Aeolos is winning with passion, and passion is infectious
“We are kind of a professional team, but we are not a professional team.”
That’s how Takis Xouris describes Aeolos, an amateur Greek road racing team with grand ambitions. It was born out of an internet forum, a time before Facebook, and has grown to serve dual goals: It’s both a community-fostering club for enthusiasts and a competitive outfit trying (very successfully) to win at the highest-level races around Greece and the Balkans.
Xouris, Aeolos’ founder, started cycling in his early 30s, and inertia took him from there. He went from watching the Tour de France to buying a bike. From riding by himself to riding with friends. From group rides to courting a community when, in 2005, he and his friends were moderators of an internet forum where riders in the area could talk about cycling.
Cycling eventually took over his professional life, too. Xouris was working as a renovator when he got contracted to set up a bike shop. He based its layout on Trek’s own guidelines.
“Trek had a presentation, a book, on how you make a retail experience in the stores. So I copied this, and I made a nice store in Athens,” Xouris says. “The guy who owned the company told me, ‘OK, you made the store so nice, so would you like to be also the director?'”
Cycling became Xouris’ life, full-time. His shop became a focal point of the cycling community, organizing weekend and coffee rides. Faster riders within those groups emerged, and collectively they looked into racing. Race organizers said they couldn’t participate unless they were a team, so a half dozen banded together and formed Aeolos.
It's a gift that I was given from I don't know who, but I can race, so I'm not going to stop until I see I can't do it anymore.
More than a decade later, Aeolos is coming off a banner year. They were podium regulars, with riders from age 24 to 51. They have had three riders on the Greek National Team: 41-year-old Giorgios Neilas, 28-year-old Ioannis Iliadis and 24-year-old Miltiadis Giannoutsos. Last season, at the 3-day UCI 2.2 Tour of Kosovo, Giannoutsos placed 10th on the general classification and Ioannis Iliadis took second on the hilly Stage 2. Both also finished first and second in the final Greek elite league cup standings as the best club riders in the country.
Not bad for a team where, rather than getting paid, riders still contribute to the club by paying dues.
Xouris finished seventh in those standings as the oldest rider in the team. He could be racing masters events, but he’s determined to stay in the elite category as long as he can. His results suggest he’s exactly where he belongs.
“I prefer the challenge with the young guys. I’m like a vampire, I get some energy from them,” Xouris jokes. “It’s a gift that I was given from I don’t know who, but I can race, so I’m not going to stop until I see I can’t do it anymore.”
Xouris’ awakening to cycling, and the team he has helped build, have made him determined to spread his passion to the rest of Greece. His mission is difficult. Greece is so enamored with basketball and soccer that sometimes it feels there’s little oxygen for other sports. But Xouris sees inroads being made. More and more enthusiasts are coming to his store and riding Greece’s gorgeous roads and trails. In 2020, he made a popular documentary about his attempt at Everesting, in which he rode repeats of a local climb until he hit 10,000 meters of elevation gain. (You can watch the trailer here.)
If an enthusiast, who started from zero and smoking and drinking beers, can actually become an elite rider, anyone can dream.
The documentary, called “Challenging Everesting,” piqued the interest of Greece’s Deputy Minister of Sport, Lefteris Avgenakis. He met with Xouris about his achievement, and how to grow cycling in the country. Recently, the Ministry announced the return of the International Tour of Hellas, a UCI 2.1 race, for 2022 after a 10-year absence.
The secret to the progress that cycling has made, Xouris says, is the same curiosity that infected him, “like a virus,” and sent him on a life centered on the sport. He wants to be a role model for “simple people” — i.e., not the pure athletes who seem to be preternaturally driven to succeed, but people like him. People who maybe smoked too much and drank too much before finding an outlet that truly motivated them.
“Cycling is a culture, it is not only racing. We like to race, we train 20-25 five hours every week, but not everybody can do this,” Xouris says. “The point is to inspire the people. And these are all the messages we give. If an enthusiast, who started from zero and smoking and drinking beers, can actually become an elite rider, anyone can dream.”
Takis wants to take Aeolos to the top of cycling and become a beacon for Greece. He wants to make Aeolos the first amateur Greek club to win a UCI-classified race. More importantly, he wants the club to remain as it has always existed, focused on maintaining a community and keeping its twin ambitions at the forefront.
Simply producing faster riders isn’t enough for Xouris and Aeolos. Success must come as the result of passion.
“My big ambition is to show other teams that a structure like this can also bring results,” Xouris says. “I would like to see some of our guys winning some international races. And show everybody that with good structure and the love for the sport, and a good company of friends, you can have results. It’s not all about money.”
To follow Aeolos’ journey, be sure to check out the team’s Instagram. You can also follow Xouris on Instagram and Facebook. Top photo taken by Petros Gkotsis. Story photos taken by Nassos Triantafyllou.