Good things are often finite. A good meal, a good night, a good ride, or good time. Some may last longer than others, yet eventually, nearly every one has an end. Quick and abrupt, or long and drawn out, it’s always hard to see good things go. It’s something that seems to happen far too often in the sport of cycling.
They say that cycling is a sport of suffering. We must push ourselves to our limits day in and day out if we want to succeed. We must do everything perfectly if we want to be competitive, we have to dedicate every ounce of our being to our sport.
We must partake in the delicate dance between success and collapse, and the only way to find the edge of our limits is by occasionally going over it. This is the way our sport has gone in the last years and it has crushed many a rider’s spirit, hope, and soul.
Unfortunately, in the current world of cycling, it is not only the riders who go through this rigmarole, but also the teams. For as hard as many of us riders suffer to compete in this sport, our teams are suffering just the same. They must also push themselves to their limits to continue, no differently to us. They fight to find sponsors, to keep others, to get results, or even to simply stay within the budget.
And just as the formula doesn’t always add up for us riders, it often doesn’t end well for teams either.
The last two years, I had the great fortune to be a part of the Swiss team, IAM Cycling. Brought to the squad run by Michel Thétaz by my former national team coach at the start of 2015, I was unsure what to expect, joining my first foreign team. Numerous questions ran through my head, from thoughts of a potential language barrier to fitting in, finding my place as a rider or getting good race starts. At least I knew the kits were cool!
After our first meeting, my uncertainty eased. This was a team that fitted me well. The people were nice, the staff helpful and the riders strong. Unable to contain my excitement, I wore a smile across my face the entirety of the weekend long meet and greet in Switzerland.
The first year I spent with IAM, we struggled slightly in the WorldTour but in the second we hit our stride. We started to race aggressively – to make an impact on the races – and we started to get noticed. Then we started to win.
Our success seemed to snowball and every consecutive race was better than the one before. Everyone who joins the IAM team has to sign a multi-page document called ‘IAM Spirit’, something that outlines the ethos and aims of the organization. It is something we are supposed to embody and represent wherever we go.
In one of my last races with the team, this year’s Vuelta a España, I witnessed this spirit come to life. It may have taken some time, but by the last few months I spent with this team we were reaching our true potential, racing together and fighting for each other with great success.
Two years is a long time. Long enough to get to know people. In cycling, you spend so many days on the road that it’s enough to form some pretty strong bonds. You share rooms together, you race together, you win together, you lose together. Not to mention the staff; I mean, hell, the soigneurs rub you with oil while you sit on the table with nothing more than a towel between your legs. After two years of that, you definitely know people well. And the closer your bonds, the harder it is to go separate ways.
A farewell to friends
I’ll miss my teammates, my staff, my friends. I’ll miss our bus driver Gianni [Cedroni] and his antics, the way he’d laugh and push his phone full of photos of naked women at my squirming teammates.
I’ll miss Stefan [Denifl], with whom I’d room with often, sometimes staying up way too late talking about anything, like kids at a sleepover. I’ll miss Carina [Kirssi, masseuse] and her fiery ‘take no shit’ attitude. I’ll miss Jarlinson [Pantano], the kindest coolest Colombian, and listening to him leave little WhatsApp voice messages to his young son back home. I’ll miss Thibault [Hofer, communications officer], the guy who set up these journals, and the way he’s not afraid to call bullshit when he sees it.
I’ll miss Dries [Devenyns] and our intellectual dinner table conversations. I’ll miss Tomaz [Jeres, masseur] and his dreams of America, his love of Tinder, and his fascia blaster. I’ll miss Vicente [Reyes] and his ridiculous storytelling, I’ll even miss the ones I’ve heard a hundred times. I’ll miss Marion [Gachies, media officer] and her smile, who could always make you feel a little less bad after a shitty day.
I’ll miss Laura [Martinelli] our nutritionist, and the way she would happily answer any of my hundreds of questions. I’ll miss Mike [Iavarone] our American acupuncturist and his love for a good conspiracy theory, and for Bernie Sanders. I’ll miss Vegard [Laengen], his kind soul, and his Norwegian accent. I’ll miss all of my teammates, and all of our staff – from the back office, to the soigneurs, trainers, mechanics, press officers, and directors which we interacted with every day.
The more I got to know these people, the more they opened up. And the closer we all became, the harder it was to see some of them struggle. When a team closes, there are close to 70 people out of work.
With few teams starting anew, this leaves a lot of people searching for jobs among both riders and staff; a bus driver in cycling for thirty years, a soigneur who quit his trade to follow his love for the sport, a kid who fought with everything he had to make it to the pros, but didn’t have the time to show his potential. People with newborns to raise and families to feed.
In and out through the revolving door
They say that cycling is a sport of suffering. What they don’t tell you is that the bike is only a small portion of that suffering. No, pushing yourself to your physical limit is nothing compared to the mental struggle you go through off of it.
During the year you have the ups and downs of race form, of performance, of training and diet. But the most difficult part is when you’re unsure of whether you will have a place for the next year. Unsure of whether you can continue doing the job you love, the one you worked so hard to get. The stress of this uncertainty can kill a man. I know, because it has happened to me.
I will be okay for next year. I have found a place in what I believe will be a great team, one that I am excited to join, one where I know I can develop and grow. But what is clear is that something in this sport needs to change and change soon.
The current structure of cycling is not sustainable, as evidenced by the rotating door through which so many teams go. The model must improve, for if it does not, neither will the sport, and my team – our team – will be just one of the many to go.
Merci Michel. Merci Team IAM.
Cycling will miss you and so will I.