Raphi, the first Pro season of Tudor Pro Cycling is now in the books. How would you describe it in a few words?
It was exciting, surprising, and exhausting too.
Where does the team stand after this first year in the Pro peloton?
I would say that we had a smooth and good start. We always said that if we have happy people at the end of the first year, that eggs and tomatoes are not thrown at Fabian and me (laughs), and that we won a couple of races, we would be happier than winning 20 races, but everyone would leave and say we are s*** . So, from this perspective, I think we had a solid start.
Of course, there are a few things we can improve on going forward - but given the fact that we had a complete restructure, and we didn't have either a single professional rider, a truck, or a service course, as well as not knowing how to cope with all the requirements of professional cycling, I think we managed well.
Is that your biggest achievement? More than any of the victories?
I think that ultimately, the victories are the outcome of all the hard work we put in. So, the biggest achievement is that we could unite a group of completely unknown riders. This goes for the staff as well as this group of people was pretty much unknown.
To unite the people behind a common goal, under the values of Swiss, Human and Performance is the Team’s biggest achievement in 2023. And then, what is visible and tangible to the outside is the victories. But that is the result of unity, which is tremendously significant and plays a part in our success.
What is your proudest moment of 2023?
If I must choose one day, it's the 15th of March 2023, when we won our first race (Milano-Torino with Arvid De Kleijn). It was probably the most emotional and biggest moment for me so far, because we all came together when we heard “Rider 161” on the radio. That's probably it…
But then, there were many monumental moments for me besides the winning. Some very emotional moments. Especially with the passing of Gino Mäder during the Tour de Suisse - that was one of the most poignant and saddest times because it reminded me that we only have a certain relevance and that life is fleeting.
So, this year was a rollercoaster, and it went by so quickly. I already felt the last 10 years passed by like a super-fast train. Now the last 12 months have felt like the blink of an eye. From ups and downs, from super steep learning curves to where we are today, I’m already thinking about 2025.
Before 2025, let’s focus on 2024. What can we expect from Tudor Pro Cycling?
From a general perspective, we will go to races with the same “Born To Dare” spirit as this year.
From an operational perspective, we will be even more prepared and dedicated to relevant topics. We expect everybody to stay professional and be open to feedback concerning questions and ideas to benefit the team. We hope this openness will ultimately help everyone involved - from riders to the sports directors, to mechanics and all other staff members. We plan to move forward united as one team.
And then, from a pure sports perspective, the next step is to go into the classics and our first Grand Tour with a solid campaign. We still must count on wild cards, but we are hopeful.
We also want to prove that our philosophy works. It's not the 11 victories, the 35 podiums or the 103 top ten we had in 2023. What is special to me is that we brought Arvid (De Kleijn) from 34th to 4th in the sprinters ranking, brought Michael (Ziljaard) from 81st to 18th in the prologue ranking, and Joël (Suter) from 150th to 34th in the TT ranking. That proves that our way of approaching things works.
There are a lot of new faces joining the Team, new riders of course but new staff too. How will this improve performance?
Yes indeed, there will be a lot of new people. We bring in new coaches with a lot of experience and expect them to implement protocols and apply these practices. Two additional sports directors will bring knowledge of three-week stage races and Belgian Classics. I learned this year that a good sports director is not just great at tactics in a car - most of the time it’s about planning the race and reducing noise around the athletes. The team want riders to be in a safe and secure environment with the aim to perform and focus on the big goals.
We will also bring in a chef and an additional nutritionist who will help us throughout the year to get the best food for the riders. That’s something not many people see from the outside, but nutrition is an important part of the process.
Besides the Pro Team, the Devo Team is also getting more structured. What are the goals for 2024?
The main goal for the Devo team is to grow every rider as a person and athlete. We are trying to avoid putting too much pressure on the athletes and coaches; we don't expect all 13 riders to turn professional. However, we want to give them the chance to show us what they are capable of.
On the racing side, one of the main goals is to go as far as we can in the Giro Under 23 with Mathys (Rondel). Of course, that's our aim. We want to maintain a strong performance and uphold the positive impression that Aivaras (Mikutis) left in Roubaix U23 this year.
But most importantly, the objective is to grow these youngsters and help them develop on and off the bike. Ultimately, we hope some of these riders will take the next step in their career and become part of the Pro team in 2025.
A few weeks ago, the entire 2024 team was here in Sursee. How did it feel to see this group coming together for the first time?
It was great. Special… special because last year we were all here for the first time. This time, we had an existing group and a group of newcomers. I was curious to see how well the newcomers would integrate. In the end it paid off. I believe this was a good start that will hopefully continue as we prove that Tudor is a team that belongs to the highest level of international racing.
Finally, what are you the most excited about for 2024?
Going to the classics is a big one for me - seeing how far we can go. But again, no pressure. We take it as an opportunity since I realize the classic cycle races hold prestige and are super competitive. So hopefully, fingers crossed, we’ll go there and tackle some of the biggest cycling races in the world... and then we’ll see what happens.