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An interview with Charly Wegelius

Life at Mapei-Quickstep

By Mark Sharon

Come up to the lab...
Photo: © Mark Sharon
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23-year-old Charly Wegelius, the Briton with the Finnish name, joined Mapei in 2000. After spending two years with the 'Gruppo Giovanni', the young rider's group, Wegelius has 'graduated' to the top team for the 2002 season and has already seen action at the Tour de Langkawi.

Wegelius reacts sharply to the idea that some cycling journalists back home in Britain don't seem to realise he has been with Mapei so long.

Charly Wegelius: "Some people think that the first two years weren't serious but that's not true. I was a full professional for the two years with the development squad – I have already ridden the Tour of Flanders".

CN: Why did you join Mapei-Quickstep?

CW: "It certainly wasn't for the money. They [Mapei] offered me less than all the other teams did. In the first year I was paid 45 million lire (approximately £15,000), but when you are offered the chance to work in a dedicated squad of riders, with a 100 days of racing plus hotels and thousands of miles of travelling its difficult to turn it down. When the biggest team in the world says it wants to develop you as a rider it is quite flattering."

CN: What's the most difficult thing about fitting in?

CW: "I had to learn the language as fast as I could. In an Italian team verbal communication is very important. Italians talk a lot. As an outsider it is important to make yourself available and be part of the group. Learning Italian was a big help. If you don't make an effort it can be seen as not wanting to fit in."

Photo: © Mark Sharon
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CN: Does Mapei-Quickstep have a programme worked out for you?

CW: "Mapei invest in young riders hoping to find a champion, but they are not stupid. They realise that not everyone is going to be one, but they are patient. I haven't won anything yet, but they seem to see something in me. Mapei is very clear about the way things are done. They ask for hard work, but not at any cost. That's why they don't force you to."

CN: Do you think it would have been easier for you if you had been an Italian?

CW: "For Italians it comes naturally. If you are good at sport at school you will probably go into football or cycling. More importantly you don't have to make the break away from home. In Italy and France, you can just live normally. There are people in Britain who could have been some of the best in Europe but chose to stay at home. I can understand why. Then again look at the Australians and South Africans who have had to come and live here and have made a success of it. I think once you make the decision you have to as well as you can."

CN: Does Mapei-Quickstep look after you well in a material sense?

Cake also by Mapei
Photo: © Bettini
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CW: "The team pays for an apartment. It is out at Verano Borghi near Lago Maggiore. I share it with [Evgeni] Petrov. I get five bikes a year, but top riders like Tafi and Garzelli get ten, including special climbing bikes. Last year's race bike becomes this year's training bike. There is a steady stream of clothing coming through right up to June. There must be 40 pairs of shorts at all kinds of weights, from Roubaix to ones with perforated sidewalls. The socks just come in a big box.

"The biggest shock has been the tyres. When I started with Mapei I used to wonder how, after each race, even when it was raining, the next day the mechanics had managed to get the sidewalls so clean. When I was an amateur I used to spend hours scrubbing at them. The mechanic looked at me as if I was mad and said 'we just put new ones on'."

CN: What was the worst thing that has happened so far?

CW: "Getting sick in 2001. When I came back from the US I found that I had picked up a bug – mono-nucleosis. I made the mistake and kept riding and dug myself into a hole. I had a combination of the bug and over-training, so I was off the bike for three months. Luckily I was allowed the time to get over it with the guys in Sport Service Mapei making sure I didn't come back too soon."

CN: Who are you closest to on the team?

CW: "Of the riders I spend the most time with [Stefano] Zanini, [Stefano] Garzelli, and [Danielle] Nardello. They are all guys who live locally. I get on with Garzelli particularly well. He may not say much, but he is really nice. He takes you for what you are and you take him as he is. Nardello made me feel at home when I joined. Of the junior riders I get on well with [Filippo] Potzatto and [Luca] Paolini. From the staff I work well with Michele del Gallo, one of the masseurs. I have been with since I turned pro. He is not at every race I do, but I am with him when he is. I like the way he works."

CN: How much do you have to do with Britain?

Photo: © Marcus Mok
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CW: "Now my life is here in Italy with the team. I have an Italian girlfriend, and I go home less and less. Mapei pays for trips home and wonders why I don't go home more often. The next time will probably be after the Giro. I doubt I will be doing the Commonwealth Games. They [Mapei-Quickstep] don't understand what it is. It also comes at the end of my rest period in July, and the Vuelta comes in August. I don't think the team would appreciate it if I went."

CN: What does Charly Wegelius expect of himself?

CW: "My first aim is to develop into a good stage race rider. I am quite a realistic person and people think I am under-achieving, but when you are riding with a team like this you realise just how good you have to be. My aim is to be a good helper, especially on the climbs. I am a good climber, so if a top rider needs someone to be with them when it matters I want to be that person. People who ride in that position have a high market value. Some people don't like to give away their own chances to win, but for me to see someone I have helped to win is as good as winning. I just want to be recognised for what I do. It's hard explaining to people in the UK it is not that easy to win, but when I started I never thought I would get this far."

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