Saturday, July 27, 2013

EspoirsCentral Exclusive: Marc Garby's Long Road Back, Part 2

Read Part 1 of this 2-part interview with Danish U23 rider Marc Garby, stage winner and yellow jersey wearer at this year's Giro della Valle d'Aosta. Garby told me about his upbringing as a cyclist and his struggle with iliac artery endofibrosis, which, along with problems getting a correct diagnosis, set him back nearly two years in his development. We pick up a the end of 2012 with Garby in search of a new squad for 2013...

By autumn, Garby was able to train pain-free for the first time in nearly 8 months. Even though he tried once before in 2010 with no luck, Garby ventured to Italy in hopes of finding a team for the 2013 season, where he would be able to race on terrain that is more suitable to his riding style and body type. "I got in touch with Team General Store Mantovani and had a meeting with the sport directors in October 2012 and performed some tests from them," Garby explained and after seeing his numbers and hearing his passion for the sport, the directors took a chance on him and signed him for the 2013 season. "They were willing to give me a chance to make comeback on their team, which I'm forever grateful for." After not racing for a year and a half, the next challenge for Garby was to get back into racing shape, which took more time than usual because of a lack of base miles in his legs. Garby would make his season debut at the GP Palio del Recioto in April, finishing 15th and in the 1st chasing group, a impressive performance in a race that featured a huge amount of talented riders.

Garby tried his hand in some Italian races in April and early May but it was still apparent that he was lacking the top end power to hang with the leading riders in the finale. Despite this, his hard work paid off and Danish National U23 coach Morten Bennekou, who had been following Garby's results, rewarded him with a wildcard spot on the national team for the U23 Peace Race (Course de la Paix) alongside riders such as Lasse Norman Hansen, Michael Valgren and Rasmus Sterobo. Personal ambitions were thrown out when Sterobo gained the leader's jersey in the prologue and Garby assumed a domestique role for the final two stages. When Sterobo's lead came under threat on the final stage, Garby took to the front for 100 kilometers to try and hold things down. While the race would blow to pieces at the end and Sterobo would lose his yellow jersey, this performance got Garby a start at the Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt. While the German race was domestique work and miles in the legs for Garby, it proved fruitful as three teammates finished in the top 10 overall.

Heading into summer, Garby was fixed on the Giro della Valle d'Aosta because it would be one of the only races of the year where he would be able to show off his pure climbing abilities. In an interview during the race, Garby noted that he was nervous heading into the event because even though he had been getting quality racing in, his form was still a bit off from where he wanted it to be. The first stage to La Magdeleine was the stage that Garby had put a bullseye on during the weeks prior and he proceeded to light the race on fire.

Heading into the first long climb of the race, a long drag category 3 climb heading up to La Salle, Garby launched an attack that was followed by riders such as Maxat Ayazbayev, Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Astana Continental) Giacomo Berlato (Zalf Euromobil) and Floris De Tier (EFC-OPQS). Garby said, " (he) knew he felt good all day and was aware of drinking and eating all day in the heat." After Louis Vervaeke (Lotto-Belisol U23) bridged the gap to the breakaway, it was just the Belgian, Berlato and Garby heading into the final climb. After Berlato attacked on the 2nd to last climb, Garby ridded himself of Vervaeke and flew down the treacherous final descent to catch Berlato before the final rainy climb. "The final climb was hard as I hit it but from there I just went all out. I don't remember much of what I was thinking up the climb," said Garby. Garby was taking chunks not only out of Berlato and Vervaeke but he was also thinking about the general classification implications. Heading into the rain-soaked finishing straight alone, Garby was hit with a wave of emotion. Garby said, "as I crossed the line I started crying. It was a big moment after having so much against me for 1½ year but I never stopped believing."

Garby had a 2 minute gap to Italian stalwart Davide Villella and the rest of the main contenders and he had his work cut out of him if he wanted to keep the jersey for the four remaining stages. Stage 2 was a tough day for Garby as he did not have the luxury of being out in front of the field and would have to go toe to toe with Villella and company. Garby ended up being distanced on the final climb to Champorcher and spent the majority of the climb around Pierre Paolo Penasa and finished 8th. His lead was cut to just 41 seconds over Villella and more mountains loomed. The loses on stage 3 were mitigated because of a large breakaway getting 5 minutes on the favorites group but Villella once again distanced and the lead was down to 28 seconds.

Speaking on the 4th stage from Châtel to Morillon, Garby said, "It was a difficult stage. On the cat.1 climb (Col de Ajonc) after 55km, I was isolated with the 10 leaders. They started to attack already as the descent started. We were still together as we hit the flat section 10km before the long climb (the Col de la Ramaz) but the attacks felt never-ending and eventually Villella got the best of me." 25 seconds behind the lead group at the base of the Ramaz, Villella, who Garby noted as quite an intelligent rider, was keeping the pace high on the climb. Garby, holding onto the yellow jersey with grim death, continued, "I caught up with two riders that had been dropped from the group. We chased like mad men and did a superb descent from the mountain. I got good help from Penasa, but the third guy (Giulio Ciccone) was not too strong and we never got to catch a breath. Eventually I was the only one pulling and then we hit a short climb where Penasa went all out and closed the group alone. I was still close to catch them. I got back in group 7 kilometers before the final climb but they started attacking again."

Garby had been riding on sheer heart but when the race hit the final climb up to Morillon Les Esserts, his dreams would start to unravel. As Garby put it, "I went with Villella twice but the third time was too much and I got dropped again." Villella, Davide Formolo, Alexander Foliforov and the other leaders were too much and Garby was fighting with his sore, tired legs and the ticking clock. "I just had to eat the pain," said Garby about the final climb. He finished 9th on the day, at 1 minute 45 seconds down on the triumphant Villella, and slipped to 6th overall, where he would finish the race. Garby was also awarded the combativity prize at the end of the week-long race.

While some might be melancholy about losing the overall while in the same position, Garby took away some positives. "I aimed for top 10 (overall) so I'm happy I reached that including having 3 days in yellow. I think I could have gotten top 5 without the (leader's) jersey; it was hard on and off the bike to have but I learned a lot from it too so I'll let that rest."

Throughout our correspondence, it became very clear just how passionate Garby is about cycling and how he has this visceral hunger to get to the pro level. Monk-like, a term I used in Part 1 of our interview, is quite an apt adjective for him because there were multiple times Garby mentioned things like "he could never stop being focused" on the goal of getting to the next level. With no discernibly big ego, it is refreshing to see a rider who is so driven and grateful for every pedal stroke because he is quite aware how easily it could all be taken away. Marc, who had initially set a goal to become a pro by 2014, has had to shift that back to 2015 simply because of his lack of racing but hasn't given up on the hope of getting a deal for next season. Garby said, "I lost a lot of time in the U23 ranks but I have progressed very rapidly this year and am already living away from my family, more a less the life of a pro," which is a contrast to other Danish talent such as Rasmus Guldhammer, who had not left Denmark much before going pro with HTC-Columbia and famously imploded in his only season on the World Tour. Only time will tell but Garby is confident that if he can get a few more results in the coming races, his dreams could be even closer to fruition.

Garby has been selected for the Danish national squad for the Tour of Denmark and while the parcours isn't totally suited for him, he has two stages in mind to try his hand at. He is hopeful to be selected for the Danish Tour de l'Avenir team, which will be announced after the Tour of Denmark. Past l'Avenir, Garby has an eye on the U23 World RR in Florence, which he described as "a dream" to race. 

**Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity

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