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Brian Holm stands smiling in the corridor of the VideoHouse television studios in Vilvoorde, Belgium. Having moved from the hugely successful but now defunct HTC Highroad team in winter, the affable Dane is here for the live televised presentation of his new employees, the Omega Pharma-Quickstep team. Dressed in a smart team-issue Pablo Nero suit, with his hair slicked back and wearing a quirky pair of Oakley prescription glasses, he looks more like a mild mannered office executive or computer nerd than a guy who spends most of his year behind the wheel of a cycling team car issuing instructions to the world’s top riders.
Although some of the riders he previously worked at with HTC have also come across to the Belgian team for 2012, things will be different this year Holm explains. “I spent five years with Bob Stapelton at Highroad and I really loved it but I’m really looking forward to this year with Omega Pharma-Quickstep. I grew up here in Belgium.
“I signed my first contract here in Vilvoorde back in the winter of 1985 with the Roland team and lived in the country for 13 years. You can see from the team presentation we will be doing things a bit differently here. When I was with an American team we would dress like we were going to a baseball match but today, with a Belgian team, we’re dressed like we’re going to a wedding. There are small differences like that.”
Holm’s arrival at Omega Pharma-Quickstep though is a subtle sign of change. Six former HTC riders came across with him including world time trial champion Tony Martin and the Velits brothers; Peter and Martin. The squad have also signed Levi Leipheimer and Michal Kwiatowski from Radioshack and a handful of other riders who have suddenly increased the formerly classics-focussed team’s chances of stage race glory this year.
“I think the basic reason they were focussed on the classics in the past was probably financial,” Holm shrugs. “I can imagine if you have a certain amount of money and have to decide what you’re going to do with it, you spend the money on the classics; the races where you have the biggest chance of winning, especially if you are a Belgian team. Now, we have a little bit more money and a very, very good team. We should be able to compete in the classics and the stage races. I think we have a very solid team for both.”
Already the arrival of Tony Martin has journalists and fans alike pondering whether the young German can win the Tour de France this year, especially with two long time trials en route to Paris but Holm shakes his head. “I wouldn’t talk about this year for Tony,” he says. “Some people will say ‘yeah Tony can win long time trials, he can win the Tour’. They have to say that, but I think Tony tried full speed ahead last year so this year we will probably aim for him to win a few time trials, maybe win a stage and just survive in the mountains, not kill himself, and then we will see in three or four years how far he can go. For now, we will focus on the time trials for Tony and I know he’s pretty ambitious about the Olympics in London too so he will have to choose his races very carefully this year.”
For Holm, this year’s Tour de France will be the first one in a long time without friend and former teammate Rolf Aldag alongside him in the team car. The duo had a Laurel and Hardy type relationship at HTC, with their antics in the team car during the 2010 Tour one of the highlights of the cycling movie Chasing Legends.
“For the past three years I used to be personal driver for Aldag,” he laughs. “This year I will probably be private driver for Wilfried Peeters. It’s such a hard sport that I couldn’t do it if we didn’t have a little bit of fun. I mean, it’s hard for everybody. You are away for one month. If you couldn’t laugh, I would quit cycling. You have to enjoy yourself. We’d spend the days sitting in the team car doing some old school jokes. They were the best we’d got. It’s pretty sad but we were laughing. I’ve been told I’m going to the Tour again this year. I was there the last three years and sometimes you’re going and you say ‘there goes another month’. But when you are at the Tour it’s quite exciting. You kind of get addicted to it. It’s almost one month out of your life but it goes bloody fast.”
So what does the former Danish champion think he can bring to Omega Pharma Quickstep for 2012?
“If ten riders could win a race here I’d be very happy, I’d love to do that,” he says. “I think you show you have a good team when more riders are winning. If you could have between 10 and 15 riders winning, it would be great. It could be a stage in Austria, a stage in Denmark, it could be a kermesse race in Belgium, it doesn’t matter as long as they got the win. Most teams have maybe four or five riders winning races each year, sometimes less. The rest are just domestiques.
A good professional needs to be close to victory five or six times a year. It’s not necessarily important whether you win or not but you have to be in the finale. It’s always very, very stressful and exciting when you have a chance to win. Sometimes you can say guys were lucky to be in a good breakaway or whatever but you have to create the luck yourself to be there. For professional cyclists you have to be close to winning sometimes. You have to be there to fight for victory. If you lose that feeling, if you have no more ambitions, if you don’t fight for the win a few times a year, then it’s over, you have to quit cycling. At HTC, I think we had 13 or 14 different guys win races, so I like the idea of having as many riders as possible having a win every year. I think it’s very important for the young kids to win a race.”
Although Holm has moved seamlessly from the saddle to the driving seat and is now one of the most respected directeur sportifs in the peloton, he admits he is looking forward to working with Omega Pharma Quickstep boss Patrick Lefevere.
“Patrick Lefevere has been around since 1983 I believe. Nobody survives that long in cycling. Some people come in and become superstars – like in the past, you had Peter Post, Jan Raas, Cyrille Guimard and a few others but then they’re out again. One minute they’re very big and then they’re out of the sport. Somehow Lefevere managed to stay all those years in cycling so I have to admit I’ve got a lot to learn.”
He pauses for a second and then smiles. “I think as a directeur sportif, the day you think you’re smarter than the others you probably should quit because there are some smart bastards out there. I have to admit that.”