It’s three years since we first spoke to Team Type 1 sprinter, big Slovenian Aldo Ino Ilesic. He was riding the Tour of Ireland; and as a top US criterium rider wasn’t enjoying the Emerald Isle’s rolling hills.
Some four seasons later, the big 28 year-old from beautiful Ptuj – Slovenia’s oldest city – has evolved from ‘crit king’ to UCI Tours stage win chaser, to where he is now – a sought after power house lead out man who can also win in his own right.
With current sponsor Team Type 1 changing direction for 2013 he’s been snapped up by Team UnitedHealthcare, bolstering an already strong team – with the likes of Jake Keough and Robert Forster, big hitters on the US scene.
Ilesic first caught the eye in 2003 with a stage win in the Tour de Slovenia. In 2004 he turned pro with well respected Slovenian team Perutnina Ptuj and took a stage in the super fast Olympia Tour of Holland.
Aldo is no stranger to big time sprint wins – winning this stage at the prestigious Olympia’s Tour in the Netherlands in ’04.
The following season, a stage win in the Paths of King Nikola stage race in Croatia was the high light. The Giro delle Regione gave him a stage win in 2006; but it was 2008 when he really found his feet – with eight wins, from Croatia to Charlotte, North Carolina in the colours of Slovenian squad, Slava.
For 2009 he signed with Team Type 1, where he’s stayed until now, taking two big criterium wins in the US as well as a host of podium places. The following year, slimmed down to get over the hills, he was a real force on the UCI Tours with three stage wins in the Tour du Maroc, one in the Tour of Mexico and two in the Tour do Rio.
In 2011 TT1 went Pro Continental and the level of races was higher – despite this, Ilesic had a solid season, kicked off with two top ten placings in the early season Etoile des Beseges in France.
This year saw him drop into the role he was perhaps designed for all along – lead out man. Along the way he took three major wins for himself but was instrumental in the success of TT1’s Muscovite flyer, Alexander Serebryakov.
The Russian was fifth in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, took podiums in Korea, China, Hainan, Taihu, Beauce and Elk Grove – and most notably, won the Philadelphia International Championship. Ilesic was instrumental in much of the Serebryakov’s success, and at Philly held on for second, himself.
Next year will see a new team for the Slovenian as TT1 change focus to having a full complement of riders who have diabetes. We caught up with him soon after he returned from another successful TT1 raid on China and just as his new home was announced.
PEZ: Three nice wins, Aldo.
Yeah, but the main thing about this year was my adopting to a different role – as Alexander’s lead out guy. It’s a role I’ve taken very seriously – I was there for all of his wins. It’s ironic that since my second place in Philly where I gave him the lead out, I’ve had more interest from teams than I did as a race winner.
Alexander Serebyakov and Ilesic go 1-2 for Team Type 1 at Philly.
PEZ: Will your partnership be staying in place?
Here’s the thing – I signed my new contract with UnitedHealthcare early, in August, I didn’t want to wait around. But Alex had problems finding a team; he’s signed for Euskaltel, now.
PEZ: Which ride this year are you happiest with?
Philly; I really like that race, I enjoy it so much – the course, the crowds, the atmosphere.I targeted that race as one where we really wanted to win.
It’s easy to see why Philly was Aldo’s favorite race this year. Great crowds, organisation and a successful result! Things can’t get much better than that.
PEZ: Your programme has involved one heck of a travelling in 2012.
We’ve been in New Zealand, Europe, Korea and China several times – it’s tough on the system. But over the years I’ve learned what to do before and after big journeys like that – I can switch time zones without problems, now.
PEZ: And it’s been a long season.
I started in New Zealand in January and my last race was November 8th in China. But what I decided to do was to regard The Tour of China as my last race of 2012 and took 10 days rest after it. Then, when we went back for the Tours of Hainan and Taihu, I viewed those 17 days as the first training camp for next season – and that approach worked well.
PEZ: You’ve raced in China for a few years now, is the standard rising?
It’s definitely going up – at Hainan, Astana and Argos were there; and if guys like that show up then it’s hard. The main difference between racing in Europe and China is that the roads are much bigger. In Europe there’s a lot of racing on small, winding roads and coming into the finish you have to start positioning for sprints well out from the finish or you won’t get your man up. But in China you can leave it much later because the finales are much less technical.
PEZ: Is altitude a problem in Hainan and Taihu.
No, Hainan is an island and Taihu is on the Yangtze Delta – Qinghai is the one where you’re way up high. It’s the first time I’ve ridden it but I had no problems – we did a training camp to prepare us, up in Colorado.
PEZ: Word is that it’s an easy race to pick up illness on?
We were lucky that we had Kiel Reijnen on the team, he’s ridden the race before and kept us right about eating and drinking – basically you have to take everything with you. I raced 40 days in the Far East this year with no problems at all.
PEZ: Does it ever bug you that you the Pro Tour teams get most of the press, despite your riding such a diverse programme?
Yeah, the media go after certain stories and that’s a pity for the Continental and Pro Continental squads. Take right now, with the Armstrong situation – some journalists never take the time to think ahead.
PEZ: Big changes for you, Aldo – no longer the ‘crit guy.’
You have to focus on a certain type of racing in order to be really good at it – if you hop about you’ll never be the best at one thing. This year I’ve taken my new role as a lead out man very seriously – I’m confident and comfortable in the role and looking forward to next year.
PEZ: Are you back in Slovenia for the winter?
The first training camp with United Healthcare is in December but prior to that I’ll be keeping in shape with running, cross country skiing, the weight room and my mountain bike.
I’ll keep off the road bike until the camp – but I’m pretty sure that my season will be starting later, in 2013.
PEZ: What’s the story with TT1 for 2013?
I don’t think it’s a secret but all of their athletes will be diabetics, next year. You have to remember that the Pro Continental race team was just part of a very big set up.
PEZ: And you’re all set for next year?
Yes, as I said, I signed with UnitedHealthcare in August – I’m very much looking forward to it. My job will be to work with Jake Keough and Robert Forster in the finals – it’s a role I’m excited about.
I have an agent and after Philly there were teams getting in contact – but the way it worked out, Alexander and I couldn’t stay together.
Aldo is pictured here getting 4th at the Crystal City Classic behind his sprint leader for next year, Jake Keough who won. UHC finished an amazing 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 5th there this year with only Aldo upsetting things in 4th. A top 5 sweep next year now that Aldo is on the team?
No comment, people focus too much on the wrong part of cycling – that’s the past.
PEZ: How many times do you get tested in a year?
After races, probably 10 times, out of competition, maybe eight. The UCI are trying hard – but look at Lance and how many times he was tested . . .
PEZ: And has your pro career been as you dreamed it would be when you were a junior?
When I was young I dreamed about riding the Grand Tours – I didn’t understand what cycling was really like. I didn’t understand that there are so many more races to ride and so much opportunity to race and travel. The only thing about the sport which disappoints me a little is that in some teams the real team element is missing.
A lot of that is to do with the UCI points system – guys work hard for the team leader to get results but don’t have points and then have to fight for a contract at the end of the year. That’s something I think that has to be addressed.