Oliver Rees, a fresh vision of cycling in Portugal
After several renewals and new additions to its squad, Oliver Rees is one of the latest recruits for the Sabgal /Anicolor cycling team, UCI continental Portuguese team. Born in the United Kingdom (UK), the 22-year-old rider has recently made a significant move from Trinity Racing, to join the “ranks” of Sabgal/Anicolor.
In 2024, Oliver Rees has already raced for Sabgal / Anicolor Professional Cycling Team in the Clássica Comunitat Valenciana 1969 – Gran Premi Valéncia, 1.1 race, where he finished in the 54º place with a time of 04h35m42s, the same time as the winner, Dylan Groenewegen (Team Jayco AlUla). Portugal holds familiarity for the British rider, as he participated in the Volta a Portugal in 2022, achieving the podium in two stages. Additionally, in 2023, he competed in Volta ao Alentejo, where he wore the Youth leader jersey.
As we navigate through the interview, Oliver Rees shares his experiences of racing in Portugal, reflecting on the diverse courses, landscapes, and competitions that have shaped his approach to the sport in Portugal. His journey on Portuguese roads offers cycling enthusiasts a chance to understand the complexities of racing in Portugal for a foreign rider.
In Portugal we have a saying: “My neighbor’s grass is always greener than mine”, and when it comes to cycling, any Portuguese can express some displeasure with the national cycling scene. In this interview, Oliver Rees offers a different, almost refreshing approach to national cycling compared to the reality in the UK. In this conversation, we delve into the nuances of his transition from the cycling scene in the UK to the cycling landscape of Portugal. The rider shares his perspective on the differences he has encountered, both on and off the road, while riding in Portuguese races for Trinity Racing.
Furthermore, Oliver shared some insights into the reasons behind his decision to join Sabgal/Anicolor, a change that undoubtedly marks an exciting chapter in his career as a cyclist, as he states. From team dynamics to personal goals, we explore the motivations that led Oliver to the Portuguese team and his aspirations for the future.
Join us as we uncover the story behind Oliver Rees’ integration into the Portuguese cycling scene, and discover some insights into the challenges of transitioning between cycling cultures while unraveling the tales of this promising British cyclist making waves in Portugal.
The new challenge
Oliver Rees further elaborates on the distinctions between riding in Portugal and other countries, notably mentioning Belgium, where he secured the 9th place in Liege – Bastogne – Liege U23 2022, showcasing his physical form, ability, and skill compared to U-23 riders internationally. The rider highlighted Portugal’s unique feature, which he intriguingly refers to as a form of “natural selection” within the peloton.
How does racing in Portugal compare to racing in the UK and other countries you’ve been to?
Oliver Rees: “I’ve done quite a lot of races in France and Belgium as well and I find those races are a lot more stressful than in Portugal. I think the terrain (parcours) in Portugal naturally selects the winner, because there are often challenging climbs, whereas in Belgium and France, it’s more about the riders’ initiative that has to determine who’s going to be the winner. So, I find it less stressful, which is one of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed racing in Portugal so much over the last couple of years.”
Having participated in the Volta a Portugal, Rees notes the remarkable contrast in support and enthusiasm between Portugal and the UK. According to the cyclist, the UK is struggling to gather ample support for races at present, whereas Portugal is thriving.
What are the main differences between cycling in Portugal and cycling in the UK, from your cyclist perspective?
Oliver Rees: “Oh, it’s massive. The first time that I raced in Portugal was when I came over for the Volta a Portugal and I didn’t realize how big the race was until I got there. The crowds were enormous every day, it feels like such a big race with a lot of history and it’s just so well supported in Portugal. It’s something that in the UK does not happen; at the moment, cycling is struggling quite a lot with getting enough support for the races, and it seems that in Portugal there are so many races throughout the season and it’s a really good scene that seems to be thriving.”
The rider considered the thriving cycling environment and substantial support in Portugal as one of the primary reasons, but not the only one, that influenced his decision to transition and seek new opportunities in Portugal, even if he’s still on a Continental team.
What were the reasons that led you to move from Trinity Racing, a continental team, to Sabgal-Anicolor, another continental team, but in Portugal?
Oliver Rees: “The Portuguese cycling environment was one of the major reasons. Sabgal/ Anicolor looks like a very secure team which I like. It looks like a family and everyone’s close and so I’ve seen them the last couple of years, they look like they have a really good atmosphere at the races which hopefully will mean that I’ll be able to get the best out of myself. Hopefully, I will do some quite big races this year, another chance to test myself against pro riders and world tour riders which I’m looking forward to.”
The discussion unfolds with the question of whether the move to a Portuguese team was a premeditated choice or an unexpected opportunity. The respondent sheds light on the timeline, revealing a connection established during the Volta Portugal in 2022 with Ruben Pereira, Sabgal/Anicolor Sports Director, and subsequent discussions during the Volta ao Alentejo in 2023. As the rider’s final year with Trinity approached, the Portuguese team presented an enthusiastic project, prompting a positive decision.
Oliver Rees:” I knew that I was leaving Trinity at the end of this year because it was my final year as an under-23 rider and I first talked to Ruben at Volta Portugal in 2022. Then met him again when I was over for Alentejo, we talked a bit and then it just came to the end of the season and they came forward saying would you like to ride and present the project. It looks really exciting so yeah I’m glad that I’ve picked it.”
Racing in Portugal
Oliver Rees made his debut in Portugal back in 2022, in the Volta a Portugal, and it couldn’t have been better. He took third place in the prologue and second place in the first stage with a sprint finish in Elvas. He didn’t stop there and also collected two Top-10 finishes, even with his team reduced to two riders due to health conditions. In 2023, he returned to Portugal to race in the Classica da Arrabida, adding another Top-10 finish to his races in Portugal. As mentioned before, he also raced in the Volta ao Alentejo, where he wore the Youth leader jersey, finishing in 3rd place overall in that classification.
The British rider shared his most memorable moments racing in Portugal, elaborated on the main difficulties encountered, and provided insights into his overall assessment of the results achieved. This introspective analysis offers a glimpse into the rider’s perspective on both the adversities and triumphs that defined his journey in Portugal during the last two years.
Volta a Portugal in 2022 was not easy for Trinity Racing, but you achieved good results. What are your best memories from that race, the main difficulties you faced, and what do you think of your overall result?
Oliver Rees: “Yeah, I think we had two guys for most of the race. After the third stage, we had two guys in hospital overnight because they were both seriously ill so that was a bit of a scare. I enjoyed the race; I was quite fortunate that I had good legs throughout most of the race and could put them to good use in the time trials and the sort of more sprinty stages. I was happy because I got a couple of top-three and a couple more top-ten throughout the race. It was just a nice experience for me because I got to race 10 days. The experience it gave me moving forward just physically and mentally was really good.”
Oliver Rees:” I enjoyed the crowd aspect of how big the race felt because sometimes when you’re at some of the under 23 races there’s not many people watching, but this felt like a really big race. I remember the penultimate stage ( Mondim de Basto – Senhora da Graça), when it finished up a climb and going through the town at the bottom there were some of the biggest crowds that I’ve ever seen before, it was pretty cool.”
For someone who made his debut in the Volta a Portugal, the biggest race in Portugal and with the most media coverage, returning in 2023 for the Classica da Arrábida and Volta ao Alentejo could have brought a new perspective on national cycling. Nevertheless, the rider maintains his feelings about racing in Portugal and declares his desire to achieve victory in the Sabgal/Anicolor colors in one of these races.
In 2023, you had the opportunity to race again in Portugal, in Volta ao Alentejo and Clássica da Arrábida. What do you think about these races?
Oliver Rees:” I think these races are the ones that suit me the most so I’m looking forward to going back to these races this year with Sabgal/Anicolor and trying to win these races. The parkour with the shorter climbs that thin out the group but are not too selective are the ones that suit me, I liked Arrábida with the gravel section, that was good fun. For Volta ao Alentejo we set a good team with Trinity Racing, so we had quite a successful trip with Luke Lamperti on stage 1 (winner in Ourique), and Max Walker in 6th place overall, it was really good fun.”
The Portuguese people grow up watching the climb to Alto da Torre on RTP1 every year during the Volta a Portugal. Portuguese riders already know this mythical climb well, as they train on it frequently. For Oliver Rees, this climb stands out in his memory from the two years he raced in Portugal. According to the cyclist, Alto da Torre presents an extreme physical and mental challenge.
Regarding the races in Portugal, which stage or race left the most lasting impression on you?
Oliver Rees:” Well I think stage three of the Volta a Portugal last year, the one that went up that long climb (Alto da Torre – Serra da Estrela) because that was hard, that climb seemed to go on for so long and it took a lot of mental strength to get up there, it was a pretty horrible day on the bike, one of the hardest days on the bike that I’ve had, but it was good to show what cycling is really like.”
Sabgal/ Anicolor and the Future
The team, headquartered in Águeda, announced the rider, considering him to be one of the references of his generation and one of the team’s strongest bets. We discussed with Rees his objectives for the 2024 season and also his future goals.
What are your goals for 2024 with Sabgal/Anicolor?
Oliver Rees: “ I want to carry on the progression that I’ve been making the last few years and turn those top 10s and top 5s into wins. So like I said, I see myself being able to win at those selective races that are quite hard but maybe come down to a reduced bunch sprint and so I’d like to become a winner, especially for the first half of the season and then in the second half of the season look towards helping the guys with some of their big targets at races like Volta a Portugal.”
Do you see yourself racing in Portugal for a few years or do you plan to try to leap forward in your career to another country? What is your main goal?
Oliver Rees: “ I’ve not thought too far ahead yet, I just like to see where the season takes me. The main goal is just to be as good as I can and after that, we’ll see where that takes me. Obviously, at the end of my career, I wanted to be at the highest level but when that happens I’m not sure yet, I just want that to happen at some point.”
The Sabgal/Anicolor squad will include 14 cyclists, including foreign names and former World Tour riders André Carvalho and Antwan Tolhoek, previously riding for Cofidis Team and Lidl-Trek, respectively. The team’s unveiling was and still is the focus of attention. The team showcases a strong squad and high ambitions, not just from a national perspective. Rees, at only 22 years old, will line up in a team full of experience. The rider is focused on learning and growth, highlighting the mentorship role played by the more experienced riders.
What are the benefits of having such a strong team with World Tour experience?
Oliver Rees: “Last year at Trinity I was the oldest guy on the team and was maybe the more experienced rider helping some of the younger riders. Now I’m one of the youngest guys on the team, which I like because the older guys have so much more experience and can teach me lots of things. Already when I met the guys they were helping me, and telling me things and I think I like learning from guys that have more experience than me. There are lots of guys like Antwan and Andre who have world tour experience but also the Portuguese riders like Luís, Rafael, and Frederico, they’ve been around for a long time and they know what they’re doing so I’m excited to learn from them.”
As we conclude this interview with Oliver Rees, it becomes evident that his journey in professional cycling is marked by adaptability and a passion for the sport, providing a refreshing view of Portuguese cycling through the eyes of a foreign rider. From navigating the challenges of the Volta a Portugal to embracing the transition from a mentor at Trinity to a learner at Sabgal/Anicolor, Rees’s reflections offer a glimpse into the evolving landscape of his career and his hopes for 2024 on Portuguese soil.