Mathias Vacek: Banning racing is like a blow between the eyes

He is racing for the Gazprom-RusVelo team, which the International Cycling Federation excluded from all races due to a Russian license. “It’s like a big blow between my eyes that I didn’t absorb even days later,” said Mathias Vacek.

On Wednesday, you were to take part with the Gazprom-RusVelo team in the Italian Trofeo Laigueglia race. But on Tuesday night, the UCI banned Russian and Belarusian teams from racing. When did you hear about the verdict?

We were in Italy at the hotel. We had numbers on our jerseys, we were ready for Wednesday morning start. I headed home instead. I’m upset, like all the other guys. Of the twenty-one cyclists on the list, only nine are Russian …

Photo: Fabio Ferrari, TK/AP

The triumph of Mathias Vacek on the UAE Cycling Tour in Dubai.Photo: Fabio Ferrari, CTK / AP

Before the start of the Italian one-off, did you know that the variant with a start ban was realistic?

Yes, because before the trip to Italy, the team was deciding whether to go to Italy. At that moment, it was clear to me that the situation was serious. I had a bad idea inside. And on Tuesday night, the sports directors told us that the UCI had expelled the team.

Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24. In the same week, you completed the Around the United Arab Emirates race with your team. How did you hear about the invasion? Did you immediately have signals that a penalty in the form of team expulsion might come?

We learned about what is happening in Ukraine from social networks. We have never been able to relate that such a sanction could come.

Photo: Fabio Ferrari, TK/AP

Mathias Vacek celebrates triumph in Dubai.Photo: Fabio Ferrari, CTK / AP

In the Emirates, you won a stage in the World Tour for the first time in your career, which many competitors fail for their entire careers. Did you experience great euphoria?

Emotions worked one hundred percent. I became the youngest rider to win a stage on the UAE Tour. The team management suddenly wanted to send me to more races. I had Milan-Turin, Milan-San Remo and Coppi Bartali and Around Turkey in the program. I felt a great motivation.

Has it been determined which of the team is trying to succeed? Or did the situation arise from current events?

I was in good shape before the start of the race. When I got in the escape, it didn’t look very good. One hundred kilometers before the finish, we were only a minute ahead. We were reconciled that the peloton would engulf us. But then we had twenty-five kilograms to the finish line in a minute and a half, so we didn’t tactical and drove the edge to the finish line. And I had the most strength in the spurt. It was pure joy.

When you returned from the Emirates, did you already know the black scenario?

Not at all. We were all extremely motivated. We gained respect in the peloton. We had a great start to the season, because the team also won the stage in the race in Turkey and several places in the top ten, so we were optimistic about the next races.

Do you have information from the team management, what will be the next step?

We are at home and waiting anxiously. We have training plans. We all want to race as fast as possible. There are several variants in the game, but we can only wait.

Can you outline possible scenarios?

The transfer of the team’s license to another owner is at stake. Then we could allegedly race again in about a month. Another option would be to transfer competitors to other teams, which is of course difficult during the current season. But it may also happen that we will not race until the end of the year. And that’s a very bad scenario for me as an athlete.

Ten months without a sharp start would not be a good impulse for the next career.

This variant honestly scares me. Staying ten months without a sharp kilometer would be very bad. One can try as one wants, but after a long break, one gets into the racing rhythm. These are races that get you in shape.

Are you reassured by the fact that for the seasons 2023 and 2024 you have a signed contract in the WorldTour team Trek Segafredo?

Only partially. If I had only been training for ten months, it would have affected me. If the license transfer fails, I would try to work with the manager to resolve the transfer immediately. I will ride in the continental team. Or I’ll be part of Trek without a contract only if I have a chance to race.

Is it very difficult in the current situation to find motivation and fulfill training plans?

I won’t lie, it is. I will try to think positively and ride training with the belief that I will have a chance to race and show solid form.

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