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Europcar, Namibia, and beards
On Friday L'Equipe reported that Dan Craven was set to sign for WorldTour team, Europcar, for the remainder of the 2014 season with the Vuelta a Espana set to be his major racing objective of the season.
Cyclingnews caught up with the 2014 winner of the Tour of Cameroon to talk about how his move to Europcar came about, his hopes for African racing, and his racing plans for the rest of the season.
Cyclingnews: How did this signing come about?
Dan Craven: In 2011 I raced the Tropical Amissa Bongo (Tour of Gabon) with an African mixed team from the UCI Africa centre. I won the KOM jersey (on my Steel Condor/ Steely Dan), came 7th overall and met Jean Rene Bernadeau along the way. Even though my French was horrific, the two of us had a very good understanding from the start. By the time I saw him again at the Tour of South Africa in February he started talking to me about becoming a part of the team - and riding the Vuelta. We tried but there was no space in the roster for me in 2012. In January I saw Jean Rene in Gabon again and the conversation went further. Having been in the business for so long and getting my hopes up so many times in the past I didn't get too excited but on 31 March I received an email from Jean Rene saying there was a chance to add me to the team mid- season.
I'll always remember the date because by the time I could tell anyone it was the next day, the first of April, and no one would believe me. Not that I told anyone. Tried to keep it as quiet as possible as, once again, I've been excited - and then been let down too often in the past. Now we're a few days away from June - when I will officially change teams and it is indeed becoming a reality.
Cyclingnews: What is your race programme in the coming months? First race in new team colours?
Dan Craven: That is a very good question. I have the commonwealth Games (for Namibia) coming up and then the Vuelta is my main goal for Europcar. I will be given a race schedule to prepare as well as possible for the Vuelta but what exactly it is I do not yet know. Early on there won't be too much racing for me though as the Tour de France takes centre stage and... well... its safe to say it's a bit soon to have me down for that.
Cyclingnews: How long is the contract for?
Dan Craven: The contract is still on its way so to be honest, I can't tell you too many details.
Cyclingnews: Can you tell us about your relationship with Nedbank?
Dan Craven: This is something that I have been working towards for ten years and actually gave up on several times along the way - so after ten years of hard grind I'm not likely to be fussy. The announcement that Nedbank is becoming a sponsor of Team Europcar - this is not quite the case. Nedbank has been supporting projects that I have had in Namibia since 2009 (Craven Camp - weekend camps that I've hosted for Namibian youth). Nedbank has now become the sponsor of the national team and it is thanks to them that we were able to go to the African Champs in Egypt in December (where I won a silver in the Road race) and to Gabon in January - thanks to which the contact with Europcar was re-established. Since January I have also been a Nedbank ambassador, growing on our already established relationship.
Cyclingnews: What work will you continue doing as a Nedbank ambassador now that you are signed to a World Tour Team?
Dan Craven: I've been working with Nedbank since 2009 and they have been amazing, supporting some of my personal efforts (Nedbank Craven Camp - camps that I've hosted for Namibian youth cyclists) and as of 2013 they also sponsor the Namibian National team. It is thanks to their involvement (the first time the Namibian Cycling team has ever had a title sponsor) that we as a team were able to go to Egypt for the African Championships in December as well as go to the Tropical Amissa Bongo in January.
I only became an official Nedbank ambassador at the beginning of this year so that side of things is developing, but in the future we will be doing more together and I hope to have a few public speaking opportunities at Nedbank events, something that I'm keen to brush up on my skills.
Cyclingnews: Will you still have the opportunity to foster cycling development in Namibia and how do you think the heavier race programme will affect your work there?
Dan Craven: Nedbank is also the main backer of a cycling initiative in a township community project called Physically Active Youth (PAY). I suppose I’ve been PAY's 'cycling advisor' over the last few years and thanks to that relationship we have developed some great riders. Costa Seibeb is currently doing us proud as a member of the UCI Training Centre in Aigle, Switzerland, and last year already rode the Tour de l'Avenir. He is there with another Namibian, Till Drobisch and so it's safe to say that Namibian cycling is going places.
Another aspect of Europcar which really excites me is that they have a whole system of teams for the 'next generation' to come through. I'm obviously hoping to open doors and get more Namibians and more Africans into Europe. With Europcar and with the team that has looked after me so well for the first five months of the year, Bike Aid.
Cyclingnews: Will Europcar's presence in African races continue to grow?
Dan Craven: When I'm in Europe I can't do very much in terms of developing Namibian cycling (with any luck I can motivate some youngsters from afar, but I can only hope) so everything happens when I am back home during the off season. This is pretty much like the Australian pro's who are back home for their summer - and then in Europe for the European summer. So I'll keep on doing my bit - when I am home. I'm very curious to see if the higher profile of team that i am in will help the initiatives at home grow.
Europcar is currently WorldTtour so the Gabon race is the only one that they are able to race as a team, unfortunately. With myself being the second African on the team (after Natnael Berhane, Eritrea) and a Rwandan rider in the Vendee U amateur team (Europcar feeder team) I believe we will see more and more Africans coming to the project - and Africa is currently the great unpolished gem - so this is very exciting in the long run.
Cyclingnews: This is a massive step in your career, your life as a professional cyclist. Can you sum what it’s taken for you to get here?
Dan Craven: I came excruciatingly close to signing something nice and juicy way back in 2008, since then I feel that I fell off the map to a large extent. The last 18 months have felt as if I've suddenly grown up a lot and more importantly, I've sorted a lot of things that were stopping me, amongst others a virus. Since then everything seems to have turned around and this amazing opportunity has arisen. This is not me 'making it'. This is a new start - and the start of a lot of really hard work. I'll only consider having made it when I am offered a contract renewal after my first stint. As for the team as such - I obviously have to improve my French, but I’ve raced them often enough to feel that I will be very comfortable in the team environment. As my mother always says, I do well when I am happy and smiling so that is very important to me - and hey - riding a Colnago, who wouldn't be happy.
Oh, one last thing. Everyone seems to want to know how I got this right. I honestly don't know, but I think the beard has something to do with it...