Last year’s winner of An Post Rás, Clemens Fankhauser, was back in Ireland last weekend and we caught up with the Austrian during his short visit. He had been over to take part in the Ulster Junior Tour sportive.
“It was a great ride,” Fankhauser said of the sportive in Bellaghy, Co. Derry. “It was good to be back in a group, but it was tough at times. It was a nice speed with a good atmosphere. There were plenty of strong riders there, David McCann, Damien Shaw, Peter Hawkins, Mark Scanlon. Scanlon was going well.”
The event was one of the last training rides for Fankhauser before his season started this weekend in the UCI 1.2 GP Laguna. As to how he would he expected to get on in his opening race, he wasn’t expecting too much as his ambitions lie later in the season.
“My main aims are the Tour of Azerbaijan and the Rás,” he says. Before then, amongst the other races he will take part in are the GP Isola, Istrian Trophy and a number of races in Austria.
What will stand to him though is an illness free winter, as he says, “The winter went well. I wasn’t really sick. I was mainly training in Austria, also doing ski mountaineering and gym work.”
Regarding last year’s edition of the Rás, and as to whether he expected that he would go so well during the week, Fankhauser replies, “I knew going into the race that I was in good shape, as I had been 7th in a race in Italy shortly beforehand (Gran Premio Industrie del Marmo) where I was one of the strongest uphill.”
There were a few key stages in the Rás where Fankhauser made it into the decisive breaks. On stage 2 to Lisdoonvarna, he finished in 3rd place, 1’55” behind New Zealand’s Patrick Bevin to move into 2nd overall. Then on Stage 5 to Clonakilty, he made it into the group of eleven which finished well clear of the remainder of the race. Bevin missed this move, enabling Fankhauser to take over the yellow jersey.
“After getting the yellow jersey, the team just concentrated on holding onto it, and we didn’t look to stage wins any more,” he says. Fankhauser held onto the jersey until the end in Skerries a few days later.
He puts his win down to his consistency and not having a bad day. Also, while he was racing in Ireland for the week, Fankhauser did partake in a few pints of the black stuff. “I had a Guinness after every stage, just one or two beers, not too much. It’s important to take in carbohydrates during a stage race.
He left the race with really good form and would go on to finish 9th in the Flèche du Sud, 2nd in the Tour of Serbia and 2nd in the Baltic Chain Tour amongst other good results.
As to whether he can repeat his Rás win this year, Fankhauser is somewhat reticent . “I think I could be a bit tired from Azerbaijan, “ he says, “and you have to be in perfect shape to win the Rás. And the team has to be in top shape. The team will be aiming for a top 5, and stage wins. I think this year’s parcours will increase the number of riders who could win. There could be 30 or 40 riders who could win the Rás.”
“It’s one of the major goals for the team in the first half of the season. It can be difficult as it’s windy and the hills are short, but they’re steep.”
Fankhauser has switched teams to the Hrinkow Advarics Cycleang Continental Team, another UCI Continental team, but in the future, they may step up another level.
Hrinkow are an Austrian bike company and he says that they’re quite small at the moment, so only able to follow one race programme. He sounds excited about where the team are going though. “The team have a green concept. We use biodegradable bottles and hope to have hybrid cars. We’ve got big ambitions.”
We’re expecting to see some good performances from Fankhauser this season, and wish him the best of luck.