Ask a young professional rider to list his hobbies and it’s not too often that the response will be 'studying,' but then there has been precious little typical about Matej Mohoric's path to this point.
After achieving the unprecedented feat of becoming world road champion at junior and under-23 level in successive years, the Slovenian became the youngest rider in the WorldTour when he joined Cannondale last year at the age of just 19.
Yet between stepping up to the rigours of professional racing and taking a crash course in Italian, the lingua franca of his new team, Mohoric decided to sign on for an online course in sports management at the University of Southern Denmark.
"I just decided to do it because I missed school, I missed sitting behind the books," Mohoric told Cyclingnews. "It was an online university course, through English. The first three semesters were actually on tourism and organisational behaviour and then afterwards it becomes sports management."
As 2015 drew on, however, the difficulty of combining the student life with that of a WorldTour rider began to make itself felt and, reluctantly, Mohoric opted out of his university programme. "I did the first semester but once the season started properly it became more difficult," he said. "I had a greater volume of training, more travel and often there's no internet connection in the hotel, so I said I'd stop because it was taking up too much time. But I'll see. Maybe I'll get back to it in future."
For the time being, Mohoric's lessons will come primarily from the school of hard knocks that is the WorldTour peloton and here, too, he has already proven a willing student. History is littered with successful amateurs who struggle to re-calibrate their ambitions on entering the professional ranks, but Mohoric is happy to serve an apprenticeship.
"I had absolutely no problem with not winning, I expected that," he said of a debut season where 5th place on a stage of the Tour of Alberta was the high points in terms of results. "I knew that it was time to train, to absorb this work and the effort we put into our profession. But it was a good year, a decent year. I gained a lot of experience, and I finished most of the races I started so that was a good thing."
2015 sees a further change for Mohoric, who was part of the delegation of riders from the old Cannondale set-up who joined the revamped Cannondale-Garmin squad following the merger with Slipstream Sports. His first appearances in lime green argyle came at the Challenge Mallorca, and speaking at the team's training camp in Port d'Alcudia last week, he was enthusiastic about the set-up.
"I had a contract so there was nothing I could do about it but I always had respect for the Garmin team because I think Slipstream Sports is a great organisation and we had good vibes," he said. "Now that I'm here, my respect is actually even bigger because I really like the way the team is functioning."
One practicality of the move is that Mohoric has been able to begin working with his coach from his junior and under-23 days, Milan Erzen, after a year spent under the watch of Sebastian Weber – who, incidentally, also moved across to Cannondale-Garmin as part of the merger.
"It's not compulsory anymore to be coached by the team [as it was at Cannondale – ed.] and I preferred to take my personal coach back because I trust him and I believe in what we do. And so far it seems like it was a good decision," Mohoric said. "I'm excited about seeing the progress."
As was the case last year, Mohoric will measure his progress by performance rather than by results in 2015, though he has a brace of short stage races highlighted on his programme as useful interim tests. "Races like the Tour of the Basque Country in April or the Tour de Romandie might fit my characteristics well," he said. "I won't win but I'll definitely come there well prepared and ready to help my teammates as well. I think it's important to first be part of the team before the day comes when you're the one who tries to win."
In his amateur career, Mohoric showed remarkable dexterity to win across a range of terrains, but at the highest level, a greater degree of specialization is required. His first world title came on a course for puncheurs in Valkenburg, the second on the demanding Florence parcours, and it remains to be seen if he will major in the Ardennes Classics or in stage races.
"I like climbs and time trials, so I'm quite good in shorter stage races but for now I'm too young to think about the Grand Tours," he insisted. "I also like the really tough one-day races like Lombardy or Liège. I did Liège last year and I loved it, but we'll see what the future brings.
"For now, the objective is to help the team and when the time comes, I'll probably make a switch to short stage races and tough one-day races. And then maybe, one day, to the Grand Tours."
It's all a learning process.
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