Photograhy by Noa Arnon
With the 2021 race season now rapidly approaching, Israel Start-Up Nation have been busily enduring their final preparations together on a team training camp in Girona, Spain before competition is set to commence early February.
The ten-day intensive camp that began on January 12, included the vast majority of the squad, with the exception of a few absentee’s – among them big name signing, Chris Froome who is currently in California, strongly focussed on his continued rehab and building towards an ambitious 2021.
“I think the important thing for me at the moment is to try and get myself physically back to previous levels and I think that one of the biggest keys there has been getting my rehab back on track,” shared Chris.
Photograph by Velo Images
The thirty-rider squad took a significant step up to the World Tour last season, turning heads with several Grand Tour stage victories. They will continue their rising trajectory this year with the addition of nine new world-class riders that will significantly bolster the team. In addition to the huge welcoming of Chris Froome, included in the mix is multi-time Grand Tour stage winner Mike Woods, leading classics specialist Sep Vanmarcke and Tour de France stage winner, Daryl Impey.
Co-owner of the team, Sylvan Adams shared, “We are more than just a cycling team. This is a project and we are excited to have some of the best riders in the world – hopefully they will make some noise in the upcoming season.”
On January 25, the team rounded out the Girona camp that consisted of three intensive blocks, including a lot of endurance based riding, intensive double days, team building and an opportunity for many to put the OSTRO VAM to the test for the very first time.
Here, we spoke to a number of riders about their thoughts on the OSTRO and goals for the 2021 season.
THE OSTRO VAM
Since the launch of the OSTRO VAM at last year’s Tour de France, only a number of riders, including team leader’s Dan Martin and André Greipel, had the opportunity to race on it.
This training camp marked the first chance for the majority of the team to ride it. Following some lengthy, challenging days of training over various terrains through Catalonia, each rider we spoke to had nothing but glowing reviews.
27 year old sprint and lead-out specialist, Rick Zabel, now heading into his second year with the team shared, “Last year, I mostly raced on the ONE, and on hard climbing days, the O2 VAM. I was already very happy with the road bikes we used in 2020, but I have to say coming to this camp and seeing the new bike…everything! I was over the moon with the design and the paint job and now after riding it for a number of days, I have to say that Factor did a great job there.
It feels fast.
Just from this week’s riding, it genuinely feels like the fastest bike I’ve ever ridden. As we know, it’s a little bit of a mix between an aero bike and a climbing bike and you can really feel that. To me, it mostly feels like an aero bike, with the added bonus of being light, so you can go up hill fast.
Like I said, I’m very happy with the bike. I’m not just saying it…if it would be different, I would tell the truth! I have a feeling that some other teams will be surprised when we arrive with our sprint train on such a good bike”.
Following only days on the OSTRO, he was already certain that it would be his first choice of race bike across all events throughout the season, confirming its versatility and stance as an ‘everything’ bike.
“From my first impression, I think I will likely ride it for the whole year. No matter if it’s a climbing or sprint day, I’m going to ride this. It feels superfast on the flat roads and also climbs really well. So, for me this is the perfect combination, because even in the really high mountain stages of a Grand Tour, sometimes you have a valley or a downhill, so it’s a big advantage if you have a quick bike there as well. For sure, the OSTRO is faster than the O2, so you’ll lose less energy there. And I don’t think that it’s much slower going up, so I’ll use it in the hillier stages as well as the sprint days”.
For new signing – highly experienced and decorated rider, Daryl Impey – riding the OSTRO not only marked his first time on the bike, but on a Factor full stop.
“I’ve been on the OSTRO for seven days now and I really like it. I’m quite surprised as it’s not often that you get on a bike and it feels good straight away. It’s a super stiff bike, quite responsive and light, so I think Factor have developed a bike here that’s going to be worthwhile for both the sprint and the climbing department. We’re not having any aero penalty for the weight, so I believe they’ve created a great bike,” said Daryl.
Fellow star signing, Sep Vanmarke, although yet to test it out on his preferred cobbled terrain, also seemed convinced with theOSTRO’s performance.
“The OSTRO is a very aerodynamic bike with the advantage that is has the weight of a climbing bike. It’s really close to the weight limit and that way, has the best of everything. The bike also feels really comfortable. I haven’t tried it yet on the cobbles, but as soon as I return home, the first thing I will do is take it out. But I’m pretty sure it will feel great, because training here it feels really good and comfortable,” he shared.
First reactions were similar for Time Trial specialist Matthias Brändle who went as far as stating, “I have to say, it’s the best bike I’ve had so far. For one, the disc brakes, and secondly, it’s really light – in my size (the 58), it’s 7kg. Then it’s also an aerodynamic, quick bike that likes the corners. So, this bike, I think is one of the best that has been built in current times.
The OSTRO feels like a nice combination of both the O2 VAM and the ONE, so I think I will race on it for most of the season as I prefer to simplify things and ride one bike. When riding the downhills on the OSTRO, it really likes to go inside the corner. The engineer on this bike has done some great work!”
A top-end bike doesn’t end with just the frame. It’s the whole package that counts, with wheels and componentry proving just as critical to performance, particulary at the sport’s pinnacle level. All Factor Bikes are matched with our sister brand Black Inc wheels and components that Israel Start-Up Nation have been training and racing on since joining forces with Factor.
Rick Zabel shared, “It’s just nice to know that the wheels come out of the same factory as the frame, and I must say – I have only good things to share. In the hillier days, I will use the THIRTY’s and on a flat day, the SIXTY’s. Here on camp, I’m using the SIXTY’s on the OSTRO and it feels very quick. Of course, the frame is a big advantage now, but the wheels also play a part. Together, it’s a very good product.”
Flatland engine, Matthias Brändle followed up by saying, “I mostly ride the SIXTY’s – I really like them especially when there are cross winds. The shape of the SIXTY’s is ideal as the wind easily goes over the wheels, so it doesn’t really affect your front wheel, and for me this is one of the most important aspects. They’re fast, but also comfortable and if there is a little more wind, it’s also possible and safe to take the hands off the handlebars to put a jacket on.”
NEW SEASON, NEW GOALS
Following the peculiar 2020 season, the riders have arrived into the fresh year highly motivated with big collective and personal ambitions targeted throughout the season. Generally, the riders spoke positively and optimistically in regard to the season to come, yet understandably with a bit of necessary caution as to the uncertainty that still hovers given the current standing of the pandemic.
Rick Zabel proved his strengths in the sprint and lead-out last year as part of the impressive sprint train that continued to improve and show they are a force to be reckoned with, especially at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro d’Italia. He’ll now look to build the team’s and his own strengths, with sights clearly set on stage and one-day victories this season.
“It’s still early, and also due to the Covid situation, it’s not easy to know exactly what races we will do. Putting that aside and assuming we will have a normal race season, my first big goals are Milan-San Remo, and Paris-Roubaix. They are my two favourite classics and I want to be good there, but in general for the entire year. Last year, I didn’t get many chances in the sprint, but when I did get the opportunity, I came pretty close, always in the top five. It would be nice to win a race this year and win my first for this team.
But I will be just as happy when André Greipel wins a race as I would for myself. We are really close friends, living just a few kilometres away from each other in Cologne. When I train with him and see how powerful his sprints still are, I’m sure he can continue to win races. So, another one of my goals for this season is to lead him out and see him win. If he wins one race, I’m sure it will click in his head and he can go on to win ten more, because he is still world-class in my opinion,” said Rick.
As a two-time winner of the Santos Tour Down Under, Daryl Impey is used to being in peak condition early season. This year, the versatile rider suited to punchy, rolling terrain will be looking to hit top shape slightly later year, all-eyes and focus on the Ardennes Classics, before turning his attention to the Tour de France, where he’s no stranger to success.
“My first standout goal will be the Ardennes as the first peak in my season, which will be quite nice. Usually I start with Down Under and the Ardennes is the second focus of the season, but it’s going to be quite nice for that to be the first big goal of the year for me personally.
Obviously, I’d like to try and win a stage if I can along the way in Catalonia or similar, but ultimately the Ardennes will be the target for me in the beginning. And then, the huge team focus will be turned onto July obviously for the Tour de France.
First and foremost, we would hope to win a stage at the Tour. Obviously, it would be nice to win the Tour de France, but like everybody, we’re all waiting to see how things will pan out, and we’re also realistic. There are a lot of good riders out there now – competition is tough!”
While Matthias Brändle, now entering his third year with the team is all focus on continuing to progress in the race against the clock. Having placed in the top ten in the Giro d’Italia’s opening time trial last season, he’s certainly on target to working his way up the ladder to success.
“I’m excited to take that next step up to really competing for the win in the Time Trial. The other thing is that we have a very strong lead-out train and want to be competitive in all sprint stages. We proved we are on the right track at Tirreno and the Giro last season, so we will continue working on this,” said Matthias.
Goals and targets will soon start to get ticked as the first events of the 2021 season are now well within reach. Following a solid training camp, team strengthening and bike dialling, the riders seem confident in their preparations, satisfied with equipment and race ready.
“Pinning a number on will be a little bit significant, and a sign to say, ‘right oh, let’s forget about last year and crack on with a fresh start for this year,” shared Daryl.
We wish the team all the best for the 2021 season to come and look forward to seeing the revamped squad make their ambitious goals come to fruition.
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