The past two years we spent to establish ourselves with competitors and fans. From the first day we are adept to envisioning the race and place it in a period optimal for preparation for the Giro d’Italia, said Miholjević
With the triumph of Slovak Peter Sagan at the World Championship in Doha, the most interesting cycling season has been officially closed. But, that doesn’t mean the world of cycling is completely quiet. In fact, for many a very intense period is ahead, Novi List reported on October 24, 2016.
The same goes for Vladimir Miholjević, leader of Tour of Croatia, whose associates and primarily partner Ivan Črnjarić are working with him to prepare the third edition of a race that placed Croatia back on the cycling map in a completely new way. Not just because of the Tour. Miholjević was recently named the sports director of a new team Bahrain Merida, due to arrive this week in Poreč to their first training camp for this season, led by captain Vicenzo Nibali.
“Tour of Croatia has become a project demanding 365 days of engagement and lots of work, choosing partners, team communication, sponsors, donations… It never stops,” begins Vladimir Miholjevć, sports and technical director of the Top Sports Events company, organiser of Tour of Croatia, with a large portion of work already done for the next edition.
“The route has been created, proposed to all destination partners and all have agreed in principle so we hope we will define agreements in a short while. On top of that, we are communicating with sponsors and after the government is formed we can approach state institutions which are relevant in deciding to join our project.”
It seems this year you have defined things earlier than last year?
“We have about a month or two of organisational advantage compared to last year, with a very good team of associates and partners, who are now up to speed and know the project. I believe we are over children’s illnesses which remained invisible in the first two editions. In the second edition there was a noticeable shift in the competition level, but also in the event quality, attendance and media campaign which began a little late, but still in time.”
What kind of Tour of Croatia can cycling lovers expect in 2017?
“In the competition sense we have been contacted by World Tour teams who participated last year and are continuing their activities this year, teams Astana, Trek, Demension Data, but with a request to make a more difficult route and shorten transfers. Last year transfers were too many, we halved them this year and made two very demanding legs which will give, I dare say, an incredible spectacle in the cycling sense, especially the Kvarner leg which will connect Istria and Kvarner. The itinerary will offer suspense until the very end. The first two legs will benefit sprinters, which will give the best sprinters a chance, like Cavendish and Nizzolo last year.”
“The race will have six legs, 1.100 kilometres, two mountain finishes, one leg with 3.000, another with 3.600 ascent, two sprinting legs of 235 and 240 kilometres, one mixed leg of 190 kilometres connecting Istria and Kvarner with 2.400 metres ascent. It will be the best preparation for Giro d’Italia. The royal leg will start in Istria, end on Učka, bit with two climbs on Učka.”
After the second edition you applied for a higher competition rank with the World Cycling Federation?
“We did not get the Horst category. We are slightly short on budget which would give us the energy to lobby better with the UCI, invite them to the race, host them, to see the race as insiders and then understand. On top of that, we experienced a semi-fair move from the organisers of the Turkey Race as they moved their timing identical to ours, but I believe we used the past two years to establish ourselves with the audience and competitors and I believe Turkey is wrong to think they can impose a race in our slot.”
“We have been able from day one to envision the race and place it in a slot optimal for preparation for Giro d’Italia, not demanding high logistical stress from the teams and competitors, but giving them a geographic and strategic destination with an excellent route.”
The slot shift can impress, meaning the Croatian Tour is seen as a very competitive race?
“That’s right, but there are still deals and negotiations we have made lately which will additionally raise the reputation of Tour of Croatia. But, let’s not jinx it.”
You are director of Tour of Croatia, national team selector and recently the sports director of the new cycling team Bahrain Media. Are you able to stay on top of duties?
“Tour of Croatia is a too valuable national project and I would be ashamed to leave it. On the business side it wouldn’t be correct towards people and partners who have entrusted us. Things should be arranged differently on the Tour, we now have the people to do the administration, with Ivan Črnarić and me running the project. People with me in the Bahrain Merida leadership recognise the value of this project.”
After organising the first seasonal camp for the Tinkoff team in Poreč last year, what will you do for the Bahrain Merida team?
“Sheik Nasser, prince of Bahrein, posted a photo of Poreč on Instagram, with the words: “What a wonderful destination for our first training camp!” Therefore, we are doing a great thing for our country with the Bahrain Merida team, possibly the most interesting team at the moment in the world of cycling, with excellent drivers and maybe even better management and staff.”
“This season will see this team as one of the main participants at the biggest races, with their first meeting in Croatia. I don’t know if any team was followed by so many renowned media outlets. Eurosport, RAI, all Slovenian televisions, HTC, Spanish television, media from the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Great Britain… And above all, all official Bahrain Merida team vehicles will be registered in Croatia.”
The camp is envisioned like last year with Tinkoff?
“Unlike that camp, we will return in December for a training camp, preparing for the season start. So we will replace Valencia, Kalpe, Mallorca with Croatia.”
Bahrain Merida is a new team in the cycling sky?
“Bahrain Merida is a tram sponsored by the real sector of Bahrain kingdom and by the largest bicycle producers, Merida brand. We have a respectable budget, in the top range of the best world teams with a World Tour licence, which we are fighting for. We have Vicenzo Nibali, who’s won four Grand Tours and is only one of six cyclists in history who has managed to win all three largest races.”
“Nibali is my former teammate from the Liquigas team, grown into a real champion. We have excellent cyclists for support, for classics and the main goal are Grand Tours. There will be 65 staff in Poreč along with sponsors, with a world premiere of the new Merida bicycle model.”
“It will be a top event in the media space, and we will offer journalists for the first time the opportunity to get in touch with the management and cyclists of Bahrain Merida to get a true idea of the organisational structure of the team.”
Will Bahrain Merida compete in the Croatian Tour?
“In principle yes, but we need official confirmation. If we get a World Tour licence, there is a possibility we may be obligated to attend the Turkey race, but the team scheduled for the Giro will still choose between Trentino and us. In that case, Croatia is an optimal choice.”
Croatia has, thanks to the Tour, become a more desirable cyclo-tourism destination?
“Some things with time get more realistic dimensions and when we look back three years, we still don’t understand how we managed to make some things a reality and get some people to support us. All these people, partners, institutions benefitted. We have the desire to raise quality, but we expect more serious support.”
“We are placing Croatia on the cycling and tourism map as a reputable destination. We are creating the foundations for all who recognise the value of this project. We are giving value to a destination, but it is up to the destination to develop itself. Certain destinations have significant advances in cyclo-tourism results, but only because they continued to develop to foundations we set. These are projects that require unity with all destination partners.”
“From private accommodation, to small and large hotels and tour operators, people who represent local administration and tourism boards. Only if all those people sit together, make a strategy, create infrastructure and work together on developing and promoting the products, then results will come.”
“This is exactly what Tour of Croatia has done. One project that unified differing ideologies and localities. It is the only thing that will raise us to the level we want to live on,” concluded Miholjević.
Author: Kristian Sirotich