GEELONG, Australia (VN) — It’s akin to a Frenchman running the NFL. Or a Belgian heading up Aussie rules football.
The Tour of Flanders is as Flemish as it comes. And this weekend, Australian ex-pro Scott Sunderland was tapped to take over as general race director across all the Flanders Classics.
In a deal that’s been months in the making, Sunderland huddled with Flanders Classics owner Wouter Vandenhaute over the winter to talk strategy.
“I was a bit gob-smacked at first when it was offered to me,” Sunderland told VeloNews. “When they asked me, I said, ‘Wow. Flanders, huh?’ No, he said, Flanders Classics, all of them. Then I went, ‘Wow, wow!’”
Sunderland, 52, is no stranger to Flanders, and the fit makes sense at several levels.
His wife is Belgian and he spent much of his racing career bashing across the bergs. His European base is Gent, and will start his new role as soon as he wraps things up at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race this weekend in Australia.
Sunderland, who speaks fluent Flemish, will act as general race director across all events under the Flanders Classics umbrella. The idea is to bring a unifying voice to the diverse racing properties and continue to position the Flanders races to a wider international audience.
“I was so humbled,” Sunderland said. “Then he told me what the whole vision was, and I totally get it. It’s trying to pull one thread and put an over-arching narrative over all the races.”
Sunderland brings experience across the entire sport, from his racing and sport director days, as well as running an event and working with sponsors and governments. He raced from 1990 to 2004, and then transitioned into sport director roles at CSC and Cervélo before helping to found Team Sky. He stepped back for personal reasons, and then helped found the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in 2013.
He’ll continue in that role as well as run the Flanders Classics program. The spring classics properties include Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Tour of Flanders, Scheldeprijs, and Brabantse Pijl. They also run some autumn classics, including the Brussels classics and Great War Remembrance race held last summer.
“This is my baby,” Sunderland said of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. “They understand what we’re trying to do here — we’re trying to create a Flemish-style classic here in Australia.”
Part of his new job will be logistics and operations. Instead of operating as individual events, back-room work like credentials, rules, regulations, access, and protocol will all be streamlined. Much of that has already been done, but this will only make the process even more efficient and forward-looking.
Another aspect will be to position the Flanders Classics across a more international audience, with a heavy accent on the lucrative English-speaking markets in the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, and Canada.
“Flanders Classics have huge potential,” Sunderland said. “I can bring all of my skills to the table, from my racing days and sport directing experience, as well as event organizing. I’m very excited about this opportunity.”