Portrait of Rik Verbrugghe, Sports Director Team Bahrain-Merida
Tour de Suisse: The season has ended. Looking back, what was the highlight of your season as sporting director?
Rik Verbrugghe: The highlight of the season was not, as most would assume, Nibali’s victory in the Milan-Sanremo race, but his crash on the stage to Alp d’Huez in the Tour de France. That was a really impressive, tragic moment. We had to reorganize the whole team in order to get some good results on the rest of the tour. In my opinion, this was a real turning point.
TdS: Can you briefly describe the function of a sports director?
RV: Describing the function of a sports director in general is not so easy. Of course it includes a logistical component, especially before a race. On race day itself you are responsible for tactical planning with the team and for staff organisation. If you are sitting in the car at the start of the race, most of the work is already done.
Now only minor adjustments can be made to the tactics and instructions.
After the race there are still some logistical things to be done, like the transport home or to the next stage.
TdS: What are your main team tasks at the Tour de Suisse?
RV: In a stage race, which can always be characterized by ups and downs, the mental attitude of the rider is one of the most important aspects for a sports leader.
The main task is to make preparations 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 work out a tactic for your own key driver and the whole team and plan the race carefully.
I think the main work of a sports director is done in the run-up to the race.
TdS: Recently there has been a lot of talk about banning power meters and radios during races. How important are these elements and do you personally consider a ban to be useful?
RV: I think it is a good idea to ban powermeters during the race. This would certainly affect some drivers and teams.
I am also in favour of a ban on radio during races, as the races could become more interesting this way. But I am of the opinion that the captain of each team (Road Captain) should continue to have radio. This would increase safety in the race. If there is no radio at all, the team vehicles (sporting directors) would have to drive to the first driver of the team in the peloton they find, and this would make the race more dangerous.
If only the captain has radio, both he and the whole crew would play a more important role.
TdS: We are now out of season. For the drivers and the team the new season is slowly but surely beginning. How do you support drivers and team during this time?
RV: You know, we have three to four coachs/coaches, four to five sports directors and next season 25 drivers. The individual teams are organized in small groups of five to six riders plus a trainer/coach and a sports director. In winter we keep in touch with the drivers. The coaches/trainers plan the training for the drivers.
Every driver is different and has an individual race plan. Some drivers have to undergo special training in winter. And that differs from driver to driver. But the most important thing at the end of the year is to collect the mileage for the next season.
In December we will be attending a ten-day training camp in Croatia. There, the riders will not only train their endurance, but also have discussions with the coaches and the sports directors. A good opportunity to talk about race planning and the race calendar. And to try to plan for the whole year. Season planning and the determination of the finish line of each driver is a real challenge and a crucial moment of the year.
TdS: Thanks, Rik, and all the best for the new season!