One of the nice things about going to the Tour of Britain start in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park was catching up with old friends and making some new ones, like Madison-Genesis DS and former Grand Tour stalwart – 16 ridden – and Giro stage winner, Joan Horrach.
Joan is an amigo of team manager/DS, former British Elite road and ‘cross champion and Paris-Roubaix podium finisher, Roger Hammond; and when the Englishman needs extra help – like at the Tour of Britain – he gives Joan a ring and the Mallorquín jumps on a plane in his native Illes Balears and heads for sunny England.
Horach is 41 years-old now and first rode for the Illes Balears amateur team (Illes Balears is the one of the incarnations of what is now Movistar, ed.) way back in 1999.
He turned pro with Portuguese team Maia in 2000 and had wins in the GP Alto Douro and GP Sport Noticias.
Still in Portugal, Milaneza was the name on the jersey for the next three seasons with a stage win and the GC in the Jornal de Noticias and a stage win in the Tour of Asturias in 2001; two stage wins and a second on GC in the Tour of Portugal in 2002 before riding his first Vuelta in 2003.
For 2004 he signed with Illes Balears and settled into his role as hard-as-nails domestique with a Vuelta ride then a Giro and Vuelta ride in 2005.
Illes Balears was one of a whole lineage of teams headed by legendary manager, Eusebio Unzue who has guided the likes of Pedro Delgado, Miguel Indurain and Alejandro Valverde through their careers.
The team became Caisse d’Epargne for 2006 and there were two more Giro/Vuelta ‘doubles in 2006/7 with a stage win in the Giro coming his way in ’06.
He rode the Giro in 2008 before joining Katusha for 2009 with whom he rode his first Tour de France before two more Giro/Vuelta ‘doubles’ for the Russian team in ’10 and ’11.
His last Tour de France ride was in 2012 and in 2013 he rode a few early season races in his home islands for Madison-Genesis before calling a halt to his career – even though his name still popped up in Spanish road and ‘cross results last year.
We opened asking Joan about starting his career in Portugal:
“I’m happy I started my career in Portugal in a small team with only 13 riders where you knew all of them; for a start to your time as a pro it’s perfect.
“The big teams are so big that sometimes there are riders or staff that you only saw once at some training camp and then you didn’t see them again…”
It must have been cool to sign with Illes Balears with you being a ‘home boy?’
“Yes, it was a perfect team for me – to wear a maillot with the name of the place where you live is amazing, and all the local people recognising you on the days when you’re training – I still think about it to this day.”
You rode for Eusebio Unzue for five seasons, what’s he like?
“Unzue is a nice man and a good DS and manager but cycling is a business and he knows this only too well – even though he’s a nice person he can also be an angry man when he has to…”
The Katusha team and the Russian mentality…
“The Russian mentality is hard – but it’s more between Russian people, like between the manager Tchmil and the Russian riders; not so much with the riders of other nationalities.
“But they were really good years for me, a change of mindset, countries, riders, staff – fresh, a change.”
You’ve ridden all the Grand Tours, which is your favourite one?
“For me the Giro is the best one, not only for the race; it’s about all aspects, the organisation, the hotels, the food.
“The Tour is the best one only for TV, Marketing, Radio, but it’s not a good race for riders…
“Some of the stages in the Giro are very hard but I loved the hard stages!”
Which part of your career did you enjoy best?
“All of it!
“I enjoyed all the years, I enjoyed living my passion, I was living what is a dream for a lot of people and it’s all I ever wanted to do – to ride with Valverde, Mancebo, Purito…
“The only negative was that I spent a lot of days faraway from my family.”
What do you miss most about the life of a pro?
“I miss all of it – the pro rider life is amazing.”
How do you rate the Tour of Britain?
“The T of B was good, but there are so many long transfers – I think though that I am not the best one to talk about the T of B.
“You can always do better with any race and I was just happy to be there, and really want to say “thanks” to Madison Genesis team for having me on the race.”
What’s your advice to young riders?
“In the race world always you can learn things – every day is a school day, you need to learn and need to want to learn, everyday you’ll make mistakes – learn from those mistakes for the future!”
Do you see yourself becoming a full time DS?
“I like the job but I don’t know if I want to do it for 200 days each year.
“If it’s like here at Madison where I didn’t do lots of days – I can say that I love that.”
Regrets with your career?
“And remember – Live your life a bloc!”
With thanks to Joan and to Roger Hammond for the introductions.