We’ve always had a soft spot for Orbea at VeloVeritas — we like the Basque country and the fact that it’s a workers co-operative; that orange Pro Tour team strip is great; there’s the friendliest of vibes around the team bus — none of that ‘janitor’ stuff (as our chum Ivan would say) and they make nice bikes, to boot. Last year the bikes from Euskadi appeared in the UK peloton as ‘Orbea-For Goodness Shakes’ but for 2011 the incarnation is ‘Twenty3c Orbea.’ DS Steve Skuse and manager James Whatling are the men who’ll be guiding them in their assault on the Premier Calendar.
They recently took time to chat to VeloVeritas.
‘Twenty3c’ where does that come from?
James Whatling: “It’s a play on words, like the tyre size; it’s the name of the shop which sponsors the team.
“Alan Finch and Ceri Dipple are the owners; one of their big selling points is that they’re very switched on with bike fit — if you buy a bike from them it will always be a perfect fit.
“My connection is that I’m the Orbea representative for London and the South East.”
We met you last autumn at a kermis in Belgium, Steve.
Steve Skuse: “Yes, I have a racing background; my dad was in the forces in Germany and I managed to be in the RAF and the Army — I raced in Germany, Holland and Belgium.
“And also for Festival Road Club in the UK.
“We were over to support your blogger Dan Patten at a couple of races in the autumn — I like to organise trips to races in Belgium; it’s the place, isn’t it?”
What do Orbea expect from the deal?
JW: “As a company, they don’t put pressure on us, it’s a workers’ cooperative and they’re pretty laid back — they just want to build brand awareness in the UK.
“I think we’ll be competitive in the Tour Series, which is a good shop window — but any pressure comes from ourselves.”
You have a few exotic riders?
SS: “We have guys from all over; take Marcel Six — his mum is British but his dad is Belgian and they live in Spain.
“His dad, Roger was Belgian debutant cyclo-cross champion and then world junior road race champion in 1982 — he was on the Kelme development squad.
“Marcel has won stages in the Tours of Segovia, Alicante and Tarragona.
“We got Rafa Rodriguez (Spain) through Marcel, Rafa rode three UK races last year — he crashed in one, won one and was second to Alex Dowsett in the third one.
“He has strong palmares back in Spain; last year he won a stage and was third on GC in the Volta a Galicia and he won the Volta a Llagosti.
“He’ll be flying in for selected blocks of races.
“Gunnar Gronlund (Sweden) was a good MTB rider but has turned to the road; his training partner is Alex Wetterhall (Sweden & Endura) who won the Rás last year and rode strongly at San Luis, last month — Gunnar was flying at our training camp.”
But no Dan Patten?
SS: “Dan wants to do his own thing in Belgium and try and make it there — you have to respect that.”
You hoovered up a few ex-Raleigh boys.
SS: “We couldn’t believe it when we saw that Mike Cuming and Dan Shand didn’t have teams.
“Mike is very promising and Dan has a good background, he used to ride for Profel in Belgium — that’s the team Matt Brammeier came up with.
“Even though he rode a good National, I think he suffered from that ‘first year back syndrome’ where you have to get used to racing in the UK, again.”
Rob Sharman — that’s not a bad name, either?
SS: “He’s still only 32 and works for British Cycling as a talent coach — but I think his best years are ahead of him.
“He stopped due to medical issues but is back and very keen — in his time he’s won The Girvan and The Rutland; he’s also ridden the Commonwealth Games and Worlds.
“He’s the real thing!”
You have good sponsorship, isn’t that tough to get in these times?
JW: “I work full time so that makes it tough, too.
“But you just have to talk to people and make them believe in what we do — you have to offer value for money; corporate entertainment, rides with their staff and that type of thing.”
Who handles the budget?
JW: “I do and we’re careful — the training camp we had the lads at in Spain, we stayed with relatives of Rafa’s.
“The hotels for Doon Hame and the Nationals are booked already — that way you get the best deal.
“We hear shocking stories of team managers rolling up at races full of their own self importance with nothing booked and flashing the team credit card — that’s just lazy and it costs you money.”
Your website is very pro.
JW: “The Company which does it — Green Jersey Web Design – is from Cambridge they’re sponsors of ours, they’re cyclists themselves and have done a great job for us.”
How’s the programme looking?
SS: “We have races in Ichtegem, Belgium on March 5th and 6th and then it’s into our UK programme, The Jock Wadley and Wally Gimber to start; but we’ll be filling any breaks in the UK calendar with trips to Belgium and France.
“The Tour Series is a big objective and there’s no finer way to prepare for that than riding the kermises.”
What would success in 2011 look like?
SS: “We want to show well in the Premiers and Tour Series; be a credit to our sponsors and for the boys to enjoy their racing.”
We wish Steve, James and the team all the best for the coming season, and thank them for their time with this article.