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By Gabriella Ekström
It is now official that Patrick Serra will start the professional cycling team SIME together with Spaniard Vicente Morant. Spanish SIME works in the software business and has now signed a three year contract with Morant and Serra. The team will be registered as a TT2 and will start with 14 riders. SIME will recruit amateur riders from Swedish Team Mälarenergi and Spanish amateur Team SIME.
Gabriella Ekström: How will this team affect the Swedish sport of cycling?
Patrick Serra: The team is Spanish, since it is registered in Spain, but it will offer a great opportunity for Swedish and Nordic rider to join a professional team. I am hired by the main sponsor, and I will share all the responsibility with my team manager colleague Vicente Morant. I also hope it will have a positive affect on the sport in Sweden, because of the great TV coverage a TT2 will bring, and also because it will be easier for Swedish riders to join a professional team in Sweden. Today they have to go abroad on their own and arrange their own contacts.
We have a deal that says that no Nordic rider who hasn't been contracted by Team Mälarenergi first will be able to join the pro team. Hopefully it will also be easier for local clubs to recruit new riders in the future, thanks to the media coverage this team will bring. The team will also affect the Spanish sport of cycling. Today, Spain only has six division 1 and 2 teams and a lot of Spanish riders are racing in other countries, for example Portugal. (Compare with 12 teams in Italy.)
GE: What separates a TT2 from a TT3 like Team Crescent, Sweden's only "pro" team in 2001?
PS: A TT2 might get a chance to participate in all the big races, even the Tour de France. We are granted a start in Vuelta a España, one of the three Grand Tours on the cycling calendar. We will also participate in stage races in Italy, Portugal, France and Germany and maybe the Tour of Sweden and the Tour of Denmark as well.
GE: What will it take for an amateur rider to go through Team Mälarenergi and get a contract with the pro team?
PS: He has to have a strong motivation and a great deal of talent. He must also be prepared to work hard during several years if he wants to succeed as a professional.
GE: Will Team Mälarenergi keep working with female riders, and is there a chance that the team will contract even more women?
PS: We have a contract for Swedish races with Madeleine Lindberg, and we are very pleased with that. Right now there are no plans of contracting new female riders, but you never know.
GE: Isn't it risky to start a new team like this in these times of doping and scandal?
PS: After the Festina scandal, and all the hassle with the Finnish national skiers and the doping cases in the world of athletics, I think the sport of cycling has changed for the better. There is now a way to detect EPO, and that has made it a lot safer and easier to work with cycling.
GE: So cycling as a sport is back on its feet?
PS: Yes, definitely. Many things has changed and no other sport has as thorough and strong controls as cycling has.
GE: Is it possible to win races on "l'eau claire"?
PS: Yes of course.
GE: Are the tests sufficient?
PS: They are good but need to be updated frequently. As soon as a new medicine is discovered it is important that the IOC decides whether it will be on the list of banned products. It is also important that all countries and all sports can agree about which rules should be followed.
We have hired a doctor, recommended by the UCI (international cycling union) and he will have full responsibility for our riders. He will make sure that everything is in accordance with the rules. If there would be any violation of these rules, both he and the rider involved will be fired immediately. There is also a possibility that we will sue them both for damages in case of a violation of our rules.
Except all the regular doping tests, our riders will also be tested during training and pre-season. According to the new rules for professional riders, a health book will document each riders values, and therefore it will be easy to notice any changes.
We go further than just the normal tests, and I think that it shows we are taking this issue very seriously.
GE: Where will the team be based?
PS: The base will be in Benidorm, Spain and the riders will leave there. My wife Marie and I are planning to move there early next year.
GE: In which way will your new job be different from what you are doing today, with the amateur team Mälarenergi?
PS: I will be one of two team managers, and we will be sharing all responsibility. I will take care of most of the organisation, the sponsors and the press, and Vicente Morant will work more with the riders. We have also hired two mechanics and two masseurs, and we will hire more staff during big tours for example. We also have a secretary and a press officer.
GE: What will this challenge bring you on a more personal level?
PS: As you put it, it is a challenge but also a step closer to my own pro team. We now have a chance to perform as high as in the three big tours, and that is of course very stimulating for me and everyone in Team Mälarenergi.
GE: How long have you been thinking of creating a professional team?
PS: Since we started with the Isostar team in 1993. It hasn't been easy to find sponsors in Sweden, and we soon realised that even if we did find good sponsors in Sweden, we could never keep the riders as long as we couldn't offer them a program in line with the big races. In order to earn a ride in the big races, we would need lots of UCI points, and they come with the good and expensive riders, whom we could of course not afford.
Now we are guaranteed a spot in the Vuelta a España, and that means a lot of TV coverage, and that attracts the sponsors we need to pay the really good riders. We have tried to work this project out for three years now, and we was very close to a good deal already last year, but we didn't quite make it. This year we had more time, and we had more or less a deal in July.
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