Current stars of the peloton and retired legends; British champions and European rouleurs; team bosses and directeurs sportif. The 2017 Rouleur Classic welcomed stars from across the cycling spectrum, each with their own fascinating story to tell.
From the first session on Thursday evening, to the last on Saturday afternoon, the Rouleur Theatre was standing room only, as the fans gathered to hear from their heroes. Here are a few of our highlights.
Jonathan Vaughters | Saving a team from the brink of its demise
The loquacious boss of Slipstream opened the show on Thursday evening. He came to tell the story of how one of the most popular teams in professional cycling was brought back from the brink.
Vaughters spoke a bit about his own time as a rider, but the meat of the conversation was a very testing year, one in which sponsorship difficulties took the Cannondale-Drapac team to the edge of extinction.
“There were a lot of low points in the past six months,” he recalled. “I remember a party after the Tour de France where obviously we’d had a franchise-best Tour de France with a rider in second place… Our problems with what we had going on at that time, I was totally internalising.
“Sebastian Drapac – Michael Drapac’s son, who’s one of our sponsors – came up to me at that party and said ‘I haven’t seen you smile at all this evening. What’s going on?’ And I guess it was the whole thing of having to convey that everything was great, when everything wasn’t great – and having to do that for months on end just to keep the organisation functioning and happy.”
Stefan Denifl // Rick Delaney – Aqua Blue Sport & 3T | A fresh outlook
Team Aqua Blue Sport arrived on the professional cycling scene, said Ned Boulting, “with all guns blazing”. Of the many star turns over a splendid debut season, none in their ranks had greater impact than Stefan Denifl, who took the team’s first ever Grand Tour win on Stage 17 of the 2017 Vuelta.
For Ned it was “one of the outstanding memories from an outstanding race”.
“I wasn’t focused on winning or losing,” said Denifl, “I just knew I had amazing legs, and I tried to get everything out of it.” Crossing the line on his own to secure the win “was just amazing”.
Team owner Rick Delaney described Aqua Blue (affectionately) as “a licence to burn money, and it does burn money.” He went on to explain how the team’s business model differs from the standard sponsorship setup, hopefully allowing them to fund that fire in a sustainable way.
Aqua Blue, he said, is essentially “Amazon for bikes…. a multi-vendor platform for retailers and brands to sell their products online”. Everyone involved with the team is an employee of the company, he said, which aims to be entirely self-financing in four years’ time.
Markus Storck // Mike Kluge // Gerard Vroomen // Si Richardson | The Future of Road
When bike company men Markus Storck, Mike Kluge, Gerard Vroomen got up on stage to discuss the future of road bike tech with GCN’s Simon Richardson and host Ned Boulting, the chat quickly turned to the UCI’s limitations on bike technology.
“For a designer, rules are great,” said Vroomen, sounding initially unlike someone who’s broken the mould in founding Cervélo and working most recently with 3T. “[Rules] give you places to focus on. I fully agree that the history of this sport is something truly unique. We’re calling it the Rouleur Classic here, the races are the Classics, and to have that connection with how it used to be is important.”
Philippa York | What a carry on
Although 2017 was her first time she had appeared on the stage at the Rouleur Classic, this was not Rouleur columnist Philippa York’s first time in attendance. “I’ve stood in the audience anonymously,” she told Ned Boulting.
For despite being retired for many years, York remains an enormous fan of the sport of cycling. She has a particular appreciation for “the enjoyment that certain riders get at certain moments”, though “the overall result doesn’t matter to me”. To warm laughter from the room, she rejected the suggestion that it was better back in the days when she was riding. “Just because it was black and white doesn’t make it classic.”
Asked how she thinks she might have fared in the 2017 Tour de France, York found it an almost impossible question to answer. She pointed to the fact that today “there’s less racing so you come to the races better prepared, fresher, whereas before you raced all the time, so you never really recovered.”
York did seem to enjoy the comparisons Ned made between her and Alberto Contador who was, like her, “a racer, a disrupter, a hand grenade.” She agreed that this year’s Vuelta was the best of the Grand Tours, because Contador “gave himself freedom to race.”
Sir Brian Cookson | The last four years
Rather than reflecting too much on what might have been – for that you’ll have to wait for the book to come out – the recently dethroned former UCI president was far more interested in talking about his plans for the future.
Grandest of these is his intention to “put together the best women’s World Tour team in the world”. The project is still in the most preliminary of stages. Cookson admitted to using his post-presidency position and platform to see who might be interested in partnering with him.
If it does get off the ground, host Orla Chennaoui asked him, what does the best team in the Women’s Tour look like? “A bigger budget” he said, “but considerably less than [even] the smallest team in the men’s tour”. It would have “the best riders” around, like Team Sky, and would be “British or British-based”. In a not-so-subtle dig at the boys in black, he added that the new team surely “would handle its media relations better.”
Joanna Rowsell Shand MBE | The changing face of the women’s peloton
Few elite athletes get to exit their sport exactly as they would like to: both on a high, and entirely on their own terms. Joanna Rowsell-Shand, we learned on Saturday morning, is that rare exception.
The decision to retire from cycling was far from an impulsive one. “Before Rio I was thinking this could be the end for me,” she told the audience. Winning gold in the team pursuit made the decision easier, as it meant no unfinished business, or regrets. After the Olympics she took “what ended up being a three and a half month long break”, before announcing her decision not to return to the sport in March.
Few riders are able to adjust to “normal” day-to-day life without feeling at least the odd twinge of remorse. Rowsell-Shand is one of them. “I’ve been able to watch bike races and not feel jealous. I’m more than happy to watch races, go to races and support my team-mates.”
Having been talent-spotted at an early age, Rowsell-Shand never really had the opportunity to cycle for fun. “It’s nice that now I’ve retired it can be a hobby for the first time,” she said.
Adam Hansen | Hardmen of the peloton
Adam Hansen might have been one of the final “acts” of the weekend, but judging by the size of the audience, he was the reason many attendees bought a ticket in the first place.
Part, but not the entirety, of the reason for his popularity, is his remarkable record in Grand Tours. The 2017 season took him to 19 finishes in a row. It’s a run that has obviously come to define his career, and something he’s more than happy to talk about. It’s also one which almost came to an involuntary end at this year’s Vuelta.
Hansen was, he admitted, “a bit upset” about not being initially selected in the Lotto-Soudal squad.
Over the years there have been occasional conversations with his team, Lotto-Soudal. Should he continue the streak or become a different kind of athlete? Perhaps doing so might allow him to add to his tally of stage wins?
Hansen agreed that pursuing and extending the record has affected his career, and he is now seriously considering when he might draw it to a close. “Maybe it’s time to make it 20 and go after some personal ambitions, and try to improve as a rider.”
He pauses pensively for a second before continuing, “but there’s twenty-one stages in a Grand Tour so….”
A number of the talks can be viewed in full over at the Rouleur Facebook page.