Some 25 sport directors from elite ProTour and pro continental teams head to class next week as part of the UCI’s ongoing efforts aimed at increasing professionalism among the ranks of cycling’s directeur sportifs.
Sport directors play a key role in cycling tactics, management and coaching, but until recently, there’s been little in the way of specialized training or preparation for ex-cyclists or others slotting into the high-stakes job of directing a multi-million-dollar elite team.
Last fall, the UCI introduced a new training program to broaden the experience and knowledge among active and new sport directors at the top level of the sport, with a focus on rules, regulations, technical aspects of bikes, leadership and coaching skills as well as anti-doping ethics.
“There’s never been any formalized training to become a sport director, and there’s a real need for that,” Keith Flory, the UCI’s coach education manager, told VeloNews. “Sport directors are obviously doing a very good job already. This is about creating a new level of professionalism in the sport and improving standards over time.”
More than 20 sport directors underwent the inaugural training course last year. Next week, the second batch of directors head to the UCI’s World Cycling Center in Aigle, Switzerland, for a week-long session that begins Monday.
The program will be conducted in French for the first time since the sport director program began last fall. Directors from some 16 teams, including BMC, Garmin and Sky, will be attending.
Some thought that veteran, longtime directors might snicker at the idea of formalized training organized by the UCI, but Flory said they were pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic response from sport directors who were keen to participate in the classes.
“We had 45 directors who wanted to come and we only had space for 25 this year, so we might have to expand the program next year to accommodate everyone,” Flory said. “Like any profession or corporate job, training is an ongoing part of being a top professional. The feedback from the participants last year was very positive. There’s an appreciation of some form of training and qualification.”
The week-long program is divided into various themes that will be presented and discussed to provide a concise, yet in-depth introduction to the multi-dimensional task of being a sport director of a major cycling team.
Scott Sunderland, a former director at CSC and Sky, will act as an instructor on one day to talk about the overall duties and responsibilities of a sport director faces in today’s peloton, ranging from scheduling, to training athletes to handling the day-to-day race duties.
“There’s a wide range of experience among the directors, from some who’ve been directors for decades to others who’ve never done it before,” Flory explained. “We try to create a program that’s interesting and challenging for all levels of experience. I certainly think different people will take different things from it. Hopefully we’ve created a program to give something to everyone in the room.”
The second day provides a snapshot at general coaching techniques as well as overview from anti-doping officials on the biological passport and the rules and regulations outlining the fight against doping. There’s even a discussion on how to reduce the environmental impact of a cycling team.
The third day focused on tech rules for bicycles as well as look at the administration of budgets and contracts while day four is dedicated to communication and leadership skills, something Flory says is essential to be an effective sport director.
“The role of a sport director is very much focused on the people around you,” he said. “We look at ways on how well you can lead them and work with them in order to effectively draw out the best of everyone and the best of yourself as well.”
There’s a final-day test and evaluation. Successful candidates will receive an official UCI diploma, which will be required by all sport directors starting in 2013.
Frédéric Magné, the former track star who now heads the UCI’s World Cycling Center, said that the program is aimed at sport directors from the top ProTour and pro continental teams, but will likely expand in the coming years to accommodate interest from teams at all levels of the sport.
“When you consider that each team has four to six directors, and there are 18 ProTour teams and even more pro continental teams, we’re already talking about a large group of professionals,” Magné told VeloNews. “Next year, we will have at least two courses. And from 2013, every director will have to have a license. It will be like in football; a manager cannot coach without being certified by the federation. It’s about raising the professionalism of the sport.”
One thing not covered is driving skills. Sport directors also have the added responsibility – and thrill – of driving team cars on the race course often at breakneck speed. Those still need to be learned the old-fashioned way.