Sunday, February 13, 2011

João Correia Interview

Thinking of take a bike trip soon? Check out Joao Correia's tour company inGamba. Ride like PROs, with PROs.

(João Correia raced for Cervelo in 2009 after not racing PRO for about ten years. Many of you might have seen The New York Times article about him. Here's the interview I did with him.)


BikeBoy: How the fuck do you pronounce your name?

João Correia: It’s not an easy name to pronouce but try jewaoh and it will come pretty close. I’ll let you in on a little secret. It means John.

BB: So you actually used to work for Bicycling (the Fred manual)?

JC: I did. I ran the advertising side of the magazine for five years. We liked to think of ourselves as a magazine that brought people into the sport and then helped them grow in the sport. I wouldn’t call us the Fred manual. We didn’t have any guys named Fred there and the incident about the guy using the clip mirror on the helmet has been widely blown out of proportion by the media. He had it coming for other reasons, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

BB: Did your job there help you get your contracts with Bissell and Cervelo?

JC: My job at Bicycling put me in a place to be noticed by those guys for sure. Bissell and Cervelo were two different opportunities. With Bissell the owner of the team at the time Mark Olson got to know me since I did a race as a guest rider for Priority Health the year before and he liked me and liked my story. At the end of the season he had a spot and asked me if I wanted it. It was a great fit for me since I could keep working and race for fun and I think for them since they could use my story. As for Cervelo they really liked the story and it fit in well with the philosophy of the team and after they saw my tests on their lab they decided to take a chance. But if I hadn't been at the magazine I think it would have been hard to have those conversations that I had. I always say that it gets you a spot at the table but doesn't get you in the game. Your legs have to get you in the game.

BB: What made you quit PRO racing in the first place, back in ‘96?

JC: Various reasons but let’s just say that it was a though environment back then and I had a running scholarship to a good school here in the US so it wasn’t a hard decision.

BB: How long did it take you from being sedentary to actually signing?

JC: A few years but the cliff notes version is that I rode a few times per week in 2006 then at the end of that year in November I started working with Max Testa and Nanna Mayer out of TOSCH in Salt Lake City. 2007 I was training and racing as a Cat 1 in the US, then 08 and 09 I rode for Bissell always working full time then 2010 back in the European peloton just racing. Actually I did some racing and a whole lot of suffering.

BB: Looks like you rode two years for Bissell before jumping to Cervelo.

JC: Right. I did. It was a great team and having a job at the same time the perfect set up for me. Great group of guys.

BB: So you got to ride with

JC: He’s a stud. Yup he was there my last year at Bissell was his first.

BB: Do they give him shit about that?

JC: No Paul is a real talent. That was easy to see. One of those people that you find in the US that if he had been born say in Belgium or France would have been one of the stars in the sport.

BB: Then, how did you make the jump from one van and sharing a TT bike to Cervelo?

JC: Uh I never shared a TT bike. Actually had a home TT bike and a race TT bike thank you very much. On the equipment front we were lucky at Bissell that we were well taken care of. I had the opportunity to return to Europe in 2008 but the timing wasn’t right. At the end of the day for me was being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. It was all pretty much luck really.

BB: That must have been a pretty serious relief, you were working full time while on Bissell right?

JC: Yes, when I was on Bissell I did it for fun and I took it seriously but I was working full time, training in Central Park a night and then flying to races on the weekend. But my job was at the magazine and at home with my family. Those were always the main priorities. My wife might disagree but I’m sticking to my answer.


BB: Favorite race?

JC: From this season it was Catalunya. Just a great race and one where I was able to do my job for the team every day.

BB: Favorite country to race in?

JC: Spain. I loved racing in Spain. It’s a great county and I got on well with the Spanish guys. Good hotels, good food, late starts. What else do you need. I think we were getting up at 9 or 10 a.m. and the stages would start at 1 or so.

BB: One of your posts said you went 74, was that the fastest you had gone?

JC: I think that was it. It must have been at the Tour of Switzerland.

BB: One of your posts you hit an ambulance in the Tour of Switzerland, and the guy wanted you to pay for the damage?

JC: Yes, right. I came out of a turn and the ambulance was in the middle of the road and I had nowhere to go so I just clocked it sideways and literally went into it. Still a favorite joke of one of my sports directors. But man it was bad. Later that night in the hospital the driver asked my doctor who was going to pay for the damage to the hospital and when my doctor translated it I started laughing and told the guy that now would be a good time for him to start walking away. That was that. (

BB: Were you the only guy descending at that time? What were they doing in the road?

JC: Yeah I was by myself and there was a group of 10-20 guys about a minute up so I was trying to catch them so that I didn’t come in DFL. Thor was in that group and after the crash I could hardly pedal but still managed to cross the line. The next day I wasn’t able to bend my leg fully so they pulled me. I was actually trying to start and asked the mechanic to bring me my bike since I was on crutches and got on it but I knew right away that I wasn’t going to be able to do a stage since I couldn’t get out of the saddle.

BB: Pissing on the bike? Down the leg or do you pull down the bibs?

JC: Most of the times you just stop. Usually there are plenty of times to stop during stages when you need to pee. You just can’t do it when its going full gas. There are guys that do it on the bike but 95% of the guys stop. Normally the stage starts and its a war to get in the break. Shuffling, re-shufling some guy yells Piss Stop and sometimes that’s it. Break sticks and you cruise for a while. If the break doesn’t stick like in one stage of Catalunya where we did 106 Km in the first two hours you don’t have time to stop or Piss for that matter. But in the races I did that was rare. Ted King was always telling me stories of fast starts in the races he was doing and they wouldn’t turn off the gas for 2 hours. I was lucky. I got to do the nice races in Spain where they’re civilized.

BB: Funniest guy in the peloton?

JC: Man that is a though one. Zabriskie can be funny when he’s not being just simply odd. Sastre is funny and I was the comedian in the gruppetto. Technically I was the boss of the gruppetto. Or at the very least the most consistent rider in it.

BB: Does everyone understand each other? I mean it’s a pretty multilingual peloton. I’m guessing you speak a few languages but were there ever times where two guys just couldn’t communicate?

JC: Yeah everybody understands eachother pretty well. I mean its a small group and you are always racing with eachother so when you’re new you’re new and keep to yourself but slowly you start integrating and talking to guys and its pretty easy. Most guys speak English as well, except the French they only speak French which is a little odd. The Scandanavians and Dutch speak English like they’re natives and even though Jeremy Hunt is technically English nobody can understand a word he says.

BB: How many times did you crash during the season?

JC: I went down let’s see twice I think. Rund Um Koln and Switzerland. I think that was it. Wait twice in Switzerland on the same day so three times. But everybody goes down. It’s part of the sport and its going to happen. At Koln I remember I was having a really good day. It was funny because our sports director Jens Zemke told us in the morning meeting not to go with any moves unless the big teams were in it and as soon as the race starts boom one of my spanish teammates Oscar Pujol attacks. He gets brought back then goes again. I’m looking at Novoa and just laughing my ass off. Then on the radio I hear “Hey Oscar wat are you doing?” He could see everything on the TV in the car. Anyways the break gets away and were riding good tempo and at the feed zone I take my bag as usual throw it over the shoulder and am taking stuff out with my right hand while the other one is on the drop and we’re just flying through there. Stretched out and doing 50K/h or something like that. All of a sudden I hit a bottle somebody drops and wham hit the deck. I don’t even remember going down. All I remember is getting up quickly and then somebody hit me and I go down again. Next thing I know Sander our mechanic is next to me and off I go. You have a ton of adrenaline going through you when that happens and I’m just flying. Passing guys left and right and going through small groups like I’ve got no chain. The car catches me and Sander pops out the window to “check” my break and we’re moving at a ridiculous speed to get back in the caravaan. I make it back at the base of a climb and the race starts to shatter and that was it that day. My gas just ran out and I was in the last group. The other two were in Switzerland and the first one I’m coming off the main climb it was raining at the bottom there was a left turn into a roundabout and my rear wheel just skidded out and I went backwards into the crowd still on my bike. I never hit the floor. Then later that day I went down hard into the ambulance. When I came out of that corner the thing was in my line and I had no chance. I locked up the bike went sideways, I let go of the brakes it straightened out and I hit the Rabobank car that was parked behind it to slow down a bit and then just went side ways into the stretcher sticking out the back of the ambulance. When I hit I thought for sure I had broken my leg but it was only fractured. Laurence Ten Dam was on the floor at that time since he had a bad crash a few minutes before and I he was in bad shape. That’s how we met and later became great friends. Go figure. At the time I thougth I gotta get out of here. He was screaming pretty badly from the accident.

BB: Were there ever races where you could just do whatever? You didn’t have to work for anyone?

JC: Absolutely. Cervelo was an incredible team from that perspective. Great teammates and sports directors and everybody had their chances. My main job was to work for the team but If there was an opportunity to do something for myself I could do it as long as it didn't impede the overall goals of the team which was what was most important for us. But for me I knew my limitations the first year. To be there in the finale was going to be really hard so I could save everything and finish 40th or I could work my ass off and finish 120th. I was always happy to do the later. The team was a special place.

BB: You were living in Italy during the latter half of the Season? France before then?

JC: Yup I was in Monaco until June with Thor and then went to Italy since our schedules weren’t the same and I was never seeing the guy anyways. In Italy I lived outside of Siena in an area I know pretty well. Biking paradise. No traffic and just miles and miles of awesom roads.

BB: So tell us about the end of the season, you were wanting an offer from Cervelo or ready to hang it up?

JC: No I wanted to continue for sure but not at any cost. It’s a very hard lifestyle and especially for somebody like me who had been away for so long but I wanted to continue to see what the second year would be like. But I’ve got a family and spent 20 days with them this year so that was hard. I like to eat and as a pro cyclist you can’t really do that and then there is the money. Cervelo took really good care of me and if I was going to continue I needed to be able to take care of my family and if I couldn’t do that then I was going to stop. The offer that I had was with a good team but it was for my market value as a rider and that’s not much above minimum salary. Couldn’t do it, but also thought I did that and now want a new challenge.

BB: What do you think of some of the recent changes by the UCI with regards to equipment and race radios?

JC: The sport is really fragmented. At the end of the day all the stake holders (riders, teams, race organizers, UCI) aren't sitting at the table and collaboratively worked towards a solution and that's what needs to happen to make progress. But that is easier said than done. I think the race radio situation is a perfect example. The riders and teams voted and then the UCI made a decision based on what they wanted to do and not on what the input from the riders and teams was. Because I know I voted and I saw the voting results and it wasn't even close that riders wanted the radios. So in order for there to be change everybody needs to give a little. The tour should share some of the TV revenue with the teams, that would help solve financial constraints, the UCI needs to talk to the bike manufacturers and listen to the bike manufacturers when they are making decisions that affect their products not make them in a vacuum. The teams need to look understand that the sport is becoming global and that is a really important thing and they need to embrace that. And the riders need to look at themselves as brands and do the right things with their image and how open they are to fans.


BB: Headphones?

JC: Most of the times since I trained alone. Never when with other guys.

BB: Chamois cream? Type?

JC: For sure. I used the Ozone stuff from Elite. It was great.

BB: Favorite guys to train with?

JC: Thor and Richie Porte were the people I regularly trained with. Then in Italy by myself since I lived in the middle of nowhere.

BB: Watts? Max? Endurance? Winter? (all the cat 3 phenoms are dying to know)

JC: Numbers are numbers and they are only a gage for you to train by. I think my highest FTP was 360 and I weighted 65-66 Kg at the time. But I’m not sure that means anything to somebody else. The load of training was high and it was consistent so it’s doing those watts after 5 hours that matters. Also I trained for what my job was on the team and that was being a worker. I was never there in the end when you need the really big numbers. I just needed to be consistent until go time. I did a ton of mediums in training at 300 Watts or so and then a lot of motor pacing at the end of my rides. For me it was about being able to ride tempo for long periods of time day in and day out. (

BB: Are you still on the Q rings?

JC: Yup they are great. The first time I used them the guy from Rotor came up to me at the top of the climb in training camp and asked how I liked them and I didn’t even realize they were on the bike so I never noticed a negative effect. I thought I was climbing with one extra gear because of them.

BB: How did the training change since before?

JC: Night and day. I trained by with power, heart rate and cadence and in the old days it was by feel and in the end by heart rate. Today its a totally different thing. If you have a huge engine it doesn’t matter since it will come out but if you’re a normal good rider then you need to live the life to get good. Training, rest, diet is the key.

BB: How did you lose all the weight?

JC: My weight loss is a complicated story but basically I stopped over eating and over drinking. I love food and wine and I often abused it. I started working with a nutritionist named Nanna Meyer who helped me put meal plans together that worked for weight loss and training. Funny thing is that I was still eating plenty and I rode my bike. If you have discipline and the right plan its possible. It takes time though.


BB: You live in Manhattan or Brooklyn?

JC: Brooklyn. Right by the Brooklyn Bridge.

BB: Still riding your Cervelos or did you have to give those back?

JC: I still have my bikes. I bought them all at the end of the year for me and some friends.

BB: What about the kits? You still wear those?

JC: Only until the end of the year. I’m not a pro anymore so I have no business wearing the kit. But I’m still wearing Castelli clothing.

BB: I imagine you have pretty massive street cred there in NYC?

JC: I don’t know about that. NYC is a though town and I don’t really brag that I was a pro rider. Outside of the cycling community nobody cares. Inside the cycling community I think people know but I don’t see a lot of those guys since I was in Europe most of the time. When I came home I’d do a local race or two in the city to see friends and support the promoters. But always for fun.

--Many thanks to João for doing the interview!

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