Former Dimension Data performance director Rolf Aldag has welcomed simpler working relationships and the promise of a new challenge as he takes on the role of sports director at Canyon-SRAM women’s team.
The former rider, who has attended 27 Tour de France editions, says he’s looking forward to being part of the "rapidly developing" women’s side of the sport.
“What tipped it over the line was the people - I’ve known [team owner] Ronny Lauke and [performance director] Lars [Teutenberg] for a very long time; we’ve never lost contact. And, it’s a new challenge.
"Women’s cycling is a rapidly developing sport,” Aldag said, speaking to Cycling Weekly at the Canyon-SRAM training camp in Alcaucin, Spain.
“I’ve been at the Tour de France 27 times, what difference would a 28th make? Doing it 30 times won’t change my life. Getting additional experience in a new setting, giving some more input, I will hopefully be able to return something on a different level.”
Canyon-SRAM is retaining its full roster of 15 riders going into 2020, with space for one more rider - the successful 2019 Zwift Academy winner.
Aldag’s final months at his former men’s WorldTour team were marked by disagreements over the non-selection of sprinter Mark Cavendish for the Tour de France, a choice made my owner Doug Ryder despite Aldag’s disagreement.
“Coming from big [men's] World Tour teams, I think the decision making system here at Canyon-SRAM is a lot easier,” he said.
“Ronny [Lauke] owns the team, he makes the final call. But responsibilities are much clearer. You don’t have six coaches, with conflicting opinions and approaches.
"Lars [Teutenberg] makes a decision, he runs it past Ronny, gets me on board - if it’s turns out to be wrong, he holds his hands up and says ‘I made a mistake, we’ll do it differently next time'. There is no tension, a smaller group makes working a lot easier.”
As well as competing at the Tour de France over 10 editions, the former rider's management palmarès includes five years at Team Telekom, one at Quick-Step and four at Dimension Data.
Women’s racing, he acknowledged, is very different to men’s competitions – races are typically shorter and more intense, with a smaller peloton.
“It’s tactically much more complicated than men’s racing,” Aldag added.
“Right now, the top level men’s WorldTour teams can easily fix problems – you have eight riders and if you miss a break you might have two or three opportunities to fix it.
“In women’s racing, the field is more varied, and you only have six riders. You can’t let a break gain four minutes then begin to chase it down for a sprint finish, as they do in men’s racing. You have to make a very clear call.”
Commenting on the standard of the riders, he added: "Support is needed and really well deserved. I have had the chance to ride with the team once. Of course they are super light, they will drop me on the uphills, but you’d think me with my 80 kilograms, I could follow them on the downs – but the skills, lack of fear and bike handling that they have, I don’t think I would overtake!
"I think the standard of riding deserves a lot of respect and public awareness"
In early races, he will always have Teutenberg or Lauke in the car, marking out his knowledge of the world’s biggest courses as an asset he can provide.
“We will try to pair their knowledge of the race rhythm and the riders with my course knowledge. The Kwaremont is the Kwaremont whoever is on it,” he says.
Like Aldag, Manxman Mark Cavendish will not be a part of Dimension Data in 2020, moving with Bernie Eisel to Bahrain-Merida. It was a direction Aldag could have followed.
“There were calls scheduled [with Bahrain-Media], but it didn’t really happen. I wouldn’t follow up – I just thought if you really want to make something happen, you probably go there, ring the doorbell and pull it over the line," Aldag said.
"I’m not interested in pursuing something if there’s no return on interest – they might say ‘ok, you can have a job’, but if they don’t value what you can do, it’s a mismatch. I feel really welcomed here from the whole Canyon-SRAM team.”
With a backward look before turning his face to the future, he added: “I believe I still have friends at Dimension Data. I didn't delete all my contacts from my phone, start a new life, change my name and colour my hair. But now I have a new task, it’s really different, it really excites me, and I will not compare it to what I did last year, four years ago, or 15 years ago."
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.
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