Bjorn Thurau had gone winless in 2016 with Wanty-Groupe Gobert. But with aggressive rides against WorldTour level opposition he felt he had enjoyed a respectable season and, at 28 years-old, had more to give.
He was optimistic of gaining a new contract but as the cycling season was winding down, he received a WhatsApp message from his team manager stating that his one-year contract would not be extended.
“From June onwards I had been trying to talk to the team manager but he never replied, never answered his phone,” Thurau says.
“I sent emails, SMSs, and then at the end of September he sent me a small message via WhatsApp that he didn’t want to give me a contract and all the best for the future. That’s it.”
Like many professional riders in a similar position of impending unemployment, Thurau took to Twitter to publicise his predicament in the hope that it might just connect him with a team looking for a rider like him.
— Björn Thurau (@BThurau) November 11, 2016
Nearly two metres tall with spindly limbs that give the impression that he is riding a child’s size bike, the 28-year-old son of Dietrich – winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1979 – has an aggressive style that netted him the mountain classification at the 2014 Tour de Suisse while riding for Europcar, his only professional success.
— Björn Thurau (@BThurau) November 18, 2016
Unlike Ilia Koshevoy, Thurau’s tweets haven’t brought him a contract. He and his father have continued the search, ringing around teams, beginning with those where he knew riders, managers or certain sponsors before widening the search to any team he could. They have so far been met with the same response.
“Around 50 per cent, I didn’t get an answer from a phone call,” Thurau says. “I don’t understand that; in the cycling world, team managers know me. I think if you know each other from races you can at least give a short answer on the phone. It’s a matter of respect.
“And the answers we did get said that the team was full or that they needed different riders.”
Winter of discontent
The winter of 2016 is a difficult time for those riders without a contract. Thanks to the closure of Tinkoff and IAM, the market has been flooded with WorldTour riders while the promotion of Bora to the WorldTour meant the riders who didn’t make the cut have had to find new teams too.
Meanwhile, Bahrain-Merida is the only new WorldTour squad on the scene, and the uncertainty surrounding TJ Sport, formerly Lampre-Merida, appears for now to have narrowly avoided dumping another 24 riders onto the market.
Thurau wonders what might have got in the way of a deal. Perhaps it is because he is a baroudeur, a breakaway artist with no specialism for the classics, sprints or climbs. It could have been the broken rib that curtailed the end of his season and stopped him putting himself in the metaphorical shop window.
He also suggests that were he a different nationality, he may have been handed a spot – teams often search for a mix of nationalities to maximise sponsor engagement and reach across the globe.
But Thurau’s story is complex, and he is not naïve; he knows that his brush with the MPCC in June this year has not helped his cause one bit.
On the morning of the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné, Thurau was on his way home after a blood test taken by the MPCC – the voluntary Movement for Credible Cycling – the previous morning returned low cortisol levels.
MPCC rules dictate that in such an instance teams must rest their riders as low cortisol levels can indicate illness or injury. They can also be caused by the abuse of cortisone to enhance performance. Thurau disputes that his levels were too low and says he was taking nothing more than an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream for saddle sores at the time.
A sorer point for him now is the procedure of the MPCC, which at the time published the findings in a press release and allowed the cycling world to put two and two together.
“The media doesn’t look at it and say, ‘oh maybe he was sick or maybe for him this is normal,’ they just think, ‘ah maybe he was doping with cortisone.’ Nobody ever asked me what happened, it was just the negative headline and then end of story.
“Nobody from the teams [I talked to] wanted to say that was the reason why I didn’t get a chance, but at the end of the day I’m clever enough to understand that some teams don’t want a guy who has had a bit of negative publicity.”
Despite training and planning a two-week training camp in South Africa, Thurau is now contemplating life outside cycling, “even though it’s hard to understand that I have to do something different.
“I was reading an article about how the NFL [American football federation] works with companies like Microsoft or Starbucks to help the players find a job after their career. In cycling, you have nothing like that,” he adds.
“You are alone, and you have to fight for yourself to get another future. I think it would be nice if there could be more support with certain programs to help you start your new life.
“I learned a lot from my sport, the discipline and everything you need. But on the other side I’m a little bit sad that now I’m on my own, and nobody is helping me, or giving me a second chance. The only thing I want is a second chance to show what I can do.”
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