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Up Close With Lars Bak

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Jan 19, 2016 – Laid back Lars Bak expects the Tour Down Under pace to match the Australian summer: hot.

James Raison

“It will be full gas from start to finish,” says Lars.

Travelling across the world in January to a hot climate for a race against peak-form Australians coming off their National Championships could seem onerous to Europeans.

Lars certainly seems to enjoy his time down under: “It’s really nice, it’s summer here… a lot of nice people and a lot of cylings fans. Cycling has always been big here and the race just keeps getting bigger and bigger every year.”

Lars even sees some similarities between Adelaide and Europe: “around Stirling [the finishing town of Stage 2] it’s super nice. It’s a bit like the Ardennes here, up and down. It’s a upper area for training with all the tourists around here, it’s full of riders.”

The 36 year old is a Tour Down Under veteran, even managing a 3rd overall in the general classification in 2007 with a stage win on Stage 3 of that year.

Recent editions have seen the Dane lead-out Andre “the gorilla” Greipel. But in the geat sprinter’s absence, the focus is very different at the 2016 Tour.

“We have Rafael Valls. He has high expectations, he’s a climber and he’s really fit. We try to go high in the overall ranking with him” explains Bak.

There are plenty of other options though, with Kiwi Greg Henderson keen to get amongst the sprints with a “half home ground advantage” and other options with breakaway danger-men Thomas De Gendt and Adam Hansen.

The focus is clear for Lotto-Soudal though: “Valls is the most important rider.”

The Tour Down Under is a stark contrast to the European races in their length and intensity.

“The stages are not so long, but they are hard… a lot of short efforts, 1 to 2 minutes… 3, 4, 5 minutes,” Lars says.

Shorter stages of up to 150km can make it hard to get the endurance necessary for when racing returns to Europe. The solution to that is simple. With the race always based in the same hotel, the field usually returns home by bike.

“Last year there were 4 stages where we rode the bike back. The day with Willunga Hill (Stage 5) you can go 200km.”

There are numerous challenges for the teams and riders making the trip to South Australia. Careful management is required to manage the travel time and change of climate at the start of a season that stretches to the World Championships in October.

“The team found out last year all the guys that did the Tour Down Under all had four and a half weeks race free and everybody had a good season after,” says Lars of the Lotto-Soudal plan last season. “It’s important with the jetlag and the heat that after this you rest a little bit.”

Lars says recovery and segmenting the season is the key

“You have to split it up otherwise you get stressed,” says Lars. “Now is my 15th year as a professional so I try not to stress too much about it.”

Lars isn’t kidding about that relaxed approach. He’s all-smiles as he sprawls casually on the Hilton Hotel couch on the eve of the race.

His palmares may not be stuffed full of victories because they all belong to the men he’s spent his career leading out, including this generation’s great sprinters: Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel.

The quality of teams he’s been on speaks volumes too: Team CSC, SAXO Bank, Team HTC/Highroad, Lotto – Bellisol/Soudal.

With such a relaxed and professional demeanour, I’d want him on my team. With his size and strength, I’d certainly want to hang on to his wheel.

Lars finished Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under in 76th place, coming home in the peloton.