Mid-career discipline changes from mountain biking to road racing are nothing new in cycling. Cadel Evans, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Jakob Fuglsang and plenty of others have made the discipline switch in the past.
Ondrej Cink is different. The 26-year-old Czech rider is making his debut at the Tour de France after just six months on the road. The Bahrain-Merida rider left the dirt for the tarmac this winter after Merida took the plunge and upped their investment in road racing. Unable to find a contract elsewhere, he followed the bike manufacturer into the sport.
Cink impressed quickly with a top 10 finish overall at the Ruta del Sol and top 20 at the Tour de Suisse. His efforts have earned him a berth in the Bahrain-Merida team. While he likely benefitted from Vincenzo Nibali's absence – which allowed the team to select a much broader line-up – it is an impressive effort by Cink to gain selection for the biggest race on the calendar so soon after turning to the road.
"It was always my dream to start in this race, and now I'm here, and it's unbelievable," Cink told Cyclingnews during the first week of the race. "I didn't expect this. It's unbelievable that I am here, but of course, I am very happy that I get this chance to be here, because it's my first year on the road after just six months, it's just crazy.
"I didn't expect that it would be so fast ,that I would not be so bad. Of course, it's not perfect. I still have to do a lot of work, but for the future it is good."
Road racing has been a steep learning curve for Cink, who had not properly raced in a group prior to this season. Small training rides and a few local races was the most experience he'd had of peloton riding. Cink has managed well and says that his skills developed as a mountain biker have helped him through much of the challenge, but he still gets nervous when it comes to the jostle for position.
"I did small races in my country but nothing special. I didn't have any experience, but now I am getting lots of experience," he laughed. "I think I have some good skills from mountain biking. How to ride the bike in the peloton and my feeling with the bike is quite good, then it was not so hard for me, but it is still a bit difficult, being nervous in the peloton, fighting for position in the front. I'm still a bit scared."
Cink signed a one-year contract with Bahrain-Merida when he moved to the road, meaning that he is free to do what he wants in 2018. Having tried out the road for a few months, he is enjoying it so much that he wants to stay put for a while. Where exactly he will be is up for debate as he discusses contracts with a few teams. Bahrain-Merida would clearly like to keep him, but there are rumours about a potential switch to Astana.
Whatever his destination, Cink has got a taste for stage racing, in particular, the Grand Tours, where former mountain bikers such as Evans and Ryder Hesjedal have found success in the past.
"I would like to be a good climber, and I would like to specialise in three-week racing."
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