This story was written by Esteban Chaves, exclusively for L’Étape Australia.
In Colombia we have a word to call our best friends: Paceros. I never thought I would find that out of home, until I arrived in Melbourne in December 2013.
It was my first training camp with a World Tour Team (GreenEDGE) and the first time I went to Australia. Everything was new for me, the huge airport, people riding on the left side of the car, but most of all, the language since I couldn’t understand any single world in Australian (English). It was very exciting for me to be part of one of the best cycling teams in the world, my expectations were high and I could not wait to see how did it work.
From Melbourne we went to Nagambie were the team owner, Gerry Ryan, had a nice hotel set up for our training camp. At the bus, riders and staff started to sing “I won’t back down” which later, I understood it was kind of the team anthem. We arrived at the hotel at 3 a.m. I was exhausted after the 24-hour flight from Milano and all I could think was laying on my bed and falling asleep. My roomies, Michael Albasini from Switzerland and Daryl Impey from South Africa were out, so I arrived and went directly to bed. I was in the middle of a dream, wondering how all this was my life dream, when I suddenly felt my world turned all over. When I open my eyes I saw my roommates laughing as Albasini had turned my bed. I have to admit I was shocked and I remember thinking “Oh my God, this is going to be hard, these guys are going to bully me” but fortunately I was wrong.
Next morning, Alba -as we call him- apologised and training camp was on! At the 4-hour ride, I saw a big guy wearing Team Sky kit such as I was wearing my Team Colombia kit since season 2013 was not over. He was the most serious guy I have ever seen, he was that serious that I thought he was from Germany (sorry for the stereotypes). After training, we had team meetings, where of course I could not understand a word. I knew they were explaining how the team was managed since there was an organisational chart projected on the screen and I knew they were talking of medical matters since it was a doctor who was talking. After the last meeting, Michael Hepburn (best known as Heppy) arrived with his cricket kit and invited everyone to play. I did not have any clue of the rules of the game but I played with them and even though we didn’t understand each other, they always make me feel as part of the team.
There were only three people who spoke a language I understood. Neil Stephens, my Australian dad, who had learned Spanish in his days as a rider, and Simon Clarke and Brett Lancaster who spoke Italian. But they only used their language skills in case of emergency, when it was something vital I needed to know. I remember I was very happy when I found Clarckey and Brett spoke Italian and how fast my intention of communicating with then was cut. I started to talk to Lancaster in Italian and his answer was: “Dude we are in an Australian team so please talk to me in English”. Neil had the same attitude and now, I understand why: they wanted me to be part of the team because cycling is all about that, it is team work what makes big things happen but also what makes it so much fun.
Our second destination at the training camp (it was more like a training travel) was Canberra. I was overwhelm with the High Performance Center, an amazing place full of sports facilities and a research centre. I could not believe how pro they were and that is something I really admire from my team: they are constantly innovating and researching how to make everything better, training programs, bikes mechanics, nutrition, EVERYTHING, they leave nothing to chance. The perfect example is Marc Quod, our performance director, who knows how to take the best out of every single one of the riders.
Despite the serious work, not everything was performance, times and metrics. We also had time to have a nice barbie around a fire, a guitar and it was there were I found out another thing I love of being part of this team: we all treat each other as friends around a fireplace in t-shirt and swimsuit. Every member of the team is as important as the team owner, the sport director and the leader. We know each other and we are a big group of friends.
After some days in Canberra, some riders went to Bright for some days in the mountains of Victoria (I love that place). We had a WhatsApp group were we were informed everything of the program and the activities we had. That morning, there was no message nor instruction in the group so I decided to stay at the hotel room. I was laying on my bed listening to music (probably some salsa) when the serious German looking guy arrived and with hand signs he told me we had to go. As always he was very well dressed and had his hair combed so I thought I had forgotten a team meeting or some serious stuff. I did not get what he was saying but I dressed up quickly and went with him. We walked some blocks and we arrived at a nice local café. All he wanted was to have a coffee with me, so I spent the next couple of hours having some coffees with the one and only: Mathew Hayman.
Since that moment and using Google Translator, he taught me one of the biggest lessons during my career: talent is nothing without a strong and big heart. It is incredible to see how he, after 17 years as a pro cyclist, was willing to work harder on everything, to care about every single detail at the same time he cares about his team mates, his family, friends and he let himself be surprised with daily things.
Thank you Boss for making me feel at home always!
FUN FACT – First time I tried Vegemite:
“Going to Australia without trying Vegemite is like not going at all” that is what everyone told me so I decided to give it a chance. At breakfast, Dan Jones gave me some…A SPOON!! I hated it, they all laughed, at the end at laughed of myself and now, every time I go to Australia, I take some home and eat it with some bread.
Esteban Chaves team’s backstage – Giro 2016
Esteban Chaves will share more exclusive behind-the-scene stories during his Clinic on Friday 29th November in Jindabyne. Tickets are limited and can be purchased in the registration process or via the L’Étape Australia Merchandise store.
Place of birth: Bogota, Colombia
Date of Birth: 17th Januay 1990 (29)
Joined Mitchelton-SCOTT: 2014
-2nd Overall : Giro Italia 2016
-3rd Overall : Vuelta a España 2016