Tales from the peloton, May 24, 2004
In part one, we showed it's not all about the bike when it comes to being a professional bike rider in Team Mälarenergi. But selection isn't easy.
"When a rider first arrives here with the intention of riding for us, I've already done a thorough check-up on his background," says Team Manager Patrick Serra. "Then I'll proceed to interview him, trying to find out what my riders' goals are. I want to know what their intentions are, what kind of engagement I can expect. Commitment is everything to me."
Having found out about the riders' inner thoughts, it's time to give the rest of the body a good check-up, too. Serra explains: "I send all our riders to be to Anna Krogh, our trusted chiropractor. She'll give them a full physical check up. She'll go through their knees and their backs, all of their bodies looking for injuries. If someone's muscles are very tight, she'll notice that, and if someone is overweight, that too will be taken into account, and after Anna, it's time to meet the doctor. Since 1993, all our riders have submitted to a series of medical tests, with the electrocardiogram being the most important. No rider gets a contract with us before having passed that."
"That makes me think, if they can be this good on a bike with all these physical problems, how good will they be when we fix it?" - Serra muses on his riders' potential as part of Team Mälarenergi's long-term plan
But that's not all: "My wife Marie is skilled with the ergometer tests, and she'll go through the riders on a regular basis, adds Serra.
"Aside from all this, we'll also look over the lab tests to check out the blood samples and the levels of different hormones for example. All of this blends together, and at this point, physical trainer Pasi Hokkanen, coach David Johansson and I will sit down together and evaluate the riders. We'll compare all the things we have found out; perhaps Anna says that rider X is a bit fat, but that we on the other hand like all his test results. Then we might take the decision that he could be worth a try anyway, or that cyclist Y is very skinny and has low iron levels, then we have to take that into account and make sure that we can provide a training program where he can ease off and not loose any more weight for example."
"During the year, we'll do regular follow-ups on each rider. The riders we are working with now are very young, both in age and experience. Everyone of them, without any exceptions, possesses great potential, but again, all of them also came here with some kind of problem in their luggage. That makes me think, if they can be this good on a bike with all these physical problems, how good will they be when we fix it? We might not do it all this year, but if you look at it like a long-term plan, we will."
Such a plan might be one way of increasing interest in hockey and soccer crazy Sweden, but there are other ways, too.
On the 15th of May, Team Mälarenergi will arrange the recreational race Energitrampet for the first time. It's not the first race they've organised; the same team is also the brains behind the spectacular Punkt GP, an inner-city race ridden up a nine-storey carpark.
Explains Serra, "I've been asked a lot of times why we would arrange such a race. What does it have to do with elite cycling?
"Some years ago, the UCI sent out directives that the sport of cycling sport should do more for the recreational side. For them, it was a matter of creating a broader base for sponsorship and increasing participation, and in Sweden we've also seen increased health awareness in schools and companies. We all know that good health starts with exercise, but it's easier said than done. Personally, I think man was created lazy, so we need some kind of challenge in order to get started. A race like ours can be some people's carrot."
"I do feel though that recreational cycling races has been left behind. Other sports offer you total package solutions; they broadcast their races over internet and TV and take full advantage of all the available technology in order to give the full service to the participants - while cycling is left behind with handful of number tags and a few bananas.
"Don't get me wrong, because some of the arrangements are very good in order of safety, and the sporting level is high, but I'd like to offer something more than just the competitive part of the race. I want an arrangement that challenges the rider, just as if he or she were professionals, I want the mood to be just as festive as it is at the start of the really big races. Even if you're not a pro, you should still be able to feel taken care of and to be content and satisfied with the actual goals you have reached."
"From a professional point of view, it's also a matter of identification. Even though cycling is the second biggest sport in Europe, and even though Eurosport broadcast over 150 hours of live cycling every year, it's not even among the 15 biggest sports in Sweden. I am convinced that the sport will eventually grow in Sweden - it's just a question about when and maybe how, rather than if. A well-organised race for the everyday rider will increase their understanding for professional cycling." When hearing him say that, I recall watching the warm-up before the start of the second edition of Punkt GP, where a rider slows down to a stop just before the line to chat with a few friends by the roadside. A young girl behind the barriers stared at him with disbelief, then yelled, "Come on! You can do it! There's only a metre to go!"
Patrick smiles. "Yes, that's what I mean. That was perhaps her very own perception of competitive racing. But anyone who has ridden a race knows how it feels when they approach the climb, they know how it feels when they are trying to stay with a group that's too fast, and can therefore better identify themselves with the men and women they see at Tour de France!
"They will learn to understand cycling like most people know soccer. This understanding is crucial when it comes to possibilities to find the sponsors needed to develop our sport further in Sweden."