Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?

Several retired pros have gone on to have illustrious careers as team coaches and directeurs sportif (DS). Raphael Geminiani comes to mind: as a rider he won the King of Mountains jerseys in the 1951 Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, yet he is perhaps best remembered as the DS and team manager of the mercurial Jacques Anquetil. Not only was he the DS who could manage the tempestuous Anquetil to incredible feats, he was a business innovator who side-stepped restrictions on team sponsorship.

Today we rate Geminiani as one of the best DS ever, but we have to admit, hindsight 20-20, that if we were given the news of his career change in 1960, we would have been skeptical. At that point he had been a fierce rival to Fausto Coppi, Louison Bobet, and even to Jacques Anquetil. His Wikipedia page has headlines such as "Temper" and "The 'Judas' Tour". Based on these, we would have written off his DS career before it even began. But perhaps this is the peril of commentating from the couch, words deceive and words can't fully describe a man. A read of his interviews could have revealed Geminiani the thoughtful man he really is, one who is very analytical and thoroughly in love with the sport of professional cycling. In a way, he was the perfect match for Anquetil, and in no way could a desk jockey had been able to predict that.

In the last few days, two related news have made strong impressions on us. First is the news that Paolo Bettini may relinquish his post as the Italian national team selector (effectively manager and DS in one job) and that his former mentor-turned-rival Michele Bartoli is joining Lampre as the team coach (but not as DS).

Can these old dogs learn new tricks?

Bettini has been under a lot of fire lately, not only for the lack of wins by the mens team (the womens team seems to do just fine), but also for abusing his post. He proposes that he instead should now work on development of young riders.

To replace him, Bettini suggested Max Sciandri, who is currently working as a DS for BMC, specializing in scouting young riders. Sciandri has been credited in the development of Mark Cavendish thanks to Sciandri's dual UK-Italian status and involvement in Cycling GB. 

On the other hand, Michele Bartoli hasn't formally been much involved in cycling since his unceremonious departure from CSC in 2004, after poor performances in the last few years of his career. He "coached" several VIPs at a recent Campagnolo gran fondo, and he is listed as a technical consultant of Centro Fitness Club Sport Service (although the website link is http://www.sportservicelunata.it/sport/staff). Among other staff members they have sports medicine experts (which may be distinct from medical doctors), scientists, and a posturologist.

Today we are spoiled with the concept of power metering, peaking, intervals training, and many others. But in the end of the day, the winner of a race has to first be present, both mentally and physically, to contest the win. In the last few seasons, LampreISD (now LampreISDMerida) has been absent more than not.

Can old dogs learn new tricks? Share your thoughts!

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