Rigoberto Uran and his EF Education First-Drapac team are happy to take a relaxed, no-stress and somewhat low-profile approach to the Tour de France, hoping it will give them an edge and help repeat their performance of 2017, when the Colombian rider finished second overall to Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Taylor Phinney revealed that Uran occasionally shouts out 'No stress!' at the team's dinner table after a difficult day of racing or when he feels tension in the air. Uran tries to transmit his inner calm and karma to everyone at the US-registered team in the hope it will give him an edge out on the road.
"There is always stress at the Tour; you have to learn to live with it and learn how to manage it. The most important thing is that if the leader is calm and quiet you can transmit this to the rest of the team,” Uran explained to a select group of media that visited the EF Education First-Drapac team hotel on Thursday.
"I try to convey that tranquillity to everyone on the team, to the staffers, to the mechanics, everyone. For me, each and every one of them is important, so we can work in a more efficient and effective way. When you start to think too much about things or worry too much about the results, that's what provokes the stress. Of course, the results are what's important, but it's better when you take things in a calm way, and then you're at your maximum to perform when it really counts."
Uran has raced for major teams such as Caisse d'Epargne, Team Sky and Quick-Step, and he is developing a knack for fighting for the overall classification in Grand Tours.
"It's part of my character and I also have been doing this for a long time, so I know how to manage things," he explains, wise of his 31 years, a difficult upbringing that forced him to turn professional in Europe at just 19 to help support his family. He has learnt the hard way that it is better to approach life with a smile.
"Even when things go badly, you can learn important lessons from that as well," he said. "When you have respect for your work, you're passionate about what you do, and treat with respect all the people around you, it is much easier to work as a group with this spirit."
Uran knows that the millions of Colombian cycling fans expect him to challenge for victory at the Tour de France. He will also be competing against Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and be compared to rising star Egan Bernal (Team Sky). But he shrugs off any Colombian rivalry.
"The most important thing is to always try 100 per cent. And if that makes the people happy, well, that's great, because I always try the absolute maximum. That is what people expect to see, and I always try to live up to those expectations. That is the biggest thing I can do."
Relaxed but determined to win the Tour de France
Uran prefers to be mentally relaxed and dislikes pressure, but he does want to win the Tour de France.
EF Education First-Drapac team manager Jonathan Vaughters has set overall victory as the ultimate goal in 2018 after Uran finished just 54 seconds down on Chris Froome in 2017. Every edition of the event is different, but Uran also believes in his chances.
Uran has already twice finished second at the Giro d'Italia (in 2013 and 2014), and Vaughters believes Uran is stronger than last year, with the route also better suiting Uran's opportunistic and intelligent style of racing. Vaughters has selected a strong team to help Uran in the stage 3 team time trial and on the cobbles of stage 9 in hopes that he starts the mountains close to the other overall contenders.
"We can say that the objective is to win the Tour, but for me, the most important thing is to get through this Tour day by day and have good health. If you can stay healthy, the legs will respond. The work has been done, the team is strong and ready, and I'm ready," Uran said, revealing his race philosophy.
"Things went great last year, but at the same time, I don't like to get too excited about things too early. I like to be more realistic and take things as they came. Of course, to win the Tour is possible, and that's why we're here."
Uran has ridden the five-day Tour de Slovenie as final race preparation after spending time at altitude in Colombia since Liège-Bastogne-Liège. However, he showed his form was rising with a stage victory and second overall behind local hero Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo).
"The preparation we've done since the beginning of the year went really well, and we are all concentrated as a team on what's ahead of us," he said.
"Every Tour is special, every year is difficult. There are some testing stages early on but there are a lot of mountains in the second and third week. Look, every Tour has something. The most important thing for me is to get a good night's sleep every night…"
Marginal gain bananas
Marginal gains may no longer be in fashion, but Uran reveals that the race food provided by the Education First team chef, and especially Colombian bananas, help him psychologically as well as giving him a dose of potassium.
"My secret is that we have a great team chef and she prepares great food from all over the world, from Europe, American and even Colombian," Uran said, keen to lighten up what was already a relaxed interview.
"My favourite? Bananas. I love bananas. They always try to get me bananas and when they cannot find them, my wife brings them from home. I even have a friend who mails me some special bananas from Colombia. Finding my bananas is my biggest stress."