Words and photographs by Anna Buick (www.fromthepits.co.uk).
Anna is now working with the team full time, producing more stories like this…
I am lucky enough to call Paul Beales, Manager at Paarl Media OMX Pro Team, a friend. He’s a pretty top notch guy who has turned a passion and a vision into an ever-growing and increasingly successful reality. It’s not been without a rather comical slice of stress and cynicism, but I digress. You will be hearing much more about this journey over the coming year, I assure you.
But back to the team’s latest signing, Switzerland’s Martin Gujan.
Back in August, before I was officially working for Paarl Media OMX Pro Team, I sent an email to Paul just a couple of weeks before the final World Cup cross country race of the season in Meribel, France. We discussed a project, figured out some fairly advanced logistics and had ourselves some semblance of a plan.
I love cross-country mountain bike racing. I love the atmosphere, the commitment, the camaraderie, the people. This trip with the then-called Orange Monkey Pro Team was to be a slice of professional XC life, living with the team for the days leading up to the race and getting to know the newest (although now very well-established) member of the Orange Monkey family: Guschi.
As I discovered, there is a lot to like about Guschi. Here are five reasons why:
1) He’s happy to wait.
The logistical plan (of sorts) saw Paul, Danny – OMPT’s helper extraordinaire – and I bundle bikes, gazebos, tools, luggage, ourselves into a van in a dimly lit back street in North London and, essentially, drive south for twelve hours. Hell of a plan, I know.
We arrived in Meribel roughly at the time we had expected to, but a little while after Martin (who had driven from his home in Switzerland and picked up Ben from Geneva airport en route). It was Thursday and Martin was waiting to get on his bike and check out the course of the inaugural Meribel World Cup.
Waiting to ride a course for the first time is like an unrelenting itch that must be scratched before you can do anything else. It’s hard to relax. But if Martin hadn’t in fact mastered the art of supressing a niggling itch, he has mastered the art of hiding his need to scratch! He was in town having a coffee when we arrived. He and Ben sauntered up the street to greet us, after which we parked up the vans and got unpacking. No particular rush, no frayed nerves or chomping at the bit. A quick and painless unpack, a swift assembly of Martin’s bike, a bite to eat and a change into kit. Less haste, more speed. Ready to go and everybody happy.
Throughout our stay in Meribel the formula was the same. Whether it be waiting for dinner, for the shower, for a mechanical issue to be resolved or asking if Ben wanted him to wait so they could ride together. I believe that Martin knows that Paul and Danny and Ben are doing their best, working hard and providing him with the best environment possible, and that he has a confidence that things will be done, and done well. He has realistic expectations and an appreciation of human limitation that I have seen other riders not understand or simply disregard.
2) He always comes bearing gifts.
Martin is a well-connected and well-liked rider within the MTB ‘peloton’. He’s surrounded by Swiss cycling stars, indeed he is one, in his home region of Graubunden. The MTB community is very strong, and especially here. Through years of competition from his home region to the World Cups, Martin has established close, and fruitful (excuse the pun), friendships. Lukas Fluckiger has a small orchard and presses his own apple juice. That was the first gift to arrive from the collective rider pantry. Next up was some pasta from Italian Champion, Eva Lechner. Martin bought wonderful home-baked bread to the party, courtesy of his beautiful and equally wonderful girlfriend, Susi. There is always something to bring, to give, to share. True, it largely revolves around food, but what greater happiness and importance for bike riders?!
3) He knows what he wants.
Olive oil, mostly. (How quickly we return to food). I have never seen anyone consume quite so much olive oil!I’m surprised he doesn’t lube his bike with it. It is drizzled, no doused, on everything from breakfast to bedtime. But not just any old olive oil. It has to be the good stuff. Filippo Berio was the sixth person in our entourage. The same goes for another favourite, balsamic vinegar. Paul’s balsamic vinegar hunts are not a smash and grab affair, oh no. The right, colour and consistency are essential. Diet is very important to Martin and he knows exactly what he wants when it comes to food. The viscosity of vinegar may sound a step too far, and perhaps in danger of roaming into diva territory, but it doesn’t come across that way in person. Beef Thursday night, chicken Friday, fish Saturday, race Sunday. Martin is serious about his diet, as you would expect from a rider of his calibre.
It may seem strange to say that such specific requests are a good thing, but it makes life easy in many ways. If a question is asked – ‘What would you like for dinner?’; ‘Do you want whole wheat pasta?’; What tyre pressure do you want to run?’; ‘What time do you want to start your warm up?’; ‘On what laps do you want your gels?’ – an answer is given. It is assured, confident, polite. There is no fuss from either party. There is experience at play here. Experience and understanding. With himself and his own needs, and with the staff at Orange Monkey. It works exceptionally well.
4) He is a role model, without really knowing it.
Martin has a pretty impressive palmares. World Cup top 10s, Swiss Championship podiums, years riding for Cannondale Factory Racing. It was a big step forward for Orange Monkey to sign such a rider, and the impact that they hoped it would have seems to have been made, certainly in terms of a figure for the younger riders to look up to. Martin’s easy but assured and decisive but not demanding way means that he quite simply gets on with what he has to do, but all the time he is setting a standard that the others follow, even if sub-consciously. His humble nature, where there is no need to be centre-of-attention, means he is probably unaware of quite how highly regarded and respected he is within the team, but as an ‘outsider’ it is clear to me what a positive impact he has.
5) He has a big smile
Martin: “First a talent with writing, and you can cook too! Will you marry me?”
Me: “Maybe we should wait a little longer, get to know each other better.”
Martin: “Okay, maybe tomorrow!”
Oh how we laughed! There was no shortage of quick wit and joking around during our time in Meribel. My cheeks ached from all the smiling, and with the thigh-slapping guffawing, my stomach muscle got the occasional work out too! Clearly this was a team very much at ease in each other’s company. Phrases lost in translation were flying all over the place but were always funny rather than frustrating.
A World Cup weekend involves a lot of sitting around for the riders, so YouTube videos and TV series are a plenty. For the Monkeys these included a demonstration of Swiss-style Euro pop and The Inbetweeners. A highly cultural exchange… but resulting in fantastic fun.
Martin is a highly focussed athlete and very professional in his approach to racing, but that doesn’t stop him being relaxed and very pleasant company. He has a big smile, full of warmth and life, and you see a lot of it. He really is a top guy.