Phill Bates AM was the race director of the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic, head of the Road Commission at Cycling Australia in the 1990s and an influential force of the sport at a time when Heiko made a huge impact on the sport in Australia.
Bates reflects on the career of Heiko Salzwedel, which opened doors for many budding Aussie cyclists to tackle the roads of the world circuit and big international races.
When my brother Ken broke the news to me that my great friend Heiko Salzwedel had passed away, my wife Barbara and myself reflected on the enormous impact he had on so many people worldwide. I could write a book on Heiko’s influence – not just in Australia but to so many other countries.
Heiko never stopped loving our great country and our cyclists and kept abreast of Australian Cycling in the years after he left our shores.
We first met following an introduction to Cycling Australia President, Ray Godkin. After some unfounded job offers, Heiko was initially established as NSW Elite Coach when first arriving in Australia. However, a new position arose as AIS Road Coach, located in Canberra, leaving a position for Gary Sutton to begin a stellar career as NSW Coach.
Heiko’s job was to manage a World team in 1990 at the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic which included the likes of two former World stars Thomas Liese and Roland Hennig, both from East Germany, Philippe Lauraire of France and Mario van Baarle from Holland and Chris Creaghan.
Over the next few years, I watched with amazement at how he transformed many discarded track squad members into outstanding road cyclists – providing new pathways that never existed before. Heiko had an incredible way of time management – not only coaching but also engaging with politicians and sponsors.
He also encouraged and mentored others, including progressive elite cyclist Andrew Logan, who became his Assistant Coach. Logan has since developed into one of the most influential sports science coaches and high-performance directors across a wide range of sports.
The combination of Salzwedel and Logan netted Olympic gold and silver through the efforts of 1992 Barcelona Olympic gold medallist, Kathy Watt. As a result women cycling was given appropriate funding and support from the AIS.
On the political and business side, Heiko developed a healthy relationship with the Federal Minister for Sport and AIS Chief Executive Rob de Castella, and opened doors for the evolution of many new international races.
He secured bike manufacturer Giant as a major sponsor of the AIS road program, an equally beneficial undertaking for both concerns.
The AIS Road team was based in Khancoban, NSW, part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the highest town in Australia. The cyclists benefitted greatly as well as those that took part in new races improvised by Heiko, gaining sponsorship support but also government support at the highest level.
I witnessed Heiko’s teams win countless events across all continents and at long last we had a road program providing rising stars the opportunity to compete at the highest level and eventually secure great professional careers.
In 1991, Heiko insisted I manage an Aussie team to the British Milk Race as he was managing a team at the Tour of Sweden which was held at the same time.
Both were Pro-Am events and remarkably, we both had similar success with Robert McLachlan winning two stages in Sweden, and Pat Jonker and Darren Lawson both collecting stage wins in the Milk Race as well as several encouraging places by former national road champion Matt Bazzano.
In my eyes, and many others, Heiko could do no wrong.
In 1994, after a stunning performance in the World TTT championships in Norway, the AIS team of Brett Dennis, Damian McDonald, Henk Vogels and Phil Anderson won a Gold medal in the 100km teams time trial at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada. Equally as impressive were the likes of Matt White and Dean Jones.
Despite missing final selection, both could have filled in the team and produced a sensational win regardless of the end combination.
Unfortunately, the TTT was eliminated from the World Championship program at a time when Australia was emerging as a major force. It was not surprising that Heiko had a great affection for the race-against-the-clock as it was his introduction to the sport of cycling when the famous triple World champions, the Petterssen brothers of Denmark did a post-Olympic race in Heiko’s home town of Luebben in 1969, which encouraged Heiko to pursue the sport of cycling.
After training East German juniors to World championship success, Heiko became one of the great authorities on all aspects of cycling. The riders that gained success under Heiko are legendary and road cycling began to flourish, especially in Australia.
Heiko was a visionary and was instrumental in moving the National Road Titles to the summer period – something that I thought he had little chance to achieve. He was also putting together an Australian-based professional team with some German influence in Jens Voigt and international sponsors when the rug was pulled from under his feet. It remained one of his biggest disappointments but somewhat proud of many of his protégés.
Here was a man who wanted to remain as the National Coach but Cycling Australia had other ideas. At the same time, Heiko had earmarked other riders for world dominance.
Robbie McEwen and David McKenzie were among those he developed in Canberra.
Heiko once said to me, and many others, that a young Cadel Evans (then a top-ranked world MTB rider) should enjoy his time in the dirt through to 2000, but that his best performances would come in the French Alps and Pyrenees of the professional road races of Europe. Heiko was certainly right yet again.
Following his disappointing saga and end with Cycling Australia, Heiko was recruited by the UK Government (Lotteries) to identify the best sports to support for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Following his extensive work, he secured a job with British cycling before leaving to pursue support for a flagging country in teams pursuit, Denmark.When the national record of Denmark was more than 20 seconds off the World Championship pace, he helped develop the Scandinavians into a world force.
The Danes secured a World Cup victory in Sydney on a very skinny budget and then progressed to World and Olympic medal prospects. They did not even have sufficient funds to be able to hire the facility at Sydney’s Dunc Gray Velodrome, using the downgraded Canterbury outdoor velodrome instead.
Heiko’s contribution to Russian Cycling was also another achievement gaining Olympic gold for the British teams pursuit in 2016 was another feather in his cap.
Heiko was happy to settle back in what he called semi-retirement in Germany when he took up the State Coach of Brandenburg with some rising under 23 stars as well as world champions Roger Kluge and Max Levy.
There is nowhere that Heiko has travelled in the world that - when allowed to take control - has not achieved success. I have met few people in the sport of cycling that ever amazed me and Heiko was on top of the list.
The cyclists that learned the art of racing under his guidance will never forget him. His passion, drive and knowledge made him one of the best coaches the world has seen. He may have been accused of being a tough taskmaster and unrelenting, but he knew his game.
We remained great friends, admiring his passion for the sport and I will never forget a night at our home we were joined by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. Cycling was very much the winner on that occasion.
Our sincere condolences to wife Cindy and the two boys.
Thank you for you contribution to Australian cycling and the impact you made.
Your legacy will live on for many decades to come, I’m sure.
RIP Heiko Salzwedel.