Ego control: Allan Peiper on the personalities of BMC (Part 2)

cycling, allan peiper, AUS, BMC, cadel evans, tejay van garderen, giro, tour, management
Allan Peiper says he understands his riders because he can put himself in their shoes. (SBS)
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BMC is rich with talent, resource and aspirations, but breeding a culture of cohesion amongst its most gifted athletes isn’t a given. Thor Hushovd and Taylor Phinney can’t both win Paris-Roubaix, Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen, the Tour de France. Streamlining objectives is one thing, but getting riders, particularly the most ambitious to get on board with a team’s vision requires delicate management.

I have absolute confidence that we can go to the Giro and Cadel Evans can be vying for the top spot. I think we can win the world team time trial championship, and that’s a major goal. And moving into the top-three on the UCI Ranking. They’re all very obtainable objectives. And they’re meant to be.

Athletes are highly-strung individuals. In a professional sporting team, where results are balanced on a knife edge, tensions and personality clashes are normal - preventing them from proliferating however is the cornerstone of good management. For BMC, it's one of the major reasons Allan Peiper, a self-described ‘people person’ was recruited. A steady hand, a good man manager to deal with the glut of captains at the team. To defuse tempers before they arose.

Ironically, it’s one of the characteristics that his first mentors in cycling felt would be his greatest impediment to success. Compassion, empathy, his tendency to get emotional, they said, made him soft. Some two decades on, it's this very trait that he believes has been integral to yielding the best from his riders.

“For a long time, it was something I was embarrassed about,” he told Cycling Central. “But it’s actually one of the things I draw on. It’s something that allows me to see it from their side, from their point of view, to put myself in their shoes.

“Be it the rider, the mechanic, the director, the soigneur or the bus driver. I think that’s the thing I can give most to the team. These guys all know their roles. They know what they’re doing, but to get the most out of them, they need to know that you understand them and they understand you, and I think that’s my biggest asset as a manager, fostering that culture.”

That involves a bit of arm-twisting occasionally, a bit of convincing, but ultimately, as long as there’s transparency in the decision making process, Peiper believes everyone can be on the same page. Peiper says he’s had healthy discussions with his roster about what they need to be achieving and what their calendars will be, what they’ll be judged on, and why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Philippe Gilbert has been geared away from the flat cobbled classics, and will take a bigger role in the Ardennes, Cadel Evans won’t ride the Tour de France, and instead the Giro d’Italia, while Tejay van Garderen, Taylor Phinney and Thor Hushovd have all been given highly tailored programs designed to avoid conflict, and spread limited opportunities among many.

In theory, this will give BMC and Peiper more success across the year as a whole, and keep riders happier throughout. In Part 2 of Cycling Central’s interview with BMC’s sporting manager, we talk about BMC’s aging generation of riders and how he plans to rejuvenate the roster in future years, managing egos, and what a successful year in 2014 for BMC will look like. If you missed Part 1, you can catch up here.

CC: Allan, what metrics do you judge team performance on? Obviously you have limitations, but how are you approaching this year?

AP: I think there are a three aspects to team performance. Financially, what resources do you have and how are you using them? Second, what have you inherited? And thirdly, there’s the rider themselves. As much as we can set up the platform and create the synergy, have the sport science team, and put all the blocks in place, goal planning, and phase planning, it still comes down to the rider actually crossing the line. And that ultimately is out of your hands. How intelligent is the rider on the day? How is luck going with you? That’s a big part of bike racing. The race unfolds in unpredictable ways, and sometimes you need lady luck to smile on you.

CC: With respect to what you inherit, the roster hasn’t changed too significantly this year, are you looking at slowly shaping that differently? You’ve got a lot of older riders in the team and riders who are perhaps on the precipice of generational change. There must some desire by yourself for renewal..?

AP: Look, It’s an interesting one for us. A question we had to look at deeply at this winter (Australian summer), with our roster, setting up a new scouting protocol, identifying our strengths and our weaknesses, but one thing we’ve really had to work hard on is making the riders the one’s that are the most accountable. Empowering them to make decisions about their careers. Give them a sense of being part of the decision making, responsibility with their race calendar, with their goal setting. Identifying trainers for them, and holding them accountable. For a big part of the team, and this is important, making them aware that If you don’t step up you step out. Not waiting till August.

Don’t make us wait till August to start to discuss whether you want to stay on because it won’t happen. Get the score on the board, show us you’re a value to the team early. The certainty of that, the truth, was really well-received and respected by the roster we have this year. These guys are athletes, they want to hear it like it is. I think if rider and management are on the same page, nobody is left surprised come contract time. People understand that they might have to step out if you lay it out there early.

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CC: To clarify, that’s not necessarily results, but performance? Domestiques for example don’t need to be posting results, they just need to be showing their value? Some teams can be quite dysfunctional because every rider on the team is racing for themselves, and that’s certainly not a culture which breeds success. Not in cycling.

AP: Certainly.. The key, I think, is finding the balance of a team comes from the vision you have of a team. No team can put together sprinters, Grand Tour riders, hilly classics, flat classics in the same team and have success. It’s just not viable, because there are too many elements that you need to be taking care of. The direction of this team has always been GC-oriented and that started with Cadel Evans, and is being continued with Tejay van Garderen…

CC: But it was muddled.. bringing in guys like Ballan, Hushovd, Gilbert..

AP: Yes, to an extent, but then those guys also fit into a GC structure. They can all still do a job in a Grand Tour. We don’t have a sprinters team, and really we don’t even have a sprinter. Thor can still win a sprint, but he has other strengths. You have to build a team around its objectives, and I think we have a good domestiques that can give us the best possible chance to prosecute those objectives.

CC: Those riders don’t just blur the vision of the team though, they’re also big names. How do you manage that.. having so many guys in the team that want to be number one, very high-end athletes, how do you manage that when they may have potentially overlapping objectives; be it Hushovd and Phinney or Evans and van Garderen?

AP: That’s quite a challenge. I’ve seen that in the past year with this team. What we have done is not keep some of these guys apart, but splitting the responsibilities. Cadel will do the Giro, he’s got 80 per cent of the staff and riders that will be at the Giro in 2014 for all of his program running into it. Philippe Gilbert has been taken out of the flat classics, and he’ll be focusing exclusively on the hillier races, the Ardennes, and Milan-San Remo. He has specific roles. For the flat we have Phinney, Hushovd, Oss, and their roles are split there as well. And for the Tour it’s van Garderen’s chance to step up, build a team around him, and take responsibility, like Cadel has in previous years. In that sense those egos, those ambitions are taken care of.

CC: And everyone is on board with that?

AP: Yes. Everyone is.. (pause). Now. For some of them it was a bit of a surprise to see some of the changes but, you know what with good communication, the ideas sink in, and are accepted, because they’re realistic. They don’t encroach on each other’s terrain, and that could be what really differentiates this year from last. That could be the winning point.

CC: Specifically then, what does the team need to do to meet your own criteria for a successful year in 2014?

AP: I stated back in October that 40 race wins has to be possible for this team with the roster that we have. Discounting that we don’t have any sprinters. We won 30 races last year in an unsuccessful year. And 40 has to be possible. Winning a Grand Tour.. I have absolute confidence that we can go to the Giro and Cadel Evans can be vying for the top spot. Winning the world team time trial championship, that’s a major goal. And moving into the top-three on the UCI rankings. They’re very obtainable objectives. And they’re meant to be.

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