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Winterserie 1/4 - Directeur Sportif (sport directeur)

Profile of Rik Verbrugghe, DS Team Bahrain-Merida

Tour de Suisse: So we’re at the end of a season. When you look back, what was the highlight for you, as a DS?
Rik Verbrugghe: The highlight of the season was not, like most would expect, Nibali winning Milan – San Remo, but Nibali’s crash on the stage to Alp d’Huez at the Tour de France. That was such an impressive and tragic moment. It meant we had to reorganise the whole team to get some good results during the rest of the Tour. So that really was a turning point for me.

TdS: Could you quickly describe the role of a DS?
RV: To describe the role of a sport directeur in general is not so easy. Actually, it has a logistical part, mostly before a race. On the day of the race, you manage all the tactical plans with the team and organise the staff. When you are finally in the car at the start of the race, most of the job is already done.
You can then just make some small adjustments to your tactics and briefing.
After the race there are some logistical things to be done, like the transport back home or to the next stage.

TdS: At the Tour de Suisse, what are your key functions in the team?
RV: During a stage race, where you know you can have ups and downs, one of the important aspects for a directeur sportif is the mental approach of the rider.
The most important job is to prepare for the next stage. You check the route of the next stage, think about riders from other teams who could play an important role in the race and the tactics of the other teams. So you prepare a tactic for your key rider and the whole team and a good plan for the race.
I think the most important job of a DS is in advance of the race.

TdS: There’s been talk lately about banning power meters and radio during the races – how important are these elements, and do you personally think it makes sense to ban them?
RV: I think it’s a good idea to ban power meters during the race. It can influence some riders and some teams. I agree with banning radios from the race too – it could make races more interesting. But I think it would be a good idea to leave one radio for the captain of each team (road captain). So it would make the race safer, because if there is no radio at all, the team cars (sport directeurs) have to go to the first rider of the team in the peloton they find and this makes races more dangerous.
If only the captain has a radio, it would make his role more important and the role of the riders without radio would be more powerful.

TdS: We’ve now reached the off season; for the riders and team, the new season is slowly but surely beginning. How do you support the riders and your team during this period?
RV: What you need to know is, we have three to four trainers/coaches, four to five sport directeurs and, next season, 25 riders. The organisation of the team works in small groups of five to six riders plus a trainer/coach and directeur sportif. During winter, we stay in contact with those riders. The coaches/trainers plan the training for the riders.
Each rider is different and has a different race plan. Some riders need to do specific work during winter. And this is different from rider to rider. But most important now at the end of the year are the base-miles for next season.
In December, we will have a 10-day training camp in Croatia. There, the riders will not only do their endurance-work but also have meetings with the coaches and sport directeurs. It’s an important moment to talk about race planning and the race calendar. And to try to plan the whole year. It’s a very difficult challenge and a crucial moment of the year to plan the season and define the goals of each rider.

TdS: Thank you Rik, and all the best for the new season.


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