Ivan Dominguez Comes Back as a Very Fast Pedaling Business Man
By: Jennifer Lane - Tour Cycling
In the final months of 2010, at the age of 34, Ivan Dominguez retired. He sold his bikes, hung up his SIDI shoes and spent the next year running around the house with his son Maxi.
Ivan retired as a four-time gold medalist at the Pan Am Games and stage winner in races such as Tour of California, Tour of Missouri and the Tour of Georgia where he won against many of the top riders. With almost one year completely off the bike, in August of 2011, Ivan decided to return to the race field. What’s changed this time is he’s riding up to the start line with a different plan.
“Now, I am learning to be a business man,” Ivan says as he pedals down Key Biscayne, the 6 mile peninsula where most of the hard core Miami cyclists race each other most days of the week. Miami, Florida, is the city where Ivan took haven after defecting from Cuba in 1998. In October, as the cycling season is coming to an end, Ivan is planning for 2012. He is building up his own team, looking for sponsors, looking for riders, and learning how to run numbers and craft business attacks.
For a man who spent most of his life building up his own body and attacking on the bike, Ivan is approaching a new challenge in the sport. Building a team and keeping it going will not be easy, but Ivan knows challenges and he’s learned how to ride over the climbs that the sport places in the way of professional athletes.
Over the years, Ivan developed a reputation as a racer to be feared as he pedaled, tucked deep down into his frame seconds from the finish line. His agility, power and speed could only be matched by a few in the world of professional road cyclists. As a professional, Ivan was the sprinter whose job it was to win.
From a very young age Ivan said he was “looking for a sport that was fast paced.” Living in Cuba, at the age of 13, Ivan found the sport where he could live his life in full speed.
“I was very dedicated to the sport. I would stay up late at night cleaning my bike until 2 o’clock in the morning,” Ivan says, remembering the passion he felt from early on in his career. Within the first year, he got really good and was picked up by the Cuban National Team. Five days a week he lived and trained with his coach.
“It was all very controlled,” Ivan summons up his life training and racing for the Cuban National Team. In these controlled years, Ivan won gold medals and national championships then he moved to the U.S.
In 1998, Ivan defected from Cuba, gave up his bike and moved to Miami to escape the control of living in a country ruled by the long term dictator, Fidel Castro. After a year of working odd jobs, he picked up cycling again and began racing in Florida. After lapping the field three times in an Orlando criterium, Dan Bennett who had just started Cycle Science, an elite amateur team, invited Ivan to join the team and go on the road to do the National Road Calendar races. The Merco Cycling Classic in Merced, California was the first big NRC race of the year.
“After three laps, I was out of the race. I was like, H--- S---, I don’t think I can make it in this sport. It was a different level,” Ivan says as he continues to pedal slowly against the wind on Key Biscayne. While looking at his lean, trained body that’s won an uncountable number of races, it is hard to believe he could ever get dropped after three laps.
After the Merco race, when Ivan told Bennett he wanted to quit the sport, Bennett told him not to worry about the race, he would find his legs. As the season progressed Ivan did improve. He got top five results in races like Super Week. Recognized by Team Saturn, the top U.S. domestic professional team at the time, he joined the ranks of professional cyclists, and the following year he returned to Merced and finished in third place.
“When this happened, I thought ‘Wow, Danny was right’,” Ivan says, remembering what Bennett did for him.
Dan Bennett has been racing since 1986 against some of the top names in the sport; Hincapie, Levi, Lance, Horner, Gord. “In all my years of racing, Ivan Dominguez impressed me more than anyone else,” Bennet says. “I spent an entire season living, racing and traveling by bus with him. Not only was he a fantastically talented athlete, he was also a wonderful human being.”
John Lieswyns was one of the dominant racers in the 1990s and the 2000s. In 2001, he was in a breakaway with Ivan. “After 10 laps Ivan inexplicably went to front and reeled in EVERY breakaway attempt by himself. In 15 years of racing in Europe, Australia and the USA, I've never seen anyone ride so hard, so long, and still win the field sprint for fourth,” John writes in his online Diary.
During the seven years under contract with professional teams, Ivan raced on smooth, flat roads in Las Vegas and won the USA Criterium World Championship and he’s raced over the rough, mountainous roads of the Dominican Republic and won stages at La Vuelta de Independencia. He also had his stint in Europe and raced long, grueling stage races over big mountains against the best in the world. Ivan has pedaled over mountains and through the corners of flat criteriums. He’s had to ride hard through the heat and the cold. He’s won-- and never finished at all. Ivan’s suffered. He’s fallen, scraped his skin and broken his bones. Living this life for 20 years took eyes that only looked forward.
“I had to keep going because it was my job. I was making my living,” Ivan says, explaining what kept him motivated to continue to live a life of having to pedal hard and be on the road week after week, year after year.
“I got tired of doing it,” he says. This is why he chose to retire. The year off the bike gave him a break from the life of a professional athlete. Even after the break and with new energy, Ivan doesn’t train six or seven hours a day. His training is more specific. He learned how to train during his seven years of pedaling in the fastest races in the U.S.
“To race in the U.S. is not like racing with the Europeans. Here the longest race you have is 260k and there’s only one a year,” he says.
For 2012, Ivan wants to put together a team of riders that races well and gets along. He will continue to race, and although he has combined being a business man with being in the sport, he still plans on winning. While looking to hire a manager for the team, Ivan will lead the team and help develop the younger riders.
From years of being on very well sponsored teams, he’s learned that the sponsors need recognition of their products. His plan is to use some of the sponsorship money and find ways to promote the product so the image of the sponsor is maximized.
Ivan talks with excitement about his new plans. The ride continues and his excitement grows. He is not just visiting Miami to see old friends, he is doing business and building up a team
“I’m trying to build my own team. I’m going to be the owner of the team. It’s going to be my team. I’m going to have the riders I want and everything I like,” Ivan says. Now at age 35, he pedals down Key Biscayne as he talks about the new dream he has of combining business with the passion for bike racing that started on the tiny island of Cuba when he was only 13, one in a family of nine children.