Robbie Ventura was Floyd Landis’ coach back in the day when Floyd was king of France– about 4 days, if I recall correctly.
Ventura still does high end coaching and video commentary for Versus. We’ve always appreciated Robbie’s enthusiasm for the sport. We caught up with him before the time trial at the Village du Depart in Bordeaux and he had a number of thoughtful things to say — along with predicting the exact finish position of Dave Zabirskie.
TS: What’s been the biggest surprise for you at this year’s tour?
RV: Ryder Hesjedal. I think he’s been an absolute blow-me-away surprise. He’s been plugging away for years and he got his confidence and it just shows you, when there’s not any pressure and there’s a team around you that supports you, you can do amazing things.
TS: What is it about Garmin — they seem to have this ability to find guys and take them to the next level?
RV: Well, the guys you’ve seen do well at Garmin are guys that haven’t had any pressure on them. Wiggins didn’t have any pressure last year, right? Christian the year before didn’t have any pressure, now Ryder doesn’t have any pressure. It’s gonna be interesting to see what they do next year because Bradley didn’t have a special ride this year and Christian got injured. Pressure has a lot to do with how these guys do over a 21 day bike race. I think when you don’t have any pressure, that’s a lot of energy you can put toward riding.
TS: Who’s a rider that you’d picked out before the tour to do well that hasn’t?
RV: I was kinda banking on Evald Boasson Hagen. We have a huge joke at the Versus truck, I keep picking this guy to do well. He’s done pretty good, had a couple of third places, but I think he needs one more year of seasoning. Next year that guy is gonna do something special. He’ll win a stage next year, maybe two.
TS: You’ve seen these guys now for three weeks. Talk to me about Le Tour 2011. Who’s the next big guy?
RV: Well, there’s a couple of riders who aren’t at the tour. There’s this kid from HTC-Columbia, Tejay Van Garderen, he is going to be a superstar. He’s just going to have a great Tour de France, not next year but soon. We gotta give Christen Vande Velde a big chance, he’s a talented athlete. He just hasn’t been able to get to his form because of injuries and crashes — I think he’s going to be special. And of course Andy Schleck.
TS: I feel like Schleck didn’t take this tour seriously enough as far as time trialing.
RV: Well, I think he’s better at climbing now, he’s closed the gap on climbing this year and next year on time trialing. He’s young, you have to master things one thing at a time. He’s clearly showed he’s mastered a three week race, he can have form at the beginning and the end and second he can go up the mountains with the best riders in the world. The one thing he’s lacking is time trialing and he’ll get that. It comes with experience, a little bit more age, more power, more work in the wind tunnel. He’ll be there, I think we gotta give him some time.
TS: You think he’s got the commitment? Vaughters told me at the Tour of California that Schleck’s kind of a party guy.
RV: He’s young, you have to remember that. I can guarantee you don’t get to the level he’s at, you don’t get as lean as he is, you don’t climb as well as he does, without an absolute 400% commitment to cycling. Those guys need to have that time where they enjoy themselves because you can’t ride the razor’s edge the entire year. There’s a time of the year when he wants to have a good time and that’s gonna create a long lasting career for him because the guys who are too focused for too long end up not liking the sport.
TS: This is my first tour. It’s inspiring and exhausting, What’s the hardest thing for you in the Tour de France?
RV: My job is brilliant, I’m super lucky to be here. I love the pressure here because it kinda replaces the pressure I felt as a bike racer — having to perform, having to get interviews, that’s exciting. But the biggest challenge is, I have four kids and a wife and being away, it’s gonna be a full month and that’s a challenge.
TS: Yeah, I have two kids, it’s hard.
RV: It’s rough,. We can skype, we can talk on the phone but they get into their routine and reentry is hard, it takes a couple of days before I get back in the groove and I get accepted again. And that’s kinda sad.
TS: Okay, last question. Who you picking for the time trial?
RV: You know who’s come good this last week? Dave Zabriskie. Top five, that’s my best bet.
NOTE: Zabriskie finished in 5th. Nice vision, Robbie.