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UWTC 2015 - Igor Kopše: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

An interview with Mr Igor Kopše, two-time World Champion in amateur road cycling

The latest World Road Cycling Championship that took place in Denmark from 3rd to 6th September 2015, launched a few more heroes into the orbit of sport – amongst them, there is definitely Igor Kopše, 41, from Ptuj, Slovenia, who won the Individual Time Trial as well as the Road Race in his category (40-44 years of age) at the Sunday race, thus claiming the title of a World Champion.
Kopše, who had only been an active cyclist since the age of 33, dedicates – despite having a family of three children and a full-time job – all his energy and commitment to this sport, so it comes as no surprise that he, in his five consecutive Amateur World Championships, wore five Rainbow Jerseys. Although many classify him as an expert in Individual Time Trials, he claims road cycling to be his main passion. A day upon his return from the Championship we found him at work, but he gladly shared some of his favourite sporting moments with us.


 It has been two days since your last victory. How do you feel when you look back at this outstanding achievement?
“This was not the first time for me to earn the title of a World Champion – it is the third one in Road Race and the second one in Individual Time Trials. I’d therefore already experienced those most emotionally intense feelings in the past years. Also, for me this success was not too big a surprise, a coincidence or sheer luck: when a sportsman gains experience and gets to know his competition and the demands of the sport itself, one silently expects such achievements, and I felt the same way. Certainly you can never foretell such outcomes - there is always a myriad of obstacles that may happen along the way, and I was faced with a fair share of those this time round, but an inner voice kept telling me that I had a chance to win. Winning was also my only objective, but I did not feel pressured because of it, as I had gained the title two times before already. This is also the reason why the emotional part of the win was not as strong this year, but I was nonetheless excited to be the first one to get to the finish line again this year.”

Warming up before timetrial 

You had been planning to participate in the race for the past season. What did your preparations look like?
“We, the cyclists, know the location of the Amateur World Championship and the route there a year in advance. Last year, as soon as they had published the course for this year’s championship online, I knew that this race would suit me down to the ground. Heavier cyclists, such as me, usually do well in windy conditions and on flat courses. Even before this year’s championship I had achieved virtually everything an amateur could, so this year I only had two goals – the Franja Marathon and the Amateur World Championship.
Every year, my season starts on 1st November after a two-weak break that I take in October. This is when I start running and attending the gym, while doing some light cycling from time to time as well. I attend the winter league of mountain running at Pohorje, which keeps me active throughout the winter. All this serves as good preparation for the actual cycling. For example, during winter time I usually work out ten hours per week, but as the days start getting longer I dedicate myself to cycling and prolong the duration of trainings week by week. In summer, I get to around 15 hours, while in weeks before competitions I intentionally overtrain, squeezing in up to 20 hours per week. This kind of management gets me in best shape just in time for the competitions, or, as us cyclists like to say, I’m 'on the rivet'.
I annually do around 20,000 kilometres, which makes up for roughly 12.5 hours of training weekly.”

Igor Kpoše start his winning time trial race

Bad luck for Matej Kravos with puncture in TT race

Do you plan the trainings by yourself or do you get coached?
“I am my own coach. It is also my hobby to help out other cyclists. Not many people know that, but I am very well disposed towards numbers and statistics, so I tend to have a scientific approach to many sport’s aspects. Thus, for the past five years, I have been diligently noting down the hours of sleep I get per night, how well I sleep, what my pulse is like in the morning and how much I weigh every morning … I also keep track of a number of data such as what I eat, how much I eat, what nutrients my body receives … All of this is a part of being at the top in amateur sport, it is all very focused and serious, not just mere recreation! We wake up thinking about the sport and cannot stop thinking about it until evening. We train in all conditions, either at -5 or +35°C and do the training because we simply have to. Just like the professionals, our sport and competitions are constantly on our minds, the only difference being the professionals making a living out of it while we have to pay to practice.”

You and your team arrived in Denmark a week before the race. Did you get to know the two routes well?
“We departed for Denmark on Sunday already, primarily in order to check out the courses at ease. Before such races, it is of vital importance to know the course with all its details and tricks in minute detail. It takes more than a day’s ride in a van to really get to know all 164 km of the route of the World Championship. I managed to really memorise the course well, I also had a course plan written on a piece of paper on the handlebars. I knew exactly which kilometre presented which uphill, where the turns were, the tricky parts …”

Denmark is not a country of many steep climbs, but it is the land of wind. In such conditions it is imperative to choose the right gear. What kind of gear did you choose?
“Cycling gear plays a crucial role in road racing. It is not as important for the gear to be high-end as it is important for it to be reliable. Gear must not let you down in the race, nor can it present an obstacle. In windy conditions, the choice of gear is all the more paramount; the last generation of KAVITEC wheels have proven to be outstanding in such conditions, as they are very wide and their U-shaped frame can be a decisive factor in case of such wind, as we experienced in Denmark. Strong gusts of wind can toss a cyclist across the road, and it is necessary to be very stable on the bicycle in such cases. The tires, also, are very important, as are the transmissions. The latter are completely different at hill climb routes from those at flat courses. My average speed in a road race was more than 40 km/h, which means that tailwind can bring you up to 55 km/h or more. It is of utmost importance for the front and rear cranksets to be big enough.
The clothing is also pivotal. The jerseys and the bib shorts have become very close-fitting and aerodynamic, and the helmet, too, has changed, all in order to ensure that you save energy in dealing with air resistance. When cycling for 165 km, at the end every watt saved determines who has more energy and strength in his legs.

You celebrated your first victory already on Thursday, in Individual Time Trials. How was it?
“Individual Time Trials presented me with an incident that a racer does not experience frequently. Weather forecast reported showers from 4 pm to 6 pm, and this is exactly what happened. I was to start somewhere in the middle of my group, at 4.10 pm, so our group rode in heavy rain, which presented a major problem, especially at turns. The rain was a problem on its own, but another thing happened right after the start: when I took off at the starting ramp, my pedal broke off. I have never experienced this before, but now it happened at the World Championship, and at the starting ramp on top of it. I had not even made it to the first curve, so I barely managed to stay on and went back to the judges to ask them for a repeated start. They rejected me at first, but then allowed me to start as the last one in my group, 12 minutes later. During this short period of time we managed to find a matching pedal and changed it mere three minutes before I took off down the starting ramp again. As I was riding last in our group at the finish line I knew that I had won, but to learn about the absolute time, I had to wait for additional two hours for the other racers to finish as well. Only the Swiss representative was 14 second faster than me, mainly due to the fact that I was riding in rain while he already had a dry road. “

Igor Kopše - pure machine

Best in group 40-44years: from TUŠ TEAM on first place IgorKopše and third place Borja Jelič

Youngest group : third place for TUŠ TEAM  Matej Lovše

So the event with the pedal did not throw you off your game?
“I am lucky to be one of those people who are not nervous at the start. I get completely coldblooded, which has proven to be a key strength many times before, and it makes me perform better under stress. In my everyday life, I am nothing special when dealing with stressful situations, but before a race, when the psychological preparation is crucial, I am completely different, almost as if I were a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I did not let the event confuse me; I started again and let everything turn for the best at the end.”

Since the main race, the Sunday one, was still awaiting you, did you take the time to celebrate the win? How did you spend the time while waiting for the follow-up event?
“My main objective was the road race. That is my love, my passion. Everybody thinks of me as the Individual Time Trial specialist, but my heart lies with the Road, and I had been mainly prepared for the road. I was very glad of the ITT win as well, but after that race was finished, we did not celebrate it much. I had a massage scheduled, a great dinner with a large piece of red meat and - a toast to the win, although I normally abstain from drinking alcohol. We celebrated the win shortly on Saturday, when we visited the local patisserie where we had an after-lunch dessert. I had a large portion of ice cream and a coffee, as, before the main race, this was the only moment when we could afford something like this. We had to fuel up for the next day, so a dessert was more than welcome.”

Nutrition is a key factor of your life. At the championship, did you prepare your meals yourself?
“By rule I prepare my own meals, and Denmark was no different. Most of my colleagues do not make a big deal out of it, but I do, and everybody knows that by now. Even though I perceive myself as omnivore, there are a lot of things I do not eat: flour, gluten, sugar … The base of my diet consists of fruit, vegetables, red meat, offal, relatively high level of fats, mainly butter and lard, and eggs. I eat a lot of unprocessed vegetables and fruit, but I completely avoid all kinds of grains and rather choose a lot of starchy vegetables (carrots, beetroot, potato …). I never eat empty sugars such as pancakes with Nutella or cookies - those are reserved for those who want to be fat and ill. Mountains of pasta are also out-of-date in sport, as they give a sportsman nothing more than bad blood iron. We should omit our scepticism towards animal fats: I eat so much of those I should have been long dead if they were malign. All in all, nutrition is extremely important, not only in the diet you have before a race, but mostly in the diet that you live off through the year.”

On Sunday, the day of the race, the weather was sunny, cold and quite windy. What were the conditions like?
“The Sunday was typically Danish. It cooled down a lot, and we had heard strong winds during the night already; in the morning, we had 11°C and north wind. These conditions made me happy, as I knew that the windier it got, the more difficult the race would be. If the track’d been sunny, warm and calm, the race’d have been too easy, all the cyclists would be able to endure it, but in such conditions only the best stood a winning chance.”

Igor Kopše finished his road race as winner in his group and abspoulte fastest time for road race

After finish - Igor Kopše TUŠ TEAM

Powering in timetrial mode to the finish 

The race was broadcast live online, and many of your fans and cycling enthusiasts at home were watching you. How would you describe the 4 hours and 3 minutes of the race today?
“In the eyes of many, I represented one of the favourites for the win, and many of the cyclists had my race number written on their handlebars so they could watch out for me. I was a marked competitor, I could not do a lot in the first few kilometres or the whole peloton would have followed me. I was therefore aware of the fact that I had to be in front but not be panache, and simply follow. The first breakaway happened after only 10 km, but the next 40 km were dictated by strong gusts of wind that allowed for a bunch of twenty to break away from the peloton of 240 cyclists. Then, the course turned almost completely west and had us dealing with side wind. I seized that moment to attack and out of 20, only around 12 remained by the 70th kilometre. At the 93rd kilometre, a selective wall was awaiting us. There were extremely strong side winds near the top of the climb, so I jumped again and had only two competitors following me still. I had to really pull it through at that point so the peloton could not catch up with us. So at the 95th kilometre there were only three of us in the tête, me, a Danish and an American competitor. The latter could not keep up with the paceline, as he was light and the wind was tiresome for him, so the last 70 kilometres were dictated by me and the Danish representative alone.”

When did you evaluate that the Danish cyclist is not capable of being in your tow and what made you take the final jump?
At the 155th kilometre – the last climb before finish – I attacked one last time, by which time he could not keep up with me anymore. I switched to my “ITT mode” and it became clear to me that I had only 8 km to endure at my maximum and not make any mistakes.  I knew I only had to get to the finishing line. I knew the win was mine in the last kilometre, I could have walked the last 400 metres and still make it, so I could gesture the win in the last turn, but I only raised the hands off the handlebars (because of some unfortunate past events) after having crossed the finishing line.”

 You returned from Denmark with two World Champion Jerseys, which makes five altogether. Are they appointed a special place at home?
“The title of a World Champion gives you the right to wear the Rainbow Jersey for a year, but it is not just a right, it is also an obligation, as the current World Champion must wear the jersey at all the UCI races. The Rainbow Jersey can only be worn for a year, but we are allowed to decorate the neckline or sleeves of our own jerseys with a rainbow pattern and keep it for life. We lose the right to wear the jerseys after a year, but we do not have to return them physically. I had given away most of mine; I only kept the one from South Africa, the first one, which I had put in a frame.”

The next year’s Championship is going to take place in Australia. Will you search for new victories there, too?
“No, I think I will not go to Australia. It is too far and too expensive. Should the opportunity arise for me to cover all expenses with sponsorship funds, I would gladly take two weeks off work and travel there. But if I have to cover most of the expenses alone, I will not go to the Championship in Australia next year.”

The season is virtually over. Will we see you at any race until then?
“I have managed to reach my goals for the season, but it is not quite over for me yet. Some minor races await me in September, and I look forward to them a lot, since I participate there every year, mainly because I enjoy them. I will attend a race in Istria, and an Individual Time Trial in Austria. After 10th October I will take two weeks off and have a physical as well as mental rest from the past season, and then start getting ready for a new one.”

 The Špica šport Kamnik Team


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