Confessions of a travel agent…

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As we approach another edition of the Tour de France, we will be publishing some online features relating to the race. These are from regular contributors to RIDE Cycling Review as well as readers who have stories that they’d like to share about their experience(s) with the event. If you have any anecdotes you’d like to share, feel free to send your story to RIDE’s publisher.

The first installment comes from Troy de Haas – a sports travel agent, cycling enthusiast, and arguably the fastest email respondent on the planet… if you are thinking of going to the Tour this year but have done little about making your travel arrangements, it’s not too late to plan your trip!

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The Peloton’s Many destinations…

From a bustling Hong Kong office an Australian is working around the clock to meet the demands of the world’s cycling elite. We take a look behind the scenes with Troy de Haas to find out what’s involved as a sports travel manager to the cycling stars…

“Travelling around the world is part of my life as a cyclist and as an Australian citizen living in Europe. Things can be challenging when it comes to logistics, but when you have someone looking after your trips, everything is much easier. Troy De Haas has been a precious help for me, my family and team-mates.” Cadel Evans is one professional rider to take advantage of the services of Flight Centre’s international office. We strive to ensure all our clients reach their destination safely but the pro cycling scene throws up all sorts of challenges.
The pro circuit is a well oiled machine made up of 18 teams on the WorldTour and 22 squads registered as ProContinental – many traverse six continents in a season. And they contest over 400 UCI sanctioned road races a year. It’s a cast of people including the riders, manager, directeurs sportifs, mechanics, soigneurs, doctors, administrators… all with equipment that has to be carried to various parts of the globe.
We watch them race in exotic locations seemingly oblivious to how they got there in the first place. But any cyclist who has ever travelled by air with their beloved bike will appreciate the complications involved, let alone the scale of co-ordinating the travels of an entire team and their high flying riders. The logistics to get the peloton to the start line are immense and often required at the last minute or under tight timelines.
I’m doing this job after years of representing Australia in a sport that’s based on covering the fastest route in the least time, orienteering. With my experiences of travelling to remote destinations, I have an appreciation of the unique difficulties athletes endure just getting to competitions. More teams today are signing-up travel managers to deal with organising air travel and on-the-ground logistics including booking hotels, arranging transfers and even sourcing local guides so the rest of the team can focus on the job at hand.
Troy de Haas and... one of his many sports-specific clients.

Troy de Haas and... one of his many sports-specific clients.

On call 24 hours a day, seven days a week I’m at the beck and call of entire teams as I help oversee their travel from the time they leave home until they return. Anything can come up last minute and totally unexpected despite a team’s most meticulous attention to detail and forward planning. The high drama of those few seconds when a directeur sportif texts you at 3.00am to change an entire team roster or a rider calls from the airport explaining he has missed his flight and “must be there by today” it becomes your call of duty to find a solution at whatever means all whilst under the cover of seemingly keeping control of the situation.
Regularly consulting for BMC, Astana, Saxo Bank and the newly formed GreenEDGE each and every team just like their team riders have a different set of values, requirements, budgets, cultures and management styles unique from each other making them who they are. Whilst I do not share an “official” role within that team and must remain neutral in my position, I do get to experience a privileged view into each of them, hear many of their secrets and witness them through the highs and lows in a very intimate way that you feel a strong sense of belonging and trust.
Unlike a typical travel agent, in my role it’s important to recognise and anticipate the specific needs of associated with particular sports, including keeping up to date with airline/hotel products, pre-booking specialist sports equipment, allocating preferred seating and special dietary requirements, building relationships with airline/hotel suppliers to get “VIP” treatment for your clients and carefully working with spreadsheets of team rosters to guarantee everyone departs and arrives to the destination with the least amount of disturbance in their preparations. Even race organisers – such as the Tour Down Under and 2010 world championships – have jumped on board in recent years to utilise many of these assets and take their organisation to the next level satisfying even the most pedantic race official’s underlying needs.
Despite the great distance between my centralised office in Hong Kong and each of these respective clients we share a close bond, knowing with a sports travel manager just a phone call away they are never alone and they can focus themselves and getting the job done.
Troy de Haas... on location: Le Tour 2011.

Troy de Haas... on location: Le Tour 2011.

To gain a better understanding for one of the teams I look after and build our relationship I was invited to join the BMC Team as a VIP guest on stage 12 at the 2011 Tour de France. Riding shotgun in a team car with Georges Lüchinger (the BMC team’s chief of communications), he proudly informs me from behind the wheel that  “Cadel trusts and appreciates your work, he is always on the team bus raving to the other riders to contact you for their personal travels also”. As we swerved through crowds of Australian supporters high up in the Pyrenees. A personal friend of Cadel Evans for many years he was responsible from the start for pledging his long term loyalty and support by introducing me to many new clients within the cycling world, educating me of the unique needs of cyclists and thus further developing this niche area of travel. However, like most cyclist, his requests are not always directly related to sport. The morning after the 2011 Tour de France was run and won, my phone rang while I was cooking dinner at home in Hong Kong, the phone flashed “Cadel Evans”. I instinctively thought, ‘I hope he did not miss his flight back home? What else could he possibly need during his moment in the world spotlight?’ Instead the humble and familiar voice of Cadel casually explained, “I hope you do not mind, but I just promised the team something”.
Evans went on to epxlain that, at the BMC Team after party in Paris, he promised each and every one of his eight team-mates in the race – and their families – an all-expenses paid first-class trip to any destination in the world – a holiday of their dreams! It was to be booked, of course, at a time during the off-season as a thank-you gesture for all the sacrifice they had made to him on the bike. The only condition they had to book it all with his… personal sports travel manager, ie. me.
And so began my next challenge: where do you send eight cyclist on a dream holiday?
Cadel is genuinely that top Aussie bloke everyone imagines he is, his untiring attention to detail on the bike is reflected in everything he does off the bike and unlike most elite athletes that expect the red carpet treatment Cadel is completely satisfied travelling in economy if he had the choice, as long as he has a good movie to watch.
Life as a sports travel manager is never dull. No two days are ever the same and you never know what is waiting for you around the corner on the next phone call. With an annual budget of anywhere up to 20 million euro per year for the super pro cycling teams after salaries, one of the next biggest expenses is travel which means this is big business… As the globalisation of pro-cycling continues it’s amazing to be involved, despite the added logistics that this creates, just like any good circus… the show must go on!

By Troy de Haas (troy.dehaas@flightcentre.com.hk)

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Author: rob@ride

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