Rider Interview: Jelena Erić is a four time national road and time trial champion, and she is a hard worker for the Movistar women’s WorldTour team and still only 24 years old. In these times of ‘lockdown’ rider interviews have to be done remotely, but not when the rider lives in your village. Our man in Spain Alastair Hamilton had to have coffee and a chat.
Climbing in Gent Wevelgem 2020
Last year I kept seeing a rider in a National champions jersey going through my village, nothing strange in that in the winter training time, but I saw her regularly through the year. When I noticed she was friends on FaceBook with Javi, local cyclist and bar owner, I had to do some detective work and get in contact. Jelena Erić turned pro for the BTC City Ljubljana team in 2015 and then moved on to Cylance Pro Cycling. The US team folded after a year, but a contract with Alé Cipollini gave Jelena’s career the boost it needed. Movistar signed her for 2020 and now she has a contract with the telephone squad to the end 2023. Time to talk to a Serbian in Spain.
The best place for an interview – Thanks to Javi
PEZ: Why do you live in Spain? Italy is closer to Serbia.
Jelena Erić: The first training camp we had was in Albir (popular coastal town on the Costa Blanca), so I stayed two month extra to train alone, after the training camp and then I just said; the airport is close and the team doesn’t care where I live. The first thing I noticed was the roads and drivers give you a bit more respect here than in Italy and the food. I decided to stay here for the year and see what happens.
Happy in Spain
PEZ: How did you get into cycling?
Because my brother was riding and I just liked how it looked. So I started going out with my with my friends to the mountains. First I started on the mountain bike and then my uncle saw me and he told me to come to the club and try road racing. Then I just started to love it more and more.
PEZ: How old were you when you started mountain biking?
Twelve. Because my uncle was a professional, he raced in the US, I think for 15 years. Then he was the director of some teams. He was saying to me, ‘come on you have talent, so come on and try’. His name is Radisa Cubric.
Prologue action for Ljubljana in the Festival Elsy Jacobs 2016 in Cessange, Luxembourg
PEZ: What’s cycling like as a sport in Serbia?
It’s not really popular, and even less women’s cycling. When I started I had to race with the boys. The Federation didn’t want to let me race, but we fought for permission and they had to let me do it. It was really good for me because I was just one more of them, if you don’t survive… and I made a lot of friends. So…
Riding for Serbia – Worlds road race 2018 Innsbruck
PEZ: Is it a big scene in Serbia?
It’s not. It is an Olympic sport, but we don’t have a lot of riders. We have never taken a medal, because you know, it’s really hard. There are always only a few professional cyclist, actually there are only two at the moment and you need the points to get in. There is only one guy, he’s in Delko. He’s really, really fast, but it is quite rocky, if you don’t have a good ‘trampoline’ to get to the good teams, it’s hard.
PEZ: If you look at Slovenia, with Pogačar…
We all raced together, Pagačar, me and him, but Slovenia is at another level.
With Alé Cipollini in the Setmana Ciclista Valencia 2019 stage 1 from Cullera to Gandia
PEZ: Exactly, but it’s not a big country and it’s also not known for cycling.
But they have one really good thing. They are very, very humble, all of them and they have a very good system. Pogačar is like a kid, he has no ego. No, nothing. We raced in the same team because my first pro team was Ljubljana, and he was also there and my best friend, now his girlfriend, was also in the team. So I was there three years before going to Cylance Pro Cycling, so it was the first step for me because we had contacts there, as we know each other; Slovenia and Serbia are close. So they were my base when I was first serious, as an Under 23, they taught me a lot.
The Giro was tough after only 7 days training – Stage 3
PEZ: How did the contract with Movistar come about?
Well, I was one year with Cylance, the American team. And I was in the team with Sheyla Gutiérrez, but the team had to stop, unfortunately. If it had carried on, then we would have stayed there. So then she moved to Movistar and then after, she tried to get them to signed me, but the first year they couldn’t, I don’t know why. Then when I was in Alé Cipollini, I made a big step up and Movistar just contacted me and said, ‘Yeah, we want you next year’.
With Sheyla Gutierrez in the 2019 Giro
PEZ: Next season (2021), ex-World champion Annemiek van Vleuten is coming to Movistar, will the team change?
This year the team already made a big, big step forward and they’re changing a lot of things and trying to make the team as best as possible, not only in the way of riders and strong team, but also with the staff and with the director. So, I think things are going really well. With her, all the riders can learn a lot and work when we need to work.
PEZ: Which rider have you looked up to?
Giorgia Bronzini, we were in Cylance together. The director always told me, ‘you have to have an example’.
PEZ: And when you were younger?
Gilbert, I like Philippe Gilbert a lot, but then when I was younger I had friends from my club team and there was always a person to talk to and person to look up to.
Grand Prix Dottignies 2017 podium: Jolien D’Hoore Jolien (Wiggle High5), Chloe Hosking (Ale Cipollini) and Jelena Erić (BTC City Ljubljana)
PEZ: There was a report recently that some women were riding for nothing. For free. That’s a bad situation
Yeah, of course, in our team everybody’s getting paid. I don’t know in which teams this is happening, exactly, but I can imagine. For sure, it’s not that easy. When I started riding for not so much money, but there is a point where you consider it normal, but if it goes on and the team stops paying you… it’s complicated. Right now, I think that things are getting better and better in the sense of salaries and everything, because every year there are more funds. I think it has a long way to go.
PEZ: And now Jumbo will have a women’s team. Does it need more television?
Yeah, more television for sure. This year a lot of raced they don’t show, and if you are not showing the sponsors then nobody’s going to pay you.
PEZ: If it’s not on TV then it doesn’t exist. In Valencia they only showed the last stage because cameras were there for the men’s race.
Yeah. The first stage they didn’t show it, and it was much more exciting, but we need to fight for this as riders.
A year with Cylance Pro Cycling
PEZ: The men can’t agree, they’re falling out with the CPA now.
I’m the first one who would like that we have a united peloton and solve our problems and have somebody who represents us directly from the peloton. Because this is the way that you can really transmit what you want and not have any intermediates. Because in the end it’s our interests that we need to represent. It’s hard. You know what the problem is? When it’s not happening to you, you don’t care. I had a lot of problems getting a visa in the past and I couldn’t get a visa because, they were paying me, but I was not registered. So in the end it’s a problem because I can’t race and the team don’t want me, and I emailed the Cycling Alliance, they didn’t even reply.
I am sure that this is not just happening to me, I found a solution because I wanted to and I was there ‘Full Gas’ to get it because I’m stubborn and I don’t give up and I could find a way, but there are people that cannot find a way… so what do they do? Maybe just give up. They don’t have the means or the money, in the end they can stay at home. I have seen girls from Brazil and Peru, I know them and I know they are fast. I tried to get them a team, but in the end they say “I can’t get a visa, I can’t come.”
PEZ: You had a good ride in the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta in Madrid.
Yeah, I was fourth on the first stage and ninth on stage 3.
Mixing it with the best
PEZ: Do you see yourself as a stage race rider?
I am a bit of all rounder if I want something… In Madrid we had a bit of discussion about the first day because it was an uphill finish, but they didn’t put the seconds of difference. They put us all on the same time, so this for me with 10 seconds or 20 that I lost in the TT, I lost in the GC and in the end it’s not the best. So on the last stage, I tried to take the seconds and bonus sprints, but sprinting with Lisa (Brennauer), Elisa (Balsamo) and Lorena (Wiebes) directly one-on-one… I took second one time, the next one was just throwing away the power as they are really, really fast. At this moment they were really strong, both of them so I said; “okay, I try to get in a breakaway.” So I tried to do that, but in the end it didn’t work.
PEZ: You see yourself as an all rounder, but you can climb.
Yeah, I climbed quite fast this year and I think it will only get better. I think I still need a lot of time to discover what is my maximum possibilities for climbing and in the sprint I am fast. If it’s hard, I can sprint fast. I need a hard race before. And with climbing I think I still have a lot of space to improve.
Jelena Erić (De Sprinters Malderen) 2015 Omloop van het Hageland – Tielt-Winge
PEZ: You have also ridden in Belgium. What do think of the cobbles?
I like to ride in Belgium a lot. I feel like at home because I raced there a lot as a junior. When I’m there I’m at peace, I start and I know what I need to do, how I need to behave in the race. So no matter if there are cobbles or whatever. I have a lot of families in Belgium. A lot people, when I was younger, took me in their home. Now they are friends for life. They took me to races. There’s a family, Van Mechelen, they helped me with racing and they have two kids and I used to train and race with them and now they are juniors and they are racing. Yeah, I have really good memories from Belgium and will always be like a second home for me.
PEZ: So you like the style of racing in Belgium?
Yeah. Yeah, I it like because normally it’s the kind of racing that you never stop. You’re always ‘Full Gas’. If it’s flat or not, in the end you’re ‘Full Gas’ all day. You cannot hide there.
Giro’20 stage 9 finish
PEZ: What was the Giro d’Italia like?
The Giro for me was really hard at the start because I went there with seven days training. Before this I had a positive test for Covid, but it was false. I was in quarantine two weeks and my form just… It was false, I did another test and another test, another negative. I couldn’t race the Europeans, that was a real slap in the face because it was my goal for the season and I stayed home. Then they told I could go to the Giro after seven days of training. The first five days: Oh my God, I almost didn’t finish. But then my shape just went… woof! On the last day I was going solo from the start and I didn’t know that there was a Colombian girl from my team in the group behind (Paula Andrea Patiño 8th overall) and she was good on GC, so I looked to see who the other riders were in the group and so I waited for her because I knew that she can make a big step in the in the GC on the last day because there was nobody from GC in the group and there were 20/25 riders. So when I saw there was nobody from the GC I said to her; “this is your chance to get in the top-ten because this is not going to repeat ever in your life.” She was really brave to get in the break, she is a girl of 22 years in the last stage of the Giro and getting in a break. I said she deserved this, so I waited and helped.
I was thinking that they were not going to get me until the finish line because it was only climbing and downhill, climbing and downhill and I was riding at a really good pace, so I was thinking; “yeah 50K’s to go and they’re not going to get me.” I believed in the legs, but then I decided to go back because 10 days of effort, it’s more than one day on its own.
Worth the sacrifice – Top-ten for Paula Andrea Patiño
PEZ: What about the team time trial?
I surprise myself because it was the first stage and I was really not in shape. There was three of us that did the longer time on the front and I did a lot of kilometres like this, a longer time on the front. Usually we did 10 to 15 seconds on the front, but we did 30 to 40, so I tried to always to do 40 and when I drop, I drop, until I can’t I would do 40 seconds. The director was quite happy and me also because normally I hate time trials. To be honest, I never have a TT bike at home and it’s not my thing.
PEZ: But you are four times Serbian national time trial champion?
This is because there is no competition, but there is now, there is a young girl that is fast in the TT and she’s doing well. She’s a specialist and so maybe she can do something.
Not too keen on the TT
PEZ: This is the first time you have not been national road race and time trial champions for four years.
Yeah. It was during the Giro. No problem, there is time.
PEZ: Do you use a power meter when you’re racing, do you go by the numbers or just the feel?
Depends on the race. For example in Madrid I didn’t use it for anything, not the first stage, not the TT because I knew I was in shape like never before so I knew that my limits were higher. But some races, in the classics and when I don’t want to go over my possibilities, I look not to go higher than some Watts, because I don’t want to go over the limit in the first kilometres, nothing else.
PEZ: And when you’re training?
Yes, when I’m training. I have a coach and I send the numbers. But this year, I got to know myself a bit better with the training, but in the end it’s you who knows your body, but you also need to give information to the coach.
Happy on the flemish cobbles
PEZ: Your favourite race?
I don’t know what. Maybe Flanders, it’s hard.
PEZ: During lockdown, were you here in Spain, what did you do?
I was running in the back yard and doing exercises, some cardio. I did rollers in the beginning, but then I said I cant. It’s too much for my head, it’s like suffering. So I said to the coach, I’m starting to run here two times a week with some sprinting and in the end it turned out to be the best thing I could do because everybody who was doing a lot of rollers during the quarantine ended up finished after one month of racing.
PEZ: Are you interested in the equipment?
Yeah, I’m quite interested. Tubulars for example. If you choose the wrong one, you’re out of the race. It’s that simple. So I don’t complain if I don’t have the best of everything or everything I want, but some basic things I like. I also like to clean the bike at home myself. It is your responsibility, if you crash… For example, the mechanic, he asks us if we want to put the pressure in the tyres or leave it to him. He prefers that we put the pressure that we want, and that we know which pressure we need. I always go and try the bike and put the pressure that I think is the best. I notice one millimetre difference on the bike.
A little bit of mountain bike in the winter
PEZ: What training are you doing now?
I’ve starting to go hiking, a little bit of mountain bike. So slowly, there is a lot of time.
PEZ: And what about last season, racing without fans etc?
Yeah, that was crazy. It was like something was missing, you go to the race and it’s not what you know, not what you expect, a bit sad. But at least it happened, you know that we can all feel happy that we could race, but it was strange and sad. In Belgium, in Flanders you go over the Kwaremont and you can hear the last rider change gear, normally I couldn’t hear my own thoughts, last year it was so strange.
The winning break in the BeNe Ladies Tour
PEZ: What was the high point of this year?
The Giro, when we finished the last stage and when we understood that she (Patiño) was in the top 10, and because we were playing with seconds, we put five minutes. I was pulling constantly on the front, I didn’t see the time or anything. I didn’t want to lose any time and when we finished the stage and she was in the top 10, I was so happy for me, for her, for the team, we did a big effort for them. We played really well as a team and it was first time that I saw that everybody gave 150% for the same thing and it’s the best you can feel.
Win in the BeNe Ladies Tour
PEZ: The best point in your whole career so far?
Maybe my win in the BeNe Ladies Tour last year in Belgium. Not because of winning the race, but because there was a lot of problems we were having with the team and also I was changing team and it was a big mess. Yeah, the days before I had mechanical problems and the race started really bad. My TT bike broke before the prologue and I rode on another bike and it was a big disaster. So when I was in the break, I said we are going to ride because I need to get this rage out of myself and I’m going to go ‘Full Gas’. When I won I felt like if I had got over an obstacle in my life.
Strade Bianche 2020
PEZ: Do you know about next year yet?
We talked about it, because they are having a plan with some riders. Classics, Flanders and Giro again I think. This year I wasn’t supposed to race the Giro, but next year probably, they want to do it with Annemiek (van Vleuten), and for sure that they will want the riders that will work for her. It’s better.
PEZ: Why do you like the book of Robinson Crusoe?
I think it was the first book that I read when I was a kid. So I put it on my facebook profile because it’s an adventure and the English teacher at school gave us the book.
#Good luck to Jelena for 2021, see you in Javi’s for coffee. #