Professional cyclists and their entourage are very much like seamen. On the road 200 days a year, their life surroundings dedicated to their job. Still they manage to have families? Seriously? In December a ferry brought these hardworking globetrotters to Hvar for a work trip.
Gorazd Štangelj (Head Sports Director, fatherless) It’s a way of life we get used to as kids, you start travelling all the time when you’re a junior, suitcase by the door is your style of life. For me it is a privilege to be able to keep living this way after retiring as a pro cyclist, and I want to live this way till the end of my life but for our partners it hard. The relationship is either on or off.
Gorazd Štangelj, Photo MR
Miha (Vladimir Miholjević, Sports Director, father of two) There are jobs you dream of doing, and then there are jobs you are good at doing. Having both in one package is hard to beat. But to make it work and have a family you need a lot of understanding and sacrifice from your partner.
Gorka Izagirre (one week race specialist, father) It’s hard, the family thing and this sport. When I finish my career I want out.
Joaquin “Purito” Rodriguez (Brand Ambassador, retired one year ago): It’s great. Retiring. And it can be dangerous. I gained ten kilos during the first month of retirement. The other day I went on a ride with Alberto (Contador) and he showed me his belly.
Purito Rodriguez & Los Hermanos Izagirre, Photo MR
Chris Froome’s salbutamol infringement was the hot topic on everyone’s agenda. Apparently Chris somehow inhaled 20 puffs of anti-asthma inhaler. Or maybe he didn’t. Myself an ex -asthmatic, and someone who practiced elite sport, I cry wolf. Surprisingly few cyclists have spoken out against Froome, namely the chronic asthmatic Katie Compton who knows the ailment profoundly. But among most road cyclists there’s an omerta not surprising if you know that more than half of the pro peloton officialy has some kind of TUE exemption for drug use.
Brent Copeland (General Manager): Being a sportsman doesn’t mean you will be 100% healthy, so taking medication is fine, the question is whether it gets abused or not. Asthma is something a lot of riders suffer from it. The main thing is that the rule is the same for everyone.
Gabriella Ekström (Swedish cycling journalist) I think it is human nature to take short cuts and to strive for the top position, because society gives so many advantages to the one that reaches that position. Maybe society should ask itself if it is not we who are creating the cheats, in the long run?
It wasn’t always sunny on Hvar during the training camp. Some cyclist didn’t mind.
Vincenzo Nibali (the Shark of Messina): Rain or shine, I like to pedal. And if the surroundings are pretty, all the better.
Joaquin Rodriguez: This is so much nicer than the Spanish coast, less developed, more authentic.
Izagirre brothers: We’re coming back with our families, for a nice vacation.
Although people perceive the team as Italian, courtesy of the twenty Italians among riders and staff, you might as well call it Slovenian. Maybe go even further and call it a team based in Novo Mesto. The co-founder of the team is an ex-pro cyclist turned entrepreneur, Milan Eržen from Novo Mesto. This mysteriously cycling proficient little town in south Slovenia is the place where the Croatian connection in the team, sports director Miha, started his professional career, as a stagaire for the local team Krka Novo Mesto, as well as the home of Gorazd Štangelj and three team mechanics. To add to the diversity factor there are ten more team members from other parts of Slovenia.
From the left: Vladimir Miholjević, Brent Copeland, Purito Rodriguez and Milan Eržen, Photo: Bahrain Merida
Gorazd: Milan Eržen and his connections are to blame for the swelling numbers of Slovenes in the pro peloton. As longtime friends and associates (they ran the Slovenian national team together) we had this idea how great it would be to work together in a World Tour team, but to me it was wishful thinking, as the Slovene proverb goes, “sanja svinja kukuruz”. Pigs dream of corn cobs don’t they.
Then Mile calls me up while I was still under contract with Astana, and asks me to go into this, then still uncertain project. I took a leap of faith and it worked.
Should we give some credit to the Swiss?
Should we,really? Follow up on their shady WWII neutral status they also decided that apartheid wasn’t any of their business and therefore ended up as the only place in Europe where South Africans could get a work permit. That allowed young Brent Copeland to try his luck at cycling by moving to Lugano where he started his career.
Brent: Soon I figured I couldn’t make it pro but as I wanted to stay in cycling I did a massage course and started working with Gewiss as a masseur. Then I did a trainers course and ended up in Lampre for ten years as a sports director. After a brief spell in Moto GP with Yamaha I returned to pro cycling with the first African pro tour team, MTN, now known as Dimension Data, then Lampre again as GM. Finally Milan Erzen called me up and this project started. We invited Vincenzo over to Bahrain to meet the Sheikh, and started building a team around him.
Nibali and Bonifazio putting the shoe covers in rainy Hvar, Photo: MR
Vincenzo Nibali calls this team his family, and fittingly there is a brother around. Antonio.
I like having him around, it makes me happier and we have fun spending time together.
Vincenzo is a quiet, almost morose person, but when one spends more time around him you realize he’s just an introvert that loves to ride his bike, and has to deal with the media cause he’s fast.
Goražd: Vincenzo is my favourite of all the riders I’ve worked with. He is a good person.
Unlike some riders that like to be coy regarding their targets Vincenzo is very clear about the main goals of his season.
Vincenzo: Liege Baston Liege, Tour and Worlds are my big goals for this year.
Watching cycling races one rarely realizes how dangerous the sport is. Cyclists die at the races. They descend at breakneck speeds that not even camera motorcyclists can keep up with. Yet they lack the protective clothing that motorcyclist wear. Road furniture, gutters, railings and concrete barriers seldom have any protective padding to prevent fatal accidental impacts. Nibali is one of the riders renowned for taking risks with his fair share of majestic descents and spills. When you survive all these crashes, only to end up fatally struck by a car on a simple training ride, you can’t help thinking fate is a cruel mongrel. Vincenzo’s friend Michele Scarponi died in one such accident last year.
Vincenzo: These are disasters that lamentably happen ever more often on the open road. In traffic we all need to show more respect and just a little patience.
After a two week long offseason training camp in Hvar these seasoned lycra clad travellers packed up their wheels to head off to their families; see if their kids grew new teeth, have their partners gotten tired of waiting around. And then after two weeks of staying put somewhere where they choose to call home, often a tax haven far away from their birthplace, they set their wheels off again, into the great wide open. As you read these lines the riders are starting the racing season in Australia and Argentina.
Just doing what they like and what they are good at. Happy skinny pigs with their corn cobs.
Inspired to learn more about the Hvar cycling experience? Why not stay in Hvar’s very own cycling hotel, Pharos bayhill hvar, the base of Team Bahrain Merida?