Jiri Svoboda


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.

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