As a pro, Sérgio Paulinho was one of the most dependable riders in the peloton.
He was also one of the toughest, surviving the physical and mental rigors of the WorldTour for a decade more than most riders manage.
Born in Oeiras, Portugal in March 1980, Sérgio began racing at a young age. After claiming bronze in the U23 road race at the 2002 UCI Road World Championships, he quickly gained a reputation as a powerful all-rounder once he turned pro in 2003 with LA Alumínios–Pecol–Bombarral, the most dominant Portuguese team of the time.
Over the next 18 years, he served as an invaluable member of several high-profile teams, including Liberty Seguros, Astana, Radioshack-Nissan, and Tinkoff-Saxo, riding alongside some of the most illustrious names of his generation.
Career highlights include winning a silver medal in the men’s road race at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, and stage wins at both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. The Olympics in Greece, in particular, was an achievement to cherish, as Sérgio only narrowly missed out on gold following a thrilling battle to the finish line with the legendary Paolo Bettini. Closer to home, Sérgio was also Portugal’s National Time Trial Champion twice, in 2004 and 2008.
With that kind of CV, it’s not hard to see why we’re so thrilled to have him at inGamba these days. But Sérgio brings a lot more to the table than just his palmarès. He’s one of the most laid-back, approachable pro riders we’ve ever met and his humble, friendly personality makes him the perfect guide. He’s always quick with a smile and a helping hand and while he’s still in the early days of his inGamba career, the feedback we’ve been getting from guests has been second-to-none.
For everyone who has yet to meet Sérgio, we thought we’d introduce him by way of a little Q&A, so we sat down with him recently to find out more about his background and how he’s been adjusting to retirement.
How did you get into cycling?
It’s hard to imagine now, more than 30 years later, but I started my cycling career at the age of 12. My father was a professional cyclist and he had just retired. He bought me a bike and I joined a local cycling school.
I did my first race that year, a circuit course of around a kilometer each lap. It was in Setubal, just south of Lisbon. I remember being a little bit scared! I did the whole race at the back of the pack, I don’t remember where I finished but I know for sure it was a long way behind the winner.
When did you meet inGamba’s founder, João Correia?
I don’t actually know! It was probably a race when we were still young. I know that we got along right away and years later, he became my agent when I was racing on the WorldTour.
Did you know anyone else from the inGamba crew before you joined the team?
Yes, I’ve known Manuel Cardoso for many years, we were even teammates on the RadioShack team. I’ve always liked Manuel a lot, he’s a total professional in everything he does and he’s a loyal and generous friend. I have great admiration for him.
I actually knew a lot of the inGamba team from racing in Portugal. Marco Morais was my teammate before I went abroad, and José Sousa raced with me in the youth team. Sampaio also raced with me as a professional – but we were opponents. And I’d met João Simão when he was working as a mechanic from a team in Portugal.
2004 was a special year.
In addition to winning a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games – finishing just behind legendary Italian classics rider Paolo Bettini and ahead of Belgium’s Axel Merckx – Sérgio also won the Portuguese National Time Trial Championships and two stages of the Volta a Portugal, eventually finishing sixth in that race’s general classification.
You were a pro for a long time. What memories are most special?
One of the best memories was the day I won the Olympic medal in Athens. I’ll never forget arriving back at the Olympic village with all the entourage waiting for me. It was incredible.
Another special moment for me was my first Tour de France, in 2007. That had been a lifelong dream. I ended up doing seven editions, which I’m really proud of, and I even have two stage wins. My first was in 2009, in the team time trial, an event I love. And the next year I won on my own on a stage from Chambéry to Gap. That was Bastille Day, so a really special victory.
Do you miss racing?
No! I was ready for a normal life. I stopped in 2021, but I’d actually wanted to retire the year before because I knew my body was ready to stop. I wasn’t recovering well anymore and while I could have gone on for another couple of years, it just felt like my body wasn’t responding in the same way.
I carried on for the extra year because the pandemic disrupted so much of 2020. I didn’t want it to end like that, I wanted to enjoy one more season. 2021 wasn’t perfect either, but it felt more normal and I was happy at the end of it.
What’s the best thing about retirement?
What I like most now is being able to lead a normal life, like anyone else. Simple things like being able to go to dinner with family or friends, or going out for a drink, you can’t really do it when you’re racing. Everything is so controlled.
And I love traveling and riding with inGamba now. It’s a totally different type of cycling to what I was used to, it’s nice to be able to enjoy the rides and talk to people. I just hope the guests like talking to me too!