João Correia interview: Racing with the Cervélo Test Team, and why it is stopping
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Monday, September 6, 2010

João Correia interview: Racing with the Cervélo Test Team, and why it is stopping

by Shane Stokes at 7:46 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Portuguese rider talks about the late beginning of his pro career, plus the early end of the Cervélo team

Joao CorreiaVuelta aside, perhaps the biggest story of the past few weeks has been the unexpected, unwelcome announcement that the Cervélo Test Team would stop at the end of the season. When it debuted at the start of 2009, it was seen as a breath of fresh air; innovative, led by the bike industry, encouraging constant feedback from its riders to drive development, and also allowing fans to get closer than other teams at races.

It also found instant success, with Roger Hammond, Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler getting things off on the right note in February 2009 with victories on stages of the Tour of Qatar, the Tour of California, the Volta ao Algarve and in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

That was just the start. The success continued throughout the season, and led to stage wins by Haussler and Hushovd in the Tour de France, as well as the latter’s Maillot Vert victory. Carlos Sastre also picked up two prestigious mountain stage wins in the Giro, while Simon Gerrans and Philip Deignan nabbed one each in the Vuelta.

Things have been a little quieter this season due to periods of injury for those three big names but, even so, the news that the team would not continue was a huge surprise. Explaining the decision to stop, Cervélo Test Team boss Gerard Vroomen said that the costs of running a top-level team were rising and rising, making it impossible to compete at the same level in 2011. Instead, the company will become a co-sponsor of the Garmin team next season.

That partnership will see Hushovd, Haussler and several others move across to Jonathan Vaughter’s team. Sastre will go to Team Geox, but many of the other riders are scrabbling to find something for 2011.

João Correia is one of those in this position. The 35 year old Portuguese rider has one of the more unusual stories in the peloton. He became a pro earlier this season, building on two years with the Bissell team in the US. It was a long-delayed return to racing after he first competed at a high level in 1995 and 1996, riding with the Portuguese Troiamariscos squad and then Europolis in Holland.

In between those two periods, he studied in Fordham University in New York, graduated, went into publishing, worked for the Hearst Corporation (dealing with Italian fashion accounts for Esquire magazine), then became associate publisher of Bicycling magazine in 2004. The more sedentary lifestyle saw him put on a considerable deal of weight, but he then knuckled down in 2006 and began the journey which earned him a pro contract with Cervélo.

Since then, he has lined out in some of the biggest events in cycling. It’s been tough at times but, as he tells VeloNation, he has also enjoyed helping the team. “The highs are when you execute a plan on the road to perfection and you feel really good about your contribution to the day’s goals,” he said. “Also, when you cross the line it’s a special feeling. Every time, I still get goose bumps.”

Like the other team riders, Correia doesn’t want that lifestyle to change. He’s committed to staying within the peloton in 2011, and is currently searching for alternative offers. In the meantime, he’s got a solid programme of racing ahead and wants to try to finish the season off as strongly as possible.

He talked to VeloNation about a number of subjects, including his year with the squad, his thoughts on the end of the Cervélo Pro Continental project, his impressions of his team-mates and the management, his highs and lows of turning pro in his mid thirties and his plans for the future.

VeloNation: Joao, firstly - unfortunate news about the Cervélo Test Team. That was a big shock to many in cycling, least of all the riders and staff. Did you have any indications that something was up, and where did you hear the news?

Joao Correia: It was very unfortunate news all right, since this team was in many ways unique. It will be surely missed. We were all informed about the same time. The sports directors held a meeting with all the riders who were at the time racing to inform the riders of the news. I then got a call from Joop [Alberda] as well to see how I was doing and I think everybody else that wasn’t racing got a phone call from Joop or Gerard [Vroomen].

VN: What was your reaction?

JC: I was surprised. I think we were all surprised and shocked that the team was going to end.

VN: You told VeloNation a few days ago that you felt that Gerard [Vroomen] and Phil [White, Cervélo founders] did their best. Where do you think the issues cropped up that forced the team to close?

JC: I know that they have been working very hard to secure a sponsor, and were very close a few weeks ago. My understanding is that changes in the management of that particular company put a premature end to those talks.

As a rider you’re not really in the loop on what is happening at the management level in a team, but I would imagine that at the end of the day it was a financial question. With the new rules coming out next year from the UCI it would have been impossible for the team to compete at the level that we did this year and still remain a professional continental team.

To make the step up to the ProTour requires a bigger financial commitment based on how the rules have been re-written so it was going to be difficult for the team to do that without finding a title sponsor.

I think people don’t realize that at the end of the day, Cervelo is a small boutique company and the commitment that both Phil and Gerard made to this team was huge for a company their size. They really put everything into this team and I think it was a really difficult decision for them to stop. But once they knew they could not guarantee the budget increase to take it to the next level, they focused on finding as many people jobs as possible. It is my understanding from speaking with some riders and staff that most already have found new opportunities…some with the help of our team management, and some on their own.

VN: You had a chance to race in Europe this year, turning pro with the team. That’s a very unusual development, particularly for a rider in his mid-30s. Can you tell us how that came about?

JC: It’s a bit of a long story but the short version is that I had raced when I was young and then stopped. By the time I started riding again in 2006 I weighed 90 kilos…at first, I started riding to lose weight. Then I started racing at the amateur level in the US in 2007 to have a goal and keep losing weight. At the time I was the Associate Publisher of Bicycling Magazine and had a business relationship with Gerard. At a trade show, he saw how much weight I’d lost (by then I was at about 70 kilos) and said wouldn’t it be great if you could come back to the pros. I sort of joked that if he found a team that wanted a 32 year old neo pro I’d do it.

Joao CorreiaHe actually did find me an opportunity but the timing for me and my family wasn’t right. But it got the bug in my ear and in 2008 and 2009 I had the opportunity to ride for Bissell in the US while still maintaining my job at the magazine. At the end of 2009 I saw Gerard again and asked him if he was still interested in seeing if I could make it in the pro’s again. He sent me to Switzerland to do some tests at the CrossKlinik where the team tests. I guess the tests went well enough, in that I was offered a contract a few weeks later.

VN: Turning pro at a late stage is something that is probably the dream of quite a few of our readers. How has that experience been?

JC: It has been a great experience for me. I mean it has been really hard but I am somebody who really likes big challenges. This fitted my personality perfectly in that I had to shut everything down and then just focus on training and racing. I went from being somebody whose job required multi tasking to somebody whose job required almost the exact opposite.

VN: What have been the high and low points?

JC: The highs are when you execute a plan on the road to perfection and you feel really good about your contribution to the day’s goals. Also, when you cross the line it’s a special feeling. Every time, I still get goose bumps. The lows are when things don’t go your way and you aren’t able to finish a stage or a race. There have been some of those and it never gets easier.

VN: What result are you happiest with?

JC: For me there was a stage in Vuelta a Murcia where we missed the break and the team had to chase it back. It was one of those all-hell-breaks-lose moments and you’ve got six guys at the front going all out. It was the first time that I was in there doing that. I came off the front at one point and then managed to get back in there and I remember passing Radio Shack and Garmin stretched out behind our guys, and just slotting back in there. That was a special feeling.

Although that is not necessarily a result per se, it’s a moment that sticks out for me. I never once this year looked to go for a specific result. I just wanted to work hard and do what the sports directors told me. Sometimes I was able to do it and sometimes I wasn’t.

VN: So what are your programme and goals for the rest of the season?

JC: I have four more one-day races coming up. GP Formiers, Paris-Brussels, Tour du Vendee and Giro di Muesterland. After that, I would like to do the Italian races, but I am not on that program yet.

As for my goals I just want to finish the season on a high note and keep doing my job for the team. If I am in a situation where I can contribute more than that, then I will for sure. Over the past few weeks I have been feeling good and I think I’ve gotten to another level so I’d like to show that at the races.

VN: You've a background in publishing - was part of the plan for this pro slot to write about your experiences?

JC: My job on the team was like that of any other rider. I was brought on to ride…I think people find that hard to believe but that’s what it was. But I like writing and I’ve been fortunate that I have been able to write blogs and share my experience with people. I’ve been surprised by how my story has resonated with normal working cyclists. I’ve sort of become that guy that is doing it for them.

VN: So are there any good anecdotes from the season that you can think of offhand?

JC: Yeah I can think of a bunch of ones that I can’t say here, but probably the most memorable was at the Tour de Suisse this year. We were going up one of the Category 1 climbs and five kilometres from the top I was starting to go backwards a little bit. Thor looks at me and says, “you lose my wheel and I’ll smash you”. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or if I should cry at that moment. But it was a pretty good one.

VN: What team-mate has impressed you most, and which has been most helpful?

JC: That is a really difficult question. I am really fortunate in that I got along with everybody on the team and I think it was one of the reasons why this team was so special. Overall everybody got along even though they came from different places and backgrounds. I know that sounds like a cliché but all in all it was pretty much like that.

The riders that impressed me the most were Stefan Denifl, Oscar Pujol and Davide Appolonio, out of the young guys. They really have had a terrific season and have bright futures in front of them. Theo Bos and Xavier Tondo were two riders that I think impressed everybody this year with their victories. And then you have riders like Andreas Klier and Inigo Cuesta who have so much experience that they are able to read things in races much before they happen.

Andreas is especially impressive in the classics. It’s like he’s seeing the film 5 minutes ahead of everybody else and Inigo is like that in the stage races.

I was lucky that I got on with all the guys so in a way each and every one of them was instrumental in making this a good season for me. Two stand out - Thor and Teddy King. I lived in the same town as Thor for a few months and he was really helpful in my initial integration into the team. He’s a really good guy and was always there. Teddy and I have been friends for a few years so having somebody on the team with whom you have a close relationship is important and, since he’d been here last year, he was always helpful with advice and what to expect in races, etcetera.

VN: The team is stopping but you have said that you want to keep things going next year. Do you have any idea where you might find a team, and what goals you’d like to achieve in 2011?

JC: Like most riders, I have an agent and he’s speaking to a few different teams…three in particular at present. I think outside of being a good team worker, I’m a rider who brings a good deal of publicity to a team. My story has resonated well with the general public and cycling fans and I think it proves that its not just about winning races. It shows that it’s possible to be a team worker and still bring a good image to your team.

My goals are to continue to grow and fulfil the role of a good domestique. I really enjoy that part of the job and its something I’m very comfortable with.



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