Since his return to the North American racing scene after years in Europe, BMC's Jeff Louder had come close many times to the top step on an NRC race in the past, finishing second overall at the Cascade Cycling Classic earlier this year and in 2006, third overall at the Tour of Utah in 2006. It all changed last week in Utah where in front of friends and family, the Salt Lake City native and resident overcame a seven seconds deficit in the final short and flat time trial to win the 2008 Tour of Utah.
The Garmin-Chipotle team grabbed the leader's jersey on the first when a break made it all the way to the finish line first on Jason Donald's shoulders and then the yellow jersey switched to Blake Caldwell on the next stage where it remained until the final day. Louder was 32 seconds behind after the first stage and waited until the penultimate stage, the Queen Stage, to make his move to win the stage and move closer to the overall win.
The 30-year old Louder patiently answered the questions from the media scrum huddling around him, including yours truly.
What are you looking forward to now?
Jeff: Nationals is two weeks away, we'll see, it's not at at altitude but maybe I can keep my form. I'll eat a lot of ice cream this week. I'm just going to try and stay relaxed and come to Nationals with this under my belt, when you've already got a victory it makes it a little easier, and I'll go into Nationals with no pressure and I think that will be great. The team we've got, its not just for me, the whole team could do well there, Nationals and Missouri put the cherry on top.
The team seems to be lightening up at the end of the season, you've had some results back east, results here, was that the plan, is that coincidental?
Jeff: Some of it is the amazing experience we got in Europe, thanks to the directorship of Gavin Chilcott and John Lelangue, the vision of Andy Rhis, we've been able to get into things like Tour de Suisse and Romandie. And then, you know, I ride up these climbs all the times but to be able to race up them against the best in the world, you learn something every time and I learned a lot, racing over there, all the guys have, this team in May is not the same as this team now, the experience level has gone up and mine has too.
Working as a unit?
Jeff: Working as a unit and just being able to handle the conditions and handle the terrain, handle the competition, you've seen it, the guys are phenomenal, it's not my victory, it's the team victory.
What are your thoughts about the Tour of Utah?
Jeff: It was great, it's awesome to see it back. It was a whole in the calendar last year for me, to have this back. As soon as I found out it was coming back, I put an X in my calendar and I've been thinking about it since November, whenever it came out. These are my roads, these are my people, these are my conditions so I knew I had to do something, this is definitely the goal, but it wasn't a sure thing. I'm amazed at the team and also at the event. It was a top class event and I think they can call it the toughest event in America, especially on the NRC.
Tell me about your time trial preparation and the course today?
Jeff: Caldwell rode an amazing race, the whole thing, he's on another level, that definitely made me very nervous and I really had to concentrate on remembering that I know how to do this, just use my form, the equipment. The BMC bike is just so fast, it's really made a difference for me, as funny as that sounds, you've got to pedal the bike but the bike definitely moves you as well. This team is supplied with the best possible gear, the sponsors and everybody. That helped me a lot, just knowing that I had the best gear and good form from yesterday. I thought about the feeling on the podium last night when I was digging deep about 2K from here, starting to remember that, wanting to get that feeling back today, that definitely motivating me.
Compare yesterday [Queen stage] and today.
Jeff: Time trial and a hill climb in a similar event in a way, especially for me, I'm not an attacker I'm more of a pacer, so I'm kind of a .. I call myself an all arounder, it's similar, but still you have to put out the watts, if it's flat or uphill it's still a battle within yourself. Yesterday, road racing with a hill climb, it's other people that are inflicting the damage on you and today each person had to do it to themselves which is a little different but similar events.
What about Garmin leading the race into the last mile.
Jeff: Garmin as a team has really set the standard for all the teams in America at this point. BMC is following that mold, we're doing a lot of the similar stuff, we're a smaller team. You kind of saw it today, it was us against them and that's a real indication the way that things should be going in cycling and the way that the management of Garmin as well as BMC found young motivated riders, maybe with not the most experience, but if you give them the tools, and you give them the preparation... look what these guys did, look what Garmin did, they were amazing all week, it's not their race squad, this is the B squad or a little less, they were amazing, they rode out of their heads. It worked to our favor, we kind of came in as a dark horse, we weren't spoken of too much, took a little pressure off us but it also motivated us, you want to be talked about and so when you see that, when you read the press, you want to be the guys that are being talked about, it added a little fuel to the fire, we gave them some hits and see the results, we came out with a great victory. Even though no one had to ride on the front today but myself, the team rode phenomenally all week, they kept me out of the stress and in a very comfortable place all week.
Winning a stage race in your hometown, how does this rate in your career?
Jeff: I've come very, very close to winning a few NRC races in the last two years, and this is sinking in. I've been second, I've been third, I've tied being second , to be able to outright win a race like this and then turn around have it be in my hometown. My dad was sitting in the car with Gavin today, my wife and my baby are here, you don't get this opportunity very much and I'm really going to relish it.
Talk about Brent [who finished second in the TT].
Jeff: Brent Bookwalter has a broken femur last year, he came to camp like with nothing, his legs looked different, he has atrophied, he had.. just in camp, he'd been a little sick, you just didn't know, he looked a little feeble, he was .. I knew of him but I didn't know what he could do. Just in the last month or so, when I speak about the team changing in the last month , he's one of them that has just risen above, he's doing really, really well and I'm happy for him, he's really given himself a bit of a name, I think he's one for the future, he's only 24 years old, he kind of reminds me of myself a little bit, he's a pacer a little bit, he's got good motivation and I hope to be able to help him on the podium soon.