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Q&A: Esteban Chaves

Laura Meseguer
10 Jul 2018

The popular Colombian climber talks about his difficult Giro and where his season goes from here

Just over a month ago, Mitchelton-Scott’s Esteban Chaves finished the Giro d’Italia in 72nd place, more than three hours down on winner Chris Froome.

Considering he won Stage 6 at the summit of Mount Etna to sit third overall at the end of the opening week, it was a massively disappointing result for Chaves and he admits he is still recovering from what he says was a ‘brutal’ race.

Chaves isn’t at the Tour de France, and will instead use the Tour of Utah at the end of the month to rebuild his form and fitness ahead of next month’s Vuelta a Espana and the World Championships later this year in Innsbruck.

We caught up with the ever-smiling Colombian as he reflects on glory and defeat, the Yates brothers and cycling in Colombia.

 

Cyclist: What were your ambitions going into this year’s Giro d’Italia?

Esteban Chaves: The goal was to finish the race in the best possible place in the general classification. We had the strongest lineup the team have ever had at a Grand Tour, and by Stage 18 everything was going great, with four stage wins (Mikel Nieve would take a fifth for Michelton-Scott in stage 20) and 13 days in the maglia rosa for Simon Yates.

Then came Stage 19 and the Colle delle Finestre [laughs]. The Giro is so cruel, but you have to keep going.

Cyc: Did you expect Simon Yates to be so strong?

EC: Yes. The way he won the last stage of the Volta a Catalunya earlier this year was amazing, and so it was his stage win at Paris-Nice. He was in very good shape for the Giro.

Both he and [brother] Adam are very serious about their training and nutrition plans and they know how to take good care of themselves. Simon showed it at the Giro, but the race was two days too long for him.

When you look at his performance from the outside it can surprise you a little, but when you share a team with him it doesn't.

Cyc: Two years ago you finished second at the Giro, third at the Vuelta and you won the Giro de Lombardia. How are you dealing with not being able to hit the same form over this difficult period?

EC: It has been almost two years now that I haven’t found that same level. To be honest I don’t think we’ve found the root of the problem but we’re working to find it.

But that said, ups and downs are part of the job and part of life. There are good years and bad years but you have to keep going. These difficult years are the ones that teach you, while the good ones are all joy, celebrations and friends. These harder times are helping me to grow up and see everything in perspective. 

Cyc: How do you deal with frustration day to day?

EC: It’s not easy, you know? When you think about professional sportsmen or high-perfoming athletes you tend to think only of their victories and you don’t see just how tough life is behind that success.

We may be athletes but we are still human and we can still feel frustrated. And yes, we cry and we complain, but the thing that makes the difference is that we keep trying, we keep fighting. In Colombia we say that we are ‘tercos’ – stubborn.

You need to move forward. I’ve been in worse situations than this one.

Cyc: Are you feeling optimistic about the second part of the season?

EC: Yes... well... I try [laughs]. As I said, we are human and it’s not easy. The second part of the Giro was all about suffering.

At the time it was hard to reflect on positive things like my win on Mount Etna because all I could think about was the suffering of the days that had come after that.

But little by little, as I start to feel good again on the bike, the optimism will come back and everything will be normal. 

Cyc: You collapsed at the finish line in Col delle Finestre, what happened?

EC: It was a combination of circumstances. When I arrived at the finish line they told me what happened to Simon and everything fell down. When the team is wearing the maglia rosa everyone is euphoric and the atmosphere is great.

But when suddenly this happens two days before the race arrives in Rome it’s hard not to feel the full weight of it come down on you.

Cyc: Do you think this is the year the Yates brothers have come of age?

EC: Yes, for sure. And they’re still very young for everything they have achieved. Their progression has been impressive and I think that within two or three years they will be among the most feared rivals at all the biggest races.

Cyc: What are the main differences between the three of you?

EC: Adam is a more explosive rider, more aggressive and emotional than Simon, who is more rational, cool and calm. If he attacks is because he’s thinking about the next day or the week after. If Adam feels good he attacks, it doesn’t matter what comes after. In that sense he’s a bit like Alejandro Valverde.

Personally I feel I identify more with Simon’s style. 

Cyc: The Yates brothers are in the final year of their contracts with Michelton-Scott this year. Is it difficult to have three leaders?

EC: I don’t t think so. If we ride together like we did at the 2017 Vuelta, we understand each other very well. They are easy-going guys and the atmosphere in the team helps too. At the end, the race will favour one of us more than the others and if  I’m the one in front, I’m sure they will sacrifice for me, and vice versa.

Cyc: What are your thoughts on Movistar having three leaders at the Tour de France and Team Sky having two?

EC: In the case of Movistar I think it’s because of the first nine stages of the Tour – it’s always nervous in the opening phase of the Tour, and there’s the wind, the stage on the cobblestones this year, and so on. They have to go with potential replacements so they don’t put all their eggs in one basket.

In the case of Sky I see it differently because for Froome this is his fourth consecutive Grand Tour and could pay for that, which is why I think Geraint Thomas is the co-leader.

Someone who can also perform very well for them is Egan Bernal, he is an extraordinary talent and the team clearly think he’s ready for his Tour debut. Personally I think it’s a bit rushed – I guess we’ll know in 10 years whether it was the right decision to take him to the Tour so early.

Cyc: Do you feel sad to be missing out on the Tour?

EC: I prefer to watch it from home! I didn’t really enjoy my Tour debut last year. If you are in a good shape it has to be something special to ride the Tour, but last year’s experience was really really tough, like the Giro was this year. The Tour as the race can be so cruel... and you have to add the stress of the sponsors, the people, the media… 

Cyc: Is it about time that Colombia has a WorldTour race?

EC: Yes, but not only a race, also a WorldTour team. The Oro y Paz early this year [a new Colombian stage race at UCI Continental level] was amazing and a great example of how much we can offer. It was a very important first step for Colombian cycling, and we have to keep going.

Hopefully the business world, the Government and the different sporting entitites can reach an agreement to create something big and special. Our cycling deserves it.

Cyc: What do you think has changed to have this current boom of Colombian talents on the WorldTour scene?

EC: It’s always been like that I think. There has been always a huge talent in Colombia because we are born at high altitude, because the lives of the majority typically isn’t easy – some of them are farmers or woodcutters so they have to exercise from an early age, or have to ride their bikes 30km to school at a 3,000m altitude like Nairo Quintana when he was young. So when you give them a 7kg bike, they fly. 

Cyc: How do you rate Colombia’s chances at the World Championships in Innsbruck?

EC: We could do well. Our main weapon is that we are all friends and we all work well together. We work as a family with no jealousy and we are happy to work for each other.

It’s a good opportunity this year as there aren’t many World Championships for pure climbers.

Cyc: Who do you think is going to win the Tour de France this year?

EC: It’s hard to say! You have a guy like Primoz Roglic, who nobody is talking about, but he’s been up there the whole season. I would like to see Valverde there, also Bernal and Rigoberto Urán, who is also in a very good condition.

And with Froome you never know, because at the Giro it seemed like everything was lost and look at what he did on the Colle delle Finestre!

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