Magnus in action in the 2006 Tour (pic: Gerard Brown)
Walking into the reception at the Park Lane Hilton, I struggled to spot Magnus. Looking around at the assembled people, porters dashing across the polished floor carrying leather suitcases, I nearly missed the incognito character slouched low in a chair at the far end of the room. Baseball cap pulled down low, dressed in a t-shirt and pair of jeans, I doubt anybody else in the room realised that here sat the 2004 winner of Paris-Roubaix.
When he stands up he removes his cap and I’m greeted with a solidly firm handshake (ouch!) but within a couple of seconds you can forget any rumours that this 6’2” monster of the cobbles is an intimidating giant. Down to earth, charming and a thoroughly splendid person to chat with, we find a quiet spot away from the hustle and bustle of the main reception and begin discussing his season.
2007 hasn’t exactly got off to a great start for the 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner. Injury struck during his vital winter training period with a broken shoulder necessitating surgery has meant the Swedish rider having to refocus for the remainder of the season. Certainly a challenging period for the rider, as he explains: “It’s been mentally very hard, first of all to start training with a plate in my shoulder and to realise I wasn’t going to be able to race with that in. So I went down to Majorca in January to do a training camp, started racing and did the first two days of Challenge Majorca. And basically after the second stage realised it wasn’t going to work, it was giving me too much pain. I then had to fly back home and get the plate removed as quickly as possible, but with that also came whether I would be able to get back on the bike quickly enough and so on. Once I had the plate removed I felt like I could sit in a normal position, it wasn’t giving me any major grief and from then on it was all focus on trying to get myself race ready for Paris-Roubaix. I think I managed quite well to get ready for it, a little bit of bad luck in the race breaking a wheel. So it’s been a year of ups and downs so far.”
Having this injury must have been frustrating?
“Very much so yeah. But after Roubaix it’s just been a refocus on the Tour Prologue this year, because it’s in London. Basically I’ve been struggling ever since, I’ve been sick, getting back on my bike, getting sick again, on and of all the time. This bad luck just seems to be staying with me for some reason; I don’t know what I’ve done… But, I’ve been to see a guy down here [London] and hopefully everything is okay now. I should be clear. “
So with the injuries behind you, it’s training as normal?
“Back to normal as of today. I’m flying out to do the Dauphine. It’s not really the ideal preparation that I would have liked. I was out in Catalunya , and I was going really well before I went out there, and then about two days into it something happened. I just couldn’t get my heart rate up. I had a few checkups, and we found out that I had a virus and it was basically putting a lid on my performance. I couldn’t get my heart rate above 155: that’s not even anywhere close to my max level! So I basically spent the last week and a half trying to sort that out and I just got the all clear now.“
The Dauphine is a classic Tour preparation race. How do you expect to get on?
“It’s going to be a bit of a struggle for the first couple of days before I get into it. But, Dauphine this year looks on paper to be a little bit easier than in previous years. The first three to four day,s they’re not major mountain stages, so it gives me a little time to get into things. Fingers crossed I should be ok.”
Injuries aside, how do you prepare for a race like the Tour – do you approach it differently from say a one-day race like the Paris-Roubaix?
“No different to any other race really. With the problems I’ve had, I’ve realised that my big form is going to come about Tour time. The Tour, basically, is going to be my Spring classics: that’s where my classics form will arrive. If you look at the time I started training to the start of the Tour, it’s basically time when I start training in December until the classics so we just dial everything forward a bit. I mean physically and mentally there’s no major difference to any other race. For me as I’m not riding GC (General Classification) in the Tour I just stage every stage as it comes and just go out there and do my absolute best every single day.”
So preparation for the Tour de France is no different to that for the Paris-Roubaix?
“More or less yes. You do focus on your sprint a little more leading into the tour. But the base training is pretty much the same; the same amount of kilometres, more or less, that you need to do in a single race. You do the same amount of hours as you would for the classics, tweak a couple of bits, intervals, leading into the Tour, but that’s about it.“
Being a UK based rider you must be looking forward to the London stages of the Tour?
“Definitely, it’s on home soil. It would be really nice to get there and be really competitive, and I have been focusing on doing something good at the Prologue. All fingers crossed I can stay healthy for a month to get myself there. “
Liqugas had a very competitive start to the year, with Danilo Di Luca winning the Giro. But with Danilo Di Luca deciding not to ride the Tour, what are the team plans going to be?
“We haven’t got any team orders as such yet. We’re coming there with [Matinez] Beltran, whose definitely going to be the GC rider for that race. Apart from him I think there will be pretty much a stage to stage team, with [Filippo] Pozzato, [Luca] Paolini, [Manuel] Quinziato, hopefully myself as well. We’ve got a team that can look after Beltran when needed, but we’ve also got a team that’s very competitive for breakaways, sprints – we probably haven’t got a pure sprinter as such but Paolini’s quick, Pozzato’s quick in a certain type of finish. I’m quick at a certain type of finish. I think it’s going to be a fun race.“
What’s your personal goal for the race?
“It’s always nice to finish the race, but my main focus is to try and do a really good ride in London, and the first stage as well. After that it’s to hunt down stages and try and get myself a stage win“.
If you had to put your money on one rider for the prologue, beside yourself, who would it be?
I think it’s going to be David Millar.
It’s going to be close between him [Millar] and Bradley Wiggins isn’t it?
Yes I think so. For some reason I think David is still got a little bit of an advantage, with the type of a time triallist he is. He’s very quick over those kind of distances.
Have Cannondale got anything special in store for you to ride the Tour on?
From my point of view, no not really – I’m sticking to what I have now. I’ve got a time trial bike now that I’ve been riding for the first couple of races this season and I’ve had two really good results on it. I feel really good on that bike, they [Cannondale] have come out with a new time trial bike but I’m not that keen on changing right now. The position is perfect; everything is lined up, so I’ll be sticking with the Six13 Slice. For the road I’ll be sticking to the SystemSix: it’s by far the stiffest bike I’ve ever ridden I think and you know it seems to work alright for me. It might be that Cannondale come up with something to tweak before the Tour, but the basic bike will be the same as always.
With everything you wear and ride sponsored, do you have any bits of kit that you always insist on using?
My shoes and pedals are the two bits that I cannot live without. I ride Speedplay pedals and Nike shoes. I’ve tried to change various times but it seems I can’t get anything else to work for me. Partly because my knee style, particularly my left knee is very fragile from an old injury – I can feel straight away if I get on any other shoe or pedal, doesn’t matter which bit I change, I can feel within a day and a half I can feel my knee starting to go. So I’m sticking with that. If they’re not happy with it so be it.
Talking bike setup, are you fussy about doing it yourself or do you leave it to your mechanic?
I’m very very specific with all my measurements and the way everything is setup and if they’re setting up a new bike I’m there to oversee it. Even during stage races I’m probably one of the few riders in our team anyway that is down with the mechanics one every second day. Just keeping an eye on things and cehckuign measurements. For me if my seat drops by a millimetre my knee starts to hurt straight waway, sio if you go and hit a hole in a stage that evening you’re down with all the measurements you’re checking everything is where it should be.
Bike setup is crucially important with the long races you do?
Yes. We do so many miles a year you get worn into one psotions and if that changes tyou feel it and get ahces and pains everywhere. I’ve always bneen taught form a young age to look after your position, and its somethings, where ever I’ve been, even if you ‘ve got the best mechanioncs in the world, it’s still down to you. You can tust a mechanic, but I don’t want that feeling of blaming a mechanic.
Does being the largest rider in the Tour present you with any unique challenges?
The mountains are definitely a bigger challenge for me than anyone else [laughter]. As long as I’m going the way I should be going and if I’m 100% physically fit then I should get over the mountain stages in a decent way. Unfortunately, the previous two or three years there’s always been something happening before the Tour, or in the first week, so I’ve always ended getting into the mountains on a back fit, and I’ve automatically struggled in the mountains. But, for instance in the Giro 2003 I was climbing with the top 50 guys over the big mountains stages, which is roughly where I should be, if I’m in the top 100 that’s a decent performance in my point of view.
Finally, who is your money on to win the Tour this year?
Ooh that’s the hardest question I’ve had in a while. I don’t know to be honest. I think it’s going to be a very open tour this year. Hmmm… to be honest with you I can’t really pick a name that stands out. I think, you’re going to definitely have one of the Discovery boys, maybe Levi [Leipheimer]. I think we can expect something from Cadel (Evans). And [Alejandro] Valverde, if he rides – I don’t know what the score is with him – but he’ll be up there for sure. I’m hoping that Michael Rogers will be up there, leaving his mark on big tours. It’s going to be an interesting race. I can probably tell you more next week after having seen the boys in the Dauphine.
Our best wishes to Magnus in the Tour de France. We’ll be catching up with him before the race to get the latest on how he’s feeling, and we’ll keep you updated on his performance throughout race. You can find otu more about Magnus on his website.