Team Columbia Highroad had an exceptional Giro winning six stages including the team time trial. I stopped by the team bus at the TT in Rome to chat with some of the guys.
Michael Barry is quickly becoming a super-gregario or super-domestique, a support rider who toils in anonymity to setup the win by a teammate in this case, Mark Cavendish.
Bruce: What is your role in setting up Mark's sprint wins?
Michael: First of all we ride on the front from the start to make sure a breakaway of five or more riders doesn't get away because a bigger group is really hard to control. Five to ten riders is manageable. Groups bigger than that we chase down. Once a breakaway has gone we set a tempo behind keeping it within reach. That means we can be riding at the front for a couple of hundred kilometers. As close to the finish as possible we chase the breakaway down, bring them back and lead Mark out.
During that time he stays on the wheels and stays as fresh as possible. If it is like San Remo (stage) where we had a rider in the breakaway I just kept him out of the wind and made sure he was getting enough food and water. If he stops to take a pee then I stop with him and ride him back to the peloton. He is really conserving as much energy as possible.
On the longer stages it makes a huge difference if he can ride at 165 watts average as opposed to 180 watts for the first couple of hours that can make the difference between winning by a meter or losing by a foot.
Bruce: you are what the Italians call a "gregario" or "helper". How do you feel about that role?
Michael: I love it. For me, on many levels, cycling is all about the sacrifice and its weird that the public only sees one rider across the line with his arms in the air because on so many levels it is a team sport as much as football or soccer or hockey is a team sport. I really enjoy it especially if you have guys who are respectful of your work.
Mark Cavendish is the best field sprinter in the business, bar none. He won three stages of the Giro and looked relaxed doing it.
Bruce: what happened in the first sprint stage when you couldn't come around Pettachi and he won the stage?
Mark: I get complacent because it is easy to win sometimes and I got complacent that day and I was lazy. I learned from that. I wasn't lazy after that and was back to normal.
Bruce: you keep praising your team for your victories. Is that just being nice or are they really that important?
Mark: If you saw in the Milano stage you got the guy in the white jersey and our overall GC contender riding on the front when every other GC guys was south on the last lap it show how special it is. To have guys wasting their energy to help me succeed that's something pretty special.
Bruce: at the 2008 Tour you won four stages. Is there pressure on you to do better this year?
Mark: Even with the stage that finishes on Ventoux, I will give it my best. If it is a sprint day, if I give it my best, hopefully I can come out on top.