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Yellow Jersey Tours: The Centenary Tour de France
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 2/16/2003
Yellow Jersey Tours: The Centenary Tour de France

By Manny Samaniego and Janna Trevisanut

"As a professional cyclist I have come to appreciate all the extra amenities teams provide that make a day on the bike much easier. My goal with Yellow Jersey Tours is to replicate this same level of service for a select `team´ of cyclists. I want to give people the chance to experience, as closely as possible, the day to day life of a pro-cyclist on the road." --Bingen Fernandez Bustinza (Cofidis)

Nikane Mallea and Bingen Fernandez Bustinza are the proprietors of Yellow Jersey Tours, one of the Daily Peloton's advertisers. This unique tour company provides a highly personalized bike tour experience, this year focusing on the Centenary Tour de France. Guests will embark on an 8-day, 7-night experience with a 1:2 staff to guest ratio, guided rides, massage and mechanical service and more with a pro cycling community staff. We talked to Nikane and Bingen to find out all about it.

Bingen Fernandez

Nikane Mallea

DP: How did two riders end up running a Tour tour business? What gave you the idea? Are you a husband and wife team? What unique qualities do you bring to the tour business because of this? Is this a long-term plan for when you two cease riding?

Bingen: Cycling is more than a profession for me - it is my life and I will always be doing something cycling related. I want to do what I love and be with people who share that passion. Fortunately we both feel the same way and have similar interests and dreams. Husband and wife team? Well sort of - we are engaged to be married. This is the beginning of something long-term. Eventually we would like to set up training camps for local, young riders in the Basque Region and probably for a broader international clientele as well.

Nikane: I agree. I definitely feel that our best asset is our passion for the sport, but we also understand how to plan so that it works as well. Yellow Jersey Tours is the culmination of several years of serious planning and brainstorming and based on our desire to run tours that offer a highly specialized service.

DP: How directly involved are you two in the actual tours? Do you accompany the guests? If so, does this add to the experience because you can lend your personal insight to the tour? What impact does it have on the guests, and also, how does it affect your race schedules?

Bingen: I want to be involved, and I think that our involvement is the only way that we can make sure that we run more than an average bike tour. This is why Nikane and I have been directly involved in the tour’s planning, itinerary and hiring and will be a part of the actual tours. Most of our off-season was spent meticulously planning the day-to- day itineraries, booking hotels and so forth. This year we are focused entirely on the Centenary Tour (click here for itinerary), however once we stop competing we will have time to run more tours.

Nikane: Both of us plan to accompany guests - I will be at this year’s Tour de France as a guide with our good friend Jono Hall who has been involved in several other bike tours. As for Bingen…it all depends on whether he rides the Tour again this year or not. Even if he is in the saddle riding the Tour there are a lot of things that he has thought about and can do from the inside to add to our guests’experience.

DP: Talk about the tours themselves - give a description of your favorite aspects. What about your tour staff - who are they and how does the  ratio of staff to guests affect the guests' experience? You have some former pros - tell us about them. Do you end up making friends with the guests? Does the guest group become close? Do you have repeat guests?

Bingen: Our vision for YJT is to give average cyclists a truly unique experience - one that typically only we professional cyclists have. The service we offer is based on this and may end up better than what I get. We have experienced masseurs and mechanics who are from the professional cycling community. We have former Euskaltel mechanic Unai Fernandez, Jono Hall, a former rider from Festina, masseuse Jaime Navarro who has worked with Festina, Euskaltel and several Italian cycling teams to name a few. I have thought about staff a lot and chosen good friends who are good at what they do and are fun to be around.

The group size is kept small so we all have the opportunity to get to know each other well. We also want to maintain a 1:2 staff to guest ratio so that guests have the opportunity to become good friends with our staff. I am always looking forward to meeting guests.

Nikane: One question that I get often is whether our tours are only for professional or diehard cyclists, and they are not. We expect that our guests will be at different riding levels and we have planned to accommodate everyone. I personally hope that we have a lively assortment of backgrounds, skills and gender.

DP: Nikane, you are an American racing under a Spanish license - that is unusual. Talk about it and tell us about yourself. What team are you riding with this year and what are your aspirations? You have ridden in the Grand Boucle - will you ride this year, and can you tell us about that competition?

Nikane: Yes, I am American despite the anomaly that I am always listed as a Spanish rider. Initially I rode under the Basque Cycling Federation but last year I rode with a US Cycling license; and I was still listed as Spanish. I identify more with the European cycling community because my entire cycling career has been in Europe.

I am still new to the cycling world. My first season was in 2000, and was literally less than a year after I bought my first used road bike for $500. This will be my third season, and my second year racing for the team Sabeco. As I gain experience the seasons become easier. I have been a full-time student and had to work around those constraints which have not been easy. I will finish in March and be able to race a longer season this year which I look forward to. Last year I rode in the Grande Boucle which was a great experience riding within such a large, experienced field. Races like that force you to learn quickly for survival - I began that race having raced only a couple dozen days total over the years. If things go well again this year I would like to ride in the Grande Boucle again.

DP: Bingen, what is your background and what are your plans with Cofidis this year? Before Cofidis, where were you riding? What does your team think of this - do they accomodate you?

Bingen: I began racing professionally in 1996, so this will be my 8th season. I rode with Euskaltel for my first six years.

My first race this season is the Tour of the Mediterranean. I usually have a fairly full schedule the first few months in preparation for the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, which is in my backyard and I normally ride well in. It is also good for the team to have a couple riders from Spain. I am happy with Cofidis; it is an excellent team with lots of experienced riders which also means that we have to work hard to secure spots in the important races like the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana.

DP: Are you concentrating only on "touring" Le Tour or are there plans to cover other races? Maybe La Vuelta? Some of the smaller Spanish races?

Bingen: We plan to offer other tours as well. At this point Yellow Jersey Tours will only cover a few races a year but I envision us doing more tours in the future like a few classics and then other interesting ones like Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. We have done a lot of planning for La Vuelta as well but I hesitate to say for certain that we will offer that this year.

DP: Nikane, what prompted you to move to Spain to pursue your career as a professional cyclist?

Nikane: I came to the Basque Country of Spain in 1999 to study Basque, my family’s language, never expecting things to happen the way they did. I was pushed into the cycling world unexpectedly. Then I meet Bingen while training and well... that changed my life in another way. Bingen was the main reason that I stayed in Spain initially. My career grew because the cycling community in the Basque region is incredibly rich and has been so supportive of me. Then there is living and training with Bingen - eventually it became an easy lifestyle to adopt.

DP: Tell us about your racing background (if any) here in the States? And would you consider coming back to race the local circuit?

Nikane: I have not raced at all here in the States. Not even one race. A few years ago I had planned to race half of a season for but that never materialized. At this point I don’t see myself racing the local circuit, but mostly because of logistical reasons. Eventually I will do a few races here in the States, although it will almost certainly be with a European team.

DP: Nikane, give us an insight to your team...leaders, domestiques, sponsors, directors, etc.

Nikane: Women’s cycling is gaining attention both in Europe and in the States which is exciting. The success of Joane Somarriba has increased coverage and sponsorship of women’s cycling in our region and throughout Spain. After she won the Giro in 1999 and then the Grande Boucle 2000 and 2001 things definitely changed. The biggest difference between American and Spanish teams is the age difference of the riders; at age 26 I am the oldest rider on my team. Many women in Spain begin cycling very early, when they are twelve of thirteen and have many years of experience; Maite Telletxe, one of my teammates was the youngest rider in the Grand Boucle at only 19.

DP: Bingen, how long have you ridden for Cofidis?

Bingen: This will be my second season with them and I have another two years on my contract.

DP: Why did you decide to go to a French team - better program? Better opportunities?

Bingen: Switching teams was a very difficult decision for me; I had been with Euskaltel for six years. I am glad I made the decision that I did because I am very content with Cofidis; it is such a great team. When they approached me about helping out their leaders in the mountains I took my chances when I signed a one-year contract with them initially. They have given me good opportunities and a lot of freedom, which is great.

DP: Bingen, What type of a rider are you? Stage racer, Classics?

Bingen: I am a climber and I ride well in week long stage races.

DP: And you, Nikane...same question.

Nikane: I also consider myself a climber and prefer stage racing. Unfortunately, most of our schedule is composed of one-day races.

DP: How did the idea of creating a touring company come about?

Bingen: When I was younger I dreamed of being a professional cyclist; now I am. I vividly remember what it was like stepping into that world and want to give people the chance to experience what it is like. People always ask me what it is like when I am on the road and racing and always enjoy hearing my stories. I don’t want to run a normal tour business that only worries about getting people from one point to another. It is possible to give people something very special. I like the idea of doing that for people.

Visit the Yellow Jersey Tours website for more information about the Centenary Tour de France Tour, and for other tour offerings this season.


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