Thursday, 5 May 2011

Meet Mart Ojavee, Team Champion System rider

Meet Mart, a chat with Mart Ojavee

By Steve Thomas/

During the early part of the 2011 race season Team Champion System rider Mart Ojavee has been on great form, consistently grabbing podium finishes in UCI Asia Tour and other races as well as winning the Hong Kong Road Race, and more frustratingly coming desperately close to his first UCI ranked victory of the season – on numerous occasions.
His latest close call came just a week ago in the UCI Europe Tour GP Herning in Denmark, a race that is something of a classic along the lines of the Paris-Roubaix. Mart had been in at the head of the race for around a third of the distance, picking up the prestigious points for crossing the races dirt road sections first enough time to earn him the dusty equivalent to the points title in the race. But just when it looked like he was going to contest for the final race victory he flatted, his number three flat for the day, as he tells us; “It was on one of the dirt roads, the team cars are way back on these sections, I got a wheel okay from the neutral service. But, that was it; by the time I got going again the leading group of 7 riders had gone, and the race was over for me. It was too late in the day to get back.”

The previous week Mart had come even closer to taking a possible victory in a stage of the Tour of Hellas in Greece; “That was perhaps the most frustrating. We’d been away for most of the stage, and there were just the 3 of us coming into the finishing straight. It looked like we’d fight for the stage between us; but then 1 rider of the 3 crashed on the corner, we had to almost stop to avoid him. It was just 2-3 seconds of delay and a loss of speed. “ The bunch swept Mart and his breakaway companion up inside the closing 200 meters of the race.
A couple of weeks earlier he’d taken the green points title in the Tour of Taiwan, and came even closer to stage win when he finished second in the opening prologue time trial, just a fraction of a second off the pace; “The prologue, that was not so bad – I was on my own and gave it all, so I couldn’t do any more.” A week earlier and the “nearly man” had been second on a stage of Jelajah Malaysia; “That one, I can accept. Sohrabi (Mehdi) was just way to strong, and I could not win.”
His early season form seems quite surprising, being as he came from the depths of an unusually harsh Estonian winter; “I always have good for at this time of year, no matter how hard the winter has been. Last year I was even stronger, but because of the volcano in Iceland I couldn’t fly to many of the races.”
But how do you train when the snow is nearly saddle deep at home and your drinks bottle freezes up; “When it’s really cold it’s not too bad; I can go mountain biking or cross country skiing, but not for long. It’s when it’s cold and raining that it becomes impossible. This year I spent time training in Hong Kong, it’s not great for training – but it was a better option than going back to short snowy mountain bike rides at home.”
Home, between races, for the 29-year old Mart is the Estonian capital of Tallinn, where he lives with his girlfriend and baby daughter; “It’s a very old and historical city with about 450,000 people. The riding around here is mostly flat and windy, which is good for me.”  It’s strange, but it seems that a lot of people have never even heard of Estonia – despite it’s main claim to fame – inventing Skype; “Yeah, it’s a very beautiful country with great nature. Towards Tartu it gets hillier, and that’s a good place to ride.”

Until 1991, when Mart was 10, Estonia was still annexed as part of the Soviet Union, and back then things were very different for “wannabe” athletes. How did he get started in cycling; “My father was a cyclist when he was young, but he was sent to the army when he was 18, and that stopped him. So I was always encouraged, and used to go riding and training for fun with friends. I started racing at 10 years old. If you’re good at sports here you get the chance to go to a sports school; you have time to train in the morning, go to school in the afternoon, and then train again in the afternoon (a system inherited and left over from the Soviet era).

It was during his schooling that Mart became more serious about racing, which was also when his close friend and training partner Jaan Kirsipuu (Team Champion System captain) started to make his way into the pro peleton; “I think it was 92 when Jaan first went to France as a pro. I was still young and didn’t know of him at that time. It was a few years later that he became more famous, and even later when we really became good friends – when he was a sports director of the team I was riding for.”
Much of Marts own racing career has been spent in mainland Europe; “For a long time I was based in Holland, but spent most of my time in France or Italy, and I also spent 1-year racing in Belgium.” This wind torn slice of Northern Europe is a renown and tough school for bike racing, yet now he’s chosen to ply his trade (at least in part) on the somewhat more heated roads of Asia, which is a long way from the frozen cobbles of the Benelux and the Baltic. How do things compare; “It’s very different (racing in Asia). The racing is a lot more aggressive, there’s always a lot of attacking, but then very often riders just sit and look at each other. In Europe if you go, you go! At first I though Asia would be easier; but in many ways it’s harder. The races are long, and it’s often very hot one minute and really heavy rain the next.”
With a busy early season and a lot of close calls already behind him what comes next? “I’ve been resting a little for a week; next we have a 4 race series of critiriums in Estonia, the points from these decide the National Critirium Champion – so I really hope to win after so many close calls this year, or that Jaan wins. As long as the team takes the title. That’s a big target for the moment.”
Will we see him again on Asian roads soon; “I think so, well I hope so; as long as I get picked for the teams. I’d really like to do Qinghai Lake and the Tour of China.”