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Allan Peiper Q&A
With the 2013 Giro d’Italia about to begin, we thought we’d look back at last year’s race for the maglia rosa in this interview…
Allan Peiper was one of the directeurs sportif with the Garmin-Barracuda team for the 2012 Giro d’Italia. The first Grand Tour of the season was meant to be a chance for the squad’s sprinter to pick up a few wins and their GC specialist was going to attempt to crack the top five overall. Instead, Tyler Farrar crashed out early and Ryder Hesjedal didn’t just do a decent ride, he was the best in the peloton!
Almost a month after Hesjedal became the first Canadian winner of the Giro d’Italia, RIDE spoke with Peiper about that race. We also discussed how the achievements at the Giro might influence the game plan for the American-registered team at the Tour de France this July. And, of course, we tried to pry some information from Peiper about the selection of the Australian team for the upcoming Olympics. He is one of the selectors and although he didn’t offer any names, he expressed his satisfaction with the way things were done to pick the right team for London.
Here is a transcript of the chat with Allan Peiper…
– Originally published online: 6 June 2012 –
Allan Peiper Interview
RIDE: This is the first time we’ve spoken since “you” won the Giro d’Italia. How was it all? Did you go in thinking that Ryder would take the maglia rosa?
Allan Peiper: “Well, we went in to it thinking that he could get the leader’s jersey after being set up in the team time trial.
“We had a plan. If he did a good prologue ride then, after a couple of flat stages in Denmark, there was the team time trial as soon as we got to Italy, it was possible. But the team that we took was heavily stacked to help Tyler Farrar in the sprint stages. But they were also GC guys so we knew that if we did a good ride in the team time trial, once we got to the mountains Ryder would be one of the best placed GC riders and there was a possibility – as far as we were concerned – that he could pick up the jersey.”
RIDE:Then Tyler crashed out… we saw some amazing images of him with his wound. What happened that day?
Allan Peiper: “He crashed but he doesn’t really know what happened. And I don’t think we’ve worked it out since either. He had two or three gaping holes in the back of his hand and a small artery was cut. He was losing a lot of blood and they tried to bandage it up but it was coming through the dressing. There was no alternative but to make him quit the race.
“How he got the holes in the back of his hand is still odd – he has no idea. The road was smooth… but at least there was no tendon damage and he came out of that okay. He rode the US nationals three weeks later and he’s made a bit of a recovery. He had some time off and then raced in Switzerland so he’s lucky to have recovered so well actually.”
RIDE:So it was almost by default that you ended up doing a GC team’s ride in the Giro d’Italia that Garmin-Barracuda would ultimately go on to win.
Allan Peiper: “The idea was… well, we didn’t seem to have any real clear-cut winner, so we were going to try and take a team that we could hope to achieve a spread of results.
“At the Giro we hoped for a few stage wins for Tyler, the team time trial was a big focus, and then we had three guys with Hesjedal, Vande Velde and Stetina – two of whom have been in the top 10 of the Tour de France before – so there were options. They had a great preparation coming up to the Giro and we held them back from a lot of racing just to make sure they were good in May.
“When it came about that we did so well in the team time trial, Ryder was so well placed that he eventually took the overall lead. We had to adjust to the scenario a little bit; Tyler wasn’t there and that meant everything was completely for Ryder – there were no other alternatives.”
RIDE:Did it feel like a natural change-over to go from a sprint team to a GC squad?
Allan Peiper: “Well, the outside hope was that we’d score a top five overall for Ryder. If he was in shape – and he showed that he was in Flèche Wallonne and Liège, where he was eighth… and doing some good rides for [Andrew] Talansky in Romandie [when the young American finished 2nd overall, 12 seconds behind Wiggins] – he could achieve good things. If things fell in to place, it was going to work in our team’s favour.
“We had that in the back of our mind right from day one in Denmark; we wanted to look out for Ryder and make sure he was okay and not losing time even when we were locked into our sprint plan. It was a double-headed system and once Tyler dropped out it meant we knew what had to be done.
“We did think we were a little light handed in the climbing department and that probably was the case; it was pretty close when it came down to stage 20 on the Stelvio… we had Stetina and Christian there and they rode on the front halfway up the Stelvio before Ryder had to take over.
“But another thing to say about the team is that we had a lot of muscle. We could put some strength on the front and stretch the peloton out to over a kilometre and a half.
“There were times when our guys were riding on the front, putting Ryder in place or chasing gaps, and with Ramunas Navardauskas and Alex Rasmussen, with Robbie Hunter – who is also a strong boy apart from being a sprinter and a lead-out guy… we had Jack Bauer from New Zealander who is increadible!
“We had some real muscle that we could use to help put Ryder in the best possible position on the approach to a climb. I think that was advantageous for a lot of the Giro.
“The race was so controlled by Liquigas but it was good for us as, if we needed to, we could put our guys on the front and really drill it and put all the other favourites under pressure.”
RIDE:It became a wonderful race in the end with only a handful of seconds that separated first from second overall. That’s what you want in a Grand Tour. Was it exciting for you? I heard you left for a few days and then came back…
Allan Peiper: “Yeah, well I did. The plan was that, as a sporting manager, I wasn’t going to be there the whole time. I was to be there just in Denmark and then I’d go home [to Belgium] for some other races that were coming up. But one of my colleagues – Charlie Wegelius – his wife was having a baby so I stayed on a few more days. Then I realised I didn’t have enough clothes for a three-week bike race… so I went back to Belgium briefly while Ryder was still in a good position. I had two days at home to fill up my suitcase before I flew back again.
“It was a bit off-the-cuff but I think we made the best of the situation and then we had all hands on deck for the last 10 days.
“The last week was very stressful because we were trying to play a defensive role in the sense that we didn’t need to attack: Ryder had the best time trial of all the GC riders and he was in a great position. There was no reason for him to attack as such and have to ride away from the peloton. But, at the same time, to hold his rivals at bay was an effort and we all hoped that Ryder wasn’t going to crack on any one day. It was all a bit of a task.”
RIDE:That was May. And you won! How did you come out of it – what was it like in Milan afterwards, was it a big party? Is it a similar atmosphere to the end of the Tour de France?
Allan Peiper: “This was the first time that this team has won a Grand Tour title. And even for guys like myself who have long had a career in cycling, to win a Grand Tour once in your life is a big thing. I’ve got colleagues in the pro cycling peloton who have been directors for 25 years and they’ve never won a Grand Tour. To have won one and have been sort of instrumental in the tactics and instrumental in the build-up to the Giro, it creates a lot of pride. That’s on a personal level but also within the team.
“After the race we went out in the evening as a team to a nice restaurant in Milan – it was nothing super special, but a nice Italian place – and Doug Ellis flew in from New York to join us. Jonathan Vaughters also flew in for the occasion. It was pretty low-key.
“There are still a lot of races coming up after the Giro and I said to the boys, ‘It’s good to have a fun night but just remember there’s the Dauphiné, Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France still coming up…’
“We needed to hold things in perspective as well, because there were still some big objectives coming.”
RIDE:It leads us inevitably to the Tour but I wonder if, before we talk about that, we could discuss another matter that has come up recently. Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde both pulled themselves out of Olympic selection last week. What was that all about?
Allan Peiper: “I don’t know actually. I don’t know why Christian pulled himself out. And I don’t know why Dave did but I had heard that the selection was basically already made for the time trial positions. Dave Zabriskie was meant to come back to Europe for the Dauphiné and ride there. I spoke to him on the phone and reminded him that there was a prologue and a 50km time trial that’s really good for possible Olympic selection.
“The American selection criteria was that they actually had to podium in a Grand Tour time trial.
“The time trials that Dave has won this year – in Langkawi and California – don’t come in to that category whereas Taylor Phinney won the prologue in the Giro and, according to the criteria, he was already selected.”
RIDE:It’s not like there’s any connection to any past dalliances with former teams… perhaps…
Allan Peiper: “Not that I’ve heard of. No.
“Well, I do know from Dave’s side, that the selection was pretty much made and it was behind closed doors. But the reason for Christian is one I’m not sure of. It could be because he’s ridden the Giro and is also doing the Tour and the place is better left open to younger riders coming in. I haven’t really spoken to him about the Olympic selection process.”
RIDE:And Phinney and Teejay are riding very well at the moment as well…
Allan Peiper: “Yeah. The USA has selected a good team. They’ve got Farrar and Phinney and Teejay and Timmy Duggan – the national champion, so he gets a start… and I forget who the fifth one is but I had seen the list and noted that those guys have all had good results. To take Christian Vande Velde might not be fair because he hasn’t really had any results this year apart from riding for Ryder’s win at the Giro.”
RIDE:Which brings us to your other role. You’re not a selector of the Australian national team in an Olympic year. Where are you at? What’s the status?
Allan Peiper: “The status is that I think the selection has pretty much been made. It hasn’t been publicised yet. But we’ve done a lot of talking, a lot of thinking about it, a lot of considering different tactics on the type of circuit it is… and, ah, I think we’ve honed it down to a five-man team.”
RIDE:Do you know when the team announcement will be made?
Allan Peiper: “I’m not sure. That’s up to Cycling Australia. They’ll announce it in due course, once it’s been presented to the IOC and the AOC…”
RIDE:During the process of examining the talent that’s at your disposal, how did you find the experience? It’s your first time helping to pick a national team and, this year in particular, it’s a big call.
Allan Peiper: “Yep. It is. And actually I really enjoyed it all. It was a good selection process. We were all in agreement. We looked at various situations and riders’ results, and the roles that they would play… we considered everything we possibly could and it went really well. It was a positive experience and hopefully the team in London lives up to the expectations we’ve put on them.”
RIDE:Can we have a quick overview of how you see the Tour de France in 2012 panning out? The course is actually very interesting and, I’d expect, you’d know it well by now. Is there going to be a stand-out day for you? Like stage seven, which Christian Prudhomme seems to love…?
Allan Peiper: “I think stages seven, eight and nine will be pretty decisive. The stage to La Planche des Belles Filles [seven] is a hard climb all the way to the finish. Stage eight is like the day to Porrentruy which we did in the Tour de Romandie and it’s a hard day up and down. A lot will depend on the weather and it will be a hard day just before the first long time trial… and stage nine will put a lot of things into perspective.
“Stage seven will be an exciting race.
“A lot of the other stages have climbs that are pretty well known and, the way we see riders going, the big surprise could be in those three days when it’s least expected.”
RIDE:Could you offer a top three overall now and tell me why you think they’ll be on the podium given what you’ve observed during the course of this season already?
Allan Peiper: “I favour Wiggins at the moment. He’s got a strong team, they’re on a roll with wins – he’s won almost every race he’s started this year… they’ve worked for some time on achieving this victory. They’ve been putting things in place and they are very deliberate in what they’re doing. Team wise, Sky has got it drilled and I think the stars are aligning – it will happen.
“We’re at the point where he’s very confident, very good, his team is really strong and completely around him. He’s the stand-out favourite.
“Second, I think, will still be Cadel Evans. He’s got a strong team albeit one that might include a few guys who I’m not sure will benefit Cadel so much.
“The other thing is, hinges on how much drive Cadel has to do it a second time. He’s been world champion and a Tour de France winner – both are fantastic results but backing that up a year after, with the same motivation, is hard. He very well may do it again but from what I’ve seen of Wiggins, he seems to have the advantage.”
RIDE:And so third place?
Allan Peiper: “Well, that could come down to a few guys but… ah, let’s just say Ryder Hesjedal.”
RIDE:Can you talk a bit about him. I told him in January that, back in 2004 a Canandian journalist, Rob Jones, said to me that I should watch out for this mountain biker. Ryder was doing the Tour de Langkawi – one of his first international road races – with the national team. And since that tip-off I’ve followed the progression. It’s an interesting one. But what’s Ryder like to work with?
Allan Peiper: “He’s very laid back which is good. He likes things to be done right. He’s fastidious about his bikes. Having said that, he’s relatively calm.
“We had some discussions about his program at the end of last year and some time he can be a little indecisive about what he wants and how he wants to get there. He can be a little bit unsure.
“Even during the start of this season, we had to rein him in a bit because he was asking us to change his program – why couldn’t he go to Paris-Nice or Tirreno… that sort of thing. We reiterated the path to the Giro and how important that was to have all his guns firing for May. He was saying, ‘I’ll be too good, too early…’ and there was a lot of discussion about it.
“We stuck to our guns and kept him on the same path and it’s turned out perfectly.
“He was on a roll for some time before the Giro and his confidence was getting better. Things came together for him equipment wise and his form in Flèche and Liège reminded us that he was doing well.
“It all added up to make him happy at the right time, just before the Giro.
“He got his time trial bike and had a chance to dial that in. He had a great prologue ride and his wife was there… all these things add to who he is and how he performs. He grew in confidence day by day.
“Three nights before the end of the Giro and we were sitting at dinner before the two big mountain stages at the end. The staff table was a little bit away from the riders’ table and I could see Ryder from afar. We caught eyes for a moment and he gave me this smile and a nod and, to me, it just said, ‘It’ll be okay. It’s going to happen.’
“And I was thinking about that a bit lately. You can never know how things are going to go: 91 hours of racing and it comes down to 16 seconds… and you’re behind. And you’ve got two mountain stages left. And you’ve hardly got any helpers left…
“Despite it all, he just had this confidence that it was going to happen. It was really amazing and I haven’t seen that in many riders. Actually, I haven’t seen it in any.”
RIDE:We’ve talked about the special traits required from someone who fits the bill of a ‘GC rider’ and we’ve seen what pressure can do to people. I can remember back to the years when you were with Davitamon-Lotto and were working with Cadel. We understood that it was a delicate balance to get everything in place for these guys who can tend to be highly strung because of the need to be so attentive all of the time. Is Ryder like that?
Allan Peiper: “No, actually. Surprisingly enough, the more stressful the Giro seemed to get, the more confidence he got in what he was doing and how he was doing it. And the more relaxed he seemed to become.
“It was uncanny the fact that he, sort of, became more laid back in those last days or the last week of the race. He had the confidence that he as in the place that he needed to be. Outside factors weren’t really affecting him. It was pretty amazing actually.”
RIDE:We’ve got a long interview here already but, while I’m being indulgent with your time can I ask for one anecdote about the Giro that you would like to share? Was there one pivotal moment that might not have been talked about in the mainstream coverage that really made the race special for you. What was the key element of the Giro win?
Allan Peiper: “I think the major factor was the way we were pushed into a corner on the Stelvio stage. It was a really hard stage right from the start, straight up the Tonale and we had our muscle guys – those who aren’t really big climbers – going off the back. There was a break that went away and Christian was in it to cover for us… but that wasn’t what we wanted because we’d said already for two weeks that if we send a guy up the road and something happens to Ryder – something trivial like someone having to give a wheel because of a puncture – we lose both our climbers and there’s nobody to help him.
“Having Christian away on the Stelvio day wasn’t really the perfect situation but we were covered as it was.
“Navardauskas rode hard to the top of the Tonale and held that break that contained Christian to a certain gap. We were very conscious that we wanted to not let them get too much time so that if we needed to pull them back, we could.
“As it went over the Mortirolo, the bunch was split into pieces – everyone was looking at Ryder, Christian was out the front, Stetina was off the back. There was a moment of… I won’t say déjà vu but it was like time stood still. I could see the scenario unfolding and what I saw wasn’t good!
“But we had to let that breakaway go. And we got Christian back, Stetina got back on then he started riding at the front then he punctured and then he came back. But probably the most crucial thing in that stage was when Vande Velde finally cracked on the Stelvio, there was no one left for us.
“De Gendt was so far out in front that he was winning the Giro and the others were prepared the lose the race to De Gendt rather than possibly help Ryder win.
“A crucial thing for me in the car was remembering how Cadel won the Tour de France last year with his ride on the Galibier. He had to pick up the gauntlet and run with it. He put his money on the table in those 11 kilometres or so. That’s what went through my mind when I was discussing it with Charlie Wegelius in the car. ‘Cadel did it, why can’t Ryder? He’s good enough!’
“We said to Ryder over the radio, ‘You just have to ride. Don’t look around. Use the wind to put them under pressure. Finish line is where it ends.’
“That was the crucial moment of the whole Giro.”
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