It's fair to say that Esteban Chaves has not only won races at this year's Vuelta a Espana, but won over the people as well. We managed to steal him away for a few minutes to find out what drives him as a rider, and how such a nice guy is capable of transforming into such a monster on the bike...
How much does the vuelta hurt?
It hurts a lot. Obviously you are suffering during the race, but you suffer a lot more in the work before for training. It’s difficult when you wake up in the morning, you look outside and it’s bad weather and you have to go to train for four or five or six hours, alone. And the next day again. And the next day again. This is the more difficult pain.
You've received rockstar reception along the way at the vuelta. Does this race feel different for you and if so, how?
The Colombians are really good fans for the big moments, when a rider wins the people turn around to look. It happens in all sports, golf, motorsports, whatever. I understand this and actually it’s beautiful.
People often think of Colombia as a bad place - drugs and dangerous, but it is not like this. It’s actually beautiful people who work a lot and when one person with these characteristics does well, they are really proud. They came to the bus to sing the national anthem and it’s beautiful actually.
What are you going to do when you cross the finish line on the last day of the vuelta?
I want to hug Nathaly (his girlfriend). I think the team and I feel so many pressures - all day we need to stay focused, watch the wind, the road, the climbs and all day we need to stay in the front. We stay focused for the massage, the food, the rest. All day there is a little bit of stress but when we cross the finish line, we can take a deep breathe, have one beer, stay together, maybe have a dinner and chill out.
You're extremely friendly and laid back of the bike, but an fierce competitor on it... Can you talk about those two different sides of you?
This is not just me, it’s all the riders in general. Off the bike we are one person and on the bike we are like a warrior. We put on our special helmet and sunglasses and you become a warrior. It’s another day, more work and another fight.
See also: Chaves back in red on Stage 6
What is your cycling dream? What do you want to achieve?
I want to have one picture in the Maillot Jaune on the Champs Elysees.
How did you get into cycling?
From my father actually, he is crazy for cycling. He lived during a big time for Colombia in cycling and after this, he loved the sport. He showed me this, but not for me to become professional, he showed me so I stayed far away from bad friends and bad things and instead stayed focused on one thing. Now we are here speaking in English in a top ten position at the Vuelta, it’s really helped my family. I didn’t think and I’m sure my father didn’t think that all this would happen.
What do you love about it?
This is a good question, I love so many things. I have learned a different language, I know different cultures, and I do something I love. This is my job, but I love this. It’s my passion. I don’t do this for money, it’s a passion. And I know my family is really proud to look at me on the television and this is beautiful. It’s a good life for a rider. You get to stay with family and have time together when you train. Then when you go to race, yes you leave your family, but instead you stay with another family. I am very fortunate that I can do this and that I found a team with people like this.
See also: Chaves victorious on Stage 2
Thanks Graham Watson for the awesome shots of Chaves