Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lejarreta considering change of discipline in the wake of Orbea folding
















Sponsors are not only abandoning Lance Armstrong and road racing these days: news of long-time sponsor Orbea pulling the plug on its top-tier team at the end of the year has shook the mountain bike community and left quality riders on the street. Spanish cross-country star Iñaki Lejarreta is one of those. As a rider with an international reputation and solid track record, he's still holding out hope someone will come in for him - but he's also considering changing his knobby tires for slightly slicker ones if that fails to materialize, he tells Basque Cycling News.

"I'm sad the team is folding", he told us. "I've been with Orbea since I was 18 years old, which is my entire career on the bike. And I'm somewhat surprised. Everybody knows the global economy isn't in its best state and we thus expected lower salaries, but in September we were informed the team was going to stop. Orbea dissolving is terrible news for the discipline. Firstly, international races lose one of the biggest teams. Secondly, it might force other sponsors into a rethink of the whole situation, which might result in them not wanting to put more money into the teams. It's all bad news for us riders - our salaries are going down.

"Right now I haven't got a team for next season. I'm speaking with some, but it's not easy. Hopefully I'll know some more in the next few weeks, but at the moment I'm a bit pessimistic about my future", he admits.

As well as excelling on the mud, Lejarreta continuously pops up with good results on the road whenever he feels like it. This spring, by way of example, he won a Torneo Euskaldun race in Lazkao, and switching disciplines more permanently is something he's contemplating.

"Switching to the road is an alternative that's on my mind", he says. "I'm also looking for a spot on road teams but, like the cross-country ones, many of them are filled up. It's been difficult trying to find a team. But I love road riding just as I love mountain biking. I remember watching my uncle Marino Lejarreta winning Tour and Giro stages, and I've always felt my characteristics as a bike rider are more suited to the road - I'm a climber and have to work a lot on the technical aspects in mountain biking".

The 29-year-old has no cyclo-cross races planned this winter, opting instead for a "normal and quiet winter". Looking back at the season that just finished, the gangly Berriz-born rider describes it in negative terms. Injuries plagued him throughout the year and put paid to his biggest goal: the London Olympics.

"Uff, it think it was my worst season yet. I had a lot of problems, and it was hard to focus on training and racing. At the start of the season, when I was fighting for an Olympic Games spot, I suffered a bad crash training on the Nove Mesto World Cup circuit. I broke a rib and dislocated my shoulder. Two days later I started the World Cup race and could only finish 44th. I did the same seven days later at the La Bresse World Cup, but I couldn't complete the race due to the pain. The pain was terrible in these two races; they were the two hardest races of my life. And as if the physical pain wasn't enough, I lost my Olympic place because of these two bad results.

"Then, back home and recovering, I had another bad crash in training. Once I had fully recovered, I trained hard in order to have a good end to the season, but it wasn't easy with the doubts surrounding the team and the consequently bad atmosphere. Still, though, I'm happy, as even after all the suffering this year, I finished third in the national championships and 20th at the Worlds, where I started way back. All in all, relativization and to think with another mindset has been important this year. I've learnt a lot!"

Photo: www.rodamoncycling.com

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