Starting out his sporting life as a hockey player, Liberty Seguros' Czech rider René Andrle soon realised he was a better cyclist, and at 10 years old, he was sent to a special cycling school to further develop his talent.
Now aged 31 and currently riding the Giro d'Italia in support of Michele Scarponi, Andrle is entering his fifth year under the direction of the same team manager, Manolo Saiz. Through his compatriot, friend, and fellow team-mate Jan Hruska, he was offered a place at ONCE at the beginning of 2001 after two seasons with local team Wüstenrot-ZVVZ, and has been with Saiz ever since.
"With Hruska, I had more possibilities of going to Spain, but also I did it because I liked ONCE a lot and all the leaders that it had, like Jalabert, Zülle, Olano... " Andrle remembers.
"For me, riders like Beloki or Olano were gods. When I came from my country, I already was satisfied doing my first Giro [in 2001] and being able to ride together with Abraham [Olano]."
The 2005 Giro marks his second participation in the race, and when asked to compare the differences between the two, Andrle says the first time was harder for him due to his inexperience and the stress that comes with riding a Grand Tour.
"But this year is also hard because of the length and the mountain stages. Now we ride in a different form - there are more foreigners in the bunch and we go faster; we've noticed the arrival of the ProTour," he says.
Although he has moved back to his home country, Andrle previously spent two seasons living in Spain, one year in Tarragona and another in Benidorm with his wife, Radka, and children David and Ella. "I live in Lanskroun, in a region that looks much like the Basque Country, 35 kilometres from the Polish border and in the region where Dariusz Baranowski lives [also with Liberty Seguros]."
Speaking a little more about this year's Giro, Andrle says: "Of all the big tours that I have done, the first days it was difficult for me to get used to the speed, but I have not gone badly" - another reflection on the positive impact of the ProTour - and feels fresh for the today's final mountain stage, even though it is not his forte.