Joseba Beloki's cycling dream team

In this run of features, Cyclingnews sits down with some of the sport's well-known personalities as they pick their cycling dream teams. This week, former Tour de France podium finisher, Joseba Beloki, selects his dream team of nine riders.

The Rules:

Each team must feature nine riders, one of which can be the rider selecting the team, in which case they would pick eight riders to join them. The riders chosen need to have been teammates with the person picking the team.

Joseba Beloki (ONCE)

I've chosen a lot of these people as dream team-mates, not just because of what they did but because of who they are as people, too. There are plenty of others I'd like to have on this dream team list, to mention just some of them, guys like Isidro Nozal, Santos Gonzalez, Ivan Gutierrez and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, but if I've got to go for eight, these are the ones.

Image Courtesy of Pro Cycling Trumps

Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Haimar was my first room-mate when we were team-mates in Euskaltel-Euskadi in 1998 and I have to say I envy him for all the years he's spent as a pro. We were rivals in the 2003 Tour, but we are also very good friends.

Haimar was with me right at the start of my professional career, and in particular I remember being with him in the Tour de l'Avenir that year, which I was on the point of winning. That result helped me see that stage racing was going to be my thing, because I was leading right the way up to the Madeleine, where it was snowing and I lost the lead on the descent and then on the road to Courchevel to Christophe Rinero [fourth overall and King of the Mountains that year in the Tour - ed.] Even though I lost, Euskaltel-Euskadi still celebrated something we achieved in that race, though, - I can't remember if it was winning a stage or getting somebody on the podium - and we all dyed our hair yellow to celebrate.

Haimar is the complete opposite to me as a rider, he's very calm, very collected and he's always stayed out of trouble. Nobody's got a bad word to say about him, he's been a pro for 20 years now and he's always been doing his work, plugging away. What we have in common is that we're both huge cycling fans, cycling has never been just a job, for either of us.

Felix García Casas (Festina)

I'm going to jump to my Festina year [2000] now, not because there aren't more people from Euskaltel-Euskadi I'd like to include, but because I won't have any space for other riders if I don't. I'd choose Felix because he was probably the most expert, veteran rider in Festina that year, my first and the one where I got on the podium of the Tour. Felix had been around since the big years of Festina with [Richard] Virenque, [Pascal] Hervé and so on and he was crucial for helping me out in the big mountain stages of that year's Tour. He was like a father to me.

I remember one stage of the Tour where there was a really stupid crash on the road to the Ventoux, just before Bedouin, Felix came off as well and I hurt one of my ribs and he was one of the key guys to help me get back on. And it worked out so well that I got third on the summit there behind Pantani and Lance [Armstrong], just ahead of [Jan] Ullrich. I had the feeling [in the crash] that the Tour was over for me, and Felix was the guy who kept on talking me through it, telling me that crashes like these happened every two days and that it wouldn't be the first or last time I'd be involved in one these crashes. So my memories of Felix couldn't be better.

Image Courtesy of Pro Cycling Trumps

Christophe Moreau (Festina)

This is a good moment for me to put things straight on one particular score: contrary to what people think there was no big power struggle between me and Christophe in Festina in the 2000 Tour [when Beloki finished third overall and Moreau fourth - ed.] Laurent Madouas was there, so was Christophe and there ended up being a bit of a French clique and a Spanish clique in the squad, but Juan [Fernández, director] played a very important role there in holding it all together. I remember in particular on the road to [the Alpine ski station] Courchevel that year, where Pantani won, and I was on a rough day and I'd had a bad time, again, on the Madeleine and it was Christophe who pulled everything together for our group. If he'd been a real bastard there have been points in the 2000 Tour where I think he'd have been able to move into third overall. But then I got things straightened out anyway in my favour on the Joux Plane so I was well-placed for the final time trial near the Vosges - close to where Christophe came from.

I remember that before the time trial, whilst we were doing our warm-ups, we gave each other a big hug to wish each other luck. The atmosphere in the team was very good; there was never a bad word between the two of us. The 2000 Tour was his big opportunity to get on the podium and he'd been chasing that for a long time, and in fact he ended up gaining time on me in the first part of the TT. But I then began to hold on better in the last part and I made it on the podium. Everybody thinks we had a really bad relationship and it was in fact the complete opposite. He couldn't have behaved better towards me.

Jose Azevedo (ONCE)

Azevedo was with me in ONCE when he was my room-mate, in the Tours and the Vueltas we did. He's more reserved than me, he's more like Haimar, but we always got on well as room-mates, we became great friends. He was a superb bike rider, he got sixth in one Tour [2002] and fifth in another [2004] and to feel that I was supported by him was something very special. But apart from all that, I remember him being such a great guy to help me out, off the bike as well. For instance, when we shared rooms we had similar kinds of schedules we'd got the same kinds of habits; bed early, up early, same kind of TV programs. He calmed me down because we got on so well. And then there was his sharing one of the best moments of my career which was - and I know this sounds odd - when I crashed on the descent to Gap in the Tour in 2003, Jose could have perfectly easily got another top ten finish, but what he did was to forget the Tour's GC and to stay by me where I was lying there injured.

That a rider who had so much at stake in the race was willing to do that, get down on his knees by where I was lying there and try and keep me calm - that mattered to me a lot. That was, I think, the best moment I ever had as a rider, the feeling that I was really appreciated by him and by Jorg Jaksche, too who also decided to stay there with me on the roadside and wait for the car or ambulance, even though it was clear I wasn't going to be getting up again. That was a very special kind of moment. So you could say whenever I had a battle to fight, Jose felt like my right hand.

Jörg Jaksche (Liberty Seguros-Würth)

Apart from being a great rider, he was somebody who always respected the hierarchy in a team and when he defended a leader, he defended that leader 100 percent - for better and for worse. Together with Abraham, I'd say he was one of the riders who defended me the most in a race. His strong point was in the team time trials, he was really fast, and I benefited from that. Our relationship has gone downhill a huge amount since then, I'd say it's non-existent now but in terms of this dream team, that's irrelevant: as a rider, on a sporting level, he was exceptional. And Jörg was another rider, together with Jose, who was good enough to stay with me when I crashed in Gap. I won't forget that.

Image Courtesy of Pro Cycling Trumps

Abraham Olano (ONCE)

The first time I came across Abraham as an amateur, in 1992 in Kaiku, when his team [CHCS] fell apart and he had to stop racing as a pro for a few months. I'd just come up from junior at that point so it was something very special to have him there in the squad. Then in 2001, when I joined ONCE, Jalabert and Zulle had both left by then, but to have a team-mate there like Abraham who was such a reference point when I was a young racer ten years before was very important for me. Abraham taught me so much and he was really good for guiding me through the final kilometres of the big bunch sprint stages where I always had a lot of problems staying on the right wheel near the front and I would be scared shitless, to be honest.

Abraham knew what he was doing, people forget but he'd started off racing as a sprinter, not a time triallist and in those bunch sprint finishes he calmed me down, would guide me through, and then of course there was the role he'd play in the team time trials too, particularly in 2002. Just to see him though, wearing exactly the same team kit as I was wearing but with the rainbow stripes of a former world champion on his, made me feel very proud indeed. People forget, too, he got second overall in the Giro d'Italia in 2001, quite late on in his career, but rather than just fending for himself and playing the GC leader, he was still willing to help other people and support me in the Tour. That’s something I value a lot about him, on a personal level and that's why I've chosen a lot of these people like him as dream team-mates, not just because of what they did but because of who they are as people.

Marcos Serrano (ONCE)

Marcos was a good racer for lots of reasons - like Abraham, he was experienced, he'd been in ONCE with Laurent Jalabert, and he knew how to read races - but for me, two things stand out. Above all, he'd say what he thought. He's one of the very few cyclists who, if he didn't like what I said, would tell me to my face. And another thing, he's a great communicator. He runs an amateur team now in Galicia and he knows how to teach the younger generation, he knows what to say and when to say it. You can see he loves the sport.

Carlos Sastre (ONCE)

This is the point where I start to have doubts because there are quite a few riders I'd still like to include, but I'm going to go for Carlos Sastre. It's funny, but I only seem to make friends when things go badly and I'll always remember Carlos being so supportive on two specific occasions. Firstly, in 2001 in the Tour when Lance had just attacked Ullrich [on Alpe d'Huez - ed] and my chain came off and Carlos backed me up completely as I battled to get back on. Carlos was always a bit of an individualist as a racer, but on that day he gave me full support.

Then there was the year when I got ill in the [2001] Vuelta a España [where Beloki was leading from stages 7-9]. Although the whole [ONCE] team stayed with me, Carlos and Chava [Jose María Jiménez], his brother-in-law, were probably the two strongest riders in the Vuelta that year. But Carlos stayed with me all the way down the Envalira and then up the climb to Pal, we lost a huge amount of time, but then the next day he was able to finish second in the time trial to Pal the next day. It was a really decent gesture on his part, and that's why I was so glad when he won the Tour in 2008.

Manager: Manolo Saiz

As my director, Manolo was superb at motivating people, at getting people to work in a team and at being incredibly thorough when it came to team tactics, paying attention to echelons, breakaways and so on. He taught me a lot and he was brilliant at keeping me, in particular, on my feet, right at the front of the bunch, always on guard. In some ways his team, though, didn't have to think for itself, more it was whatever Manolo explained about a stage strategy was explained by him right down to the last detail and who was to do it, when and where. But that was good because knowing exactly what we had to do meant there weren't any arguments between the riders. Instead we just got on with the job and with each other. He was very authoritarian, but that actually suited me, because mentally I wasn't that tough a rider myself. Everything had happened so fast to me [Beloki finished on the Tour podium in his third year as a pro, 2000, in his first ever Tour de France participation and second Grand Tour - ed.] that I hadn't had time to get used to it, and that's why I wasn't so tough.

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