I have posted before about the structure of the Spanish amateur calendar and the importance of doing the right number of races, or dias de competition. For me, these are the two most important factors to consider when analysing a season and planning ahead. This year, with Escribano Sports Team, I reached my target of 40 race days and I rode the majority of the high level Spanish races. I played my part in a very successful first season for the team. Our consistent results made us the best ranked U23 team in Spain this season and helped Oscar Cabedo to sign 2 year professional contract with the pro-continental team; Burgos BH. So, in terms of races and the level I rode at, I can have no complaints about the season. However, I have decided to change teams.
The first thought I had about the next season was in June. On the way back to Madrid after the last stage of the Volta Castelló I remember sitting in the car, just me and the team director or director sportif (DS). I had my seat pushed as far back as it would go and had my feet up on the dashboard, something I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do had the race that afternoon gone differently. I sipped my recovery drink as me and the DS talked about the last few days. He told me how pleased he was that I had spent two stages in the breakaway: “Asi me gusta”, That’s how I like it, he said. It had also helped that the sponsor had come to watch and had been in the team car on one of the stages. The team having a rider in the up the road meant the car could overtake the bunch and sit behind the break, this vastly improves the passenger’s experience.
With the race over, the sponsor happy and a 4 hour journey ahead, now was as good a time as any to bring up next season. As we went through the toll gate onto the motorway, the DS got straight to the point. He said he was starting to look at next season and he wanted me to continue with the team. Initially, I was careful not to give away how pleased I was with his interest in me. I used the opportunity to bring something up I had been waiting to address. I’d like to come back and race with Escribano, I said, but the main issue was where I would live. This season I had been promised a flat in Madrid near the team base which the team had not provided. I ended up having to stay with a friend in Tudela, 3 hours away. Although the team paid for my travel to and from Madrid for each race, it was not what I signed up for. The DS said that the team house was something they planned for next season; he couldn’t guarantee anything, but it was likely they’d rent somewhere for riders to stay.
So as to get everything clear, I also brought up some other factors that influenced me being able to come back the following season, such as whether I’d be able to get support from the Dave Rayner Fund for 2018 and if the team would continue to offer the same calendar. He said he understood, he’d let me know any news about the team renting a house and we left it at that.
A week later, I raced with the team in Mungia, a one day U23 classic in the Basque Country. It was made clear we were there in support of my teammate, Biel Pons. I covered the early moves and did as I was told. On the final lap I managed to get in the winning move and came in 8th, best placed of the team. Not much was said after the race, we had taken out the mountains prize with Vicente Hernaiz who got in a breakaway and the team were pleased with my top 10.
The race in Mungia and one thing in particular the team director had said to me in the car after the Volta Castelló made me realise that, to achieve my goal of becoming a professional, I needed to make some changes. The director had said, “Siempre hace falta un tio como tu”, it’s always good to have a guy like you. At the time this felt like a compliment and it was certainly meant as one. But I began to realise it said a lot about the profile I was starting to build as a rider. I had spent my first season in Spain with the Caja Rural amateur team on bottle duty. Then I had moved to Escribano thanks to a recommendation from the Caja DS about my attitude and work ethic. From the start of the season with Escribano I had continued to work for the team and got a few top 10s and respectable placings when given the chance. I was becoming a handy rider, a rider who will do his job and get up there when need be, a rider who “Siempre hace falta” – was always good to have. In Mungia the team were satisfied because the two performers of the day were Vicente, a first year U23 showing promise by winning the king of mountains prize and me, a handy worker who picked up a top 10. My reputation has also been influenced by other things. For example my build, I am 6ft 2 so even at my leanest I am not going to be considered natural climber in Spain. Also, having to speak my second language has definitely made me quieter and more mild mannered.
This reputation of being a reliable hard working rider is great to have once you are a professional, but riding like that as an ameteur is unlikely to get you noticed. Inside the team my work was appreciated but that was the best I could hope for.
Lots of riders find their niche and make a respectable ameteur career riding in the service of others. In Spain and France there are ameteur teams you can ride for as a domestique and be paid quite similar money to what you’d expect to earn in a British Continental team. I am doing cycling full time and I still have 2 years left as an U23 so, while I respect the top European amateurs, I want to aim higher.
I was not ever going lead the team at Escribano but I knew I would get my opportunity. As the season went on I was starting to get more respect for the job I was doing and once or twice, at lower pressure races, I was given a free role. I knew that, by seizing these opportunities, I could work my way up the pecking order. But, as the season wore on I realized it was going to be a struggle.
At Escribano half of the riders are over the aged 24 or 25, making the team reluctant to ride the U23 races where I was more likely to perform. Also, it was also difficult for me to prepare for specific races because I had no idea when my chance would come. In July we had the Vuelta Segovia and the Vuelta León, I decided not to rest up or train specifically for these races because I knew I would have to work for others. Instead I went to a couple of U23 races in the Basque Country, where I could race for myself. While the rest of the team were at altitude camps in the Sierra Nevada I raced in Tolosa and Antzoula by myself. I enjoyed the freedom and placed respectably. However, doing extra races proved to be a big mistake. I wore myself out and ended up getting rundown. At the Vuelta León and Vuelta Segovia I wasn’t able to help the team which pushed me further down the pecking order. If I couldn’t even do the minimum of helping the team leader, how could I be given the freedom to race for myself?
After some difficult times at stage races, I had a bit of a break in the calendar. I realized to compete I needed, first of all, to be at U23 races, which Escribano did very few of. And secondly, I needed a fair go at several races which I could prepare specifically for, this wasn’t going to happen at Escribano.
Around this time I got a call from the team boss at the Basque team Eiser Hirumet. He had seen me race on my own and was looking for more experienced U23 riders for next season. He said the team could provide me full support as well as accommodation. Eiser have two other Dave Rayner funded British riders Elliot Redfern and Max Williamson who, when I asked, spoke highly of the way the team is run. I thanked him for his interested and we stayed in touch.
A few weeks later, I went to Vitoria to see the Eiser team boss and filled him in on my situation. I stressed that after 2 seasons of getting bottles, doing lead outs and chasing breakways, I wanted a chance to have a go at some races for myself. My ideas fitted with his vision for the following season, when the team were going to enter the Copa España for the first time. This meant the team’s calendar would include 3 race serieses; the Copa España and the Euskaldun series, both open to riders up to the age of 25, and the U23 Lehendakari series. He said, with the older riders targeting the Copa and Euskaldun, he could offer me a free role in the Lehendakari races. Perfect, I thought. I told him I wanted to join, we shook hands and that was that.
I am hoping to make a big step forward next season by being able to ride for myself. I need to prove I am more than just a good worker in order to begin to market myself to professional teams. All I have learnt so far has been important in my development but now I see in order to progress I need my work ethic and ability to help the team to be taken as a given and for it to be my results that set me apart. No longer being the big, tall, quiet, reliable worker will certainly bring a new set of challenges. Pressure to perform will be a new thing for me. But I am looking forward to what’s to come.
Thanks to Escribano Sports Team and of course to the Dave Rayner Fund for all the support this season.