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Davide Martinelli: “Etixx-Quick Step is the ideal team for me”

Davide Martinelli

Cycling is an important part of his family since forever, so it wasn’t a surprise that Davide Martinelli decided to come into the sport very early, as a 7-year-old. It was love at first sight, and as a result, he decided to pursue a career in cycling. Step by step, Davide developed and improved, all this while making the natural transition towards a pro contract. One by one, he rode for G.S. Ronco (during his Junior years), Hoppla, Mg K Vis, before getting a contract with one of the best developments teams out there, Colpack, managed by Antonio Bevilacqua.

Riding in his home country, as well as in many foreign races, the young Italian made the most out of it, establishing himself as one of the best time trial riders of the U23 ranks, with three consecutive national titles and a silver medal at the 2014 European Championships. But don’t make a mistake and think Davide Martinelli is just a powerful rouleur: the 23-year-old proved his versatility and consistency more than once, especially thanks to his powerful sprint from a reduced group, that has helped him win the points jersey at the 2014 Tour de l’Avenir and notch a bronze at this year’s European Championships, in the road race.

The results he scored in the past season and his impressive skills brought him into the attention of many pro teams, and in the end, Etixx-Quick Step came up with an offer for Team Colpack’s rider, who signed a two-year contract. Here, he hopes to develop and turn himself into a rider capable of winning three of cycling’s Monuments – Milan-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – which are his dreams for some time now. This transfer, as well as his results, were two of the topics I discussed with Davide Martinelli last week, when I interviewed him.

– Davide, what were your targets at the start of the season?

My primary goal was to develop and to improve on the climbs. For this reason, I worked a lot in the gym, in order to be more powerful on the uphills. In the same time, I wanted to search for a pro team that was willing to believe in me and put a pro contract on the table.

– What meant for you to win a third consecutive national title in the ITT?

The individual time trial is a discipline that really fascinates me and which could help me a lot in the pro ranks, as many short stage races end up being decided for just a couple of seconds. It was very important for me to take another win at the Nationals Championships, because it’s always difficult to repeat the victory you got the year before.

– How were the European Championships?

I prepared myself very well for this event, although I knew that the parcours doesn’t suit me very much. Still, I was convinced I can get a nice result there, the way I rode the time trial being proof in this regard. To be quite frankly, in the road race I didn’t expect to finish on the podium, because I was there to help the team and our sprinter, but after he crashed I came to the forefront and thanks to my sprinting skills I finished on the podium. I can say that I was half-surprised to get a medal in Tartu.

– During your U23 season, you won many races in a bunch sprint. Do you believe you could turn from a ITT rider into a sprinter?

I really don’t know what to say about that. On the other hand, I’m aware of the fact that there are many cyclists who are superior to me in a sprint and have a much better kick, but I also know that I’m capable of a long and powerful sprint, which was useful to me in many occasions.

– A couple of weeks ago, Etixx-Quick Step revelead you signed a contract with the team for the next two years. What’s the story of your transfer?

I have a great relation with Davide Bramati and Joxean Matxin, and in the spring I went to the Bakala Academy to undergo some tests. They were very pleased by my results and we kept in touch. Then, they followed me in other races, like the U23 Paris-Roubaix, and we eventually reached an agreement in the first days of August. I’m really happy for this move and can’t wait for the 2016 season to start, especially as the team is ideal for my characteristics.

– Last year you won the points jersey at the Tour de l’Avenir, but this year you’re not in the race. Why is that?

A couple of weeks before the start I talked with coach Marino Amadori and we both agreed to take a different approach for the World Championships than the one I had in the past. It was a decision we both fully agreed on, although I must say I would have liked to line-up for the Tour de l’Avenir.

– So in what other race will you go until the end of the season?

The plan is to ride two or three races together with Colpack, where I want to help my teammates, and also be at the start of the Chrono Champenois, in France. My desire is to use these races in order to build my condition for the World Championships in Richmond, where I’ll take any opportunity if one were to arise.

Rodolfo Torres: “I’d like to win the best climber jersey in the Vuelta”

Tour de San Luis 2015 -  2a tappa La Punta - Mirador de Potrero 185.3km - 20/01/2015 - Rodolfo Torres (Colombia) - foto Bettini Roberto/BettiniPhoto©2015

Although he didn’t land a win so far, Rodolfo Torres was one of the most consistent cyclists of the year. Kicking off his second pro season in the second half of January, at the 9th edition of the Tour de San Luis, Team Colombia-Coldeportes’ rider put on an impressive display on the climbs, winning the mountain classification and ending second in the overall standings, ahead of the 2014 Giro d’Italia champion, Nairo Quintana.

That was a sign of the things that were to come later in the season, with the 28-year-old Colombian being one of the most aggressive riders in the pack every time the road began to rise, regardless of the race. Thanks to his attacking mode and the constant improvements he’s made, Rodolfo Torres nabbed some more results in important stage races, such as the Giro del Trentino and the Vuelta a Burgos, where he came in the standings ahead of many World Tour cyclists, thus showing his class.

Precisely for these reasons, Rodolfo Torres will be one of the riders to watch out for in the Vuelta a España, which began Saturday, with a team time trial in Andalucia. As was the case in the past, also this year the race has many uphill finishes and more than 40 categorized ascents; for a natural born climber like Torres, this is a great chance to score a big result, so expect to see him lighting up the race every time he has the opportunity.

– Rodolfo, you were one of the season’s pleasant surprises, finishing five stage races in the top 10.

Yes, it has been a strong year for me so far. This comes as a result of the good preparation I’ve had during the winter, when I worked hard in order to reach a good level right away. I felt things went as I wanted, as racing in Europe with a strong pace helped me raise my bar.

– Of all your results, which is the one that makes you the most proud?

Being on the podium in the Tour de San Luis. It was a good race with some strong opponents, including several World Tour riders. Ultimately, it was great to share the podium with Nairo Quintana.

– Do you have any regret?

I would not say there’s a regret I have, as we have tried to put in everything we had time after time. On the other hand, of course we had some unexpected accidents, like the one in Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, or losing a stage by just a few metres in the Tour de Luxembourg.

– Recently, you raced in the Vuelta a Burgos. How was it?

I had pretty good feelings, and in the end I was quite satisfied with our performance in Burgos, both personally and as a team.

– Next up for you is the Vuelta a España, your second Grand Tour, after the 2014 Giro d’Italia.

I am very excited about it and prepared to tackle this race with a different mentality than at the beginning of last year’s Giro. I must say that the Corsa Rosa was a great experience and really helped me to grow as a rider, and now I’m very motivated for the Vuelta.

– What do you think of the course?

It is a hard route, with plenty of mountains, but I think that this makes it good for us, the riders of Colombia-Coldeportes. Besides the climbs, I also expect the crosswinds to take their toll through the race.

– And what goals will you have?

To be combative day after day, to give my best, and possibly go for a stage victory. If it’s possible, I will try to win the best climber jersey, as it means a lot for Colombians, and also for our team. Anyway, it remains to be seen what the plan will be and what task each rider will have.

Joe Dombrowski: “I’m looking forward to the Vuelta”

Among the riders making their debut in the 70th edition of the Vuelta a España – the season’s third and final Grand Tour – there will be also Joe Dombrowski, who comes here after taking a breakthrough win at the Tour of Utah, where he put years of suffering behind and enjoyed his finest moment since turning pro. The 24-year-old will be one of the many Cannondale-Garmin cyclists hoping to shine and thus get a stage win, and although this is going to be his maiden three-week race and he starts as an outsider, Dombrowski shouldn’t be overlooked, as he can turn into one of the Vuelta’s revelations.

A couple of years ago, he was seen as the next big thing in cycling, after winning the prestigious Girobio and finishing in the top five at both the Tour of California (where he also was the best young rider) and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, two events in which he outshined many pros. His impressive results led to a contract with Sky, but the two-year spell with the British outfit wasn’t a happy, but more a bleak one, due to many health problems which kept hampering him, problems whose main cause remained unknown for a long period of time, until a vascular specialist told him to undergo some tests, before finally discovering what was really troubling him: iliac endofibrosis – basically, a drop of blood flow in his iliac artery, which meant he was getting 50% less blood in his left leg than normal.

After having surgery at home, he took a long break before coming back on the bike and starting to work in order to gradually build his form. Eventually, at the end of the season, Joe changed teams, moving to Cannondale-Garmin, where he was looking forward to show that he can come back to the top. Making his debut for the US team in Argentina, at the Tour de San Luis, Joe Dombrowski finished in the top 10, which made him very confident ahead of his next goals, the Tour of California and the National Championships, two races in which he put on an impressive display, finishing fourth and second, respectively.

For that reason, and taking into account that his form was constantly on the rise, his stage win on Snowbird and overall classification victory in the Tour of Utah didn’t count as a surprise, but more as a confirmation of the fact he finally reached the much desired top level just weeks before the start of the Vuelta, where he comes very motivated to test himself and see what he can do in a three-week race.

A couple of days ago, while he was still at his home in Nice, I talked to Joe Dombrowski about the way his season went since pulling on the green and argyle of Cannondale-Garmin and the expectations he has ahead of his Grand Tour debut.

– Joe, what were your thoughts at the beginning of the season, after joining Cannondale-Garmin?

I was a good change for me and I’ve really enjoyed it so far. I feel really at home being in a US team and I think it’s a good environment for me, I feel comfortable and I like being among other Americans. Another important thing is that at Cannondale-Garmin I have more opportunities than I did with Sky. I want to develop into a GC rider, so I think that Cannondale-Garmin, at the moment, is the right option for me to do that, because I can go on some of the races and ride in support of Daniel Martin, Andrew Talansky and Ryder Hesjedal, while in some smaller races where they aren’t there I can be the leader of the team. It’s very important to have more opportunities for myself, than I did in the past.

– Looking behind at your two years with Sky, what conclusions can you draw?

It was a little bit difficult, because last year I had the injury and the operation on my iliac artery, and it was hurting my performance. Once the operation was done, it was almost three months before I was out training on the road again. So last season I didn’t raced so much. But no matter on what team you’re in, to have an injury like that means it’s not going to be a nice experience. Other than that, I learned a lot during my two years with Sky and got exposure by riding the big races, and I also got to live in Nice, where is my European home and where I feel comfortable. Maybe I didn’t score a lot of results and I was having a lot of setbacks because of the injury, but I wouldn’t say it was a negative experience.

– After these troubled seasons, how important was it for you to get a top 10 in your first race of the year, the Tour de San Luis?

I think it was good. It’s an early season race, and as a North American rider coming from the cold, and racing in the summer against South American cyclists who are in good shape, meant the race was a tough one. I wanted to see how I can go, because it was my first real test after having the operation and coming back after the injury. It was a good start for me and it gave me a lot of confidence, I felt I’m back in the game and I also had fun, which is very important for me. Cycling is a hard sport, it’s about suffering, but if you’re in an environment where you’re having fun, you really look forward to the racing.

– Not many riders say they’re having fun in the races.

For me this is what I’ve dreamed of doing and I don’t want to take for granted the fact that I’m basically getting to do what I dreamed of doing for a living. I don’t think there are many people – doing all kind of jobs – who can say that they are living their dream when at work. For me, that’s the case: I love riding my bike, I love racing, and I love everything about it – the training and focusing on being fit for the races, traveling all over the world and living in a foreign country. There are a lot of things that I’ve been really lucky to do. Of course, sometimes you get some crappy weather and you don’t have a great morale and don’t feel like getting out there and racing, but overall I love what I’m doing.

– After San Luis, you had a good run on home turf, in both the Tour of California and the National Championships. Did you see the glass half-full, or did they leave you with a bitter taste?

Concerning the Nationals, I’ve always thought about how cool it would be to wear the national champion jersey for a year. It’s just something really special to do that at some point in my career. Second was a good result for me in a race like that, giving that everybody went there wanting to win. It wasn’t a race for me initially, but for my teammates, as I really can’t sprint very well. Still, considering the way it played out, I got an opportunity in the end. I was a little bit disappointed to be runner-up, because I wanted to win and wear the jersey for a whole year. In the Tour of California, my ambition was to be on the podium, but I finished fourth, which I can say it still was a good result. Overall, I can be happy with that, considering that the year before I was in just a couple of races. Basically, California confirmed to me that I was on the way back.

– Did you felt like you kept improving between the Nationals and the Tour of Utah?

As you know, I came back to Europe, the plan being to ride for the general classification in the Tour de Suisse. I don’t know if it was because of the fact that I was tired as I began my season early, in San Luis, but I wasn’t very good in Suisse. So after that, I returned home to the US and didn’t touch my bike at all for some time. Basically, I took a vacation, went to see some friends and pressed the reset button, as I knew I’ll do the Vuelta at the end of the year. I wanted to make sure that I’ll come into the second half of the season really fresh. I haven’t trained so hard before the Tour of Utah, but I still prepared for the race, because I wanted to have a good GC. In the end, I kind of surprised myself in the Tour of Utah.

– But what were your thoughts before the start?

Obviously with the news in regard to Tom Danielson it was a shock, it’s not really what someone wants to hear at the start of the race, it’s a bit difficult, but I talked with the guys the night before the race after we heard what it happened and I said that we still have a race to do and that I think we can still win it, as well as takins some stages along the way. So we decided to think about the race, to focus on it and make the best out of it. We all did a great work and overcame a difficult situation.

– How much did it mean for you to win the race?

It was great. That’s my first ever victory as a professional, and winning the stage to Snowbird was special, as well as taking the yellow jersey and defending it the next day. It was awesome. This season was kind of a reset year and to have my first pro win was very nice and special.

– The Vuelta a España is up now on your schedule. Are you nervous about making your Grand Tour debut?

I’m pretty relaxed, actually. I know I haven’t raced in a three-week event, but I’m excited about it and I’m really looking forward to gaining experience. I still don’t know what my role is going to be, but I’m sure that it’s going to be a good experience. I’m in my third year as a professional and it’s very important to finally get to ride a Grand Tour. It would be a really big step to finish such a race.

– Besides this, what other goals do you have?

Well, I’ll have to see are the plans of the team, but especially in the third week – once the general classification is established and there are bigger time gaps – I could go in a breakaway on a mountain stage. If there’s no one dangerous there, there’s a good chance they’ll let it go, and once you’re there you don’t fight against Froome or Quintana, but against the other guys who are in the escape. If I’d get the opportunity to fight for a stage victory, then I would love to get one.

– What do you think of the course?

The Vuelta is always mountainous and has short and punchy climbs at the finish, which will be the case also this year. Then there’s the Andorra stage, with six major climbs. It’s going to be one of the hardest routes of the year, and looking at the startlist, it’s maybe the Grand Tour with the most depth in terms of Grand Tour stars: Froome, Nibali, Quintana, and the list goes on, it looks like everyone’s doing it. It’s going to be a very high level here.

– Did you pick your books for the Vuelta?

Yes, I did. I got a lot of suggestions on Twitter and I now have plenty of books to read during the three weeks of the race, one of the books being Richard Moore’s „The Bolt Supremacy”. Personally, I think that it’s very important to read a book in the evening, especially in a Grand Tour and any stage race, actually. You ride hard during the day and you need a nice way to relax. In my opinion, you have to put down your phone, your electronics, your computer, and just read a book before going to bed. It’s really great to go old school and read some books, and it’s something I like to do during the race. We need less smartphones, and more books.

Daniel Martinez: “I have big expectations for the Tour de l’Avenir”

2015, Gp Lugano, Colombia 2015, Martinez Daniel, Ruvigliana

In the past couple of years, it became a habit to have a young Colombian rider making a name for himself in a tough race, despite lacking experience at pro level and riding against more powerful opponents. In 2015, the one coming into the spotlight was Daniel Martinez, the 19-year-old cyclist of Team Colombia-Coldeportes, who got his season started in February, at the Gran Premio Costa degli Etruschi, and needed only four months to draw attention upon him, at the Route du Sud, where he won the mountains classification.

Less than two months after completing the French event, he went to the Tour of Utah, where he turned into the revelation of the race, impressing everyone not only with his skills, but also thanks to the maturity displayed, well beyond his young age. In Utah – arguably the toughest cycling race in the US – he went head-to-head with the overall contenders on the Snowbird and Park City stages and finished 8th in the general standings, as well as taking home the best young rider jersey.

At the end of this week, Daniel Martinez will line-up for the 52nd edition of the Tour de l’Avenir, a race with which Colombian began an intense love affair since 1980, when Alfonso Florez nabbed a memorable victory against more well-known European riders. But before going to France, he took on the invitation of Cafe Roubaix and opened up about his first years in cycling and the results he got so far as a pro.

– Daniel, how did you began cycling?

It was through my brother, who liked cycling and started riding. Inspired by him, I began cycling at age 14, riding for the Club Ciclo Soacha. I remember everything from that time, from my first races, which were circuits and one-day races within the region, to watching the Grand Tours and wishing to get there in the future.

– How important was for you to win the Vuelta del Futuro in 2012?

It meant a lot: it was one of the most important races for my category, and I really wanted to win it. Moreover, I knew that a success would have opened many doors for me.

– Then, one year later, you took the gold medal in the Junior time trial race at the Panamerican Championships. Were you surprised by that victory?

No, I can’t say it came as a surprise, because I had worked a lot for that goal, and I had long been focused to go and win it.

– How did you end up in Europe?

The turning point was the World Championship in Florence, where I got in the breakaway: it actually opened the doors to Europe for me, as the next year the UCI invited me to the World Center.

– In 2014, you got to race in France, Switzerland and Spain, including the World Championships in Ponferrada. How would you rate this experience?

All these were amazing experiences, because there I had the opportunity to learn a huge lot on racing in Europe, and certain habitudes and routines that are part of it, and need to be apprehended. I also got to see that the races from Europe are longer and more organized, while the ones in South America are more “instinctual”.

– And all these races helped you turn pro.

I have to say that this was a very important step in my career. It was the goal that pushed me to start riding a bike in the first place.

– Recently, you finished 8th in the Tour of Utah. How was it?

It was by far the best race I have had as a profesional so far. I must admit that I was a little bit surprised to get such an important result. The feelings were good, but there were very strong opponents there.

– What improvements have you made this season?

The progress has been pretty significant. At the beginning, it was very hard to me to have good feelings deep into races, that is when the decisive moves happen. Now things are going pretty much better, and I feel more confidence and experience.

– Next up is the Tour de l’Avenir. What are your goals?

I am leaving for the race with many expectations, just like my other teammates, to go and put on a strong performance, trying to bring the overall title to Colombia once again.

Ryan Mullen: “The ITT in Richmond is my biggest goal”

Cycling was an important part of Ryan Mullen’s family before he was even born, with his father riding as an amateur in Ireland for many years, so it wasn’t a surprise that Ryan got hooked early by this sport and began watching the Tour de France from a young age. When he turned 12, he started riding together with his father and the steps forward from that moment on came very natural, with Ryan Mullen embarking on his first road season in 2008.

The signs were more than encouraging, considering he won his first ever road race with an impressive display, leaving everyone behind and taking a solo victory. One year later, he got selected to represent Ireland at the European Youth Olimpic Games in Finland, another cornerstone in his career, which has been on the rise ever since, with Ryan Mullen confirming his huge potential in the individual time trial, a discipline in which he clocked up many noteworthy results.

As it goes, the young Irish cyclist came second at the European Championships in the Juniors’ race, before notching up his first big victory, in the Chrono des Herbiers, a result that got him a contract with IG-Sigma Sport, where he continued to make steady progress. His performances didn’t go unnoticed and in the following season he signed for An Post Chain Reaction. During his first season with the Continental squad managed by Kurt Bogaerts, Ryan Mullen took the U23 time trial title, as well as winning the elite road race, an astonishing feat which brought him even more into the spotlight.

Then, in September, he came as one of the favorites at the start of the World Championships in Ponferrada, but missed out on winning the Under-23 time trial title for just 0,48 seconds. It was a big disappointment for the Irishman, but he eventually got over it and came back stronger from this, confirming that he’s one of the brightest talents on the U23 scene and scoring another string of strong results, including the national time trial title in the elite ranking and a third place in An Post Ras, despite being hit by injuries and crashes during the first months of this season.

Now entering in a very busy period of the year and fully focused on the last weeks of the season, with the Richmond World Championships being the climax of his preparation, Ryan Mullen took some time recently to talk for Cafe Roubaix of his 2015 results and future goals. You can read all about it in the following interview.

– Ryan, you’ve been part of An Post team since 2014. How much did it help you to develop?

Being a part of An Post Chain Reaction has been amazing for me. I’ve been given a great racing programme and I’ve learned so much about cycling in the last year and a half. We ride a lot of the high level races and it’s helped me develop so much. Without the racing programme and the structure and support I’ve received I wouldn’t have got the results I’ve had today. Having Sean Kelly and Kurt Bogaerts as mentors helped smooth my transition from having no experience in UCI road races to medalling in the World Championships last year. I’m very grateful for their help.

– Since then, you’ve had your share of wins and defeats. Which would you say that was your top moment?

I would say my proudest yet most disappointing moment was definitely finishing second in the World U23 ITT Championships. Although I lost out by 0,48 seconds, it is something I will never forget and I’m very proud of that result. But at the same time it took me a long time to get over the fact that I was a blink of an eye off being World Champion. It was a huge moment for me in my career and it was the result of a lot of hard work that both myself, my team and my national federation put in. I was hugely disappointed I couldn’t win to repay them for all their hard work, but at the same time I am very proud of my silver medal.

– Were there any positives after that?

Yes, after that defeat in Ponferrada, I can say there were many positives. I learned to appreciate that in the future every little detail counts. But more importantly it made me realise that I have the potential to win this race one day. It put belief in me.

– Did you get any offers to turn pro at that moment?

There was interest from teams directly after the race. But I made the decision to stay with An Post for one more year so I could further develop myself as a road rider. I feel that at the moment, I lack the skill and experience of a World Tour racer, which was a big deciding factor in me wanting to remain at Continental level for another year.

– How would you rate your 2015 season so far?

This season is starting to go a little bit better for me. It started terribly. I was massively fatigued and run down from a hard winter on the track with the national team where I went to South America five times in the space of 10 months. I didn’t get any rest after the Road Worlds, I went straight in to a track camp. Things didn’t go to plan with crashes and injuries. I went to the Track World Championships in Paris and was below my expectations in getting seventh in the Individual Pursuit. After that, again, I didn’t have much rest as I was straight into the road season. It took me a long time to get going and I went without a single result for the first half of season. I began to doubt myself and my confidence was at an all time low after crashing out of the U23 Tour of Flanders. I had a bout of tendonitis for two and a half weeks after that, so I missed a huge block of racing and training. I came back with nothing. My team were understanding and still gave me good quality race days to build my fitness again before the summer.

– What meant for you to shine again at the Nationals?

It was huge for me to go back to the Nationals and win the Elite time trial. I was ill at the time with a stomach bug I picked up coming back from the Bake games, so to still pull off a result meant a lot to me. I really wanted to win the Elite time trial this year. I consider it one of my proudest moments in my career. There was pressure on me to perform on a hard course, with a little bit of jet lag added in to make things more difficult me for. I’m more proud of the Elite time trial title than I am of my Elite road race victory in 2014.

– How were the European Championships in Tartu?

The European Championships went pretty okay for me. I’ve just started back after my break and I was very happy to finish where I did. I came to the Championships hoping for a medal again. I was one second off bronze. It is disappointing for me to lose out by such a small margin again, but the bigger picture for me is the World Championships. After my break I lack road racing and that’s where I get my fitness and strength for the time trials. So to be so close with so little preparation is good for my confidence. Now everything is being built towards going one better in Richmond. But I know it isn’t going to be easy and I’m not for one second going in to the Worlds thinking I’ll get things for granted. I know it will be hard and I’m going to fight for it.

– So the time trial race in Richmond is a big goal for you.

The individual time trial in Richmond is the biggest goal of the year for me. Nothing else matters for me apart from a result there. I have some demons to put to bed. The course looks good. I won’t get a good idea of it until I ride it. But on paper it looks easier than last year. We’ll see how it goes. I have a good programme till then which should bode me well for any course no matter how hard it is.

– And besides that? Any other targets you have for 2015?

I would like to show myself in a road race at some point this year. I feel like every road race I have done this year has purely been training for a different event. I have a lot of road races this month, so to get a result in one of them will make me very happy.

– Where do you see yourself in a couple of years? What races would you like to win as a pro?

In a few years time, I’d like to be in the World Tour. I want to stay focussed on time trials. I think it is somewhere that I have the ability and physique to achieve results. It’s something I don’t want to let slip away. In the long run I would like to become a GC contender for week-long stage races. I know I’ll have a lot of work to do to get there, but I think with the right training, diet and attitude it should be achievable for me. If I had to name one race I want to win as a professional, it would be the World Time Trial Championships.

Dan Pearson, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix

Dan Pearson

Just 21-years-old, Dan Pearson is in his first full season of racing in Italy with Zalf Euromobil Fior, the country’s best amateur team, which he joined after previously riding for Zappi. Coming from Cardiff, his presence in the roster of a foreign team can seem a bit odd, but for the 2011 British Junior champion could turn out to be one of the best decisions he took in his career so far, considering Italy is known as a launchpad for many young cyclists to the pro ranks.

A strong climber, Pearson got to taste some really tough one-day and stage races, that have helped him learn the trade of things and also make significant improvements. This season, the cyclist supported by the Dave Rayner Fund netted a couple of impressive results, such as the third place he got in the Giro delle Pesche Nettarine – where he was Zalf’s best cyclist – the fifth place in the Giro della Valle D’Aosta, arguably the toughest U23 stage race of this season, and the victory he netted in the 65th Coppa Ardigo-Pessina Cremonese, a 140-km long race.

Recently, I got to talk with Dan Pearson – who is gearing up for his next appointments – and ask him a couple of questions about his first years in the sport, his life and results since moving to Italy and the targets he has for the remaining of the season.

– Dan, how did you end up in cycling?

My dad started taking me out mountain biking at the local mountain bike centre, Afan Argoed, when I was 15. Then, one season later, I began my first year racing on the road. I was 16 and it was mostly a case of hanging on for as long as possible.

– In 2011, you became British junior champion. Did that result gave you the confidence you needed?

It probably helped a lot but I’d already decided before that I wanted to pursue cycling as a career.

– I know that you were hoping to join a British Continental team, but it didn’t happen. Why was that?

I applied for the GB U23 Academy too, I knew I wanted to race abroad, but wasn’t sure how to get there. My final season as a junior didn’t go very well, I had some nasty crashes and illness at the wrong times. I found Zappi through a friend, he offered a very promising program, living and racing in Portugal and Italy with races in France and Belgium too.

– Looking behind, how important was this step for your development?

I had a great, but hard two years with Zappi. I learned a lot, it was vital for my development, and there always a lot of support and encouragement.

– Then you moved to Italy and began riding for Zalf.

Italy was my favourite place to live, I enjoy the racing and most of my results were from Italian races. It was an easy decision when I got offered a place at Zalf.

– You changed countries, but also cultures. What differences did you notice between training/racing in the UK and training/racing in Italy?

Training is better with long steady climbs for specific efforts, the weather is warmer and dryer too. There are more races with climbs, the races go uphill faster and there is more strength in depth. Past 26-years-old, if you have not turned pro, Italians stop racing, so the average age is much lower too.

– Are you satisfied with how things went so far for you since joining Zalf?

Yes, it’s been a great year so far. I am heavier and stronger on the flat and better at entering the break. I got up there in the general classification of the Giro della Valle d’Aosta, it’s such a beautiful, yet brutal race. It’s the hardest race I have ridden and my favourite.

– What was the toughest experience or moment encountered while racing in Italy?

I crashed out of a race two days before the Giro della Valle d’Aosta started, my wrist took a big hit and I dislocated a finger. It was ok going uphill, but the rest of the time was pretty uncomfortable, especially descending and bad sections of road.

– What’s next for you this year?

Plenty of hard hilly races in Italy for sure. Racing doesn’t finish until mid October. Also, I’m waiting to hear if I’ll get picked for the Tour de l’Avenir and Tour of Britain or not.

Keegan Swirbul: “Winning the Nationals was the best moment of my life”

Three years ago, a lanky teenager defeated Lance Armstrong at the Power of Four 36-mile long mountain bike race that took place in Aspen, Colorado. Surprised, but also impressed by what he’s seen and the potential of that kid, the 1993 world champion gave Axel Merckx – Bontrager-Livestrong’s sports director – a call and told him to keep an eye on the 16-year-old. Just one and a half year later, Merckx offered the young rider a place in his team and so Keegan Swirbul embarked in a new adventure, with one of the best development teams in the world.

Stoked, but at the same time nervous about being a newcomer to road racing, Keegan Swirbul took each thing at a time, his first races providing him a massive learning experience. Once things began to fall into place, the Colorado native began to show his talent by finishing second at the National Championships, in 2014, following a great ride. One season later, he won the title after an excellent race, taking his biggest result to date and thus confirming his huge talent, which makes him one of the most interesting prospects of the U23 scene.

Despite this success, Keegan Swirbul – who is a natural born climber – remains with his feet on the ground, as he knows he’s just started the road leading towards a pro career in the years to come. That’s why now he’s focusing on improving and making sure he’ll add other big wins to the victory he notched in June. Before the first big appointment he has in the second half of the season – the Tour of Utah – Axeon’s cyclist sat down and talked for Cafe Roubaix about his results so far and his future goals

– Keegan, what do you feel you’ve improved since coming to Axeon?

I’ve improved in every aspect as I was starting from scratch, but I’d say my biggest improvement would be my general strength power wise. I am now able to ride harder, longer and recover quicker than I expected. When I was first offered the place on Axeon in the fall of 2013, I wouldn’t have even been able to complete even the lower level American races, so I actually made pretty crazy progress that winter and similar percentage gains during the 2014 off-season. I have also made some progress with my pack skills, but I’m still working on that aspect.

– Last month you won the U23 national title. Were you expecting such a great result?

Nationals was a good memory for me. Going in, I was confident as I had been feeling consistently good during training the weeks before. I am more happy with the long climbs, and the final one at the Nationals was under two minutes, so I wasn’t thinking of myself as the top favorite at all. But, I attacked hard in the finale a few times and no one was able to follow.

– What did it mean for you to take the victory?

I was seriously stoked on that win. Probably the single best moment of my life, if I’m honest. I have dreamed of that jersey for years.

– When it comes to stage races, which was your highlight so far?

Stage race wise, my favorite moment was probably the fourth stage of the Tour of Utah in 2014. The first few days of the race I was hanging for dear life and I was questioning my place at this level of the sport, so to have a decent ride that day really helped my moral.

– Besides road cycling, you’re also into mountain bike and cross country from time to time. How do these three get along?

I had been into mountain biking and building trails and all that jazz for a long time. It was good fun, and honestly I didn’t take it too seriously really. I was interested in a lot of other summer time activities that made being a top rider impossible. During high school, I quit freestyle skiing and began XC skiing. My junior year, I stopped screwing around and set the goal of winning the Nationals and I ended up doing it. I stopped skiing after that.

– Giro della Valle d’Aosta was your first European race. With what thoughts did you go there?

Heading into Aosta, I was pretty stoked. It was the first time that I would do a true mountain race. I trained pretty dang hard for a good while before the race, and I was feeling way good. Numbers were way higher than I had ever seen, so I was very confident. When I arrived to Europe, something was missing though. I felt bad in the training the week before and couldn’t produce the same numbers at sea level that I was producing at altitude a week earlier. I went terribly the first days of the race and I was very upset with myself. The last few days I somewhat found my legs, but still not the level I know I’m capable of. Not the best way to start in Europe, but I certainly am incredibly motivated to try and do everything perfectly this winter to hopefully avoid these bouts of inconsistent form next year.

– And what’s next for you?

Next up for me is Tour of Utah. I’m heading into Utah with questionable form. Utah has always been a big target for me, and I hope to be going well. But after the bad sensations in training and a bad performance at Aosta, I’m not sure what kind of shape I will arrive with. Regardless, I’m sure Axeon will have some riders up there on GC, so hopefully I’ll be going well enough to help them do a good ride.

– I know it’s still early, but did you give a thought what races would you like to win?

I really have no idea what races I’d like to win. Winning any race is massive for me. But certainly, I would love to win any race in the mountains. Hopefully, next season I can try to target as many European mountain races as I can. Also, I’d really like to try and get in some races that aren’t my speciality, in order to learn the ways, but in the end of the day, my program is not designed by me, so who knows. If I were to say one country in which I dream of taking a big win, that would be Italy, because I really love the races there. The mountains of Italy are the most spectacular I have ever seen, and the roads are very appealing to my characteristics as a rider.

Loïc Vliegen: “I’m happy to turn pro with BMC”

Born in Rocourt, a suburb of Liège, Loïc Vliegen didn’t need too much time to put his cards on the table, standing out from his early days as a Junior, before signing with BMC Development, a team that nurtured his talent and helped him develop his qualities, thanks to which many began talking about Loïc as the new gem of the Belgian cycling for the hilly one-day races.

After a strong first half of the season in 2014 – during which he won a stage and the GC in the Triptyque Ardennaise – BMC offered him a role as a stagiaire and he didn’t disappoint, scoring top 10 placings in both Ride London Classic and the Arctic Race of Norway, both races being known not only for their tough course, but also for the weather which always makes an impact on the final classification.

Fast forward to 2015, and Loïc Vliegen’s palmares for this season already includes Flèche Ardennaise, stage wins at the Tour de Bretagne, Course de la Paix and the Tour des Pays de Savoie, as well as runner-up spots at the Tour de Bretagne and Course de la Paix, all these results (four victories, three podiums and seven top 10 placings) making him one of the most successful and consistent U23 cyclists of the year.

An impressive puncheur, Loïc Vliegen is also a very versatile rider, who seems to have an unlimited potential that allows him to make further developments in the years to come and turn into a protagonist also on the mountains. Until then, he’ll have a busy summer, as the 21-year-old recently became the third cyclist to be promoted from the US-registered team to BMC, after Silvan Dillier and Stefan Küng, and awaits his pro debut with a lot of confidence, especially after his string of successes in the U23 ranks.

– Loïc, how did you start cycling?

I come from a family of cyclists. My father and my grandfather were good amateurs and my granduncle was a pro in the ‘50s. So it was logical for me to become a cyclist.

– How were your first years, what do you remember from that period?

I began racing when I was 14-years-old and I scored four victories back then. I have nice memories of my first race, which took place in Achene (Namur), where I came fourth. It was really exciting and I was happy for coming so close of winning the race.

– As an U23 rider, you joined BMC Development. How was your spell with the team?

It was a good choice for me in 2013 to go to BMC Devo. You can’t wish for a better staff and equipment. I had the perfect environment to improve as an amateur and I learned a lot in races like the Tour du Normandie and Tour de Bretagne. Another important step for me was becoming a stagiaire last year, because by doing this I got to gain valuable experience in pro races.

– In the first half of 2015, you scored many important results, stage wins and GC placings alike. Which was the most important for you and why?

I’d have to say that the best victory of the year was Flèche Ardennaise, because it was really special for me. It was my home race, with the finish taking place just 500 meters from my house. A lot of supporters and people were waiting me to win this race, I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders and I showed that I can win this race as the favorite. This is important for me if one day I will encounter a similar pressure in a pro race. I have good memories of this event, because I’ve never seen so many people supporting me during a race. It was a really nice feeling to get the win.

– You’ve now turned pro with BMC. What does this transfer mean for you and your career?

I’m really happy to turn pro with the BMC Racing Team, because I’m in my third year in this structure and I’m content to see they have confidence in me for three years now.

– With what hopes are you embarking on this adventure?

I would like to learn a lot and to see how things are going at World Tour level. If I’ll ride with a leader in such a race, I’m sure I’ll gain experience, which will be very good for the years to come. Also, if the team will give me some freedom, I’ll try to get results in smaller races.

– And in which races will you go in the next weeks?

I’ll do the Grand Prix Pino Cerami, the Tour de Wallonie, Clasica San Sebastian and the Eneco Tour.

Tao Geoghegan Hart, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix

Tao Geoghegan Hart

20-year-old Tao Geoghegan Hart is riding his second season with Axeon Cycling, the team managed by former pro Axel Merckx, which throughout the years has put many riders on the World Tour map. Since joining the US-based squad, the Hackney-born rider – touted by many to be a future Grand Tour winner – got to take part in big events, like the Tour of California, the Tour of Utah and the Tour of Britain, as well as in some of the most prestigious U23 races out there: Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Tour de l’Avenir.

Each time, the British cyclist – who remained down to earth, despite his impressive showing – has made the most out of it, gaining experience, strengthening his confidence and scoring some nice results, which more than sure brought him on the radar of the important Pro teams. Recently, I caught up with Tao Geoghegan Hart and got to ask him a couple of questions about his 2015 campaign and the targets he has for the second half of the year.

– Tao, you’re halfway into your second season with Axeon Cycling. How was this experience?

It has been a good year so far. We have some new riders from last year, but developed a really good group straight away, which I think showed as we had results right from the first race of the season. The biggest difference has been the return of our brilliant Head Soigneur Reed McCalvin. He works tirelessly for his riders and I really enjoy being able to work with him.

– How did Axel Merckx and the Axeon project help you develop since joining them?

The team exposes its riders to a very high calibre of racing, for instance this year with California, Utah and the US Pro Challenge, we will have 24 days of 2.HC racing. This is combined with 2.2 and U23 races in Europe to give us a great variation of races in which to develop. From the climbing races to something like the U23 Paris-Roubaix, we have the opportunity to experience a wide variety of race days.

– What are the differences you’ve noticed between the European peloton and the US one?

The obvious difference is the size of the roads and how this affects the peloton. The racing in the States can be more relaxed, but not always, with some Criteriums and also tighter circuits in the American NRC races.

– You raced many big races, so I’d like to know what caught your attention while riding against the pros?

It is a very different style of race. I think switching between the U23 races and big Pro races is something that keeps us on our toes and shows us how different races can be, not necessarily in the terrain, but in the way that they are ridden and controlled.

– What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far?

I don’t think there is one thing to pinpoint. It’s all a lesson and I think the most important thing is to constantly try to absorb both experiences and information. There is always something to learn, so it is an ongoing process.

– In terms of results, which would you say that was your highlight?

I was pleased with my top 20 in the individual time trial of the Tour of California. My TT isn’t something I have had a huge opportunity to develop and I feel I have a lot of room for improvement with my position and training on the TT bike. However, my TT’s in races are improving almost every time I race, so that is reassuring for me.

– In what races will you go in the following weeks?

The first week of July I took a mid-season break. I will have a training block through the remainder of July and then race the Tour of Utah in August.

– And what goals do you have?

To keep improving. I would like to continue to target the GC in big stage races and improve upon my results so far in 2015.

Pascal Eenkhoorn: Dreaming of turning pro and winning “La Doyenne”

He’s just 18-year-old, but has already established himself as one of the most talented and versatile Junior riders in the peloton, as he can time trial, tame the cobbles, ride over the short hills and get solid results in stage races. In the past 12 months, Pascal Eenkhoorn took many impressive victories, including the Bernaudeau, an event in which the likes of Bryan Coquard, Florian Senechal or Romain Sicard have shined in the past.

Coming from the Netherlands and having a love for his métier equaled only by his ambition of succeeding, Pascal Eenkhoorn hopes to continue building an impressive palmares in the years to come on the U23 scene, in order to secure a World Tour contract at some point. More on this you can find out from the following interview he gave to Cafe Roubaix this week, while preparing for the big goals he has for the second half of the year.

– Pascal, how did you begin cycling?

When I was younger I did speed skating and ice skating, and with time I started to cycle as part of my training for skating. But I loved cycling more and that’s why I’m riding my bike right now.

– Did you have an idol back then?

My first idol was Alexandre Vinokourov, but I also like Frank Vandenbroucke, because I just love his racing philosophy and the way he always found a way to respond to the media.

– After scoring some very impressive results in cyclo-cross, you decided to switch to road cycling. How come?

I didn’t like cyclo-cross anymore and it was really hard to do road and cyclo-cross full time. On the other hand, thanks to it, I became better in handling my bike, and for that reason I see it as an advantage over other riders.

– Speaking of this, what would you say that are your strong points at the moment?

I’m strong on small hills, but I would love to improve myself in every single matter. Right now I’m just a junior and I don’t know what are my limits for the future.

– Of the victories you scored so far on the road, which meant the most for you and why?

Bernaudeau Juniors (ed. – which he won in March), because it was my strongest and longest race ever. I also had many second places during this season, but I don’t have any regrets, considering that in every race I got beaten by a better rider that moment. Just look at the ITT Nationals: I was really prepared, I rode a good race, but there was a faster cyclist and he won.

– You’re a rider who has a very clear picture of himself. Did you give a thought about when you’d like to turn pro?

Hopefully after three years in the U23 ranks I’ll make that step, but it depends on how much I can improve, of course. I know I have to be very strong to get a pro contract.

– What type of races do you want to focus on?

I want to target one-day races like Liège–Bastogne–Liège and short stage races. Actually, “La Doyenne” and the World Championships will be my biggest goals after becoming a pro.

– And how about these last months of the season?

After getting some rest, I’ll turn my attention towards Niedersachsen Rundfahrt and the Tour of Flanders, but my biggest goal will be the World Championships in Richmond, as I’ll try to end my season on a high note, as I began it.

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