Carlos Verona: Orica-BikeExchange recruit, promising climber, future UCI president?
Rohan Dennis made headlines in 2014 when, in early August of that year, he transferred from Garmin-Sharp to BMC with immediate effect. Mid-season transfers like Dennis’ are something of a rarity — when teams announce in early August which riders they’ve signed, they’re almost always talking about who will join them for the following season. But as the recent case of Carlos Verona demonstrates, mid-season transfers do occasionally happen.
After three and a half years of development at Etixx–Quick Step, the Spanish climber has joined Orica–BikeExchange, effective immediately. Indeed the 23-year-old was already racing in Orica colours a day after the August 1 transfer window opened.
So who is Carlos Verona? What does he bring to Orica-BikeExchange? And what does the future hold for the promising Spaniard?
The week after the Tour de France is a dull one in road cycling. After a month of mounting tension, journalists take a well-deserved break and news is scarce. When news does break during this time it tends to attract a relatively large amount of coverage and discussion. After this year’s Tour de France, news of an ordinary rider transfer got more attention that it might otherwise have.
Spanish climber Carlos Verona was set to change teams, from the Etixx-QuickStep squad where he had ridden for four seasons to Orica-BikeExchange, which had recruited him as part of a long-term plan of building a team capable of supporting the Grand Tour ambitions of Esteban Chaves and the Yates brothers.
What made this regular transfer news into something more was the outraged statement given by Etixx CEO, Patrick Lefevere.
“I’m not happy at all”, Lefevere said about Verona signing with Orica. “I kept him for five (sic) years. He was always sick and always injured and we had a lot of patience. Then the first time he does a good race, he leaves.”
Verona’s time with Etixx was clearly up after Lefevere’s unusually harsh dispatch. The following day, both teams and the rider got in touch and agreed that the transfer would be effective immediately, as of August 1. It isn’t clear who triggered the move: every side tells a different story.
In the end, what matters is that, when CyclingTips met with Verona during the recent Vuelta a Burgos, he was sporting an Orica-BikeExchange polo shirt, talking about his new team and the challenges that lie ahead.
For years now, Carlos Verona has been considered one of the brightest prospects in Spanish pro cycling. The only question was: a prospect of what?
Julio Andrés Izquierdo is the manager of Burgos BH, a long-running and tight-budgeted Continental team where Verona first became professional. What does Izquierdo expect from his former rider in the future?
“Verona? He will become UCI president,” he said. When we confront the rider with his former DS’s words, he laughs. “He really said that? Well … why not?”
What lies behind Izquierdo’s words is not malice of any kind – far from it. It is some kind of pride for having had Verona on his humble team, and a deep respect for a rider who has always surprised everyone in Spanish cycling with his precociousness and maturity.
“The first time I spoke with him on the phone, I thought he was his dad,” Izquierdo recalls. “After a while discussing his contract, I asked him to put his son on the phone.”
“I’ve always gone against the current,” Verona says unassumingly. Indeed, he’s taken many steps that are unusual in Spanish cycling. After a very successful run as a junior, he declined to follow the common path of racing in the amateur ranks.
Instead of spending some years netting results in 100 kilometre races that normally go unnoticed by the senior squads, he dared to ask for a spot at Burgos BH and, as an 18-year-old, faced the grown-ups.
“I’ve learned from my parent, a serial entrepreneur I really look up to,” Verona told CyclingTips. “I can’t wait for the future. I have to make things happen.”
This same spirit saw Verona sign with Lefevere’s team a couple of years later. There he has evolved as a cyclist and as a character, as he has taken care of having the right publicity for his feats. After all, he’s studied marketing for two years – he knows how to showcase himself. It’s no surprise that his Facebook page is one of the best, most-updated in pro cycling.
His move to Orica
During his nearly-four-year stint in the World Tour, Verona has developed his climbing abilities and race craft to match his renowned intelligence. His results haven’t been brilliant to date, but he has definitely become one to watch and take into account.
“For me, the turning point was last year’s Vuelta,” he explains. “I felt great during those three weeks.”
Indeed, Verona was very active in the breakaways and was always in the mix, as he was later in Il Lombardia and the Abu Dhabi Tour, making up for the quieter months he had earlier that year because of a broken scaphoid.
His contract with Etixx was set to expire this winter. Having recently experienced how an injury can ruin a season, he asked for a busy race schedule. “I wanted to perform right off the bat,” he asserts. “I am an endurance rider, thus I can manage a huge workload.”
Verona rode the Tour Down Under, Volta a Catalunya, Volta al Pais Vasco, the Tour de Romandie – even the Giro. After the ‘corsa rosa’ he had 56 race days in his legs. Only Roberto Ferrari, from Lampre, had completed more than him by that time.
It was on the Tour de France’s first rest day in Andorra that he signed for Orica-BikeExchange. The reason: “confidence” and the need for a “changing environment.”
Hearing his explanations, one feels Verona was afraid of stagnating at Etixx. He arrived as “the junior” and upgrading his status there was more difficult than looking for a better one elsewhere. He felt Orica really “wanted” him and was going to consider him a key player.
An additional argument: “I had to take care of myself.” He alludes to the fact Etixx is only offering one-year deals because the sponsorship agreements it has in place only enables them to do so. Meanwhile, Orica has given him a contract through 2018.
“Had I followed my heart, I would have stayed with Etixx because I feel strong bonds to those in the team,” he asserts. “But in my mind it was clear I needed to go to a new team to develop further as a rider.”
Once Verona’s contract with Orica-BikeExchange was signed, Lefevere spurred the mid-season transfer. There are as many versions of how it happened as sources to tell the story. Some say Lefevere told Orica he wasn’t going to take Verona to a single race from then on, then gave the option of releasing him from his contract. Others say it worked the other way, with Orica asking Lefevere to release Verona to use him to support Chaves’ upcoming Vuelta bid.
As with any messy issue in life, reality depends on the point of view.
Now with his first race in Orica-BikeExchange colours complete, Verona is really upbeat about his “emergency landing” at the Australian-registered squad.
“It’s been a pleasure to work for [Mark] Cavendish, [Tom] Boonen or [Bob] Jungels,” he points. “Now I feel excited to join Orica’s GT [Grand Tour] project. I feel responsibility, and also how they trust me and my aptitude to be a great helper in the mountains.”
He regards his long-term prospects with even more enthusiasm.
“I have a lot of room for improvement. I haven’t reached my physical peak yet – not at all. My performance is increasing year by year, and it will for a long time. I don’t set any limit to my progression. Being 24 [this year], I’m entitled to be ambitious. I yearn to be like [Richie] Porte or [Wout] Poels, a great domestique who earns the right to become a leader.”
This winter, an issue of Spanish magazine Ciclismo a Fondo focused on Spain’s biggest talents and compared Verona to Alberto Contador.
“I know there are a lot of expectations on my shoulders,” Verona says knowingly. “But for me it isn’t but a compliment.”
Time will tell whether he’ll be a multiple Grand Tour winner, a sport politician or just a decent, respectable cyclist. “I will be happy anyway”, he remarks with a big smile.
About the author
Fran Reyes wanted to make a living out of modelling but had to settle with being a journalist. Nowadays, he is a freelance cycling writer featuring mostly in Spanish media and goes to the gym once a week, slowly chasing his dream of posing for Yves Saint Laurent. You can follow him on Twitter: @FranReyesF