Brian Smith interview: transfer market, Team Sky complications and Cervélo’s decision to stop
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Brian Smith interview: transfer market, Team Sky complications and Cervélo’s decision to stop

by Ed Hood at 10:58 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Behind-the-scenes insight into pro cycling

Brian SmithPrior to his current work as TV commentator and cycling consultant, the 43 year old Scot Brian Smith was a rider at a high level in the sport. In 1994 he competed with the Motorola team, finishing the Giro d'Italia, winning Denmark's gravel surfaced epic GP Midtbank/GP Herning and pulling on the red, white and blue jersey of British champion.

Since then, he's raced in the US, commentated on cycling for Eurosport and helped to put together the Cervelo and Endura squads.

VeloNation spoke to Brian recently about what is one of the most hectic and surprising rider transfer markets in recent memory. Seeing things from the inside, he makes some interesting and informed observations about rider signings and the scene in general, and comments on the pros and cons of the new Team Sky.

One assertion of his is the notion that British riders might have more riders in the world championships had key names not been snapped up by Team Sky, and also that the team might stifle development of young riders by poaching others already under contract elsewhere. He also gives some background to the Cervélo team’s decision to stop, hinting at tensions between Thor Hushovd and Carlos Sastre.


VeloNation: There's been a lot of movement of late, Brian…

Brian Smith: Definitely, and it's all happening sooner than ever. I think that the rule allowing the release of transfer information on August 1st should be changed; I'd make it after the Worlds. Take the Vuelta, it's common knowledge that Menchov is leaving Rabobank to go to Geox and his attitude would appear to be; 'why kill myself?'

Many of the big deals are done at the Tour but there are still a lot of good races to come after the August 1st announcement date; listen to the Eurosport Vuelta commentary - so much of it is about the transfer market rather than the racing.

VN: You have strong views on some aspects of the UCI’s rider contract, don't you?

BS: There's a basic UCI contract for riders and that's fine, but it should be applied consistently. Take the situation last winter where Sky lured Ben Swift from Katusha. That should never have been allowed to happen: Ben was developing nicely at Katusha, he should have been left there.

Apart from the obvious consequence of Sky not making any friends by doing what they did, it's meant that talented young British riders from the GB academy like Luke Rowe and Andy Fenn are struggling to get a contract. The attitude of the other teams now is; 'so, we'll develop these lads, then Sky will come and pinch them? No, thanks..!'

And as for the Bradley Wiggins affair, I think he would have ridden a better Tour if he'd stayed at Garmin.

VN: How do you think things have gone with Team Sky?

BS: Well, firstly I don't think it was a good idea to cram the young GB guys like Ben Swift, Ian Stannard and Peter Kennaugh into the squad for them to be working for Boasson Hagen and Lövkvist. Then GB and Sky get upset because 'Project Worlds' only qualified three riders to got to Melbourne - Cavendish, the world's best sprinter only has two domestiques in the world title race.

Brian SmithIf those three young guys were away riding for other squads then they might well be in a position to score points and let GB have decent representation at the Worlds. Look at Ben Swift's finishes in the Giro sprints, last year. GB used to place riders with continental squads to give them the experience - they should go back to that strategy, let the guys experience different cultures and develop without the pressure of being in Sky.

The pro peloton is a small world; the aggressive principles and methods you can apply on the track don't work on the road - you have to cultivate friendships.

That situation back in Qatar where the peloton stepped on the gas when Boasson Hagen stopped for a pee - that wasn't about the rider, that was about the team and it's approach.

VN: Only having three GB riders at the Worlds is tough….

BS: If it was down to me, the best 200 ranked riders would go to the Worlds, but the UCI wants to open it up; have the lesser nations like Iran and Venezuela in there.

VN: You helped place many of the riders at Cervélo…you must be disappointed to see it end?

BS: Yes, but the UCI have made changes to the rules to make it harder for the Pro Continental teams to ride the biggest races - they can only ride one Grand Tour and one Classic. The top men are going to Garmin, yes - but the lesser riders on both teams have been let go or bought out. I was talking to Heinrich Haussler recently and he was saying that Jez Hunt and Martin Reimer are like his big and little brothers. Jez is going with Heinrich to Garmin but Martin isn't. [editors note: Hunt is now rumoured to be going to the new Australian team run by Pegasus Racing.]

When Carlos Sastre left, the writing was on the wall. There was friction between him and Thor Hushovd about who the team should be working for during the Tour.

VN: Team Geox was a surprise…

BS: I think it's difficult to come straight in and buy a team - Katusha and Sky tried it too. And if you look at football teams, it doesn't work for them either…you have to build.

I think that a team shouldn't be allowed to come straight in at Pro Tour level, they should have to start at Pro Continental; but sponsors don't want that, they want to ride the Tour and they want to ride it, now!

Brian SmithVN: What about the 'Luxembourg team?’

BS: It's very strong, if you add up the points of the riders I know they have, then they'd be number three in the world.

There's the Schleck brothers, Stuart O'Grady, Jacob Fuglsang, Daniele Bennati, Jens Voigt, Wouter Weylandt . .

VN: With all your contacts, why aren't you an agent, Brian?

I've been approached to work with two agencies, but it's all top end stuff - not interested in the smaller riders.

I've helped put together two teams, Cervelo and Endura - I couldn't do that if I was an agent. I do that as a consultancy and I also have my commentary work.

But there's a place for agents; I think the days of 'back handers' [under the counter dubious financial arrangements] have gone and rider needs someone to help them in their negotiations with teams.

It's OK for the Schlecks, Cancellara and Contador on a million plus euros, but some federations – such as Great Britain - don't even have a minimum wage for Continental teams.


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