To paraphrase Jules Dassin’s movie, Naked City, there are million stories in the peloton. This is one of them.
Bissell Pro Cycling Team rider João Miguel da Silva Correia started racing at the tender age of six in his native Portugal. After moving to the United States with his family at the age of eleven, he continued racing, representing his country at the Junior World Championships in 92 and 93, and he went on to race professionally in Europe for Portuguese and Dutch teams. But in 1996, Correia stopped racing.
It all started with a bet. About a year and half ago, Correia carrying 190 pounds on his 5’9” frame was riding his bike in New York City.
“One of my clients saw me ride and ask ‘did you ever race?’ and I said ‘yeah, I used to race on a Portuguese pro team, I say that a lot but nobody really cares’, and he said ‘yeah, you can tell because of the pedaling, you can tell when a guy is a former rider’. He says ‘ how old are you?’, and I say ‘well, I’m 30 now’, and he says ‘well you can probably still get back into good shape’ so we made a bet.”
Correia started to do local races, and decided to prepare for the local races by doing national races, and did pretty well on his first race. He then started working with Dr Max Testa and Nanna Meyer to improve his form.
“I kept losing the weight, and then I did some races for Priority Health as a guest rider last year and this year they (Bissell) had an extra spot, and they called me and asked if I was interested and I said ‘yeah, who wouldn’t be’.”
And the weight came off, slowly. “The first 15 (pounds) just weren’t coming off really, and then they started coming off and then I just kept doing the right things with training, with nutrition. It really wasn’t focusing on so much weight loss but really just changing the way that I ate and the way that I rode, and it sort of just came off.”
It takes a long time to get back into shape. The first year, Correia focused on losing the weight while ensuring that the muscle fibers were building up, and that there were no joint problems with the knees.
Holding back was a challenge.
“A very close friend of mine who also works in New York City, a former junior World Champion from 2004, Miguel Morras from Spain. It’s funny we used to race together when we were kids and now we live in the same city, but you know, he also is doing the same thing I did because he had a bad accident in the mid 90s, but then he ended with new problems because the first year he was going so hard you know so the first year, I had to sort of just follow the wheels and let my body slowly acclimate. “
Last year, he pushed a little harder, with a focus on 2008. “This is the year that I’m really focusing on doing well and hopefully National Championships in the time trial are very important to me and hopefully going to the Olympics for the time trial, that’s my big goal. “
The rider slated to represent Portugal to the Olympic Games is Astana’s Sergio Paulinho. But, Correia feels that if he can get a top five at the National Championship Time Trial race, held on the same day as the start of the Tour of Portugal, he has a chance. As an amateur, he finished eleventh in last year’s Nationals.
“I think this year, I was about one minute off fifth so I think I can improve that time you know just with the natural progression and my body readapting. I’m still not at the same level that I used to be at, and I don’t know if I’ll ever reach that level again but with a full time job and a family and you know responsibilities.”
No longer fat João Correia in the Visalia Crit, Photo c. Lyne Lamoureux
No regrets. After Correia started racing at six years old, he always knew that he was going to make a living as a professional cyclist, but was faced with decisions at a certain point in his life. Armed with a scholarship for running, and after deciding that he wasn’t interested in making those choices in the current culture of the sport, and went to school instead.
“I sort of left this world that I truly loved but it opened this world of university and studies that I had no idea about and I just enjoyed that. I never regretted it. “
It was the right decision. “I look back on it and I think that the friends that I have that have who are still in the sport and stayed in the sport, I look at what they’ve done and how they’ve lived their lives and for them it was the right choice, I know for me it wasn’t. I’m just glad that the sport is in a different transitional point and it seems like the right time to come back. “
Obviously coming back to professional cycling at his current age of 32 is a challenge, but working with his coach Max Testa, Correia has tried to not focus on worrying about it because it’s out of his control. Due to training, he feels that athletes and riders today have longer careers, and that he can have a successful domestic racing career in the United States.
The goal is to slowly keep progressing and keep contributing to the team and see if along the way, Correia can meet some personal goals. Most of his training is done at night because of work during the day, so he trains in Central Park in the evening.
“Now riding a bike for me every day is a true blessing. Where before, I’d been doing it since I was 6, it was almost a chore, almost a job. “
Changes in racing. There have been many changes in racing since Correia started, stopped and re-started his career. There were no race radios, carbon-fiber frames weren’t really being used yet. But for Correia, the big difference is that athletes today are a lot smarter about preparation and more aware of the impact of proper training, rest and nutrition.
“The nutrition has changed incredibly just the food you consume when you are in races these days, and the awareness that people have of after racing recovery drinks now, during the race drinks, that’s completely different than in the mid-90s.”
When asked his opinion about race radios, Correia replied with a laugh, “personally I hate radios.”
“I think radios are a terrible idea especially for young riders. I think that the cyclist needs to think, needs to make decisions on the road and needs to know how the race is going to develop and it makes for more interesting racing as well. I think radios take a little bit away from that, it tends to be much more racing by remote control from the team car you know. “
Focus on 2008. While his personal goals are the Portuguese Nationals, the road race and the time trial, which hopefully will lead to the Olympic Games, Correia sees his role as helping the team wherever he is needed.
“I’d love to work with the younger riders, share some of my racing experience with them but my role is always as a helper. That tends to be the traditional role of Portuguese riders, we’re great helpers. We get motivated by the success of others so I’m very excited about that.”
Follow João Miguel da Silva Correia in his tales by reading his blog: João is me.
Headshot photo courtesy of Bissell Pro Cycling Team.