It’s been a while since last VeloVeritas spoke to former ‘Man in Black’ and African Road Race Champion, Dan Craven – 2009 to be exact, just after the Drummond Trophy which Dan rode for his Rapha Condor team.
With his recent hook-up with Jean Rene Bernadeau’s Europcar squad we thought it was high time we had another word with the man with the most hair in professional cycling.
It was 2005 when the man from Omaruru first appeared on the radar with wins in the Namibian Road Race Championship and in Schattdorf in Switzerland.
In 2006 he rode for Swiss team, Fidibc.com winning the Namibian Champs again as well as finishing second in the African Time Trial Championship and posting some decent results in Italy.
He was second in his National Champs in 2007 and also took second in the Italian Giro Valli Arentine.
In what was perhaps his best year, 2008 he won the Namibian and African Championships and the well regarded GP Cristal Energie in France.
The year we met him at the Drummond he was wearing his Condor African Champion’s jersey and would top the UCI Africa Tour as well as finishing runner up in the Shay Elliott in Ireland – never any easy race to win.
Still with the London team in 2010 he went back to Ireland and won the Shay Elliott where he also won a stage of the Ras and was third on final GC – as well as winning the Chas Messenger in England and a stage in the Tour of Rwanda.
Season 2011 was his last with Condor and there were African wins, a stage and fifth on GC in the Vuelta Ciclista a Leon and a top 10 in the Ronde de l’Oise.
For season 2012 he stayed in the UK, moving to Sigma Sport with best results of silver in both the Namibian Road race and Time Trial Championships.
Last season he was with Azerbaijan’s Synergy Baku Continental team with a best of second in the African Championships.
This season has seen a win on GC in the Tour du Cameroon in the colours of German team, Bike Aid-Ride For Help.
We caught up with Dan at his new home in the Vendee to talk African Cycling, Europcar – and big hair.
Europcar’s Jean Rene Bernadeau and you have established a bond – what’s that based upon?
“Jean Rene (JR) has been going to African races for years and really enjoys them and supporting riders from ‘developing cycling nations’, we first met at the 2011 Tropical Amissa Bongo (Tour of Gabon) where I was captain/leader of a Mixed-Africa team (two Zambians, three Ethiopians and myself).
“I had a really good race and on more than one occasion upset one of the Euro pro’s by being this African nobody with a massive beard and head of hair and putting the hurt on him.
“JR isn’t always fond of this guy so really loved what he saw.
“At some point we got talking (should I say, waving hands and trying to communicate) and despite the language barrier the two of us really had a great time chatting to each other.
“I’ve seen him at more races, and obviously even more since I’ve moved to Vendee but it will take some more time before I can be completely sure – but so far it really seems as if the two of us share quite a few opinions on life – and cycling.
“I ride my bike because I love it, not because I want to earn a fat salary or be the best in the world – although I obviously want to be the best in my little pond and am still hungry to work towards that.
“JR seems to share this outlook – it’s not a Team Sky mentality of “we must win” (which obviously has it’s merits). It’s more a family setup where everyone seems to really get on well and ‘do their best’.”
When does your contract begin and how long does it run?
“To be honest, I’ve still not signed my contract, or even seen it.
“I have to do three blood tests to get a baseline for ADAMS (biological passport) before I can do any racing and that’ll take a while.
“People may think this sounds crazy, unprofessional or just daft but after being in Europe for ten years and hitting my head against the wall, seemingly not getting anywhere – I am the happiest I’ve been in ages.
“I’ve moved in with the team, I’m there; I have my bike, kit etc. – they’re not getting rid of me now!
“Obviously I want to hang around for a number of years so I have to start proving myself right away; I’m very aware of this.”
Have you seen your programme, yet?
“As I mentioned above, things are not quite black and white yet as I need to get my ADAMS and a few internal tests done before I can do anything, then in July there is almost no racing besides the Tour so it seems likely that I’ll only get to race in August.
“It seems very far away but considering that the Vuelta has been mentioned I obviously need to be at the top of my game so my coach and I are actually very happy that I can just focus on training for the time being, especially as training has been a bit whacky since the Tour of Morocco.
“Even though it was ages ago a crash there slowed me down for a while and a chance to build things up nicely is greatly appreciated.”
The Vuelta is in there, I believe – Rolland rode very well in Italy so they may have him in España?
“I’ve been told that Pierre is becoming a father after the Tour so he is racing there so that he can spend as much time at home as possible after that (which sounds like the only reasonable thing to do, to me).
“This means he won’t be there but that doesn’t change the fact that I have my work cut out for me!
“Funnily enough, ever since I met JR in 2011 he has been super excited about me riding the Vuelta, he’s obviously seen something in me that suits the Vuelta – as I’m a Vuelta virgin I can’t comment too much on this yet but I do know that I love the heat and usually go better towards the end of the year so this excites me immensely.
“That said, as much as everything is aimed at the Vuelta for me I’m in no way feeling that I can just walk into the selection – in my mind I still need to impress before the selection is made.”
Have you been practicing your French?
“Not enough – isn’t that always the case?
“But yes, I’ve been doing a bit of everything to try to pick up the language, after all, I still remember learning to speak Afrikaans, German and Italian, which were all painful, so I know to make use of every medium that I can possibly get.
“Thanks to speaking Italian (from four years as an amateur in Ticino – the Italian part of Switzerland) I definitely have a head start and at times feel like there is a daily improvement.”
Where’s ‘home,’ these days; your programme is so ‘cosmo’ – Africa, Europe and I see Ukraine recently…
“I sometimes wish I knew…
“Namibia will always be home-home and every off-season that I go back I enjoy it more but it’s still a very small world (figuratively speaking) and not always my cup of tea.
“My girlfriend lives in London and since I started commuting with my bike in London I love the city – but only when I don’t have to train (ie. in the off-season).
“The last year and a half I’ve kind of been living in hotels or in other people’s places most of the time and so one of the most exciting things about joining Team Europcar was actually the very simple fact that I would have my own space to live in – a cupboard to unpack my things in.
“At the beginning of June (last week) I moved into the team house in Vendee (50km South of Nantes).
“At the age of 31 a team house is obviously not the most exciting place to live but then again, I suppose not all 31 year olds have been as footloose as I have for so long and are desperate for some sense of stability.
“In any case, I can stay there as long as I chose to or until I’ve found a nearby place of my own so the freedom is good for me.”
In Part Two of our interview with Dan we’ll be talking about the other teams he’s competed for, racing on the African continent, as well as learning about Dan’s home country of Namibia.