Over the last decade, Portugal has produced a few riders who have really put the country on the cycling map, especially Rui Costa, who became the country’s first UCI World Road Race champion back in 2013. The country has gone on to produce some great puncheurs and rouleurs, but is yet to produce a true mountain goat to match those coming out of their Iberian neighbours in Spain (although watching Amaro Antunes, no relation, of CCC Sprandi Polkowice this season will be very interesting as appears to have real pedigree in the mountains too).
After leaving the UCI’s World Cycling Centre, Tiago Antunes has joined the Spanish side Aldro, where he raced last season, and is hoping to become Portugal’s next big name rider and mountain specialist. Speaking with U23 Cycling Zone just after he completed his move from Switzerland to Spain, Tiago talked first about how he came to be at Aldro, run by former pro rider Manuel Saiz, after being unsatisfied by the UCI team.
“Last winter I had an agreement with Aldro Team, but the UCI approached me and, in the end, I rode with them instead. However, I was always in contact with Aldro, and after I left the UCI team, Aldro was the natural choice for my next team.”
It is not hard to see why the UCI were so keen to get him. After securing promising talents Franklin Archibold and Barnabas Peak, the World Cycling Centre were seeking for a stage racer who excelled in the mountains. They deemed Tiago to be the man for them, after scoring 9th overall in the Peace Race last year, as well as 10th in both the Ronde de l’Isard and the Volta a Portugal Futuro.
Tiago freely admits that he was slightly disappointed with the why his 2018 season started, which was a factor behind his decision to swap teams. However, he feels he has recently turned a corner and is heading into shape ahead of his big goals for the season, especially the mountainous stage races.
“The start of the season was not the best, but I think now I’m starting to get back in shape and get into form.”
Rumours are out there that suggest the lack of a clear program with the UCI team was another reason Tiago wanted to leave. At Aldro, he has a nice mixture of some really tough Spanish stage races, followed by two hard international UCI U23 races.
“My next races will be the Vuelta a Bizkaia and the Vuelta a Bidasoa in Spain, followed by the Ronde de l’Isard and, if I am selected, the Peace Race.”
Tiago loves the mountains, and insists he is more of a rider for the high altitude climbs than a rider who will excel on short, punchier climbs like his compatriots Costa and Ruben Geurreiro are. Stage races and Grand Tours will always hold the key to his heart, rather than the Classics.
“I’ve always maintained that I’m not a rider for the Ardennes Classics, I prefer the stage races with the big mountains, that is where I can perform best.”
Turning his attention to the upcoming races, Tiago says he will use the Spanish events as a break-in, a chance to meet his new teammates and ride with them. His big objectives come on a larger stage in the coming months. He confirmed that his big goals are at the Ronde de l’Isard, followed by the Peace Race, where he aims to build on the impressive results he accrued in the 2017 edition of those prestigious stage races.
Tiago is not the only talented Portuguese rider in the U23 ranks, with Hagens Berman Axeon being home to the Oliveira twins, Rui and Circuit des Ardennes stage winner Ivo, as well as U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Joao Almeida. In addition, Portugal has seen current national road race champion Guerreiro make it to the WorldTour recently, along with Movistar’s Nuno Bico. So why the influx in Portuguese talent in the last few seasons? Tiago attributes it to a few of his older compatriots.
“I think Portugal now has some really good young talents and the results produced by Rui Costa and Nelson Oliveira in the last few seasons has really opened some doors for young Portuguese riders to step onto the international stage.”
While answering the question which pro race he would dream of winning in the future, Tiago provided an answer that not one single rider in the previous twenty nine we have interviewed as part of our “Get to know” series had given before: the Olympic Games Road Race.
“If I could only choose one, it would be the Olympic Games Road Race. This is because the Olympics is the pinnacle of every single sport. In a pro career, you can race several Grand Tours or World Championships, but the Olympic Games, you only have two or three opportunities to win that race in a career, maybe less if the parcours doesn’t suit you.”
Tiago Antunes is a rider with real pedigree in the mountains, one of only a few mountain goats in the U23 division. Given how strong he was in the tough stage races last season, there is a real chance he will be a big contender in the races to come. Beyond that, his climbing legs should attract the interest of pro teams, so he may even be coming to your favourite WorldTour team too. Remember the name Tiago Antunes, not as the successor to Rui Costa, but as a trailblazer in his own right.
U23 Cycling Zone wishes to thank Tiago for taking part in this interview, and to Aldro team for setting it up so soon after signing Tiago. You can follow one of Spain’s best teams on Twitter at @AldroTeam, whilst Tiago’s handle is @Tiagoo_antunes.