BASTOGNE, Belgium (VN) — BMC Racing. The Yankees of the peloton. Underachievers. Overpayers.
Yeah, yeah. BMC has heard it all. And some of it’s justified, according to its performance director. But this season has a different feel to it for BMC Racing, the U.S.-based superteam with the likes of Philippe Gilbert, Cadel Evans, Thor Hushovd, and Tejay van Garderen.
Through the first four months of the season, the team’s riders have won 12 races and stood on the podium 32 times. Last season at this juncture, the team had four wins and 21 podiums. It won 30 races total.
VeloNews caught up with BMC’s performance director Allan Peiper to get the lowdown on the changes and talk about perception of the team and pressures upon it, fair or not.
VeloNews: We talked last year at the Classics. You were just starting as performance director. It’s been a year on now and it seems like it’s going great. True?
Allan Peiper: We’ve managed to put some structure in place, and keep it in place. And we’ve got our sports science team on board as well, that has an umbrella over all of our riders … for reporting and feedback analysis. So we’ve come to a point where we’ve pretty much got control over the team and what our riders are doing, and have been able to focus more on goal setting and strategic planning for racing. But the thrust I think … is more in the momentum that we’ve created. Even in just the last few weeks, you know. It’s been building since the end of last season.
VN: I know you can’t really say everything, but are you doing anything different than you were last year? You know, we look at Philippe and say, “Oh, he looks better this year, looks faster.” I mean, is there anything that you can put a finger on, or you think it’s just sort of a process?
AP: No, I think when it comes to the riders, what we really have done is made them accountable, but also make them partners in what we’re trying to achieve. And not just for the first one or two or three riders with their race program but for rider No. 28. And we have a trainer for every rider in the team and their head support for every rider in the team. And when we make them partners in the project, they feel responsible and they feel valued as well … This is a partnership we’re in. Partnerships carry on or partnerships end. But we’re in it together at the moment and the thing is we work together. And I think the riders appreciate that … They know what’s in front of them, what’s expected of them. Another really important thing is clear lines from management going down through the directors to the riders.
AP: When the riders hear clear direction from the directors, know clearly what’s expected of them, in the tactics and in everyday life within the team, then it becomes clear for the riders. It’s easier for them to function and of course they still have their opinion, but it’s easier for us to set up the tactical plans that we want to do.
VN: I think maybe there’s a perception of the team as, essentially, the Yankees of bike racing. They spend a bunch of money and haven’t been able to do as much as maybe people think that they should have. Do you feel like BMC sort of suffers from this big expectation curse?
AP: Well, I think the expectation’s fair. I mean … if you have all these big names on the team, you should be able to perform. And the big question is, ‘Why haven’t we been able to perform?” That would be what we’ve been working hard on to try and turn around. … Inheriting a roster like we’ve got is not a bad thing.
VN: No. Hardly.
AP: It’s just how to work out, how to put it all together … divide it up, responsibility, which we’ve done between Tejay, Cadel, Philippe, Greg [Van Avermaet] … it’s a process that takes time. We’re one year in, but we’re not there yet, and probably within another year we still won’t be there.
VN: Probably will be pretty scary to think of what it’ll be like when you are there.
AP: Well, no. When we are there it’ll probably be scary to think about what we need to do to keep there … That’s probably the difficult thing. As we stand now, there’s still a lot of terrain to be covered, and a lot of things we can still achieve as a group with the riders we have while we build on the future with this team. And I think that’s got to be pretty exciting for everyone in the organization.
VN: I was wondering the other day. How is it that Greg is so consistent? Yeah, he hasn’t gotten a big win yet this year, but he’s always there. He’s always in the conversation. That seems incredible for someone physiologically to be able to be so versatile.
AP: He has an enormous depth as a racer. His body has an enormous depth, but then he really has the Belgian bike racer mentality. That’s all he lives for. That’s all he does. That’s all he thinks about. He’s a down-to-earth kid. It’s just bike racing and that’s his whole life … It’s the old-world cycling mentality. He really has that, and I think that’s what sort of keeps him at the top of his game. Most of the time, he’s probably one of the hardest trainers that that we have … He never really lets off.
VN: You look at a guy like Gilbert, such great resume, guy comes out and wins everything, but then it tapers off. You feel like the media’s been fair to Gilbert? You feel like Belgium’s fair to Gilbert?
AP: I think whatever styles they have, they come under some sort of scrutiny. Expectations are really high from the public, from the press, even from the team, because that’s coupled with money, and when you have money, you have accountability. … Maybe the public opinion hasn’t been fair. Of course he had a fantastic year in 2011. When he was world champion in 2012 he had so many near misses last year as world champion that were discounted. And before his 2011 year, he already won classics. He already showed the depth of talent that he had. So he’s not a one-day wonder. There’s been consistency for the last seven or eight years, so in that sense I think it’s a little bit unfair. Every top ‘sporter has some period in their career where they reach the zenith of their career … trying to re-create that? Every rider does it day in, day out, and it doesn’t always come, and he’s probably back at a point now where he’s been able to put things into place and everything’s going in the right direction. And he’s been able to emulate some of past performances.
VN: All right, well, uh, good luck to you boys.