defence at both the Australian road championships and Tour Down Under in January. He returned to racing at Strade Bianche in March where he fractured his elbow in a fall, ultimately ending an Ardennes assault.

“The setback I had in December was a bit hard to take. I was disappointed not to be racing in Australia but it gave me extra motivation for the spring. I thought, OK, with this setback now I can still do a really good progression towards the Ardennes,” he said. “Then to break my elbow - that really broke my spirit for a little while. I was really down on things. I had two big injury setbacks one sort of directly after the other and I was really disappointed.”

Gerrans packed his bags and drove from his base in Monaco to Girona, Spain and visited his brother, Andy, for a mental reprieve during the tedious recovery.

"After I broke my elbow I pretty much did two weeks on the home trainer and I was expecting that to be it. I thought two weeks on the home trainer and I’d be able to get back out on the road," he said.

"I went for a check-up two weeks after breaking my elbow and the doctor said, 'no, you’re still not ready to go on the road, you need to do potentially another two weeks on the home trainer.’ With that I was like, oh my God, I need to just get out of here and get a change of environment. So I packed up the car and drove down to Girona for a couple of days where I went and stayed with my brother, and then went up to Andorra just to do a little road trip.

"I threw the home trainer and the bike in the back of the car. It was actually only after a few days of being away I was able to get back on the road again so it wasn’t quite as bad the doctor [thought]. But that trip was just a way to break it up mentally and get out of the house."

It's an open admission from the normally measured Gerrans, who is accustomed to a rigorous training and race schedule that last year saw him win from January right through to September and finish third in the individual UCI WorldTour rankings behind rival Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Vuelta a Espana champion Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).

"There are not many that do it, I think there’s a select three you see that are consistently good all year," an in-form Gerrans had reflected in December, prior to his first crash.

"I see professional cycling as so specialist now you get guys that really target certain sorts of races, or they really target points in the season. I’ve learnt to target certain races that are scattered throughout the entire season so the challenge with that is coming up into good form so many times throughout.

"Training is very structured, very specific, but I don’t try and hold condition for a long period of time when I come into form as well. Some guys, they’ll start winning races and continue to win races for six to eight weeks whereas I try and come up for a couple of weeks each time, whether it’s the week for the national championships through to Tour Down Under, and then I’ll shut it down.  The next objective is the Ardennes week, which is another short peak. The Tour de France is a little bit different because you’ve obviously got to hold form for longer but then I’m really only targeting a certain section of the race. I try and compensate by coming up often but just doing it for short periods of time."

Gerrans has identified opportunities within the first fortnight of the Giro, which in general has given him something to plan and look forward to.

"I think it was probably more (sports director) Matt White’s idea. I text him and said it would be really hard to get motivated to work for the Ardennes when I know, really, I’m not going to get 100 per cent in shape for them, so it would be nice to put something after that. He suggested the Giro," Gerrans said.

"We looked to another significant objective in the first part of the year that I could work towards, which was in a more realistic time frame. It worked out perfectly because I can still build through this period of racing and hopefully hit top shape for the Giro.”

Gerrans is set to compete at Liege on the weekend and from there travel to the Tour de Romandie prior to the Giro Grand Depart, which, like last year, is a team time-trial. Orica-GreenEDGE won the opening stage of the Italian spectacle last year and Gerrans is hopeful of achieving the same outcome next month. He was part of the squad that powered to a stage four team time trial win in Nice at the 2013 Tour de France, which subsequently put him in the maillot jaune for a stint.

“Now everything seems to be back on track and my form is coming up,” he said. “I’ve got a good goal to works towards, I’m healthy and I’m really motivated for this next block.”

SBS will broadcast Liege-Bastogne-Liege and every stage of the Giro d'Italia.