Allan Peiper: Q&A about BMC and more…
In 2005, Allan Peiper returned to the peloton after a long hiatus. He had been a professional cyclists with the Peugeot, Panasonic and Tulip teams from 1983 to 1992. After retiring from racing, he did a variety of jobs that had little to do with cycling but continued to live in Belgium and follow the sport. At the start of the first season that Cadel Evans raced for the Davitamon-Lotto team, Peiper was called up to the role of directeur sportif. He admitted that it was daunting to be in the race convoy but quickly adapted. After a stint with the Belgian team, he was recruited by Bob Stapleton – owner of the ‘Highroad’ teams that collaborated with sponsors such as Columbia and HTC after the demise of the once-mighty T-Mobile partnership.
During the Highroad years, Peiper worked closely with the likes of Mark Cavendish, Bernhard Eisel, Tejay van Garderen, Michael Rogers, Mark Renshaw and a host of other headline acts. He shared DS duties with a number of others but was at the wheel of the team car for numerous successes. But then Stapleton failed to replace his title sponsor and, at the end of 2011, Highroad was no longer in the peloton.
Peiper moved to the Slipstream team (ie. Garmin-Sharp) and picked up from where he left off, only this time as a DS for guys like Tyler Farrar and Ryder Hesjedal. Together with Charlie Wegelius, he called the shots in May when Hesjedal became the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour title – the Giro d’Italia of 2012.
After one year with the outfit managed by Jonathan Vaughters, Peiper is moving on. RIDE caught up with the 52-year-old Australian a few minutes after his new posting with BMC Racing was announced. He will join that squad in a new role: performance manager. We spoke about what he expect from 2013 but also what it’s like to work with Cadel Evans, as well as what he makes of the state of cycling after the release of USADA’s “Reasoned Decision” document…
Allan Peiper interview
18 October 2012
– By Rob Arnold
RIDE Cycling Review: Allan Peiper, it’s the 18th of October 2012 and a career change for you has been announced at 6.12pm [Australian time]. That was 15 minutes ago. It was in 2005 that you came back to the sport and you’ve done a lot since then what do you expect from 2013?
Allan Peiper: “I think it’s a bright new chance that I’m taking with BMC. It’s a new role that’s been created: performance manager. And being in the service of the DS group and making sure that a lot of things are taken care of – with respect to the riders group, with training camps and testing, etc. I think that will enhance the group as a whole and give the riders a better service and give the directeurs sportif a little more space to breathe and focus exactly on what they are doing.
“I think it’s an exciting new challenge at BMC in 2013.”
RIDE: Behind the wheel of a car you’ve helped riders win lots of stage of the Tour de France and you’ve won the Giro d’Italia this year. Are you going to miss being in the convoy?
Allan Peiper: “I think that’s inevitable. The big thing that I do like is being around the riders and being involved – especially the up and coming riders.
“That’s one of the things that excites me about the sport is seeing young riders come in and develop. But at the same time I do see that there is a big hole with a lot of teams in recent years, since the ProTour/WorldTour started – having 30 riders and being on the road and doing up to 275 or 300 races a year – that brings a lot of detail into a cycling team. I think, to really work on development and testing – in the wind tunnel and on the track, and altitude camps and reconnaissance rides of the main races… it’s a job in its own right and, up until now, teams have done that using the directeur sportif group which really taxes them and takes their focus away from the races they’ve got to do and the riders needs.”
RIDE: Can you explain how you expect to work in with John Lelangue? He’s an interesting character. He told me that he was basically destined to be a directeur sportif. Is he still the number-one DS?
Allan Peiper: “Yes, he is. I won’t be in the sports directors group as such, I’m the performance manager and I’ll be working in service to them as much to the riders, taking some of the weight off their shoulders that they, especially John, normally have to organise. That offers a little bit freedom for them to recover from races and focus and be fresher for other races he goes to – plus, giving the riders a better service at the same time, because that’s the focal point of my job.”
RIDE: You are close with some of the riders you’ve worked with. Cav, for example, became a good friend but you had to move on from there. Then you developed a good rapport with guys like Ryder and Tyler Farrar. How difficult is it going to be to leave Garmin-Sharp?
Allan Peiper: “Like any big change in life there is the process of, how should I say? Grieving? Because of the things you’ve built up and the relationships that comes with it, there is a certain time when you’ve got to think about what you’re leaving behind while embracing what is now. And that is also a very uncertain thing that we’re going in to.
“As s kid living in Australia, I went to 12 different schools. I’ve probably been in 10 different clubs or teams as a rider or a DS, so I know what change is like in my life. I’ve lived in Europe for 35 years but I do know that there’s a grieving process. Leaving riders behind like Ryder or Tyler or a lot of the younger guys like Nathan Haas and, especially, the kids who have come on board with Garmin this year, like Rohan Dennis. It’ll be difficult for me to leave that but everybody has to make their own decisions and do what’s right by them. In the end, I think that works out best for everybody.”
RIDE: The last two teams you’ve had have a very good reputation for being ‘clean’ teams and in this day and age, that’s particularly important. Can you give a quick synopsis of working with Bob Stapleton and then JV [Jonathan Vaughters].
Allan Peiper: “I think Bob Stapleton provided a big eye-opener for all of us involved with Highroad because Bob was new to the pro cycling game; he knew about bike riding but he was new to the elite level when he came on board and, as such, he brought in a lot of new ideas in. Having been a very successful businessman in the past, he brought a lot of business strategy into the cycling world which was very avant garde. He had history – no idea of how things worked in the past – so I think he was very much out there in creating a system that had no holes in it. People knew exactly what was expected of them and what they had to do, especially in the anti-doping stance and the development of equipment and support for the riders was crucial for Bob.
“We had one bus at Highroad that didn’t have shower in it, while other teams had two or three buses and state-of-the-art equipment inside, but we won the most races because we put our resources into that which was really important: the riders. Everyone understood that and was fine with it.
“I think the Bob Stapleton era was a great change for cycling, bringing new energy into cycle sport.
“I’ve just had a year with Jonathan Vaughers. He’s a very intelligent guy who has fantastic ideas – he thinks outside the box and basically has a way with people and sponsors that’s pretty uncanny. I think his intelligence speaks a lot for making contact with sponsors and people in high places. He put his team together without a big influx of money; they never had 20 million euros to get started, it began as a junior team and built up to become a Pro Continental team, and eventually became part of the WorldTour. It was built incrementally with the support of Doug Ellis and really good sponsors. But still, they were quite a long way behind some of the big teams with big sponsorship and I think that’s a great feather in JV’s cap – the fact that he’s brought it so far with the means that he had.”
In this day and age – and we’ll get to the ‘Armstrong Effect’ later – but there’s a question about if sponsors are going to stay in the sport. [Rabobank pulled out, after 17 years of title sponsorship, a day after this conversation took place.] I know Andy Rihs [owner of BMC and, before that, the Phonak cycling team] is particularly passionate about cycle sport. He’s lost the Tour and won the Tour. How important is the fact that he lost the Tour, in the scheme of things?
Allan Peiper: “That he lost the Tour in 2012?”
RIDE: No… that he lost the Tour in 2006.
Allan Peiper: “Ah. Okay. Well, I think for Andy that was probably an awakening as well and a shock and it shows his integrity that he stayed in the sport and that he’s been able to remain so passionate about the sport – as so many of us are – and hoping for better things and supporting the sport in all its growth and change. That he’s still investing in the sport shows Andy’s merit. He has one of the top elite teams in the WorldTour, he’s got the world champion on his team, the Tour de France winner from last year… so I think his support of cycling is evident.
“I think what happened in 2006 probably has led to more awareness all around the sport, especially for Andy has his team. And that can only be good in helping to set things straight for the future.”
RIDE: You’ve just announced in your role, so I don’t expect you to go into particulars on what you expect from the riders next year. But you were the first DS to work with Cadel Evans when he was coming forward as a GC rider – certainly in the season that he made his debut in the Tour de France. He’s since gone and won the Tour. Now that you’re going back to working with him, what do you feel about that?
Allan Peiper: “I always had quite a good relationship with Cadel. When I first became a DS he was coming out of a period where he’d been at T-Mobile and didn’t really feel at home at that team. He hadn’t really hit his straps yet. And he came into a Belgian team [Davitamon-Lotto] that was really supporting him. I think that’s what the Belgians are really good at. I think Cadel owes a lot of that progression in those years to that team which supported him and everything he did and wanted to do.
“He was moving towards the biggest years of his career and I was just starting up as a DS so there was a stint of us working each other out and finding out what the qualities of each other were. It’s now been six years since I worked with Cadel and we’ve both come a long way. He’s won a world championship, and he’s won the Tour de France. And I’ve had six years of experience with major teams winning a lot of races, so in a way we enhance each other as he comes into the last years of his career.”
RIDE: Australians are really making names for themselves in all parts of the sport. And this we’ve just seen a watershed week really; the USADA document changed a lot of perceptions. It’s had a huge influence and we’re only just starting to feel the ramifications – one of those is the departure of Matt White from his position with Cycling Australia. We are yet to find out what he’s going to do with Orica-GreenEdge. But can you offer any comments on White’s predicament?
Allan Peiper: “I can’t really offer any comments, in the sense of judgement… the facts go back at least 10 years – some are closer, possibly five or six years ago – but they were different times in cycling. That doesn’t justify anything that Matt did but he was caught up in a system and he’s since admitted to what he did and said he was very sorry and he’s taken a step back for what he did.
“I think it’s going to be a difficult process for him. And for Australian cycling it’s also a wake-up call, to remind them to be more on top of things and go into more detail before decisions are made on posts within Cycling Australia. But I think this could turn out to be a good thing in the long run.”
RIDE: You’ve had your first year as a selector with Cycling Australia. Is there any temptation for you to put your hand up for the role that’s just been vacated?
Allan Peiper: “Not really. It’s not really a role for me, unless Cycling Australia asks me if I’d like to do the role. I could put my hand up for it, but I have enough other things to do with my new job at BMC.
“It had crossed my mind that maybe I should back out of my selectors role and let somebody else – one of the other Australian DS – come into that function; someone who is in the peloton every day, seeing the riders, because I will be somewhat distracted from the daily machinations of the cycling peloton. I think I can discuss that with Cycling Australia and see what they think about that.”
RIDE: But there’s been no approach in the last few days?
Allan Peiper: “No, I’ve had no approach from Cycling Australia. I think the board is still trying to work out where they stand at this moment.”
RIDE: Matt White’s digressions with back in around 2002, 10 years ago. You were racing in 1992, when EPO use in the pro peloton was, arguably, at its most rampant phase. I’ll ask straight up: did you use EPO?
Allan Peiper: “No, I’ve never taken EPO.
“That was one of the reasons I stopped my career early, at the end of the 1992 season, because the EPO scene wasn’t at its crest yet but it was definitely coming – and had been coming for a couple of years.
“I saw in those last couple of years [of my racing career] that those efforts of doing intervals in training were better than they’d ever been but my results weren’t as good. I had a bit of shake up in my last Tour de France with a little bit of heart trouble – well, it was what I thought was heart trouble, but we didn’t have a doctor on the team at that moment…
“I did have an offer to go to Italy the year after that, with Maurizio Fondriest who expected me to be a great first-lieutenant for him in what was to be his best year. But the fear that I had in my mind was that if couldn’t ride as good as I had done in the past, there might be a temptation to step over the line.
“I’d already been sick in my life, when I was young, and I didn’t want to get into a position where I’d lose my health again. So I stopped race.”
RIDE: Thanks for talking about it. It’s sad that it’s what discussions have come to but I think that’s the question that’s now going to be posed to directeurs sportif more than ever before.
Allan Peiper: “Maybe. That would be another good way that cycling changes because it seems that cycling, up until now, has been very much based on a slap on the wrist and a view of, ‘Okay, we’ll throw a bucket of sand over it…’ and move on. I think with this whole USADA file that’s come out that won’t be the case anymore.”
RIDE: Can you give us your take on the USADA file? Have you read it and what have you made of the fallout?
Allan Peiper: “I think I’m really disturbed. I won’t say ‘Shocked’ because everyone says that. I’m more disturbed than anything else. I feel out of line in my heart; I don’t know where to place things. I don’t know if I have to be appalled at what went on with US Postal, if I have to feel sorry for Lance because of what he was caught up on… it wasn’t just his making – it was a scene that was created over 40 or 50 years.
“I don’t know if I have to be appalled at the whole cycling world and what we’ve created and what’s gone on.
“I don’t know if it can change to be totally clean because people will be people and things go on. But I know it’s gotten better in the last eight years… still, a lot of thoughts have come back into my mind in the last week. Since the news broke, one thing that does disturb me how the information was gained, how it was leaked, how it was put in the press… it seems like such a farcical affair. Everything to do with the case has been sordid. Even how they got the details for the case is sordid; not only want went on with the case.”
RIDE: We hope that the lesson that’s come from all this is that people should be more honest because, if they’re not, sooner or later they’re going to get found out…
Allan Peiper: “I think that message has been really clear since 2005. Even though some riders think they can work outside the box – they think they can get away with it, sometimes – some people can be forced by fear into a situation where they take risks more than they would otherwise. There is a lot of different forms of cheating and reason behind it. But I think in the last seven or eight years things have dramatically changed within the cycling world.
“I’ve heard from a couple of younger riders in the last couple of days that they’re not just appalled by riders who go positive, they shun them completely. And I think that’s got to be the way forward. That’s the process that’s now happening.
“We now have the ‘no needle’ policy, the ‘blood passport’ is in place, a lot of teams are still doing in-house controls. All those things add to a much brighter future for cycling. The stuff that’s come up in the last couple of weeks is from the past… incidents and stories from up to 15 years ago or longer have come up. The future of cycling is bright and hopefully this is the last major case that comes out and now we can really move forward.”
RIDE: I’ll close with a question about your son. I know Zane is racing his bike now. If you’ve got your son riding a bike, you must be confident that the sport is in a better situation. You’ve just spelled that out. Are you going to encourage him to ride?
Allan Peiper: “If he wants to do it, I’ll certainly encourage him to do it because cycling is my life. It’s given me my life. It’s been everything to me for the best part of 40 years.
“I was with my son last weekend and he asked me, ‘Pappa, is the powder they put in the race bottles… is that doping?’
“I said, ‘No, it isn’t.’
“He said, ‘Well, the powder they put in there, it give you more energy and makes you ride better and longer.’
“I said, ‘Yes, it can.’
“He said, ‘Well, how come it’s not positive…’
“I said, ‘Well, there are two lists: one has the stuff that makes you positive and the other has the stuff that doesn’t make you positive. The danger is that those two lists come really close together and sometimes they cross over from people not being careful or cheating…’
“He’s only 14 years old and he’s already asking questions about what could be dangerous and what’s not dangerous. The young kids of today are more informed and less gullible than we were 10, 20, or 30 years ago.”
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