We last spoke to Czech professional rider, Dukla Praha’s Martin Hacecky back at the Six Day Nights of Zurich in December. But his next race was about as different as you can imagine from the steep boards of Zurich. Argentina’s Tour de San Luis has come from nowhere on the calendar to become one of the primary preparation races for the Pro Tour riders.
Despite only being run since 2007 the UCI 2.1 race, held in January, has been won overall by Levi Leipheimer and Vincenzo Nibali; and this year saw the likes of Mark Cavendish, Sasha Modolo and Alberto Contador winning stages. PEZ spoke to Martin about his impressions of South America’s premier event.
PEZ: It’s a long way from the Czech Republic to Argentina, Martin how long did it take and did you get a few days to acclimatise?
I heard from many of the other riders that we had one of the fastest transfers of all. It took about 34 hours from Prague via Frankfurt, Buenos Aires, Mendoza and 250km by bus to San Luis. It was exhausting and two days of acclimatisation came in handy!
PEZ: Tell us about the stages; it seems to have everything – sprints, mountains, time trial.
The only easy stages were the first and the last one. In the second stage where Modolo beat Cav it was quite a tough uphill finish and the last 20 kilometres were up and down. When it came into the mountains it was hard for everybody. For the beginning of the season the climbs were really steep and quite long. The home riders are well into their race programme – which makes it even harder for the Europeans whose season is just beginning – they are really strong. And the Euro pro riders are only trying to find their race rhythm, they didn’t want to waste their energy in escapes, just staying in the wheels. But the Argentinean Daniel Diaz won simply because he was the strongest.
In the TT, for many of us we had to complete the 20 km on our normal bikes, because not everybody came with TT bikes. But still we had to go fast because of the time limit. Unfortunately, a huge disadvantage of the race is the long transfers before and after stages; one day we made 500km – 350 in the bus with 40°C outside and no air-conditioning.
PEZ: Which was your best day?
In the second stage I went clear with a group of five riders and the peloton only caught us with four K to go. We knew all the stage that they were going to catch us, but I think it was maybe harder for them to bring us back than they thought.
PEZ: Which was the best day for the team?
On the fifth stage we had a blessing in disguise. My brother, Vojtech attacked right after the start with one Argentinean and after 20kms when they only had 10-15 seconds; but the bunch finally let them go. It was the only day when an escape had any hope to reaching the finish. But when they had advantage of 10 minutes – at km 50 of 170 – the Argentinean decided not to cooperate anymore, he said he had a knee injury.
He asked Vojtech to leave him on the wheel and said that that he would drop off on the final climb. My brother made a super effort to gain minutes before the final climb, he drove alone almost all of the stage. When they had 18 minutes with 30kms to go, the Argentinean attacked him and arrived at the finish to win by 14 seconds ahead of Dani Diaz, the eventual GC winner.
Emmanuel Guevara celebrating the stage win and his miraculous recovery from his knee injury.
We’d never seen anything like this before. In the evening we read on the internet “the couple perfectly cooperated all the stage, but Hacecky failed to follow the wheel in the final climb”. They had to shorten the evening TV broadcast, because the Argentineans are huge nationalists and they couldn’t let them see how their hero really won.
PEZ: And the worst stage for you?
The worst days for the team in San Luis came as a result of some of the guys riding the six days in Bremen prior to San Luis. Three riders, including Milan Kadlec, brought a kind of flu to Argentina – all of them had fever since they got on the plane and had to leave the race after two stages.
That meant we couldn’t work as we are used to working – as a team for Alois Kankovsky, our sprinter. He was alone for sprint and on this level it’s impossible to be there in the finales without a team. Vojtech and I tried to get into escapes, so Alois had nobody to take care of him for the finals.
PEZ: What are the hotels and food like?
Apart from pre-race pasta – which was prepared by some kind of process we couldn’t understand – the food was quite normal, continental in style. I was looking forward to Argentinean steak, but it seems it’s more popular in Europe than in Argentina. If organizers want to invite stars of world cycling, they have to assure good hotels – and they did that.
PEZ: And the organisation?
It seemed to me it’s like in South Europe – ‘manana!’ But in the final, it was incredible how it worked. I didn’t see any problems; moreover, I would recommend their style of pre-race team presentation to European organizers.
The Teams Presentation in San Luis this year was a spectacular show worthy of Las Vegas.
PEZ: What’s it like to line up with Nibali and Contador?
I would like to say it’s normal, but honestly, as I don’t ride with them so often, it’s an experience. Fortunately all of big stars understood quickly that we were capable in the bunch; Contador raises his thumb when you let him go through the middle, and Cavendish says, “thanks,” when you push him into the line. They left us space in echelons, because they knew we can ride our bikes. There were many small teams, including Argentineans, who didn’t have this advantage.
PEZ: The home riders were very strong.
I wasn’t there, but I heard Dani Diaz asked Contador to cooperate when they were alone on the climb ahead of the first group, the Pistolero refused, because he was cooked, so Diaz left him there. I never thought it’s possible to drop Alberto Contador . . .
PEZ: Are there big crowds and media presence?
Argentinean fans are incredible. It’s one of the biggest events in Argentina, so there are huge crowds. They support home riders mainly; and it doesn’t matter if they are first or last. I’m convinced the media wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t for Cav, Contador, Van Garderen and the others. But the atmosphere there is more relaxed and foreign journalists are enjoying themselves at the beginning of the season.
In action at the Zurich 6 – a world away from the mountains of San Luis.
PEZ: How did you prepare between Zurich and San Luis?
I took one whole week off and slowly started again, there was no snow in Czech during Christmas so it was nice to train at home. On 2nd January we left for Mallorca and I was there till San Luis.
PEZ: What’s your programme now?
We have another training camps planned on Mallorca and in Italy before the Coppi-Bartali stage race. Then we have some Polish and Austrian races, the Giro del Friuli, Tour de Bretagne . . .
I’m satisfied with our calendar; we race a lot, despite the fact that it’s not all at the same level as San Luis or Coppi-Bartali but the most important thing is that my condition is improving and I’m looking forward to a good season.
PEZ: Have the Lance/Puerto/Rabobank messes been making the headlines at home?
That made me limit contacts with some people; everybody is asking me about Lance all the time. I’m getting tired of explaining that it’s not so black and white as people think. They read comments by “sport journalists”, who write nothing but ‘cheater L.A.,’ so I try to put another perspective on it. In Czech, there are many sensations hunter journos, I read Lance; ‘took a blood transfusion during a stage,’ for example. But personally, I don’t believe it’s going to destroy cycling as many think.
PEZ: What’s your next job for Eurosport and what have you been writing about for 53 x 11 magazine?
I have quite busy with my racing programme, so there isn’t time for commentating so much, but it whould be Flanders and hopefully Ardennes and Roubaix are all on the agenda. Then I’ve got an accreditation for three stages at Giro as “on-stage” commentator – but that’s not definite yet – and of course I have my own cycling ambitions and there’s a racing season to be ridden!
There’s also the first 2013 edition of 53×11, where I have some pre-Classics analysis and Tour of San Luis reportage. It means about 20 pages of my work. I’ve just obtained the new issue of the English ProCycling mag and realized that we can be satisfied with the job we do on 53×11. Unfortunately, I write in the strange Czech language only . . .