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Peter Velits: the modest champion

An interview with Peter Velits, May 3, 2008

Peter Velits burst onto the international scene when he won the U23 World Championship in Stuttgart last September. The win also brought him (as well as his twin brother Martin) a ProTour contract with Team Milram. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer caught up with the modest Slovakian just before Liège-Bastogne-Liège to see how he is adjusting to the ProTour.

23-year-old Peter Velits is one of several exciting new talents in the ProTour peloton. The Slovakian, along with his twin brother Martin formed part of Team Milram's young squad this season. While Peter hasn't yet brought in any wins this season, his aggressive riding style and past palmares suggest that a break-out season is coming soon. As a member of Continental Team Konica Minolta in 2005-2006 he took a number of wins, including the Slovakian U23 time trial title. Last year he moved up to Professional Continental team Wiesenhof-Felt, where he won the Grand Prix de Fourmies, before going on to win the U23 Worlds title in Stuttgart.

Winning the U23 Worlds title "was a great feeling," he said. "I didn't fully realize it until two weeks after the event." The title was important to him for two reasons. "It was a good experience for me to see that it is possible for me to set a goal, prepare yourself for it for a long time and then to achieve it. That made me very proud and showed me that it is worth while to prepare yourself for a goal because it is really possible to achieve it."

There was a more practical reason, too. "Besides this, it was the opening day to the big cycling circus and I have a lot of good memories of this day!" Velits had good reason to be happy about the Milram contract. Not only was he joining the ProTour, but he was assured that he would be able to continue riding – the sponsor of his Team Wiesenhof-Felt had already announced that it would stop at the end of the season, and ultimately the team had to fold.

He turned pro in 2005 with Team Konica Minolta, and says that there is a big difference between the South African Continental team and the ProTour Team Milram. "Last year Wiesenhof-Felt was a big step if you take a look at the quality of the service and of the races. And now Team Milram is definitely the top. I don't think it can be more professional than what I experience here."

Velits, 23, got off to a quiet start this season with his new team, which is slowly bringing him along. His first ProTour race was in March, and he showed the fearlessness of a more seasoned racer on the opening stage. "I was very happy with the first stage at Paris-Nice," he said, where he escaped along with team-mate Niki Terpstra and High Road's Bernhard Eisel after only 10 km. The trio stayed away with an advantage of up to more than four minutes before finally being caught with 14 km to go.

His next highlight was the Vuelta al País Vasco. He finished seventh in the first stage, and was able to hold onto his top ten overall placing until the fifth stage, when he came down with a cold that dropped him down. Despite that, the slender blonde said, "It was a good race for me."

That cold caused him to miss some training, and his next big race was Fleche Wallonne, which he didn't finish. Speaking before Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Velits said, "I expect that it will be a long day. A very hard race especially the last 100 kilometers. I hope I can help the team because I don't feel in a good shape at the moment. The legs are still not 100 percent." He finished the race in 11'15" after winner Alejandro Valverde – but he finished.

Meanwhile, Velits sees his future more in stage races than in one-day races. "I feel more like a stage racer than like a one-day racer," he said. "At a stage race, I feel better day after day and my performance usually gets better the more days I ride. The one-day races sometimes are too hectic for me. I mean, I like them both, but I feel more comfortable in the stage races."

He doesn't know whether he will ride one of the Grand Tours this year for the first time. "I can't really tell. Of course it would be nice if I get the chance," he said in a modest understatement. "But the decision is made by the team management. I will try to do my best to get into the team of one of the Grand Tours."

Other than the Grand Tours, he, like so many others, has his eye on the two big highlights of the year. As a Slovakian, he doesn't have so much competition to make the national team, so both the Olympic Games and the Worlds are on his calendar. "If I stay healthy and have the good form, it looks like I will participate in both events. I'm really looking forward to both because I think it will be a great experience."

Looking further to the future, he knows that Milram will be searching for new team captains for the future, and that he is often mentioned as one of their hopes. He remains as modest and down-to-earth about that prospect as does about everything else. "I don't feel any pressure from any side," Velits noted. "Not in the races and not if we talk about the future. If the management is really thinking about me in such a position, it is challenging for me. But we have to see how I will develop in the future."

Currently racing at the Tour de Romandie, the team says it is "placing its hopes" on the youngster, after his strong spring. While Velits says that he is "still not 100 percent fit," but the race will serve to provide him and the other young Milram riders with much-needed additional ProTour experience.

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