Haimar Zubeldia Gets PEZ’d!
INTERVIEW: With four top 10 finishes in the Tour de France, Haimar Zubeldia is one of the most experienced men in cycling’s Pro Peloton. Not as old as his teammate Jens Voigt or former teammate Chris Horner, Haimar has still seen many changes in his Pro career and we recently caught up with him in Spain to chat about modern racing, radios, Basque independence and more as he heads into his 17th season as a pro.
I’ve chatted with Haimar Zubeldia on many occasions over the years at team training camps and presentations and he is always laid back and happy to talk. So when I was asked who I would like to interview at the recent Trek Factory Racing Team training camp my first thought was Haimar. In a one to one interview we find out a lot more about the man from the Basque Country.
PEZ: So how many more years?
Haimar Zubeldia: I don’t know, for now I have two years more and after we see. But at the moment I don’t like to think about the end of my career, I prefer to go year by year and also I think for me this is easier, I have motivation and when I feel something different I’ll decide something, but at the moment I have two more years and I have to make my objectives and I try to enjoy these two years.
PEZ: So you don’t think you will win a Grand Tour at forty-two like Chris Horner?
Haimar: I don’t think so, I have six more years until I’m forty-two, I think it’s a long time away.
PEZ: How do you keep enthusiastic?
Haimar: Every year you need to find this motivation, you have a new project as well as your long term projects, and I also see all the team motivated. We have the new young riders and we need try to teach them and help them in this profession. We all have a goal, although different goals. Year by year you need to try to find this motivation
PEZ: That’s motivation with the team, but what about yourself, on days when it’s raining and cold, how do you get up in the morning?
Haimar: I like this life, it is my life. OK I have my life also at home, but my family are always helping me and I have my personal goals this year. And year by year you have to find you goals.
PEZ: What are you goals for 2014?
Haimar: I don’t change much. I start early in San Luis, but my first important race is the Tour of Pais Vasco, which is important for me as I live there. After that I have big goals for the team in the Ardennes Classics and in California, which is very important for the team and after that I need to have a little break to prepare for the Tour again. I have my personal goals and for the team.
PEZ: The Vuelta this year?
Haimar: Probably, probably, every year I draw a line at the end of Tour, so probably after the Tour I will only ride San Sebastian and maybe la Vuelta and then I finish the season.
PEZ: You had ten years with Euskaltel?
Haimar: Eleven, yip just eleven. My first year was in 1998 so that’s eleven years with Euskaltel, plus one in Astana, two in RadioShack after RadioShack-Leopard and now Trek.
PEZ: Do you think the loss of the Euskaltel team is a big loss for the Basque Country and for Spain?
Haimar: Yea, especially for us because in the Basque Country we have our enthusiasm for cycling and so for the amateurs and the young guys, they have lost a reference as now in Spain we only have Movistar and Caja Rural (ProContinental team). I think it’s a big loss because I received my opportunity with this team.
PEZ: Did you come through the Basque cycling school?
Haimar: I rode as an amateur for two years in a small feeder team before passing to Euskaltel. The manager; Miguel Madariaga knew me and I then won the Basque Country championships and passed to the full Euskaltel team.
PEZ: When you think back to ten years ago, Spain had so many teams.
Haimar: We had a lot of chances for young riders, but now it’s all gone. We have the crisis which is one reason, but the big brands they don’t put money in cycling and of course the problem of doping and everything, there are a lot of reason for this problem.
PEZ: Do you think the problems in Spanish cycling are a reflection of Spain’s financial position?
Haimar: Yea for sure, I don’t know but, I don’t think we will ever see seven or eight teams in Spain again. We need to look optimistically to the future, because Fernando Alonso will have a big team next year (2015), which is a good thing because with Fernando other big brands will think it’s a good thing to go into cycling, which we need.
PEZ: Compared to Formula 1 it’s cheap.
Haimar: Yea for one Formula 1 team you could pay for the whole ProTour.
PEZ: Which is your favourite race?
Haimar: The Tour! I have focused my career every year on the Grand Tours, especially the Tour de France, with my characteristics I have something for the big Tours.
PEZ: Over your career what has impressed you the most in cycling?
Haimar: When I started in the professional World we almost only raced around Europe, in the last years its more open, we race in China and Argentina, now we see different cultures and different cultures understand cycling and maybe we learn a lot.
PEZ: Has there been a rider who has impressed you the most?
Haimar: In all my career there has been a lot riders who have impressed me. But in the recent years there are riders like Peter Sagan, and Chris Froome who I have followed. The young Luxemburg rider Bob Jungles in this team has impressed me a lot, I have followed him closely and in the future he is going to be a super good rider, he has a big talent. He was pro last year and in Leopard before that.
PEZ: You came from Euskaltel to Bruyneel’s Astana team, was that a big change?
Haimar: No, more or less all teams work by the same rules. Like I said to you before, there are different cultures to understand now in cycling, but when I rode for Euskaltel, more or less, we all came from 100 kilometres around. In Astana there were riders from 20 different nationalities and you see riders like to eat different things, for instance I like eggs and rice and the others like different things. Everyone trains a lot, but they had different systems, like I said before; when cycling opened its doors there were a lot of cultural differences to learn.
PEZ: Did you speak English before you went to Astana?
Haimar: I learnt a little bit at school, but I’ve learnt more now in the last five years.
PEZ: Did everyone in Euskaltel speak Euskera (the Basque language)?
Haimar: Yea almost everyone, not everybody, but Euskera was the language of the team and Español of course. In some races we would be talking on the radios in Euskera and nobody knew what we were saying, it worked like a secret code.
PEZ: What about politically, do you think Euskadi, Catalonia and Scotland should be independent? Do you have a personal feeling about it?
Haimar: I feel Basque, I am Basque and for me sometimes it doesn’t matter to me if we are independent or separated, what’s important for me is that I feel Basque. Some of the people feel Spanish and we have to respect everybody and should defend their sentiment and I think this is the key.
PEZ: Are you the sort of rider who is fanatical about your bikes?
Haimar: Yes I like a lot the World of the bike. I check all the (website) pages to see where it’s all going. For example more has been invested in the TT bikes, because I think it’s important; the materials, OK it’s also important with the road bikes, but there is more to be gained with the TT bikes, because it is important to go fast for the same energy if you can go faster it’s more important, I check the tyres and the wheels and we talk with Jordan (Roessingh, Trek team liaison in 2012 and 2013 and now the technical manager for the new team) a lot of times, I like this World yea.
PEZ: So you look at all the equipment in the magazines?
Haimar: Yea I look at the internet and the magazines and if someone tells me about something I like to check it out, just to know, some riders are not interested in these things, but it is good to know for your job. Also the clothing. And I think it is our job, this year we will be using everything Trek; Bontrager, the clothing and everything, we are part of the testing, I think it’s like a test team; it’s more or less the same as with the Cervelo Test Team some years ago. But I always check everything with the bikes and talk with the mechanics a lot.
PEZ: You have seen many changes over the years, have they all been good?
Haimar: Sometimes, for example; the UCI put the rule about the radios that we can use them in ProTour races and not in small races, but in cycling we should be able to use the new technologies, in other areas we use everything, like even car horns we use in every race. But the radios we don’t use, they say they change the racing, but I think the strongest almost always win. And with safety and a lot of things, in the case of the ambulance having to come through, or in the Tour of California we don’t have the radios and the managers car has to come to the front and this is more dangerous without the radios.
PEZ: You don’t think the younger riders depend on the radios to be told what to do?
Haimar: Maybe a Little, we started using radios when I started as a Pro and I learned and in the end everyone learns. We have the strategy meeting before the race to discuss everything.
PEZ: I was thinking of the Tour stage that Saxo-Tinkoff made the split and Mark Cavendish was the last rider to cross to the group and you can see Froome is on the radio and not jumping across the break. Maybe in that case the radio was the problem?
Haimar: No I don’t think so; I think the radios are good. OK some people say that without the radio the racing is more open, but I don’t think so. I still think the strongest win.
PEZ: Would you change anything in your career?
Haimar: Maybe with experience I would have changed teams earlier, but when you are in a team you think everything is good, you don’t know about other teams, but finally I made the decision and now I’m happy. I’ve seen a different World and learned English a little bit and as a person I’ve grown. I’ve learnt a lot as a person, so maybe I should have changed sooner.
PEZ: Basically you have only been in two teams.
Haimar: Yea that’s true, I came into the Trek World and more or less it’s been the same team. I don’t like a lot of risk, that’s true.
PEZ: Is that a Basque thing?
Haimar: Ah maybe yes, we do have this culture. More or less nobody lives in a rented house; everybody buys their house, when we buy a house we would have almost all the money to pay for it. We don’t go to the bank to borrow all the money, we will have most of it. When you buy a second house, for sure, no one will go to the bank for a mortgage on a second house you have the money in your pocket and you will buy the second one.
PEZ: Not like round here then.
Haimar: I have a theory; in Spain you can draw a line across the country from Madrid, North and South. We are different from the North and South, in the South they live more from day to day, tomorrow we will see. In the North the people think more for the future.
PEZ: What about after cycling, or do you not like to think about it?
Haimar: I don’t know, but I do think about these things when I’m on the bike or at night in bed, but I would like to continue in this World, maybe not in one team.
PEZ: A Directeur Sportif?
Haimar: No, I don’t have a licence, at the moment. But during your career you make many friends in this World, for example Etxeondo, the clothing brand, and the owner is one of my biggest friends, maybe I would like to put my experience into this area, and sometimes I like to help him also. If we have luck and make money in our career and we can make our next life easier and maybe work one half of the day and spend more time with my family.
PEZ: You will have missed a lot of time with your family over the years.
Haimar: Yea sometimes for a long time. After this camp I’m at home with the family for six days, until the 26th, then the team presentation and then I fly to Brussels and stay there one day before I go straight to Argentina and then I’m not home until February. It’s easier these days with technology like Skype, before we only had the telephone. The time goes fast especially when you have kids, you feel it. I have two daughters and the oldest one is now five and the other one is two, but especially with the older one, she understands everything and it’s hard. Although we are lucky, I could be going to the factory everyday at 7 or 6 in the morning, but people are happy to have work to go to in the factory now. Sometimes it’s very important to see what we have.
A family man, a great sportsman and a top bloke, Haimar Zubeldia still has time for top class results, you never know; a Grand Tour at 42?