Team Sky has started its European campaign this week in southern France, the riders are racing their first kilometres together and, in the car behind, Sports Director Marcus Ljungqvist is learning his new trade from Sean Yates.
“It is a big change, there is no secret about that,” admitted Swede Ljungqvist. “Everyday, I am feeling more comfortable, step-by-step.
“Sean Yates, who has a lot of experience, is helping guide me. I see him in action in the car, using maps, the way he talks to riders… You can learn a lot from him.”
Ljungqvist, 35, passed on signing with Lance Armstrong’s RadioShack team at the end of last season and on continuing his 12-year racing career. Instead, he took up the role as sports director with new British Team Sky where he’ll now learn the ropes from Yates.
The former pro has been behind the wheel of a team car since 1999, and has worked for CSC, Discovery Channel and more recently Astana.
Ljungqvist’s is first race in his new role was Sunday’s’ GP Marseillaise, where Sky’s Steve Cummings finished fourth. He, along with Yates, is now guiding the team at the five-day Etoile de Bessèges stage race.
“I have done it a couple of times as a professional,” continued Ljungqvist. “The stages are short, 140 to 150 kilometres, but that is the way to have it in the early season. If the guys want more they can ride before or after the stage.”
Sky’s Frenchman Sylvain Calzati finished second overall in 2004 and passes along any helpful tips to his team-mates and Ljungqvist. Ljungqvist also is in contact with Team Principal David Brailsford daily.
“We speak very often, especially now with the race going on… A lot, and about everything.”
Ljungqvist believes that Vacansoleil will control today’s 148.3-kilometre stage to Bagnols sur Cèze to protect Borut Bozic. Bozic won the first two stages in a sprint and has a chance to keep the lead today despite a finishing circuit that includes a 250m climb.
But Ljungqvist warned, “I can tell you that Saturday will be the big day.”
Saturday’s stage five, starting and ending in Alès, includes two category one climbs: Côte de la Baraque and Col de Trélles. The race ends Sunday with a stage suited to sprinters.
Ljungqvist’s most successful year as a professional was in 2002, he won a stage and overall of the Tour de Luxembourg, Paris-Camembert and Route Adélie. During his career, he also won the national road race three times (1996, 2001 and 2009).