In previous years when I’ve written my Vuelta previews I’ve gone to my local Village Bar and over a glass (or two) of vino/cerveza, I have collected the wisdom of a few drunks, friends, knowledgeable cycling followers and even last year I asked a couple of cyclists! So this year I thought I should talk to someone who has actually ridden La Vuelta. So who better than my near neighbor, ex-professional and all-round fun guy, Fabian Jeker?
Jeker was no stranger to the top step of the podium during his career.
Fabian has the perfect background to give pro riders an insight into La Vuelta, he was a pro from 1991 to 2005 and in that time rode 5 Tours de France, 4 Giro d’Italia’s and 9 Vuelta a Espaсa’s and he likes to add that he has also driven a VIP car in 2 Vuelta’s, so that makes 11 Vuelta’s that he has “competed” in and if you see the way he drives, well it’s still a competition!
Unlike many other ex-pros, Fabian is still fit, thin and looks after his weight, he runs and cycles when he can and hasn’t turned to drink, food, or cigarettes. So we settled down in the L’Aldeana Cafй/Bar in L’Alfаs del Pi, which is a village on the east coast of Alicante, to a cafй con leche, a cortado, and a croissant (the croissant was for me) with the Spanish sports papers and the route of the 2008 La Vuelta a Espaсa.
PEZ: What are your overall thoughts on next year’s Vuelta?
Fabian Jeker: Well, looking at the course it’s very similar to the Giro d’Italia. Look at the Giro, it has two weeks flat and then all the hills in the last week, here in the Vuelta, the first week is nothing, then the second could be hard with the wind and then there is the Angliru, it’s hard, but it won’t cause big time gaps. The last week is very hard around Madrid though.
PEZ: What are the decisive stages?
Fab: Stage 8 to Pla de Beret, Stage 14 to Fuentes de Invierno and Stage 20, the Mountain Time Trial to Navacerrada, its not such a hard climb, but it’s the second last stage and if you are on a bad day, you could lose 2 minutes, like Nozal did in 2003 (Al, yea I remember, I was there), (Fab, I was 4th on the stage) to lose the Vuelta to Heras. The Angliru will be hard, as always, I rode it hard for my team leader, (eventual winner) Casero, and finished one place in front of him in 8th place, it’s never easy, but not decisive. The stages to Zaragoza and Zamora could split due to the crosswinds; you need a strong team for those stages.
PEZ: Which rider does the 2008 Vuelta suit?
Fab: I think Sastre. I like Sastre, and he is a great rider. I don’t think this is one for Menchov. He needs a time trial and there are not enough of those for him this year. Maybe Valverde or Evans, but not Contador. He will ride the Tour de France and nothing more, wait you just watch: you will see he will have a year like Armstrong. It will be the Tour and nothing else matters, maybe he’ll ride Amstel or Liege and then the Dauphine or Tour of Switzerland, then training camp and then the Tour. As for the Vuelta, I think I can win; I will be in front in the car all day!
Speaking of the Tour de Suisse – here is Fabian 2nd in 2004, behind the not so squeaky clean Jan Ullrich.
PEZ: If you were racing now, which stage would you like?
Fab: I think stages 20 and 8, but I think stage 8, look at it, four hills in 70 kilometers and in the last 20 kilometers you have the 1st Cat, Bonaigua followed by the Special Cat, Pla de Beret. In stage 14 the finish to Fuentes de Invierno is very hard, that would be a great stage to win.
Hey, that’s not the Vuelta!
PEZ: What stages would you not like?
Fab: Ah, Those windy stages! You can lose a lot of time: Zaragoza, Burgos, and Zamora, Urgh! I remember a stage from Alicante to Albacete in the wind. The race split from the first hill because ONCE attacked, and I was in the front group with Zulle and Rominger was in the group behind. We were riding really strong, so I spoke to Zulle and said:
“Hey Alex, when are you stopping this?” He just answered: “Never! At the finish line!
PEZ: What do you think about La Vuelta starting in Holland in 2009?
Fab. I think it’s good; I had the delegation from Holland and Belgium in my car this year. It is the 200 anniversary of the Assen motor track, so we will race on that then we go across Holland to the other side to Valkenburg then we go to Liege to use the finish that they used for the stage finish for the Tour when Bruyneel won. Remember he went with Indurain when he attacked and Indurain was like a motorbike. Then after the rest day we fly to Spain, well I won’t, I’ll have to take the car down.
PEZ: What was your best day in La Vuelta?
Fab: That was in ’96, I was with Festina, and we went with Dufaux for the win. I was away in a break of 25 riders on the stage to Sierra Nevada, with 30 kilometers to go I attacked with Heras and Ledanoisse, at 8 kilometers to the finish, the Director, Roussel, came to me and said “you go back and help Dufaux” I said “no, I will win this stage, I am the best”. He eventually came and stopped me with the car, so I had to wait for Dufaux and ride with him and we chased down Jalabert, but I was having a great day.
Ok, ok, I’m focusing.
PEZ: Your worst day has to be when the motorbike knocked you over?
Fab: No, I was having a good day, but had bad luck. No, my worst day had to be in 1997 when I didn’t finish, the worst thing for a rider has to be when he climbs off in a stage race, it’s a terrible feeling. I had crashed with Marcel Wust in an intermediate sprint and I had no skin on my hand so I couldn’t hold the bars, it was very bad. Remember I started nine Vueltas and only climbed off on one, it’s the worst.
Jeker takes out a stage at the Tour de Romandie.
PEZ: You don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want to, you were at Festina in 1998, and you were one of the good guys that they kept on the next year. What was going on?
Fab: I don’t mind talking about those days. In Festina there were really two teams, the Tour team and the others, I was one of the others who would be riding the Giro and/or the Vuelta. All the new bikes and wheels went to them first; they were the stars so I didn’t see what was going on. I have good memories, before the scandal the team was good, I had good friends, there was a good ambiance, the bikes were good, the clothing, everything. After they changed the director, everything changed.
That year I wasn’t going to be riding the Tour, so I had planned to go training in St. Moritz and take the family. While we were there the whole “Festina Affair” broke. I didn’t think much of it at first, but as the days went on it got serious and in the hotel I ate alone, I couldn’t take the children. When I was training the people would point and say hey that’s Festina and the cars would honk their horns at me. It was worse for my family: they suffered. My mother and father live in a small village and people would say if they were tired “Hey! Your son could give you something,” it was the little comments that hurt.
For years before it happened, Willy Voet said he would write a book one day and tell all about this, but if he hadn’t gone to jail then maybe he wouldn’t have written the book.
PEZ: What about the future of cycling?
Fab: Cycling is “clean” now, the other sports are as bad but they don’t test as much. There is little money in cycling, look at the money in football! The problem for cycling is not the drugs, it’s the different organizations, the Grand Tours, The UCI and all the federations of all the different countries, none of them can agree, they all say different things and nobody helps the riders. The UCI does not help the riders, they get caught and they point the finger only at the rider, no one else. If there were no riders, there would be no races and no UCI.
Things go in epochs, before, the French were good, then EPO came along, then something else, and finally the blood changing, but now is the epoch of the clean time.
Look at football, they sprint 100 meters very fast many times in a game, you try doing it once and you are tired. All the governments are making money from football, so…In track and field, they have a meet and it’s not a good meet if there is not a world record, so there is pressure. Drugs are in society, and that is a big problem.
PEZ: What about WADA?
Fab: It’s a good thing, but they don’t have the power. At the last Olympics they were not allowed to enter the village; they were stopped by the police from doing testing. WADA is a good idea, but they are looking at only cycling, they are not testing as much in other sports. In the end, cycling is still popular though, look at how many people watch cycling, millions all over the world.
PEZ: Who was the rider who impressed you the most when you were racing?
Fab: Ah! For me it had to be Indurain for his personality. He was a nice, calm guy, a good person. For dedication to training and style it has to be Armstrong, the way he used to ride up a hill at 100 revs per minute with no problem: that was incredible.
PEZ: And the life of Fabian now?
Fab: I have the sports shop with my wife and that is everyday, then there are the training camps that I have here. This will be the second year that I’ll look after the Swiss National Triathlon team. I have people coming from all over to be here, for the weather and the mountains in this area of Spain its perfect. I have bikes for hire, good hotels, good running and swimming, its nice for everything. Also, I drive in the races: La Vuelta, Tour de Suisse, and now Romandie. (Al, you won Romandie?) No, I lost to Hamilton and also I lost the Tour of Switzerland by 1 second to Ullrich
Jeker rides behind one of his favorites: Miguel Indurain.
PEZ: And the family?
Fab: Yes, my wife Carmen, my son, Damian is 16, he is in Switzerland studying and my daughter, Carmen, is 14, she is here.
PEZ: What’s next for Fab?
Fab: I’m looking for a new job! I am now the president of the local cycling club and I can help the young riders not just to train, but to live and behave as cyclists. Next year I want a junior team, then an amateur, and then I hope to have a better team: that’s what I’m working towards.
PEZ: Would you go back to Switzerland?
Fab: At this moment no, but who knows the future, I came to live in Spain in ’96, at first just for the training, but now I am still here. My boy is in Switzerland now, so I will go there sometimes, my girl will go to Canada, so at some point I will go there. I don’t know? There is no plan, when my heart stops, well that’s it! Now in the winter time I hope I can go to Benidorm for some fiesta and the drinking with Alastair (no, I’m too old) for the young girls, but in the winter they are all old people so it would be OK for you!
PEZ: Thank you Fabian, you have much more to tell, so I think we can do this again.
Fab: Yea that would be great, I like to look at the distractions on PEZ, they are good, but I like much more to touch!
So, there you have it, that’s La Vuelta according to Fabian Jeker and with his history he should know what it’s all about, if you want to read more about “The Fab” then check out his web-site at FabianJeker.com – I’m sure we have not heard the last of him on PEZ!