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HomeCyclingPEZ Picks Top 10 Pro Team Managers

PEZ Picks Top 10 Pro Team Managers

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Ed’s Choice of DS: Behind every pro cyclists there is a DS, who at one time was also the team manager. Ed Hood has been thinking about the ‘team leaders’ and picks his favourite characters behind the team car steering wheel.

The now retired Jim Ochowicz – 7-Eleven, Motorola, BMC and CCC teams

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I had a thought the other day; ‘how about a piece on ‘cult’ team managers?’ A quick rummage through the ‘net revealed the ‘Cycling Ranking’ website had produced a DS/manager ranking and listed thus:

1. Patrick Lefevere (Belgium)
2. Dave Brailsford (GB)
3. Giuseppe Saronni (Italy)
4. Vincent Lavenu (France)
5. Jim Ochowicz (USA)
6. Eusebio Unzué Labiano (Spain)
7. Pablo Anton Indroquilis (Spain)
8. Marc Madiot (France)
9. Jonathan Vaughters (USA)
10. Bjarne Riis (Denmark).

Patrick No.1

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My first reaction was, Patrick at number one, fair enough but Sir David at number two? But when I thought about it, yes the man has given us Wiggo, the Froome Dog and Geraint’s Grand Tour successes.

arundel bike t-wrench banner

Brailsford had his magic

Giuseppe Saronni at number three, Vincent Lavenu at number four and Jim Ochowicz at number five. All laudable gentlemen, for sure. But how come Eusebio Unzue with Reynolds, Banesto and Movistar – so that’s Pedro Delgado, Miguel Indurain and Alejandro Valverde, to name but three – is at number six? It got me to thinking about the men I intended to mention, men I know from my time in the sport – that’s 50 years now – a purely personal remembrance of winners, innovators and colourful men with personalities as well as results.

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Bruyneel and…

Let’s start with a controversial name, the now retired Johan Bruyneel, who somehow only comes in at number 42 in the aforementioned rankings. The Belgian was a good rider in his own right with a GP des Nations win ahead of Rominger and Ekimov to his name as well as Tour de France – where he wore yellow – and Vuelta stage wins.

indurain bruyneel
Bruyneel on the wheel of Miguel Indurain

In the team car he’s been behind 13 Grand Tour winners, Tour Giro and Vuelta, a stunning achievement. A Machiavellian figure who deserved his life ban or, ‘a man who did what he had to do’ to win in an era where, as Tyler Hamilton said, if you didn’t have a ‘programme’ then, ‘you got your ass to carry home with you.’ But as Mr. Bruyneel rightly says, how come none of those riders who finished second to Lance in the Tour after the Texan’s declassifications have come forward and said; ‘at last justice has been done, it’s MY win?’

godefroot bruyneel
T-Mobile manager Walter Godefroot and Johan Bruyneel who was with US Postal

Browsing the rankings I came across a name at number 254 who I thought, ‘yes, let’s talk about him’ – the Isle of Man’s late Tony Capper. Albeit, Capper was a team owner rather than a DS or manager; but he did like the ‘buzz’ of being in the convoy. I remember seeing him standing with his ample torso out of the sun roof of the team car, following one of his ANC ‘boys’ up l’Alpe d’Huez in the mountain time trial in the 1987 Tour de France, you could see he was loving every minute of it. An ex-policeman and taxi driver he founded the ANC transport and delivery business which he eventually sold for serious money but not before he did what it took another 23 years and Team Sky’s millions to do – get a British team into the Tour de France. Capper left that Tour de France before it finished, never to be seen again leaving in his wake a blizzard of unpaid bills and wages controversies – but his ANC team is now part of cycling legend.

anc capper
Tony Capper

At a lowly and unlikely number 53 in the rankings is the man who, ‘discovered’ and was a huge influence upon Sean Kelly’s career Frenchman, the late Jean De Gribaldy. Known as, ‘Le Vicomte’‘Viscount’ due to his aristocratic ancestry, he was a professional for a decade during the 1940’s and 50’s riding the Tour de France several times. But it’s as a team manager he’s best known.

Contract time with the Viscount

As well as Kelly, he played a big part in the success of Vuelta and French Championship winner, Eric Caritoux and Portuguese legend, the late, ageless Joaquim Agostinho. ‘The Viscount’s’ most famous quote is; “Cycling isn’t a game, it’s a sport. Tough, hard and unpitying and it requires great sacrifices, one plays football, or tennis, or hockey. One doesn’t play at cycling.”

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Sean Kelly in Tour green with Jean de Gribaldy

Sean Kelly said; “I wasn’t expecting a life of glamour [upon turning pro] but it dawned on me that working for De Gribaldy would be like joining the army. He believed in hard racing, lots of training and eating little. He kept his riders hungry, in a very real sense.” If you’re Old School 70’s – you have to love, ‘le Vicomte’.

merckx driessens
Merckx and Driessens

Unbelievably, I couldn’t find this man in the top 100, the legend that is Belgium’s late Lomme Driessens. He managed Eddy Merckx and Freddy Maertens but before that he was soigneur for Fausto Coppi, Charly Gaul and Rik Van Looy. Riders he worked with won just about everything it’s possible to win in professional cycling, including seven world championships.

maertens driessens
Freddy Maertens and Lomme Driessens

In his autobiography, ‘Fall From Grace’, Freddy Maertens said that Driessens richly deserved his nickname as, ‘Lomme the Liar’. “He had the gift of the gab. He was never short of a word or two, so much so that in cycling circles many felt he lived in a fantasy world.” However, Fast Freddy also said of the man; “But he could motivate like no one else. Even when you felt terrible because you were riding badly, he could almost make you believe you were the best rider in the world.” Not a bad asset for a manager to possess.

pettachi ferretti
Giancarlo Ferretti

‘The Iron Sergeant’, they called him, now retired, Italy’s Giancarlo Ferretti, was a pro rider himself for Legnano, Sanson and Salvarani in a career which began in 1963 and lasted until 1970. He stepped into the Bianchi team car as assistant DS in 1973 and was with the team until 1984; Ariostea, MG and Riso Scotti followed before his last years in the car with the mighty Fasa Bortolo squadra from 2000 to 2005 with the likes of ‘Ale Jet’ Petacchi, Fabio Baldato, Michel Bartoli, Ivan Basso and Fabian Cancellara all being subjected to the strict discipline of, ‘Feron’. He was not a man to answer back to, but the fact that he managed top squadras for 30 years and more says much about the success of his methods; Cycling Ranking have him at #34.

Guimard knew all about ‘marginal gains’

Cyrille Guimard was exploring ‘marginal gains’ before most of the SKY team were even born. The Breton was a good pro himself and in a career which lasted eight years won seven Tour de France and two Vuelta stages as well as the Midi Libere and GP Plouay. Greg Lemond said he was the best coach he ever had.

guimard hinault
Guimard with Hinault

Bernard Hinault said; “Guimard and I had a perfect understanding and realised most of our ambitions, even if we were to fall out later.” Lucien Van Impe attributes his 1976 Tour de France victory to Guimard and for many the Frenchman is the best-ever DS in the history of the sport, despite Cycling Ranking according him a lowly 63rd spot. When he took up his role as a DS he studied physiology, perhaps the first person in the role to do so.

fignon tt
TT bike from the wind tunnel

He was one of the first in the pro peloton to recognise the benefits ‘aero’ bicycles confer against the watch with Hinault’s 1979 Gitane Tour prologue time trial machine with concealed cables, brake behind the fork crown, deep section rims and oval tubes causing a sensation. Guimard had his riders in the wind tunnel decades before such practice became commonplace. He was an empathetic man but as ‘Le Blaireau’, a man who was no stranger to getting his own way, said; “With Guimard, you do not argue. . .”

Paul Köchli – Swiss precision

The Swiss are famed for their precision and attention to detail, Paul Köchli was no exception. Swiss amateur road race champion in 1966 he had three seasons as a pro before moving into management and joined Bernard Hinault’s, La Vie Claire team for season 1984. Again, we quote, The Badger; “I only learned how to train when I was 28 when I started working with Paul Kochli at La Vie Claire, he taught me and explained things.”

Paul Köchli and Jean Francois Bernard – Team Toshiba

In 1988 he founded the Weinmann La Suisse team which morphed into Helvetia for seasons 1989 to 1992. He was an advocate of ‘specific’ training, intervals and intensity, not just the huge mileages of the day. When we spoke to Aussie legend, Micheal Wilson, who rode for Köchli, he told us; “He was Swiss and it was his team, he’d been a DS with La Vie Claire and worked with Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond. I was with the team in various incarnations for three years – Köchli was a real intellect, a wonderful person, so well organised. The Italian teams were well organised but La Suisse was at a different level above that, the Swiss pride themselves on their organisation and everything about the team was done right.” Stridently anti-doping, the advent of EPO saw Köchli withdraw from the sport.

Peter Post – A hard man

The late Peter Post, the man who ran the mighty Raleigh team of the 70’s and 80’s which morphed into Panasonic then Novemail, directed teams which won just about everything it’s possible to win in professional cycling, on road and track. The 70’s was the decade of the Dutch ‘Total Football’ philosophy – Raleigh was about, ‘Total Cycling’. Post moved away from a system where one rider was the focus of the team, they were all winners. Post himself was a winner on the bike, taking victories in Paris-Roubaix and the Tours of The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

peter post
Post – The boss at the all conquering Raleigh team

As a six day rider he was one of the all-time greats with 65 wins, only Patrick Sercu on 88, Danny Clark on 74 and Rene Pijnen on 72 have bested his total. But it wasn’t just about tactics; the race and leisure clothing, the bicycles, the team cars – everything had to be, ‘correct’ as they say on the continent. It was a brave man who argued with Post and tales of hard bike riders reduced to tears by Post’s tongue abound. Somehow Cycling Ranking have him at # 150?

Gianni and Ed

The eloquent – ‘we are not the vassals of WorldTour teams!’ and dapper – Gianni Savio comes in at # 57 and whilst some may question mentioning a man whose team jerseys each year struggle to accommodate all the sponsor’s names, he provides contracts for riders and staff year after year. This year his prime sponsor is ‘Drone Hopper’ a Spanish aerospace company that designs and makes drones.

‘Swiss Tony’

And we know he’s a ‘Jack the Lad’ figure – as they say in England to describe a man who always has an ‘angle’ and irons in several fires; remember, this is the man who ‘sold’ Egan Bernal to Sky and wrote into the deal that if the slight Colombian won the Tour de France in their colours then there was a healthy bonus for Sen. Savio. But also remember that despite the controversies about riders paying to get a ride with his teams – which has long been common practice – he’s been putting squadra on the road for three decades, since Sella Italia Vetta in 1991. He’s well connected in South America and it’s via his teams that the likes of Bernal and Ivan Sosa have had their introduction to Euro racing. Not all riders are Remco Evenepoel or Cian Uijtdebroeks who can pick and choose their WorldTour team. . .

Three decades of ‘Wheeling and Dealing’

To close, the real deal, from the Belgian Heartland, Hilaire Van Der Schueren, but ranked # 122. Yes, he could do with losing a kilo or two but remember that he’s been sitting in team cars since 1980 when he worked with aforementioned Lomme Driessens. VDS was never a rider, his sport was soccer but his brother raced and when his sibling’s team manager took ill, young Hilaire stepped in and that was the beginning. After his work with the egocentric but disorganised Driessens he joined Jan Raas and worked on his famous, Kwantum, Superconfex, Buckler, WordPerfect and Novell teams.

Hilaire Van Der Schueren
Hilaire Van Der Schueren over 40 years of experience

Then followed a long association with Colstrop before joining Vacansoleil. As former British Elite Champion, Hamish Haynes once told me; “if you arrived at a race and that Vacansoleil bus was there then you knew you were in for a hard day out!” VDS association with Wanty began in 2014 and now the team is on the WorldTour as Intermarche Wanty Gobert Materiaux.

Hilaire Van Der Schueren and Roger Hammond

Former British Elite Road Race Champion, Roger Hammond who raced with VDS at Palmans and (1998-2004) told Rouleur magazine; “Hilaire didn’t beat around the bush, he told you exactly how he felt, happy or disappointed. I saw him off his trolley, shouting and screaming at us. He was a taskmaster, there was no space for the weak, but the smart ones realised. You’d be churned out the other end pretty quick if not. He’d race you fit: you’d do kermises until you could follow again. He’d get all his riders to start them because he got start money for every single competitor. Even if they were sick and abandoned, it would help run the team – or feed the cows on his farm, I’m not sure which.” He had a farm? Of course – he’s from The Heartland. . .

Hilaire van der Schueren
‘What’s the price of animal feed?’

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