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Holm on losing Cavendish, signing Kittel, and sprinting

The Etixx – Quick-Step sport director tells VeloNews the deal that brought Marcel Kittel to his team happened "very, very fast."

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Brian Holm, the Danish sport director at Etixx – Quick-Step, will no longer have Mark Cavendish’s ear in the bunch sprints.

Cavendish relied upon Holm throughout much of his professional career, riding on Holm’s teams every year since turning pro except in 2012, when he raced one season with Sky following the collapse of High Road. Cavendish is now with Dimension Data and Holm stayed put at Etixx, ending their dynamic partnership in the bunch sprints.

Holm isn’t nostalgic about Cavendish’s departure, and he is looking forward to seeing Etixx newcomer Marcel Kittel and Cavendish lock horns throughout the season. VeloNews caught up with Holm to talk about the Kittel transfer, the art of the sprint leadout, and why it’s getting harder to win bunch sprints. Here are excerpts from the interview:

VeloNews: How did the Kittel deal come together?
Brian Holm: It was all quite fast. The first time I heard about it was when Cavendish told me. Cav was already going, but I was staying on the team, and he told me, ‘Kittel is coming.’ I thought he was kidding. I called Patrick [team general manager Patrick Lefevere] and he didn’t want to talk about it too much. I saw Kittel and he said, ‘wait two days.’ I think everything happened very, very fast. There are a lot of rumors in cycling, and normally you hear everything, but this time it was really going fast. No one knew anything. I still need to sit down and have a good glass of wine with Lefevere to get the full story on that one.

VN: Why did you decide to stay at Etixx instead of going with Cavendish to Dimension Data?
BH: Cavendish is very special, and he gave us so much happiness with all of his victories. It was very special working with him, because he’s probably one of the best sprinters ever, but at the end of the day, the sport directors don’t cross over with the riders. It’s their mechanics, their PR men, their coaches, their trainers, and a few riders. I’ve been here at Etixx since 2012, and I am really happy here. It’s like a big family, from the people in the front office, to the mechanics, to all the directors. I wouldn’t say it was an easy decision, but I think Cav will be in good hands with the South Africans. Ralf [Aldag] is also going with him.

VN: Cavendish brought a few guys with him, including Mark Renshaw and Sky’s Bernie Eisel, but Kittel didn’t bring anyone. Who will work for him in the sprints?
BH: Renshaw is a big loss. He is the master of the leadout, and no one is better than he is, but we have some guys. We have a few guys. [Nikolas] Maes, [Fabio] Sabatini, [Lukasz] Wisniowski, [Maximiliano] Richeze, [Gianni] Meersman, so I think we will solve that problem. Even Tony Martin, he is going from the last 1km. Marcel and Tony are from the same city, so I know Tony will be happy to help as well.

VN: Have you had any conversations with Kittel about what happened last year?
BH: I had a lot of questions about that, but I didn’t even ask him. Somebody said he got a virus, and I don’t know if that’s true. And someone else said he was too lazy, and I don’t know about that, either. Things will work out pretty fast during the season, and we’ll see who was right. When you’re winning, everything else is forgotten very fast. When you’re a rider like Marcel, he wants to win, so they always have a strong personality. It will take us probably two years working together to see how he works, and to see which buttons you need to push when he needs to be motivated. I am excited to be working with him.

VN: Will there be any strange emotions racing against Cavendish?
BH: We’re all here to win. This is our business, to win bike races. So, yes, now we are going to try to beat Cav, and Cav will try to beat Kittel. It will be a big battle, but we are not too worried about that. We will beat Cav, but Cav will certainly beat us. That’s part of the new challenge, to race against him. Like in last year’s Tour de France, with [André] Greipel winning all those stages, that was great. I really like him a lot as a racer, and we were close for many years on High Road. That’s one of the things I’ve learned in my many years in cycling, is that you have to be happy when the others beat you. It’s not worth getting too upset about it or losing sleep. These are the best bike riders in the world, and you know how hard everyone is working, so you enjoy all those other victories as well. That’s part of the game, too.

VN: There are so many top sprinters now with sprint trains. How different are the sprints from when it started with Cavendish and High Road?
BH: In the past, we were probably the only team with a good train at High Road. It’s a lot more complicated now than it was five or six years ago. There are a lot more good sprinters, and more teams are racing to support them in the sprints. But you also have to remember that a good leadout is not just the final 500 meters to go. It’s chasing the breakaways, riding in the crosswinds with 50km to go, keeping the sprinter out of trouble all day, to help him save energy, to have two or three strong guys sit at the front all day. There’s a lot more to a sprint than the last 200 meters, and it’s sometimes overlooked. You have to go out there, day after day, and really work for the sprints. It’s not so easy as it looks on TV. You have to be strong the whole bloody day.

VN: Is it frustrating that there are fewer sprint possibilities in the grand tours compared to a decade ago?
BH: I can’t figure out why they’re doing that. I think everyone likes the sprints, and I can’t really see the point of making it harder and harder every year. Maybe it’s for the TV. I think last year’s Tour de France was the hardest I’ve ever seen. It was just crazy. These days, there’s not even a flat section in the road where you can take it a little bit easy and rest the head. It’s full-gas start to finish. Even when it’s a sprint stage, it’s like a rollercoaster, up and down in the last 10km, roundabouts, and then you have the GC guys fighting to be up there, who are afraid to lose five seconds. Every year it’s just more and more crazy. For that reason, I cannot figure out what they’re trying to do.

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