A conversation with Columbia's Rolf Aldag

Cavendish's team manager on radios and why Wiggins left Columbia

Speak to almost anyone at Columbia-HTC and they’ll tell you that the best team in the world also has the best manager in professional cycling.

Not only that, but they might tell that the team -- which today won its third Tour de France stage thanks to Mark Cavendish -- may also be ahead of the competition because Rolf Aldag is in charge.

This morning in Limoges, I spoke to Aldag about the then still-unresolved debate about race radio,s and also Bradley Wiggins’s controversial remarks about his former team on the Tour’s first rest-day.

Procycling: Rolf, you’ve said that, although your team will respect the radio ban if it is enforced, you’re against the idea for security reasons. Can you explain those reasons?

Rolf Aldag: You have scenarios, like if a rider has a flat tyre, he’ll radio back and tell you that it’s his back tyre. From that moment we have all time in world to get to back of peloton with the right wheel. Now, without the radios, how do I know if he has a flat tyre, he wants a drink, if he’s got a cramp, or if he’s sick… If it’s a  drink it doesn’t matter. But not knowing, you have to hurry to the front just in case, because if he has to wait three minutes for a wheel he’s out of the back of the peloton and even the line of team cars.

Procycling: And could you elaborate on why that could be dangerous?

Rolf Aldag: If they call you on radio you have to get there as quick as possible, because it could be anything. And that could cause dangerous situations, if you think of the cars, motorbikes and spectators. If you’re car number 16 you are probably a minute behind, and to get up to the peloton you go at 100kph. If there’s a bottle on ground and a five-year old girl wants to pick it up, she’s dead. Not injured; dead.

We try to drive as safe as possible but it’s the Tour, the most important bike race in the world; you can’t give any gifts to anybody and we have to be there when riders need us. So, no, I don’t see any benefit to having cars [mixed up] with bike riders. These are purely safety concerns. They have nothing to do with whether racing is exciting or not.

Procycling: Are you aware of what Bradley Wiggins said about your team yesterday? That it wasn’t a happy camp? That it was becoming the 'Mark Cavendish Show'?

Rolf Aldag: I think I'm probably the wrong person to ask about whether it’s a happy camp. You need to ask the riders; they hang out together.

I honestly think that Brad was probably a little bit pissed about Cav’s statements in the past. I mean, the stuff he said before the Giro team time trial, about Garmin being disrespectful, saying their season ended there. It’s a good level of competition between our teams. I respect Garmin, but you have riders there who wouldn’t fit in our team, and the other way 'round. It goes both ways.

Procycling: Bradley seemed to suggest that there were differences in the way discipline was enforced, and in expectations.

Rolf Aldag: Yeah, for sure it is like that, but we’re not here to have fun – we’re here to have success and have fun. It’s professional sport and I don’t think you find big sponsorships if you hang out with a bunch of friends.

I think we have 55 [now 56] wins. I think it’s crystal clear that definitely works. Our philosophy is we do bring new stuff into cycling, we need a good structure…Not 'I’ll maybe do it or not do it'. We have expectations.

For example, on ethics, our code of conduct in contract is two times longer than any others. We are strict, we are hard on that. We learned our lessons from the history. I don’t think you can make friends with the riders and agree to everything. I do believe the best way to have fun on the team is to have success. Not talking yourself into it… saying “oh what a great team of losers!”

Procycling: Do you think that you misjudged Bradley’s potential, or that he misjudged his own potential while he was at your team?

Rolf Aldag: No, it was just a different focus he had. He was focused on the Olympics and we gave him all the freedom to do that.

We had a race schedule with him and he came back about five times and wanted to change it. He thought it was right, so we did it for him. There was no misunderstanding or disagreement… but he would come to change schedule, saying he needed extra kilometres on track and we’d say, that’s fine, you do it. It’s not that we didn’t value him more highly.

We made him an offer and as far as I understand it he had a verbal agreement with [Columbia HTC directeur sportif] Brian Holm, to say he’d stay, then he left. He did have an offer [from Garmin] and  he decided to leave the team. At end of day you have to take your chance; if he thought if he stayed he’d have to ride for Cavendish all his life, that’s his judgement.

I’m not angry with him at all. But the facts are he got exactly the race programme he wanted in 2008, then he had an offer and he choose Garmin.

Procycling: Are you surprised by his performances in this Tour?

Rolf Aldag: I saw the big potential in him. We saw his SRM (power output) files, and it’s not a big surprise he’s doing so good here. We have files from the Giro time trial in 2008  and the wattage he posted there, it’s incredible. He’s incredibly strong. You see that number, you see he’s tall and skinny, and now he loses six more kilos… It’s just a question of his focus.

It’s the same with Tony Martin. I know he can win Paris-Roubaix but he’s just not interested in it. So we sat down with him in the winter, at end of his first season, and said what do you want to do? He said I really want to become a GC rider. So this is how we planned it – do small stage races, focus on climbing and time trial, then he wins the climbing jersey in Paris-Nice and the Tour Suisse. So it worked.

And It would have been same with Bradley after 2008: we’d have sat down and asked what his focus was going to be, then we’d have worked as best we could with him. But it’s no drama, and there are no bad feelings at all.

Follow Daniel Friebe's Procycling Twittering at twitter.com/procycling_mag.

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