Chris van Roosbroeck’s early career path closely followed the development of the peloton’s most sustained Dutch presence.
Van Roosbroeck, personal mechanic to Lance Armstrong for seven years, and more recently head hunted by Katusha to spearhead mechanical matters for Alexander Kristoff’s Spring campaign, learned his trade as a teenager under the decisive, but ultimately democratic rule of Jan Raas.
Van Roosbroeck was the obvious contact when the topic of the succession of Dutch teams came up during a recent visit to Prendas Ciclismo, the Dorset-based clothing specialist with an enviable jersey collection.
Andy Storey reaches into Prendas’ vast collection to pull out the jerseys pictured: original, team clothing, beginning with the tunic of the Kwantum-Decosol team with whom Van Roosbroeck began his career as a teenager, working under his uncle’s supervision.
“From the ages of 15 to 30, I worked with Raas,” says van Roosbroeck, referencing a formidable education under one of cycling’s noted hardmen: winner of four Monument Classics and a former world champion, who became one of the peloton’s most respected directeurs.
It was Raas – and van Roosbroeck – who remained constants during a seemingly ever-changing line up of sponsors that began with the aforementioned Kwantum Decosol, and included Superconfex, Buckler, WordPerfect and Rabobank.
The team is now known as LottoNL-Jumbo, though changes in management have been wholesale since Rabobank withdrew its sponsorship in 2012, and Raas left the team in 2003, long before the team became engulfed in scandal and team doctor Geert Leinders was banned from the sport for life.
Van Roosbroeck was working for Superconfex during the 1988 Tour de France, where the green train – arguably the first of its kind – delivered Jean-Paul van Poppel to four stage wins.
“They were organised,” van Roosbroeck remembers. “It was pretty unique at the time. Rolf Gölz was there for the rolling stages, but basically the team was there for Van Poppel.
“He won every Tuesday and then on the final Sunday in Paris. That was quite particular. We won two other stages as well, with [Jelle] Nijdam and Gölz, but everyone remembers van Poppel.”
If the Superconfex team was built around Van Poppel and his sprinting ambitions, Buckler, the team’s next incarnation, was a squad for the Spring Classics.
Storey remembers the team from VHS recordings of the great one day races of the early season, imported from Belgium and shown in the bicycle shop in which he worked on Saturdays as a teenager. Van Roosbroeck was rather closer to the action.
Edwig Van Hooydonck carried the team’s blue, white and yellow jersey to victory at the Tour of Flanders in 1989 and 1991.
“He won the first Ronde on his 21st birthday and on his 23rd, he won again. And he should have won a third time,” van Roosbroeck says, remembering the 1992 edition, when Van Hooydonck came in third behind Jacky Durand and Thomas Wegmuller.
Buckler is perhaps best known in the UK as the team of Dave Rayner, the prodigiously talented Yorkshireman whose life was cut tragically short.
Van Roosbroeck remembers Rayner well and his memories provide further evidence to support the title of a new book on Rayner’s life: “Everybody’s Friend”.
He was tough too, van Roosbroeck recalls.
“I remember one particular thing about Dave: he was at the Dauphiné and on the sixth day he had a terrible crash. He was like a mummy: covered in white bandages. The last weekend is always mountainous and he didn’t want to abandon. Everyone in the team said, ‘It’s okay, you can go home,’ but he said, ‘No, I came to finish the Dauphiné and I’m going to finish the Dauphiné’.”
Van Roosbroeck has regained contact with the Rayner family: his Cafe SurPlace hotel now provides a home in Belgium for young British riders supported by the Dave Rayner Fund.
More recently, it has played host to a reunion of the Buckler team, including Raas. When the Dutchman left Rabobank and Theo de Rooij took charge as general manager, van Roosbroeck took his leave, beginning a second phase of his career that would see him work for Domo Farm Frites, US Postal, Discovery, Astana, Lotto-Soudal and Katusha.
Van Roosbroeck looks back fondly on his time with Raas: a disciplinarian who was not afraid to listen to the opinions of others before making a final decision.
“There are a lot of teams now where there is no strong voice,” he says. “They are hiding and waiting. I was a bit spoiled growing up with Raas. Now it’s totally different.”
Back at Prendas HQ, Storey provides an expert view on the evolution of the cycling jersey, from changes in zip length (the short zip on the Kwantum jersey left the logo sponsor's logo intact), to the size variation between kit intended for the pro and the punter.
There are gems here, too: Storey presents a Blanco jersey, bearing the legend 'Luis Leon Sanchez' and a tiny Spanish flag. Sanchez was suspended by his team in February 2013 and later bought out of his contract. The pristine jersey is, of course, unused.
Storey charts the full history of the team now racing as LottoNL-Jumbo, marking the brief foray of then-dominant software publishers – Word Perfect and Novell-Decca – into the peloton.
As for van Roosbroeck, he has offers for the new season from at least two WorldTour teams and will decide soon whose camp he will be in for 2016.
Cycling has changed since the days of Buckler, he says. In the modern era, a rider might not see the directeur he worked with at the pre-season training camp until May.
"I hung up a poster from the Buckler team and saw that we had 19 riders. Now we have 29 riders, four mechanics and six soigneurs. Sometimes you see guys at races who you last saw six months before. The old days are gone."