What's Cool In Road Cycling

Dimension Data’s Igor Anton Gets PEZ’d

Rider Interview: New writer at PEZ, Luke Maguire, lives in the Basque Country and regularly trains with the stars on their home terrain. Luke’s first interview is with Dimension Data’s Igor Anton, a pro for over 12 years, but with a palmarès that possibly doesn’t reflect his vast experience.

On a cold morning in Bilbao, Spain I head out for a ride and a chat with Igor Anton.

The 34 year old is just back from a month long holiday in the US and is now beginning his preparations for his 11th year in the professional peloton. He talks about the pressure of being a cycling idol in Spain, the crisis in Basque cycling, the changes in the sport as well as his past and his future.

Starting the 2017 season in Mallorca

PEZ: Would you have ever guessed that you would be riding in an African team?
The truth is that I very nearly didn’t have a team at all last year and considered retiring. I was off the bike totally for two months considering my options and did a bit of traveling. Luckily Dimension Data rang me at the last minute and I signed with them.

Sometimes people ask me about my results, things I could have done differently but the fact that I’m here, continuing my career with a team like this is something I’m very proud of and if you had have told me at the start of my career that this would have happened I’d have been over the moon. I’m going to be 34 in a few months and I feel very privileged.

PEZ: In the last few years we have seen a globalization of cycling. Do you think that’s a positive thing?
Globalization has its two sides. It’s good in the sense that it helps to make cycling more international and boosts its popularity that way. However, I also think the negative side threatens the existing traditional standing of European cycling, both in terms of teams and events. For example, many races here in Spain disappeared due to investment elsewhere. On a local level, in the Basque Country we have seen teams and races disappear because of the globalization of the sport. It’s a sensitive subject, but I think we have to be careful that the historic events of cycling are protected.

Monte Zoncolan - Italie - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Giro D’Italia  2011 - 14e etappe Lienz - Monte Zoncolan  -  Igor Anton Hernandez (Team Euskaltel - Euskadi) - foto Cor Vos ©2011
The big win in the 2011 Giro d’Italia on the Zoncolan

PEZ: How did your first victory in the Vuelta España in 2006 compare to your last in 2011
The biggest difference was in my personal circumstances, because I had a lot of tough times in that five year period. The victory in Bilbao in 2011 was my fourth victory in the Vuelta. I had more experience and knew how to carry the good moments, but it’s the difficult moments that are always more complicated. The day I won the stage in Bilbao, my hometown, was a tremendous day, the best victory of my career.

PEZ: Speaking of that race… many fans will be curious as to how many hours of training does it take to prepare for an event like the Vuelta España?
First you have to remember that the Vuelta takes place in September. The entire season before that race acts as preparation in that regard. Last year I was in the shape of my life for that race. I had spent thirty days at altitude in the Pyrenees and was really well prepared. Unfortunately, I got a stomach virus in the first week and had to retire just before the stage to Bilbao… that was very tough.

Ax 3 Domaines - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  Igor Anton Hernandez (Spain / Team Euskaltel - Euskadi)  pictured during  the 100th Tour de France 2013 stage-8 from Castres to Ax 3 Domaines - photo VK/NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2013The Basque fans at the 2013 Tour

PEZ: You have a palmarès that most riders could only dream of. However… Is there any race where you feel you have unfinished business?
(Laughs), I don’t have that many victories! But yes, I have a selection of victories that are very important to me and that have a certain prestige. In terms of unfinished business; I could say the Vuelta in 2010 when I crashed while in the leaders jersey or else a decisive moment I didn’t follow the break in one of the big classics, but really something I’d like to do is to just win a race again. In terms of something missing from my palmarès… I’d really like to go well at the Tour of the Basque Country next year, I’m not saying win stages, but to be at the front end of the action would be nice. It’s my home race and to perform well there is something important to me, like it is for all Basque riders. 

I’d also like to be competitive again in the classics. Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are races that I like a lot and if I arrive in good form I know that I can be competitive there also.

Playa de Muro - Mallorca - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Igor Anton (Movistar Team)  pictured during Stage - 4 - Trofeo Alcúdia-Can Picafort-Playa de Muro 2014 - photo Sabine Jacob/Cor Vos © 2014
Back in 2014 with Movistar

PEZ: You seem very relaxed about it all, are you enjoying this part of your career more, knowing there is less pressure?
Possibly, but there were times in other teams where I had a lot of pressure put on my shoulders. In Euskaltel-Euskadi there was huge personal pressure because I was the leader and that wasn’t always easy. During my time at Movistar there was less personal pressure but it was still tough. There was also pressure put on us to get the results for Nairo (Quintana) and (Alejandro) Valverde. My time at Movistar was a big learning curve, if you are not 100% they will not bring you to races, it’s as simple as that. There I realized how one team can be so successful.

PEZ: Does the pressure and expectation affect you as a rider?
Most of the time the pressure is something you put on yourself, and of course it affects you, but you learn to live with it and it can be used as something positive. However, at times it can block you. For me it never got to the stage where it blocked me completely, but there have been times when I haven’t enjoyed my job because of it. Many times the pressure of winning has helped me obtain certain results but it stopped me enjoying the process of getting those results. These days I don’t worry about those things. Now I try to enjoy the races. I know that I don’t have many seasons left, so I just want to enjoy my final years.

Monte Zoncolan - Italie - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Giro D’Italia  2011 - 14e etappe Lienz - Monte Zoncolan  -   Igor Anton (Euskate - Euskadi) - Alberto Contador (SaxoBank - Sungard) - foto Cor Vos ©2011
Igor giving Alberto Contador some pain on the Zoncolan

PEZ: What impact did the dissolution of Euskaltel-Euskadi have?
It was huge. When I was 18 or 19 – when I was passing from amateur to professional – the path was very clear. Nowadays many young amateurs find it very difficult to make the step to professional, so they leave the sport. It’s a pity. But I have no doubt that a team like Euskaltel will exist again in the future. I would really like to be in a team like that again.

PEZ: As a rider?
Yeah, why not. Do my last year as a rider in that kind of team.

PEZ: What do you think of the current state of Basque cycling?
It’s not as strong as it was before, purely based on the structure disappearing. Now there are not the same opportunities for riders to get to professional. But we have to understand too that cycling as a sport is not only about professionals. We have to try and get young riders to understand that this sport is a great one for many reasons aside from trying to make it a profession.

At the Volta a Valenciana 2017 presentation

PEZ: You’ve lived through different generations of professional cycling, what changes have you seen?
It has changed a lot. These days we are not only cyclists but more like technicians. We are constantly tracked for doping-control by the Adams system. Nowadays we use the computer for everything, to reserve plane tickets for example. When I started cycling there were far more races in Spain so we had to travel abroad far less, but now we are always traveling. I was just in South Africa last week for a team training camp. We keep in contact with the team via Skype. Before, my coach was from Bilbao but now my coach is Italian so we have to communicate weekly via Skype.

I have had to learn English also, which has been a good thing for me.

The bikes have changed a lot too. When I started nearly all the bikes were aluminum, but now everything is carbon. Also, there is more tests done now of everything, particularly with anti-doping.

PEZ: Spanish cycling has suffered heavily due to doping…
It has, and I have lived through that process. Fortunately things have settled down a lot since I turned professional in 2006, back then there were so many scandals and positive tests. There came a moment when I was asking myself: “is it worth continuing in this sport?” Disaster. The sport was a disaster, a farce. I was considering my options but by that time I had already turned professional. But here we are ten years on and the sport has survived and in a better state. Now people are starting to think about cycling for reasons other than doping. We will never erase the past, that is for sure. But I think we are starting to do things right and that people can believe in cycling again. Transparency in the sport is slowly improving and that is something that must continue.

PEZ: Where will Igor Anton be in five years?
I don’t know in what way, but somehow still connected to cycling. I will never stop riding my bike, that’s for sure. 


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