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An interview with Juan Esteban Curuchet, June 7, 2004
Saving the best till last
It took 20 years for Juan Curuchet to become world champion. And after their performances this year, he and his Madison partner Walter Perez now have a real chance at taking Olympic gold. Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez Macias spoke with Curuchet about his win in Melbourne, the prospect of Olympic gold and more.
After Juan Curuchet and his partner Walter Perez won the Madison in the final round of the UCI Track World Cup in Sydney, eventually finishing second overall, their world championship victory in Melbourne two weeks later was a well-deserved prize for two real fighters.
At 39 years old, Curuchet is 10 years older than his team-mate Perez and began racing with his brother Gabriel over 20 years ago. In fact, the Curuchet brothers were poised to obtain a medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, but a bad end left them with nothing but a fifth place.
Perez is a remarkable track rider in his own right and very used to competing at the top level. So when Gabriel Curuchet retired a few years ago to become the president of the new Argentinean Cycling Federation (UCRA), his younger brother Juan decided to continue racing together with Perez in the Madison, which has now become their speciality.
Cyclingnews: What was it like to win in Melbourne?
Juan Curuchet: I think it was a very important triumph because I had to wait very long to achieve it - after 20 years. It was nice to win because I had been waiting so long for a victory like this... my first appearance at a world championship was in 1983. I had a chance of winning an Olympic medal in 1984 and I lost it just 20 laps before the end. I obtained two silver medals and seven bronze medals, but I lacked the gold medal.
CN: Is this the proof of the excellent time that you are having as a duo?
JC: Yes, I think we are currently in a good sporting moment. We also won gold medals in the World Cup for Argentina, not only in the world championships. When one is in a good physical moment, he has to enjoy it and obtain the best results that he can.
CN: What are we going to see of you two in the Olympic Games in Athens?
JC: We are feeling very positive after a good year and that gives us much strength because, as you can imagine, the same riders who did well at the World's are going to do well in Greece. We are very excited about competing in the Olympics, we have many expectations. I think we are going to perform very well in the Games.
CN: Do you dare to say how will you end up in Athens 2004? Are you capable of taking a medal?
JC: We're aiming for the gold medal, that's for sure. We have a good chance because we are the world champions and there is a reason for that, so we are aiming to win. The strategy is to win, not just for a result. At this time of our sporting career, we should give it our all.
CN: Who will you fight against for the medals in Greece?
JC: These will be the same riders who have been racing against us in the past. I think the Swiss team will be tougher in the Olympic Games; the Dutch team is a very strong team too. Then you have France and New Zealand [Greg Henderson and Hayden Roulston were recently named as part of the NZ Olympic team-Ed] with good riders. Australia also has a good team that is going to improve in sporting terms. As these teams have some things to improve and learn, this is our time to win.
CN: Did you dream of winning the world championships after many silver and bronze medals?
JC: I never lost hope. I think that I if kept riding - currently I am 39 years old - it was because I had the hope of winning. I think the key was to keep on believing in myself and also my perseverance. Always do things with passion, that's the way to get results.
CN: How did you like Australia as a country?
JC: Spectacular! It's incredible, incredible. I loved Melbourne, much more than Sydney. The reason is that I was in Melbourne's downtown and in Sydney's suburbs. I didn't see Sydney's nice places. I saw Melbourne as a spectacular city, great for tourism, so developed, very well organized.
CN: What do you think about the organization?
JC: It was ok. Apart from that there were some mistakes from the judges, but this has nothing to do with the organization because judges are named by the UCI. There were some serious mistakes, I mean, evident mistakes. The organization itself, the stadium, the track, everything was spectacular. The stadium, the facilities that we had, we felt really well.
CN: In your opinion, how can track cycling become more popular in the international scene in comparison with road cycling?
JC: It will be impossible to overcome road cycling. Track cycling is promoted by television, by the world championships and by the competitions held in Europe. In Europe, people watch track cycling much more than in other places, especially in Germany. The UCI is working on that, and in my opinion, more competitions should be organized. There should be shorter competitions in order to attract more people and to attract television too. TV doesn't like a race that lasts four hours - TV wants fast races and plenty of emotion.
CN: What is the reason of this success of you two as a team?
JC: I think the secret is being very professional, always watching for details, working very hard. I believe this is the secret.
CN: How is Walter Perez as a rider?
JC: An excellent cyclist who uses strategy very much and very good technically speaking. He is a rider with great natural ability who is learning to use them little by little.
CN: And how is Walter Perez as a partner? I guess you obviously get along well with each other?
JC: Yes, we get along very well. I share more time with him than with my own family. So, if you don't get along well, the relationship would be very difficult.
CN: What is the sensation that you feel as a sportsman in the Olympic Games?
JC: There are many different sensations. I was very young when I went to my first Games; I was only 18 years old [in the '84 Olympics in Los Angeles]. It was all new to me. As I took part in another four Olympics, I treated things differently each time. I consider the Olympic Games are the greatest event in sport and it is the biggest competition for every athlete.
CN: Which young track riders do you see now that shows promise?
JC: It's difficult to say; we have to wait until the end of the Olympic Games. After Athens, there will new blood on the tracks and then we will see new riders. The cyclists who go to Greece have been competing in the top races for four years, others for eight years. You know what? A rider's performance is not measured by a single competition. When a rider shines in two, three big tournaments, then we will say, "This man is a cycling phenomenon." I don't consider a remarkable rider as the one who succeeds in just one competition and then fails the next year. In my opinion, a cycling phenomenon is someone like the Frenchman [Arnuad] Tournant; he was a guy who became eleven times world champion. But when a rider is 18, 19 years old, he could be a phenomenon, but nobody knows.
CN: For how long will you race at an elite level?
JC: I don't know really. I'm going ride in Athens and then I have a commitment to ride in the 2005 World Championships and in the Pan-American Games. After that, I will see what I will do.
CN: After your retirement, would you like to continue in the cycling world in another way?
JC: Today I don't know, but I would like to teach all the things that I learned in my sporting career. It will depend on the offers that I get. I'm an amateur; if I don't get a good job two or three years after I quit, I won't be able to take advantage of my experience. It will depend on the offers; if not, I will continue with my own business.