Shelley Olds y Manuel Lacambra: A cycling duet

Last year I was a bit shocked when I read that American team Tibco was loosing two of its main members: on one hand, Manel Lacambra, the catalan director and on the other, its best rider: Shelley Olds. A coincidence? Knowing that they are a couple, I wondered whether the decision of leaving the team had been somehow coordinated, and whether their plan was joining another team together. Or would there be any other reasons?

Soon afterwards, Manel announced his new job as sports director of the african men’s team MTN Qhubeka, whereas Shelley would join italian Ale Cipollini.  Luckily, I’ve had the chance to talk to them about this, their season so far and much more. A duet interview looked like real fun.

R&M – Thanks to both of you, it’s a huge pleasure!
The first question is related to your last season: why did you leave Tibco?
Manel: It was a great year in Tibco, and it was difficult for the European group* not to continue one more year there because we were all very good together. But, in the final, each one of us had different goals that were not possible to achieve in Tibco being based in the US with a lot of the race calendar in USA. But we are very grateful for the season with Tibco and we have a lot of good memories from last year.

*German Claudia Haüsler also left the team at the same time. She rides for Liv-  Giant squad now.
R&M – Was it a sort of planned agreement or a coincidence that you both left US at the same time?
Manel: It was a coincidence. The plan was to continue there but then I decided not to continue. At this point Shelley still wanted to stay there but then some other riders decided to leave too. Without enough UCI points in the team to ensure the participation at the big events, Shelley was forced to change teams. She was lucky to find a good team so late in the season.
R&M – I know that you are very happy in your present job as sports director in MTN Qhubeka. Tell us a bit about that, particularly how did you get in touch with the team.
Manel: I love this team because it is not just a cycling team. It is more than that. And I can do what I like more, which is to direct, teach, help riders grow, etc… I especially love to work with the young African riders. The day that I will need to just drive the car behind the race I will stop my work.
I got involved because the team was interested in me. They knew me from my work in Cervélo Test Team and they knew how my style of work is. Honestly I never was interested in working in men’s cycling because I love women’s cycling. But I thought this was a good project.

R&M – That’s great. Where do you live, by the way?
Manel: In L’Estartit (Girona). The most beautiful place in the world. We are on the beach, we can see the Mediterranean and the Iles Medes from the bed, we sleep with the sound of the water, walk our dog on the beach every morning…so many nice things.  The rides are just amazing beautiful, good food, good weather…For us it is paradise J

– It looks indeed! You also told me you are not going to quit women’s cycling. In which ways are you involved now?
Manel: At the moment I just follow Shelley and I collaborate with Qhubeka to provide bikes to the young girls in Africa. It is very important that the girls can have a bike there to go to school and study to be something good in life. Some kids need to walk 2h to go to the school in unsafe places. With a bike they can do it in just 20-30min and be more safe. Projects like Qhubeka are one of the principal reasons why I accepted the job with this team. And yes, I will never quit women’s cycling.

R&M – That’s very inspiring, everything you’ve just said. Any plan to land in a women’s team in the following years? Maybe MTN Qhubeka is planning to create a women’s team? That’d be awesome, let’s dream a bit!

Manel: For sure I will be back in women’s cycling in one way or another in the future.
MTN Qhubeka loves women’s cycling and had a team for many years. It is possible that they will decide to have a team again. Many people are pushing them to do it. I wish all the professional men’s teams had a women’s team too.
R&M  – Yes, and that’d be such a huge step for the sport! I’m going to confess you something funny: some spanish women’s cycling fans dream about seeing you in Spain, directing a spanish team in the near future. Would this be possible?
Manel: It would be possible and I would love to do that. I tried already but at the moment we are too far in Spain with the mentality. We need to change a lot of things here. But after many years working for so many countries, it would be nice to help Spanish cycling.

R&M – Do you follow the recent news about women-s cycling? Do you have a positive feeling about it, like plenty of us do, that this is a tremendously important         year in the development of the sport?

Manel: I think in general women’s cycling grows a little every year and this is very positive. But it is never enough. I have the feeling that the women get something very small and they are all very happy. But me I think, it’s ok, thanks, but it is not enough. They deserve a lot more.

R&M – Amen.
Shelley: what are your feelings about the season so far? We saw you so happy winning in Costa Rica, the victory in Cornaredo and the second place in Dottignies! Good start of the season, isn’t it?
Shelley –  I am happy with the first part of the season. It is nice to have 3 UCI wins and a podium in the World Cup in Drenthe. The first races with a new team are always difficult, but I am very happy with my Ale-Cipollini team and with the level I achieved during this first block. After Cornadero, I got a stomach virus that I have been dealing with day to day.  Some days are good, some are bad.  I am disappointed that it happened during some of the best races of the season, Binda and Flanders.  In Dottignies I was not sure about starting because the day before in Flanders I was very sick. I decided to try to race anyway, because it was my last race of my first block and I wanted to finish with a good result. It was nice to finish 2nd there 🙂 Now I have a break in USA and I hope to be healthy soon. During my break I will do 2 races in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with my team.

R&M – Any differences riding for an Italian team? And you’ve got Ane Santesteban as a mate this year!

Shelley – I am really having fun racing in my Italian team.  I love the characters of the girls and the passion for cycling within the team and management. Cycling is so hard and it is important to have fun between the races. I like the fact that we are a small team.  It brings us closer and sometimes it feels almost like a second family. 
Anne is a very nice girl and a talented climber. Manel actually recommended her and then she signed with the team. I think she is learning and growing a lot this year and that she still has a big margin for improvement. It is nice to have someone in the team to practice my Spanish.

R&M – Talking about spanish, yours is quite decent, how about catalan?
Shelley – I try to learn and understand catalan because I truly love the culture and the country. Manel’s family, who has become my family now, is Catalan and its very important to me to communicate with them.  I am also learning Italian now, so lots of new languages all at once is a bit challenging.  But learning other languages is changing my life and helps me appreciate the culture of each country.

R&M – You are stepping up year after year and you are really close to the queens of the sprint: Bronzini, Wild, Vos. What makes a perfect sprint?
Shelley: I have a lot of respect for these riders. I had my first victory in 2010 against these big riders, and it was then that I showed myself that I am capable to win. I don’t know if the perfect sprint exists but it is not always the faster one who wins, if not the faster one that arrives with more energy and in good position in the final. Of course the girls you mentioned before often have a good lead out train and have more possibilities to have success. In general, I am happy with my level and with the progression that I have made from when I started in 2009.

R&M – Sprinters have always fascinated me … are you born a sprinter or is it a modality you choose? And how do you train such specific qualities?

Shelley – I think it’s something you are born with.  I never consciously chose to be a sprinter.  It just sort of happened as I started racing.  I wanted to be in the mix at the end.  I was racing on the track before I started racing internationally on the road.  I think that helped me develop as a sprinter and gave me the skills I needed to be successful, such as leg speed, instincts, and reaction time. But I definitely think you need to have the sort of genetic build ideal for sprinters, same as you need that to be a climber.  I think it chooses you…whether you are a sprinter, climber, time trialist, etc.  As far as training, I don’t do a lot of specific training for the sprint.  Often times, I use the races for my training.  Going for intermediate sprints in races or primes in criteriums can be the absolute best environment to learn and grow as a sprinter.  You get a real feel for all the factors that are at play in one sprint, not just speed and power. 

R&M – You must travel like crazy during the year! I imagine you live in 3 places: US,    Italy, Spain
Shelley – Yes, I travel a lot.  But I love my family and I will always make the effort to see them, so I will always come back to the USA. My real home is in Spain now, and I feel so fortunate to live where we live.  I am spending some time in Italy this year as well, with both mine and Manel’s teams based there.  I can’t complain about any of these places.  California, Costa Brava Spain, and Italy… The good thing about traveling so much is that it makes you appreciate the beauty of the places you live in.

R&M – You’ve being main actors of this wonderful sport for years. What is   missing so that women have got the same coverage, media interest, audiences and  earnings as men?
Manel: The big problem is not just about women’s cycling, it is about the general culture between men and women that we have from the past. But of course, we can do a lot to improve. The teams need to continue to work well and not just go to races to try to win. The UCI needs to push the Pro Tour teams to have a women’s team and push the big organizers to have a women’s race too. And the big cycling companies need to invest more in women’s cycling like they do with the men. We just need some changes and the rest will come alone… But no one wants to do it at the moment.

R&M – We are about to finish … what are you big personal goals for the rest of the season?
Manel: I want to continue to help grow the African cycling level, to prepare and be successful at the Vuelta España with MTN, and of course continue to support Shelley to have success the rest of the season.

Shelley: After my actual break, I would like to do well in China, then the Giro d’Italia (my favorite race), and then the final races of the season until Worlds.

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