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Martin Fraňo

 

1. Many people regard you as a very controversial person in Slovak cycling. There are many rumors about you and your cycling background. Give us your point of view of your cycling beginnings.

It has been ages since I started cycling. I was ten years old when I realized I prefered to be rather a sportsman than a musician, so I quit playing the accordion. The decision of me leaving a musical school was more-less unintentionally initiated by my teacher, who almost had a nervous breakdown because of having me in the class. I was too old to follow my brother at joining ice-hockey team. I also have surpassed the age limit for starting with tennis. Cycling came as a solution and I was very pleased, when Mr.Moravec, a coach at Team Lokomotíva, told me I might be actually too young for cycling.

 

2. Not many nowadays cyclists experienced cycling back in the totalitarian regime. You have experienced plastic shifters Walter, woolen shirts and shorts with leather cushioning pad.

I like to go back in my memories to these times, we had great times. 4 other Juvenille riders were starting with cycling at the same time in Banská Bystrica. I won my first Criterium Race in Banská Bystrica and finished 5th in Championship of Slovakia. I was highly motivated by my good results, I think it’s somewhere around this time where I fell in love with cycling for the rest of my life. There were many young riders back then, 80 in one age category or so in every district, we had to qualify for Championships of Slovakia and then for Championships of Czechoslovakia. Back then, some 400 licences for every youth cathegory had been issued. It is very sad that nowadays there’s 20 Juniors at the start line of Championship of Slovakia. It is not good for the quality and motivation of these young riders either – they lack the knowledge of a ride in peloton, in the wind etc., not speaking about the ability to repair their own bike.

Later on I joined Team Sokol Merida where I learned a lot from Ladislav Longauer and late Ľubomír Kundrata. I could write a novel out of our experience and funny stories. Many times we travelled to race by trains – since our team belonged to the state controled railway company, we traveled almost for free. And from the train station, with our backpacks and spare weels attached to them we would head to the start line, often several kilometres in distance. We learned discipline and independence. In order to succeed, we had to give the best of ourselves – this approach helped me in all my life, not only in cycling.

3. What do you regard as the most important reason for the lack of interest in cycling and in sport in general – on the youth level? It’s a bit ironical we have riders such as Sagan and Velits now when the level of cycling is low and lacked them back at the ‘golden age’ of cycling.

I’m not saying riders back then were more or less gifted. There were just more of them, more people were doing more sports in general, the competition was stronger. Nowadays, at a Slovak Cup a first junior arrives all by himself, 2nd one arrives 3 minutes later and 3rd another 20 minutes later. Despite the inadequate level of these riders, all of them are members of the National Team – just because there is a need of 6-8 riders in a team. That is also one of the reasons for the lack of motivation for them to train. After moving up to the Elite level, they realize they underestimated their preparation in Junior years, but it’s already too late. So there we have the paradoxical situation of having huge chances and possibilities but almost no competitors. Young riders back then were more technical, more mature in terms of cycling. There was no possibility to go to a race abroad back then, but we had big races almost every weekend, sometimes even more of them happening at the same time, with some 150 riders at the start line of each of them. We really had no other temptations as to how to spend our free time, no cell phones, no computers at that time. Todays’ situation is very bad for young riders with talent, appetite and determination – they cannot prepare themselves in the optimal conditions of a big peloton since they are one step ahead of the remaining part of the peloton – take Jurčo or Zverko as good examples. Because of this alarming situation, I am happy for the few centres for talented youth, such as CTM in Žiar nad Hronom or Žilina, that they participate with their riders at races abroad. It’s a different level of racing.

4. How do you see your transition from Junior category to the Elite one?

It didn’t cost me much energy finishig my high school studies – my ease at passing all the classes resulted in complete underestimation of entry test for university where I failed. I therefore continued with my passion, cycling. I did my military service at an army sports centre Dukla Trenčín. The time passed at Dukla gave me a lot from cycling point of view, I spent there one of the best years of my life, very carefree years. I learned a lot from late Daňo Gráč and especially the so controversial person of Vendelín Kvetan. Despite his defects, I am a big fan of all his fork for cycling in Slovakia. During my stage at Dukla, I had the opportunity to participate at a 12-stage race in Tunesia, my first stage race ever. I believe my love for travelling to exotic destinations could be found in this Tunesia stage-race experience.

5. You completely dissapeared from cycling after your military service. What was the cause?

I think I was actually too motivated while at Dukla. I was overtrained from the Tunisia stage-race which I completed and from the arduous trainings which we called “Vendel Cups“ – Vendel refering to our coach Vendelin. Slight ‘plaster‘ to my unsuccesful season came with the bronze medal from a 2-rider Time Trial with Rolo Krajčí. We were beaten only by legends such as Prázdnovský-Slobodník and Zaduban-Nagy. This sole success motivated me to my further training back home in a local club Heavy-Tools Joko, along with my best sparing partner for training at that time, Milan Sihelský.  

Since I had no pocket money for my daily brad, I started to work full-time in an office of one gas distributor. However, still attracted by a university education, I applied for a math and geography studies and quit my full time job. I enjoyed my university studies a lot, since I already was able to make my living, I ‘knew what life is about’, I didn’t follow my studies as eagerly as the majority of my classmates, I quite enjoyed myself and my time at the university without taking it too serious. Probably also caused partly by my relaxed state of mind, and good quality training, I managed to finish 5th at a hilly stage race KTK. In prior and also all the following years, I have always struggled for survival in this race. Unfortunatelly, health problems with my knee resulted in surgery and stopped my promising season. Too relaxed approach at university had as a consequence repetition of some classes and so cycling was put aside for some time again.

6. Not very many people know you were the leading force in creation of Slovak Cup Men B (amateur).

Even when not racing, I was never too far-away from cycling. I kept taking part in the local Banská Bystrica Regional Cup and I always rode my bike just for the good feeling. I missed racing and realized the Elite Slovak Cup dissapeared with closing down of majority of teams in Dubnica, Trnava, Prešov etc. Ex-elite and Elite riders could take part only in the open category without cycling licence. After some months, maybe even years of discussion with the Master riders, we came with a brand new category, Men B – for registered riders, but not professionals. I was doing the ranking by myself in the first years, later on it was incorporated in the Masters result sheet and I also became a member of the Masters commitee. I think everyone regards the Men B category as the right step when looking back now.

By creating the “Men B“ category, we eliminated the professionals –or “Men A“- towards whom the masters commitee was very reluctant. Their fear of these pros was not that reasonable after all, since we only have 11 professionals – Men A in Slovakia. So few we can even name them – they are members of Protour, ProConti or Continental Teams with professional contracts: Juraj Sagan, Peter Sagan (Liquigas), Peter Velits, Martin Velits (Omega Quickstep), Milan Jurčo (PSK Whirpool), Marek Čanecký (Salcano), Maroš Kováč, Roman Broniš, Matej Vyšňa, Martin Mahďar a Peter Tybor (Dukla Trenčín). In comparison to other – less successful in terms of world rankings – sports such as handball or volleyball, it is very sad for cycling to have only 11 professional riders.

What I perceive well, is the change the Slovak Cycling Federation has undergone – Federation after many years started supporting our riders and this year 24 of them in 4 different Slovak teams were given a possibility to compete the professionals in Tour the Slovakia. It is only at big races such as this one, where riders realize cycling is a team sport. Coach from Žilina, Milan Novosad, who had also trained the brothers Sagan and other talented riders such as Vyšňa, Kolář, Riška, has a very good saying that cycling is about strong team, not about individuals. Individuals come and go, but the teams stay. His Zilina CYS team is a living proof.

If only there were more teams such as Cycling Team Banská Bystrica, cycling in Slovakia would look completely different. Young riders would have a vision where to continue their career. I am happy for Inter and Reprogras to increase their acitivities a bit more.

7. From creating the Slovak Cup for category Men B, we come to you creating the Cycling Team Banská Bystrica.

This is a false or incomplete information. Cycling Team Banská Bystrica, formerly called Cycling Team Červený Rak (Red Lobster Restaurant) was created by Andrej Čanecký during my racing-break. I took the team over when Andrej joined ŽP Šport Podbrezová. I as well became a member of ŽP Šport for some time, but the team was soon dissolved due to negative effects of Financial Crisis. Along with the present chairman of the team, Ján Malachovský, we have created a well-functioning cycling team and were looking for a solution to ’save’ cyclist from previous ŽP Šport. We started from scratch, on our own bikes, with our own funding. But it was worth the energy and worth the time spent doing what we liked – our biggest proof of success was Marek Čanecký being able to transfer from our team to a contitental Turkish team Salcano. Other riders are on the national team in MTB, road and cyclocross. This year it finally started paying off by attracting sponsors. Both on material level by all the riders being provided with a new bike and team clothing, also financially to support the Slovak National Cup in Cyclocross – to which we are the biggest partner. I would like to stress the great job our chairman, Ján Malachovský is doing, all the fundraising he is able to attract.  We still have a long way ahead to pass in order to become a professional team, I hope we are on the right track. For the season 2014 we become Continental, we will see, what future will bring to us.


8. Cycling Team Banská Bystrica is growing constantly, what are your plans for the future?

We have a very good material support from our sponsors right now, but still lack a financial partner who could cover our expenses and enable our best riders to become professionals. All our riders work full-time, some of them even on night shifts. We are able to win at local races within Slovakia, but it is very difficult to race abroad with professionals of even small teams from e.g. France, where the riders can devote themselves fully to racing. This is what I consider as my biggest dream and challenge – for our team to become continental. I truly hope to find a strong financial partner to support the team activities – it would have a multiplicative effect since the team could be going to more races and we could afford to atract also new, young and talented riders to the team. They lack motivation at the moment as they have nowhere to continue their carreer after leaving Juniors – too few functioning teams in Slovakia (3 including us) and impossible to get to a foreign team. Even Peter Sagan, himself talented more than almost any living professional rider in the world, had problems finding himself a contract abroad. Despite his Junior Gold medal from the Worlds in MTB and 2nd place in Cyclocross and 4th in the Worlds on the road. If he was Italian or French, he would had signed a pro contract much earlier. It’s sad we cannot afford to keep and support young talents.

Very often people ask me to become members of our Cycling Team and are disappointed when I ask them to do something for the team in return. Every one of our members has to work a little bit on the well-being of others. We are just a normal small association consisting of few members, without the musketeer credo “One for all and all for one”, we would not succeed and most likely not even exist by now. Every team member accepts this, there is a good athmosphere, they all are aware of the functioning.

With cycling rocketing in the media coverige, I believe it is only a question of time when companies and cities realize it’s not such an expensive thing to have their own cycling team. Definitelly less expensive and with much bigger promotion potential than for example football at the low-national level which is supported widely.

I hope we will soon have our own, Slovak, or Czecho-Slovak Procontinental Team participating at the Tour or Giro. I also believe there will be more continental teams in Slovakia, not just the state-owned Dukla Trenčín – I would like to see Cycling Team Banská Bystrica among the continental teams sometimes soon. When I accomplish this goal, my personal one, I will be satisfied.

9. You are not only a racer, but engage yourself also withing the structures of Slovak Cycling Federation, as a memeber of Executive Commitee.

I decided to devote all my free time and energy into cycling. Unlike others, who like to discuss and talk about how things should be done, I decided to act. On our local level, I have organized races, both road and cyclocross ones and later also got involved in the national level of slovak cycling, by becoming a member of the Slovak Cycling Federation commitee.

When looking back, I am very satisfied with my first year in a position of Chairman of Cyclocross Commitee. The Cyclocross Cup in Slovakia attracted a record-breaking number of competitors, all last years 13 cups were sponsored by economically strong partner BCF. We succeeded in attracting good quality racers also from abroad, many of them attaining medal positions in World Championships in the past. This season will be further improved by two of the races becoming a World Cup C2 category in Udiča – for both men and junior.

When comparing cyclocross to other cycling disciplines in Slovakia, cyclocross is without exaggerating best organized. Not only we succeeded in finding a strong sponsor for the national cup, we continue in increasing the level of these events to an international UCI level. All our activities and activities of our cyclocross riders are presented at a webpage updated on a daily basis during the cyclocross season. We really have made a huge step forward and I am particularly satisfied the people around cycling and cyclists themselves appreciate the changes.

To mention my lates activities, I have succeeded in placing 3 of our most talented young cyclocross riders – Čanecký, Vozár, Medveďová – to a UCI camps. It is a fews days long camp, where along with 17 other international riders they will have possibility to learn new approach and new knowledge in cyclocross preparation.

Just to mention my other activities, I also am a member of a Road Commitee at the Federation, I am a manager and a coach at our Cycling Team. I passed my coach and referee exams. And to top it all, I still race whenever and wherever I can. To sum it up, I myself talk of myself as being a “psycho“ devoting that much time and energy to this great sport, of course it must be done at the expense of my other private activities. Cycling is a lifelong diagnosis.


10. Besides racing and active presence at the Federation, you are also known for your media appearances either in press, or on TV.

I always tried to improve the public perception of cycling – I try to act as an ambassador of the sport. I used to write articles to a Czech magazine Peloton, to numerous webportals and papers. I also am a member of the Slovak Press Syndicate. I like to share the knowledge and experience I have gained throughout my years in cycling. I would like to do much more, I have many good ideas but lack time to make it happen. I am very grateful for the live Tour de France coverage in Slovak TV – I am happy I could be part of it by commentating several stages, but also regard it as a great promotion of cycling in our country.

11. You are probably best know for your exotic race destinations. How did you come accross races like this?

As I mentioned earlier, a seed of travelling was deeply rooted into my mind upon my arrival from a Tunesia UCI race with Dukla. I started to look for races in exotic destinations when I got started with CK BB and later arranged many invitations for CK BB as well as ŽP ŠPORT. My first exotic destination was French Guyane – a UCI race Tour de Guyane in 2006, where I met Fred Blankers, a retired Belgian living cosmopolitally and Thijs Poelstra, a dutch rider. Fred has become our close friend, many times he has come along with us as our team manager. It was him inspiring me by inviting me to join his team in Tour de Maroc, Tour de Guyane or Tour de Senegal. As for Thijs, I believe he’s been to more countries around the world than any other cyclist. For this purpose, he created a team, Global Cycling Project uniting international cyclists. With this team he visited all continents and races in almost any countries you could possibly think of. Little by little I got involved in international racing – in the beginning driven by Fred and Thijs, later it was also me helping them getting invitations or putting together a team. Many times you get to meet the same people in different parts of the world.

By having a wide net of contacts and a good reputation abroad, there are almost no races of the UCI 2.2 calendar I wouldn’t succeed at getting an invitation to. Unfortunatelly there are financial and time limits of our team – as all the members work, it’s impossible for our riders to race january to december.

Racing in these ‘exotic’ destinations is completely different from what one can experience in Europe. The race athmosphere is much different, but I most appreciate the possibility to get a different view – an ‘in-depth’ view – of the way of living in these countries. It’s inspiring and it affects one’s perception of the life and life values upon arrival back home for good. It’s especially African countries that affect people the most by their simple but happy way of life. I’ve been 10 times to Cameroun, twice to Senegal, 8 times to Maroc, I have raced in Burkina Fasso etc. It has become an integral part of my life.

12. It seems you have the highest number of race days out of all Slovak cyclist. How do you manage it?

I have approximatelly 100 race days every year in my calendar. Besides one-day racing in Slovakia, I also do 4-5, 10 being the highest number in one year, of stage-races. When road season finishes, I plunge directly into cyclocross. Of course I know this is not the best way to improve one’s performance, but I simply love to race. Participating at a stage-race, it’s like a holiday for me, so whenever possible, I take part in a race despite the fatigue that comes with it. It’s become part of my life and it makes me happy.

I like cyclocross races because of the same reason – there’s allways lots of fun around. Peter Sagan benefits from his cyclocross experience up to today when he as one of few riders in the profi peloton masters his bike at race finishes.

Training, of course, is part of a cyclists life. But as I lack motivation for training, racing is the best preparation for me. As they say, you shouldn’t spare your body too much before it gets to grave, I try to live up to it. It’s been ages I watched TV for the last time and didn’t have time to get bored even much longer than that.

13. What race results do you merit the most?

It’s been 24 years since I started racing. Not long ago I took time and counted the kilometres I passed on my bike, the number well exceeding 300.000km – many of it racing kilometres. I tought, that I never achieved a title of Champion of Slovakia; but we were National Champions in Team time trial 2013. It was really great day. I was close to a another gold medal in Championship of Slovakia in Team Time Trial where we lost only 3 seconds to the winning team. Then there was a bronze medal from Youth Time Trial and an elite Bronze in 2-rider Time Trial, but no other Champion title unluckily.

I won many races in Slovakia, most of them in mass sprint – in Suchá nad Parnou, Jaslovské Bohunice, Trnava and many others. But out of all Slovak victories, I merit most a victory in Circuit Race in Dudince.

Many times I finished runner-up at UCI races or other international races, but never succeeded in crossing the line as winner. I finished 2nd in a stage in Tour de Cameroun and Tour d’Environment in Guadeloupe, 3rd in Tour de Senegal and Tour de Cameroun. I was also a runner-up in the red jersey points race in Tour de Guyane.

My biggest cycling dream is to win a final stage of Tour de Cameroun in a boulevard in Yaoundé. It is not an unattainable goal, Milan Barényi and Jozef Palčák both succeeded at outsprinting their rivals. Me as well, I made it to the top 10 many times. Victory in this stage would mean a lot to me, my dream of winning an international race would come true. Victory at this ‘african Champs-Elysees’ would be my biggest satisfaction and would mean to me more than any other victory elsewere in the World.  But year by year I loose hope to reach this goal oneday.


 

 

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