During the busy days of the Amgen Tour of California, Mark Johnson was fortunate enough to catch up with Garmin-Cervelo rider Johan Van Summeren to hear his thoughts on the California racing and his recent victory at Paris Roubaix:
Story and photos by Mark Johnson
In April, Garmin-Cervélo rider and Clif Bar athlete Johan Van Summeren won Paris-Roubaix.
Watching the 6’5”, 174-pound rider solo away from a day-long break, fend off a charging Fabian Cancellara, and ride into the Roubaix velodrome alone—on a flat tire—was one of the most dramatic afternoons in cycling history, let alone this season.
Coming from Belgium, a country where pro cyclists dwell in the same lofty firmament as U.S. football and baseball stars, the win changed Vansummeren’s life forever (even before he asked his girlfriend to marry him on the Roubaix velodrome infield that crazy afternoon).
After the 2011 Amgen Tour of California wrapped up in Thousand Oaks, we sat down with the soft-spoken Belgian from the rural Limburg region of eastern Belgium. “Shummie” as he is affectionately called by his teammates, has a warmly compelling air about him. His beguiling gentle mannerisms and softly accented English make him instantly likable—and his tired eyes expressed the degree to which the Tour of California had taxed him.
Mark Johnson: The last time you were in the United States was when you were 13-years old?
Johan Van Summeren: Something like that. We visited all the state of California. The national parks. Las Vegas. San Francisco. Los Angeles.
MJ: How was it this time around?
JVS: I was enjoying the scenery during some stages. The Mt. Baldy stage was really nice; so close to LA yet so wild.
MJ: In Santa Clarita I saw some fans in a parking lot approach you and congratulate you for winning Paris-Roubaix. Does it surprise you to have Americans recognize you?
JVS: Especially so many Americans. Maybe it’s because I’m on an American team. But it’s nice. So many people. I enjoy it.
MJ: Was there anything about American that was different than what you expected?
JVS: The world isn’t as big any more as it used to be. We hear about it in Europe also. It was like my expectations. I have a good friend at home who did this race three times, Kevin Hulsmans with the Quick-Step team. And he told me, he was making me scared at home. [Laughing] “You have to really start training again because the Tour of California, it’s not easy. It’s really not.” And it wasn’t!
MJ: In Belgium and your hometown, Lommel, you are a superstar. After you won Roubaix your region’s newspaper published an entire glossy magazine about you and included it with the weekend paper.
JVS: Yes, it was crazy in my town!
MJ: Does it feel like you can relax a bit more in California?
JVS: I needed this to get back going again for the rest of the season. It was not really easy to start again. It was hard racing. Actually I was glad that there was snow the first day. A 200 kilometer stage with those climbs, it would have killed me! I was so busy the week after Roubaix doing some things that I didn’t want to miss. Maybe you never win a Classic like that again, so I enjoyed every moment.
MJ: You won Roubaix, Tom Danielson got third and the team won the overall here in California. How does that affect the team’s morale?
JVS: The setup we have with this team, I mean, we have to do this. With so many good riders we’d make a joke of ourselves that if we weren’t competing in almost every race. You don’t win every race, but you can be involved with the action. It’s not a game. It’s our profession and we have some obligations towards our sponsors. And I enjoy doing it.
Thanks for organizing the interview, Mark. And congrats again to Johan, for a season we’ll never forget!
- Posted by:
- Le Sensation American