Gregor Gazvoda is living his dream at the age of 30 as he takes part in his first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, after thinking that he had no future in cycling. The winner of last year's Tour of Qinghai Lake brought the points he collected on the Asia Tour to help French team AG2R-La Mondiale remain at the WorldTour level.
"For me, it's incredible to be here on a start line of the Giro d'Italia," Gazvoda told Cyclingnews in Horsens. "It's better late than never but it's pretty unusual to join a team of the highest level for the first time at my age and suddenly be able to race the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d'Italia. To ride a Grand Tour was always my dream but I was not connected to the big teams."
The Slovenian rode for his local team Perutnina-Ptuj at the Continental level from 2004 to 2008. Despite a strong showing at the Tour de l'Avenir and top-10 finishes (ninth and sixth) at the Chrono des Nations that evidenced his skills for time trials he was never contacted by any big team. When Perutnina-Ptuj folded, he joined Japanese team Meitan-Hompo but it was also the last season of Akira Asada's project that had already developed Yukiya Arashiro into a Tour de France rider with Bouygues Telecom.
Gazvoda's career was in limbo but in June 2010, he joined Austria's KTM-Arbö Continental team.
"In my mind, I always remained a cyclist and I've kept the aim to ride at a high level but in reality, I've been left with no job twice," Gazvoda said. "I rode for free for two seasons. Sometimes I've paid for my flights to go and race in Asia, hoping that prize money would eventually cover the expenses."
It turned out to be an investment because the points he scored on the Asia Tour opened the doors to the AG2R-La Mondiale team after he won the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China in July with his revived old team Perutnina-Ptuj. In October of last year, Gazvoda received an email from AG2R-La Mondiale team manager Vincent Lavenu and signed his contract the following week.
"I was amazed by the quality of the support we got from the staff at the first training camp," Gazvoda said. "That's the main difference between WorldTour and the Continental level. I'm familiar with the teams and riders I race with now because I've raced with them before, but I was used to leave Slovenia at 3am, drive to Italy, race and drive back. Now I fly everywhere. I don't even have to bring a bike because the team does. I've heard riders complaining about the organization of certain ProTeams, but I won't! I know how much harder it is to be a rider at a lower level."
The former Slovenian time trial champion has adjusted to the level of racing at the WorldTour with no problem. "He has adapted very well," said Lavenu. "He's truly committed to the team work."
"I've done the Classics protecting Lloyd Mondory, now I'm at the Giro exclusively at the service of John Gadret," Gazvoda said.