Doing the job I do brings me into contact with so many different people in the world of trials. Some people stand out from the crowd; it’s as simple as that. Through the lens of the camera a few years ago I heard some very vocal encouragement in broken English from a minder to a rider in a world round. I mentally noted how enthusiastic he was, and then the year after he was with German rider Franz Kadlec. When James Dabill moved to Gas Gas in 2017, he mentioned to me that he would have a new minder from the Czech Republic named Jiri Svoboda. At the Sheffield Indoor at the start of the 2017 season, James introduced me to Jiri, and we soon became friends. Over the past twelve to eighteen months I have spent many happy hours in the company of Jiri, and so I decided it was time to introduce you all to him in Trial Magazine.
TM: Did you ever set out to become a minder in the Trial World Championship?
JIRI: From a very young age I was riding in cycle trials. I had silver medals from the World Championship and was the Czech National Champion. In 1997 I competed in my last World Championship Bike Trial competition to concentrate fully on motorcycle trials. These were really enjoyable times. When I was fourteen, I moved to motorcycle trials, and from 1998 I was a member of the Czech trial team. My first international event was in the European Championship at Cordoba in Spain 1998. At the end of the season, I was a member of the Czech team in the TDN in Italy, Valmalenco. At seventeen years old I was the youngest rider on the day. After this, I spent many years in the European Championship and World Championship. My last trial was the TDN in 2015 in Tarragona where the Czech team won the International class.
So, when did you decide to make a move to minding for riders?
In May 2015 my phone was ringing, and when I took the call it was Italian Michelle Bosi who was the minder for Adam Raga. He explained that the Gas Gas factory had closed down and that their rider Adam Raga needed some support at the Czech World Championship round in Sokolov in two weeks’ time as a second minder. I had planned to compete in the event, but I also had the problem of finding a minder myself, and in the end, I decided not to ride and help Adam. He finished second on both days, and it was a massive learning curve for me. In fact, I enjoyed the excitement at this level of the sport; it was very intense!
Later, German rider Franz Kadlec called me and asked if I would be interested to ‘mind’ for him. I gave it some thought, and one week later I went to Spain to train with him to see how well we worked together. We were both happy and spent the 2016 season together. Franz and his family were very good to me and gave me the opportunity that I will never forget. I would like to say a huge thank you to them.
When did you start to talk with James for the 2017 season?
After the 2016 Trial World Championship season finished I came to Spain a few times to help Adam because he was without a minder and still had some events to compete in. When I came back home from Spain I started to talk with James Dabill, and we decided to see how we would work together, and he told me about his move to the Gas Gas factory team. I was very comfortable there because the team had become like a second family when I was working with Franz and the members such as Favro, Andrea Tron and Albert Casanovas had made me feel very much a part of the whole team.
At the end of November, we started to work together, and the relationship has matured into a good solid one. It’s one of the best decisions I have made in my young life; yes, I am very happy working with James. At the start of 2017 it was straight into action at the indoors; how long did it take you to understand how James rode so that you could help him? My first competition with James was at Sheffield in 2017. It was a new machine, new team and his home event. It was very important from an early stage that we built trust between one another. To win together and lose together; we are a team, a strong team, and that is what we believed in from the very start. This is very important to me. The rest was highly enjoyable to learn as I love the job as his minder. Were you surprised when James set the quickest time in qualifying in Japan 2017 in the rain? Did it make a big difference riding at the front of the entry on both days? I knew from the past that he is often very strong when it is slippery. I don’t know why but I had a really good feeling for him as he entered qualifying. In the end, he made the qualification a one-man show; he was incredible, such throttle control! We used his pole position to our full advantage and took second place on the day.
Riding in the company of Toni Bou and Jaime Busto was a nice experience as it lifts your whole game, you become so much more competitive. Toni with Joan Cordon, Jaime with Ciurana and Adam with his minder Alex, it all makes for a good day. In Japan, everybody was making mistakes, including James, but he knew where he would be strong and where we could pull these marks back. Albert Casanovas was with us as the team manager for Gas Gas and his enthusiasm and commitment added to the atmosphere; he was so supportive.
Japan was an incredible weekend that will stay in my heart forever because it was my first World Championship podium with James. James appears very confident with you minding?
Jiri: I hope so, as we work hard to be as one. Minding is special, more than work it is a mission when the main job is to try to make the rider’s life easy. I also believe that it is good for him that he likes people around him — his wife, his family, his parents and his friends. Our team is a family because, as I have stated, we win together and we lose together; this is so important in life, not just trials.
As well as minding at the world rounds, what else is expected of you over the weekend?
At the TrialGP World Championship events James has his mechanic from Beta. This is a young lad, Simone Negri, who takes care of the machine. During the rest of the season, for training and the indoor events I have the responsibility of preparing and looking after the Beta. I wash the machine and carry out all the basic maintenance that is needed and keep the machine in the very best condition. You will never see the machine looking anything but its very best! We are professionals who are representing sponsors, not just Beta, but also the personal sponsors of James. To promote all of this is very important; as I say, professional at all times.
After an event what does your typical week involve?
Jiri: Most days are usually very different, depending on what time of the year it is. From the first weekend in January, where we competed at Sheffield, we had events for seven consecutive weekends. As you can imagine both of us struggle to find time to go home and visit the families, but this is the job. In seven weeks I got home for just three days between the X-Trial in Toulouse and Strasbourg. We get on very well, which is important as we want our time together to be enjoyable. We try to have one day a week where it’s not all trials, maybe be get out and put some road miles in and enjoy a day cycling. It’s what we both enjoy, and if we did not love the world of trials, it would make it hard work; yes I do enjoy my job and my life with James.
You became the first ever rider from the Czech Republic to compete in and finish the Scott Trial, in 2017; did you enjoy it?
It was a massive experience. Many people, including yourself, encouraged me to have a ride in this world-famous event. In truth, it was two people who made the difference to make it all happen. First I have to thank a real gentleman, Nigel Sharp, who offered me the loan of his machine for the event. Without him, quite simply, it would not have happened. It is difficult to explain how much I appreciated it; it touched my heart; such generosity, that’s why he gets a big hug every time I see him.
And, of course, James, he helped me so much. We practised together, he explained the rules — which made me laugh — “if in doubt, flat out”; he was only joking but explained the speed element of the event to finish on time. Most importantly he gave me the confidence that I could finish.
Together with ‘Nige’, he gave me the chance to ride in the Scott, they are my heroes! I must say, I realised from the start I was in for a long day’s riding. Around fifteen minutes from the start I had a massive crash when flat out in fifth gear I jumped a big hole, and I made a front flip! I still don’t understand how it was possible that I could continue in the race and get the chance to make a ritual of the Scott and ‘piss in the pants’… :-). I was stressed all the way because my goal was just to get to the end and to become the first Czech rider to make the finish in the time limit. It was a long, hard, painful day but the goal was achieved, and I got to the end within the time limit, and I have at home a finisher’s certificate — very proud! It was a massive experience in an iconic event with such a sporting history. You can feel the enthusiasm of all the people who are helping at this event; it is simply unreal.
Will you return to the Scott in 2018?
Yes I would like to come back for the Scott of course, and I will see if it will be possible after the end of the season. The Scott is such an event that I know I will need to spend more time riding the trials machine, and this is where the problem lies as we are so busy.
A few years ago my riding level was much higher, and I would have tried to fight to win a Scott Silver Spoon but I know with my life how it is now this will be much harder to achieve; we will see. This year I will compete in the Scottish Six Days Trial. The Scottish is different for me as James will be riding, so it fits in the schedule very easy.
How satisfying is it when James gets a good result?
We are team 22. In my eyes, this is a special relationship. Not just because I am the minder of James Dabill, who is not just a very good trials rider but also a very good human being. He is not perfect, nobody is, everyone makes mistakes, and James is the first to admit this. This is very important for me to understand as I want to give James my best at all times. At the end of each competition, we can both look in the mirror and say we have given it our best. When James fails in a hazard, he does not need to say anything as I already know how he feels. As they say, it’s sometimes better to say nothing. He knows how honest I am and if I think he has ridden below his best he knows I will tell him. On the other hand, when we get the result, we both want he knows how happy this makes me.
When James was second in Japan 2017, we were crying on the way back to the paddock, and I will never forget this expression of elation. He knows I will push him all the time, but I also understand that some days will not be as good as others. He is human and sometimes needs a hug from me. Team 22 is already a part of me, my heart and this will stay forever.
I would like to thank James, that he gave me a chance be part of his team. He can’t ever imagine how much I appreciate it. Thanks to all our fans, we are here for you dear trials lovers, so get ready for 2018 season. For me the word team is not a word, it’s a way of life.
Concentrating hard at the Scott Trial.
2017 Japan: Our first podium – Elation!
My first competition with James was the Sheffield Indoor in 2017. Team James Dabill Gas Gas 2017. 2017 Spain: Our first TWC round together.