A conversation with Fly V Australia director Henk Vogels

The Fly V Australia team is a bit of an enigma. It’s an American/Australian team, sponsored by an Australian airline (V Australia, a branch of Virgin Blue Airlines) as a marketing tool to promote a new non-stop flight from LAX to Sydney.

By Neal Rogers

Fly V's team director Henk Vogels.

Fly V’s team director Henk Vogels.

Photo: Isabelle Vachon

The Fly V Australia team is a bit of an enigma. It’s an American/Australian team, sponsored by an Australian airline (V Australia, a branch of Virgin Blue Airlines) as a marketing tool to promote a new non-stop flight from LAX to Sydney.

The team started the season as Fly V Australia-Successful Living, a fusion of the former Virgin Blue squad, run by Australian Chris White, and the Successful Living team run by American Steve Hegg. But that partnership dissolved after only a few months, rumored to be over financial differences, with White and team director Henk Vogels assuming full leadership of the program.

A spot behind the wheel as team director in the race caravan is a new role for Vogels, who ended a 14-year professional career in 2008. It’s a role he’s adapted to well, evidenced both by the team’s tally of over 80 wins, as well as White’s request that he return to the helm in 2010.

VeloNews’ Neal Rogers took a minute to chat with Vogels at the second stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

VeloNews: What is your feeling looking back on your first season as team director?

Henk Vogels: Awesome. Unbelievable year. The boys punched above their weight. It’s been a hard, long year, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely with the successes we’ve had. I can tell you right now, I enjoy the wins my boys have more than the wins I had when I was riding. I love it. I truly enjoy it.

VN: What can you tell me about the split between Fly V Australia and Successful Living earlier this year?

HV: Nothing, really. I can tell you that that situation did not end up working out — at all.

VN: The team spent the first half of the season in the U.S, and is now focused entirely on racing in Australia. Team owner Chris White said he thinks the team may be better known in the U.S, although that’s starting to change now that you’re here in Australia full time. What do you make of the team’s enigma status?

HV: For us Fly V Australia does business the U.S. and Australia, so it’s fine if we’re better known in the U.S., although I don’t know if I agree with that statement. I would have said that three months ago, but I think we are very well known now in Australia. We’ve won something like over 80 races. We won the Tour of Geelong, the Tour of Murray River, including seven stages, and the Tour of Tasmania, including five stages. As far as us being an enigma, we’re definitely an Australian team, and I can tell you we are beefing up our program for next year.

VN: What more can you say about beefing up the program for next year?
HV: All the contracts aren’t signed, so I can’t speak about it all just now. I can tell you in a week or 10 days. But I can tell you we’re beefing up our climbing stock and adding some speed. Generally we’re keeping up the same core group of guys while nurturing some great Aussie talent.

VN: Can you think of any one race when it all started to click this year, when the whole team started to gel?
HV: I would say the day things rolled along well was the day Phil Zajicek pumped Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer for the stage win at the Tour of the Gila. The season was going well before that, Ben Day won San Dimas, and Bernie Sulzberger won the national criterium championship, which was my first day as a director. We’ve won the national Aussie crit champ, and then we won the USPRO criterium championships with Ben Kersten. Bernie also won Superweek, and Johnny Cantwell has won something like 26 races.

VN: Personally, you won nine stages at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour over your career, and finished third overall. What’s it like to be back as a director?

HV: It’s pretty cool. I had great successes here. I did it so many times; I know all the marshals, the judges, and the commissaries. To be sitting in car watching the race is a bit bizarre, but it’s awesome to tell guys how to ride. It actually made me want to get out and ride this morning (prior to stage 2), seeing all the crosswinds.

VN: The name Sun Tour is a bit misleading, named after the newspaper rather than the weather conditions. It’s a hard race, with crosswinds, rain and crashes.

HV: That is what the Sunnie is all about — crosswinds, rain showers, in the gutter, left, right. It’s fours seasons all in one day.

VN: I read a passage in the Herald Sun about the rise in Australian cycling, and it said something like “just use Henk Vogels’ career as a gauge. When he started his pro career Australia was ranked 29th in the world, and now it’s ranked third.” What do you attribute to Australia’s rise on the global scale?

HV: I think a lot of directors in Europe have given Australians a go because of the great reputations of riders like Neil Stephens, Pat Jonker, Matt White, Stuart O’Grady, Michael Rogers, Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke. They’ve been willing to give more Australians a go. We’ve been world time trial champions, world road champions now with Cadel, we’ve been on the podium in the Tour. Sport directors see that Australians have that tough kind of character. Australian sports people are generally very tough competitors. It’s a bit of a ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. Australian fans expect a lot of their sports people, they put a lot of pressure on their sports people, and if they don’t perform, they normally get shot down in flames.

VN: Speaking of pressure on sports people, you raced against Frank Vandenbroucke earlier in your career. What was your reaction this morning to the news of his death?

HV: It made me sick to my stomach to hear it. I don’t know all the details, but its sounds as though he lost his battle with his illness. He was a sick man, and never really got on top of his illness. Depression is a horrible thing.