Johannes Frölingher (33) rode his 10th Vuelta a España as a professional bike racer in 2018. As road captain for Team Sunweb, his experience and knowledge are particularly useful for the very young riders who rode with him. The Prologue caught up with this veteran of the Vuelta on the second rest day.
Is the Vuelta an important race for you?
This is my 10th Vuelta, and it’s really special to ride this Grand Tour for the 10th time. I really like Spain and its landscape, especially the north coast. I love the nature, the people and the whole character of the country.
Do you get a chance to appreciate the countryside when you’re racing?
For sure: you can always see some of the nature and the landscape while you are riding the race, you just have to look up. There’s never any time to do sightseeing in the cities, unfortunately, but I often appreciate the countryside while I’m racing.
How would you characterise the Vuelta as a race?
Well you get to see a lot of Spain, riding around the whole country for three weeks. The north is very different from Andalucia, for example. Also, the temperature differences are huge between the north and the south. As a race, the Vuelta is less stressful than the Tour de France, although the racing is still at a really high level—in fact the route is even more difficult than the Tour, as there are almost no flat stages. Almost everywhere in Spain the roads go up and down!
How would you describe your role in the team?
Well I have the title of ‘team captain’, as an older rider with a lot of experience overall, but particularly in this race. We have a really young team, and having raced here ten times I kind of know how it goes here. Five of our team’s riders are riding their first-ever three-week race, and I am responsible for guiding them through those weeks on, and sometimes off the bike.
How are they doing?
I think they are doing brilliantly! We are still here with a full team, and what you sometimes see is that by the second week some riders have to go home already, but these guys are all fit and healthy. We’ve had a couple of crashes, but everybody’s still in good condition, especially the young ones, who are doing really good work in my opinion.
Do they listen to you?
I hope so [Frölingher laughs]. Maybe not to everything, but in general they respect my role, and are aware of my experience.
What does the team captain do?
I have had this role in several races now, so I’m quite used to it. But in general, you have to look at the route even more carefully. I try to analyse where the roads are decent, where they are narrower or rougher, and where it’s more important to stay in a better position in the bunch.
Is it a role you enjoy?
Yes, definitely. It’s something which has evolved over the years. It costs more energy though as I feel more responsible at certain moments. But it’s a challenge I like and I enjoy taking the extra responsibility.
Simon Geschke is leaving Team Sunweb this year, how does that effect you as a rider?
Simon and I have raced together for many years, and we live in the same city, so we have a lot of contact. We are friends off the bike and we also share private time. He is one of the longest-standing team members, so it will be strange not to have him around anymore. Of course other guys are also leaving and new riders are coming. That’s quite normal in bike racing.
How is the reputation of bike racing as a sport in Germany these days?
I have the feeling it is getting much better. Traditionally, in Germany, cycling is not as big a sport as it is the Netherlands or Belgium. Then there was a big hype with Jan Ullrich as the first German Tour de France winner. And then there was a big crisis with many doping scandals, which was followed by a ban on live TV coverage of races. But in recent years live TV has come back for the Tour de France. Also, this year the Tour of Germany was reinstated as a stage race and broadcast live on TV. So, things are looking really positive.
How would you describe yourself as a rider?
I’m a real all-rounder, so I am useful for different functions, I guess.
What type of riding do you enjoy the most as a racer?
I most enjoy the big races with a lot of spectators and the great atmosphere which really pushes you up the climbs! I very much enjoy Grand Tours. They are extremely demanding, compared with almost all other sports, but you definitely get a lot back from the fans on the road who give you great energy!