Frank Kwanten Interview: Vacansoleil’s commercial manager speaks
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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Frank Kwanten Interview: Vacansoleil’s commercial manager speaks

by Ed Hood at 6:58 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
2011 season analysed, 2012 plan discussed

Frank KwantenVacansoleil may not have won their Grand Tour or Classic yet but they’ve enlivened every race they’ve ridden and, in a world of ‘grey’ cyclists, there’s no denying that they’re a colourful team.

Romain Feillu opened the scoring on February 10th with a stage in the Tour of the Mediterranean. Marco Marcato closed the year with another victory, taking the Tour de Vendee on October 2nd and seeing the team finish with some 30 plus wins on the books.

Along the way Thomas de Gendt enlivened Paris-Nice; Feillu hoovered up stages all over Europe; Dutchman Pim Ligthart won his Elite road championships and Sergey Lagutin did the same thing in distant Uzbekistan; Johnny Hoogerland gained almost as many column inches from the Tour as Cadel due to his horrific encounter with a barbed wire fence; Wout Poels enlivened the Vuelta and Stijn Devolder finally reminded us that he’s a class act with a win in the tough late season GP Paul Borremans in Vianne.

On the other side of the coin was Ezequiel Mosquera's controversial positive test for a 'masking agent' en route to his 2010 Vuelta podium place; while that happened with his previous Xacobeo Galicia squad, the news broke after he'd signed for Vacansoleil.

Another blast of negative publicity came when another new signing, Riccardo Ricco, had an act of madness; the Italian allegedly self-transfused his own unsafely-stored blood in his own home, and nearly died in the process.

The team has dropped both and is looking to the upcoming season. For 2012 the team gains Swedish Olympic time trial medallist Gustav Larsson from Saxo Bank and fast finishing Dutchman Kenny Van Hummel – ex Skil - who had eight UCI wins to his name in 2011, including the prestigious GP Rik Van Steenbergen.

One of those who will have a big say is the team’s commercial manager, Frank Kwanten. He recently took time to talk to VeloNation about the team’s 2011 season and its ambitions for 2012.

VeloNation: Do you feel it was a good season for the team, Frank?

Frank Kwanten: Yes, we had a lot of wins but what was especially pleasing was that virtually all of our riders made the podium in 2011.

I haven’t produced all the statistics for 2011 yet but for season 2010 we had 19 out of 23 riders on the podium.

VN: What were your 2011 highlights?

FK: Wout Poels’ and Thomas De Gendt’s breakthroughs were pleasing, Thomas won the stage in Paris-Nice and had the leader’s jersey, then Wout was a real animator at the Vuelta with second place on two stages.

Marcato and Bjorn Leukemans were consistent all year and our young riders began to come through – I don’t think that big win is too far away!

VN: What were the disappointments?

Johnny HoogerlandFK: Marco Marcato was well positioned on the descent of the Poggio in the finale of Milan-Sanremo but crashed – Leukemans crashed and punctured whilst well placed in Paris-Roubaix – and Johnny Hoogerland (pictured) missed his opportunity to win a stage and defend his polka dot jersey in the Tour due to that crash.

The Mosquera situation could have been handled better; the UCI took a year to rule. No one should have to wait that long for a decision.

He’s been out of the sport for 14 months but they did not take that into account and the suspension runs from the date of the ruling.

His own feeling is that he’s been used as an example by the Spanish Federation to show that it’s tough on doping, and to illustrate that it's hard on those found positive to make redress for the way they handled the Contador situation.

VN: What about Ricco?

FK: We agreed for him to train at the Mapei Centre and for there to be regular blood checks.

The tests we did on him were fine and gave us confidence in him – but he blew away that trust.

When Marcato crashed in the Primavera it’s disappointing, but that’s bike racing.

But when you give someone a second chance and they betray your trust, that’s disappointing but it also hurts – however, it’s a lesson learned.

VN: What can we expect from Johnny Hoogerland in 2012?

FK: He’ll start in the Algarve with Flanders as a big target then the Amstel and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. There will be no Giro but he’d like to go back to the Tour to make amends for this year.

He’ll also be targeting the Olympic road race and World Road race Championships.

I used to live near where the Worlds will be held – on Amstel Gold roads - and another of the highlights of 2011 for me was to see that we had two riders in the lead group which was going full gas on that final corner leading onto the Cauberg. [Leukemans finished seventh and Hoogerland was twelfth – ed.]

VN: What is your view on Bjorn Leukemans?

FK: When you're doing my job, driving the VIP's in the car, the race which has the most fans and the biggest atmosphere is the Tour of Flanders. Bjorn Leukemans was right there on the final climbs and it would be good to see that again.

VN: How do you fancy your chances on home roads in the new Worlds six man TTT championship?

FK: We have two of the top 12 finishers in the World TT Championship - Lieuwe Westra and Gustav Larsson, real specialists.

And remember that De Gendt was fourth in the final time trial of the Tour de France, Devolder is a previous Belgian time trial champion and we have strong rouleurs like Poels and Lagutin. So, yes, I think we can field a strong team.

The Tour team time trial didn’t go so well for us but with the six rider format on home roads it’s a race we look forward to.

We’ll also be working closely with our new bike sponsors, Bianchi on the equipment for the race.

Johnny HoogerlandVN: You have an Italian bike sponsor for a Dutch team…?

FK: Johnny and Wout like Italian races, we have an Italian clothing supplier in Santini and Vacansoleil are in the market place there – so it’s not so unusual.

Bianchi is a global brand and very much pan European so it’s a good fit.

The company has great heritage too. The current bike brands in the Pro Tour don’t go back 126 years like they do.

VN: What’s the sponsor’s view on Mondialisation?

FK: Vacansoleil and DCM operate in a lot of European countries but if you take the Tour Down Under for example, they show it on Dutch television, so in our view it’s good for the sport.

VN: And the UCI points system?

FK: The question you must ask is; ‘why did the UCI introduce it?’

The answer is that so the best races would have the best riders in the best teams - and teams couldn’t just rely on wild cards to get in to big races.

It suits us because we have up to 20 riders scoring points, we don’t just rely on a few riders to score all of our points – we race in an aggressive, attractive fashion.

But if a team buys riders to get points, that can be detrimental to young riders trying to move up through.

The system isn’t perfect – but it works!

VN: What would you change about the UCI current Pro Tour structure?

FK: The main thing I would like is for the riders and teams to have more say.

The UCI does a lot of good things but because teams rely totally on sponsor input. If they lose that then they fold – look at this year, we lost some great teams.

If the teams were not totally reliant on sponsor income, it would mean teams could continue.

If the races are the theatre then the teams are the actors – and they both deserve a share of the box office!

VN: The final question and a one which is very important – will there be another Vacansoleil ‘moules and frites’ gathering on the Tour rest day?

FK: On the second rest day, yes; and we hope to be celebrating more than Johnny having the polka dot jersey for a few days…we hope to be celebrating a stage win!

And the mussels will again come from Johnny’s uncle's mussel farm.



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