The recent UCI 2.1 Tour of Taiwan was a good one for ex-Raleigh riders; Bernie Sulzberger backed by his strong Australian DRAPAC team took the overall win. Whilst former team mate, Englishman Liam Holohan now with the Madison Genesis team took ninth on GC, a slim 15 seconds from the overall podium.
On his return to UK, Liam took time to tell VeloVeritas about Asian racing, the return of steel frames and the UK race scene.
Not a bad ride Liam, ninth on GC – how did the team get into the race?
“Yeah, but it took a few days to get over the travel and get used to the heat.
“Ian Bibby rode well in the Challenge Mallorca, early season, that didn’t do our chances any harm and we had Olympian Andy Tennant on the team.
“In addition, Dean Downing won a stage here a few years ago.
“It was over seven stages with a good mix of stages – flat, a mountain top finish, a hilltop finish, stages with rolling parcours and a final criterium.”
What’s the organisation like?
“It’s all right, I mean it’s not like the Tour of Britain but we were well looked after.”
What’s the standard like?
“It’s on the UCi Asian Tour, so it’s pretty competitive.
“The South African MTN-Qhubeka squad was there – they’re strong, that Ethiopian guy (Tsgabu Grmay) who won the stage was a bit quick on the climbs!
“There was a strong Bianchi squad there from Norway; Sulzberger’s DRAPAC team was very strong, Giant Asia, the Japanese National Squad and Champion Systems.”
What was the weather like?
“When I left the UK it was minus five degrees – out there it was 35 with 90% humidity and a lot of guys struggled with it.
“I think I probably adapted best to it but it took a few days – on the first mountain stage I was 25th but by the end I was able to attack them on the climbs and trying to gain time.
“It was a shame I had that early bad day because by the end it had began to rain and conditions were better for me.”
It’s good money on the Asian Tour, I believe?
“It’s UCI 2.1 – the same as the Tour of Britain – so there has to be a guaranteed minimum prize list.
“But yeah, the prize money was good – 10,000 Euros for the GC and 2,000 Euros for a stage win.”
And you’re riding a steel bike?
“The Genesis frames are an on-going process, we have a mark two now; the mark one was super-stiff, stiffer than carbon and maybe a little too stiff.
“So they’ve addressed that with the mark two – it shows that Genesis want to get it right, they turned the new frames round very quickly.
“That’s the thing with steel, it’s not like carbon, you’re not stuck with moulds – you can vary angles and change designs.
“For example, the mark two is a little more compact than the mark one; Genesis listened carefully and are improving the frames all the time.”
Do you get a lot of interest from other riders?
“For sure – massive interest!
“If you look at carbon frames they’re all pretty much the same – I think a lot of them come from the same place.
“The Genesis is new and unique – they’ve worked closely with Reynolds on the tubing and it’s all ground breaking stuff. The tubes are up to twice as stiff as carbon but the wall thickness is only 0.4 mm.
“And the tubes aren’t just round all the way along their length; they’re shaped and tapered to suit the loads which they have to take.
“Ian Bibby climbing with some of the best guys in the world in Mallorca on one raised a lot of eyebrows.”
Why leave Raleigh?
“I didn’t want to keep just riding the same British races; I needed a change to motivate myself.
“I don’t want just to have raced in the UK; I’d like to make it onto a Pro Continental squad if I can and riding with Roger Hammond in races like Taiwan will give me a lot more opportunity to get noticed.”
“I knew Roger a little and when I heard he was setting up the new team we started to speak more.
“I rode well in the Tour of Britain – that’s a bit of a market place for transfers – so knew that I’d be OK for a contract for this year.
“But I didn’t think too much about it during the race, I wanted to concentrate on riding a good race – that was enough to stress over!”
What’s the programme, now?
“Well, the British stuff has started to kick off; we have the Rutland, the Reservoir, the Lincoln and the Tour Series in quick succession.
“We’re not a big team – ten riders, so we’ll ride one programme, British based concentrating on the Premiers and Tour Series with the big goal being a ride in the Tour of Britain.
“As far as Europe goes, Roger and Madison are working on that – but I try not to think too far ahead, I don’t want too much going around my head.
“I think it’s best to concentrate on immediate goals – but the Tour of Britain is at the back of every British rider’s mind.”
The UK scene, your thoughts?
“There’s Sky, obviously and NetApp-Endura plus six good Continental teams – Raleigh, Sigma, Node 4, Rapha, UK Youth and us.
“It’s the strongest I’ve seen the UK scene in my racing lifetime but there are only six big races throughout the whole year – it just seems crazy.
“All the teams are forced to go abroad to race; you can’t get results on a diet of 50 kilometre handicap races – they’re simply not good preparation.
“It’s frustrating – but every time a race organiser retires or passes away the race seems to go with them. There’s no more Archer GP or Dengie Marshes – those were good races.
“Maybe it’s time for British Cycling to get involved – help with the organisation or with getting sponsors involved? It’s a thankless job being a race organiser and involves a huge amount of work – it certainly seems like more support is needed from the national body.”
What’s it like working with Mr. Hammond?
“He’s awesome – I didn’t think I knew it all, but I felt that having been a pro for a few years, I was pretty knowledgeable.
“But when you sit and listen to a race briefing from Roger you realise how little you really know.
“He’s ridden for some of the best teams in the world and he understands the sports at a different level than a young pro.”
Were you happy with 2012?
“I wanted to do well in UCi races in 2012 and gain points – but we only rode three, a tour in Mexico, the Tour de Beauce in Canada and the Tour of Britain.
“I rode well in all of them; I had a podium in Beauce and was in the breaks in the Tour of Britain – but you need more than three outings at that level to find the rhythm.”
What about this year?
“I just want to see how good I can be.
“At 57 kilos I’m not a big rider and there aren’t the races in the UK with the longer climbs which suit me.
“I’m always strong in the finals of races with parcours like that and I hope that after the Tour Series we can get some good European races in.
“And I hope that we make it into the Tour of Britain and that I can impress – with the team we have I can’t see why we won’t be accepted.”