‘There’s a time to come and a time to go,’ the words of Danny Stam when he announced that he would retire at the end of this winter season, the Dutchman is 39 years-old. But whilst the former British under 23 road race champion, twice British hill climb champion and Tour of the Pyrenees winner, Dan Fleeman is 10 years younger than the six day man, he’s arrived at the same conclusion.
Fleeman won the British U23 title in 2004, one of the few races that he’d ridden in the UK prior to last year.
But there’s a ‘back story’ to that win; virtually 12 months to the day prior to it, Fleeman was lying in a hospital bed with two broken knees after a he was run down by a motorist.
He takes up the story;
“The guy who was originally going to operate on me was an acquaintance of my dad, he walked into my hospital room and said; ‘what are you going to do now that your cycling career is finished?’
“I was about to bite his head off, but my mum did it for me!
“I told the hospital that I didn’t want that guy anywhere near me.
“I got this Polish guy who was brilliant — he told me that it would take a lot of physio but I’d be able to ride again.
“I was in a wheel chair for three months but I came back and won the British within a year.
“A fortnight after the race, I was in the house and the phone rang — it was the original surgeon, looking for my dad and he said; ‘oh, hello, what have you been up to?’
“I said; ‘winning the British Championship!’ and hung up.”
With the national champion’s jersey on his back, his amateur continental palmares through 2005/6 included the Prix de la St. Amour, a stage in the Tour du Beaujolais and the combativity jersey in the Tour de Nivernais.
He turned professional with DFL in Belgium for season 2007.
The team folded that winter and Fleeman joined Belgian-Irish squad An Post for 2008 — it turned out to be a good move.
He helped team-mate Dan Lloyd to GC victory in the GP Extremadura, sharing in TTT glory along the way, with Lloyd returning the favour to assist Fleeman to take the tough Tour des Pyrenees in Spain.
Fleeman capped a great season with 7th in the Tour of Britain.
His reward was a one year contract with the Cervelo Test Team.
The season started well for Fleeman with a top 20 placing in the GP Lugano and strong rides in races as diverse as the GP Indurain and Fleche Wallonne.
Disaster struck however in the Bayern Rundfahrt at the end of May with a crash and a broken wrist compromising Fleeman’s summer programme.
By the end of the year he was back sparring with the big names on the Madonna del Ghisallo climb in the Tour of Lombardy — but there was no renewal with Cervelo forthcoming.
A winter of protracted contract negotiations followed, a contract with the Footon-Servetto team was a real possibility and so was a ride with a high profile Italian Pro Continental squad on the proviso that he bring a personal sponsor. But the Englishman fell afoul of the double-dealing which exists within the sport in Italy when the team manager cut a deal with the personal sponsor which chopped the Lichfield man out of the loop.
A resurgent Raleigh UK team – eager to snare a big name – signed him and whilst he produced solid results in UCi races, including 7th in Britain’s answer to Paris-Roubaix, the ‘Rutland,’ 7th in the Tour of the Pyrenees and 13th in a very close Ringereke in Norway; not to mention winning the British Hill Climb Championship by a huge margin, he couldn’t find the same motivation level of for UK races as he did when racing against top opposition abroad.
Season 2011 was a similar story, a hard-fought top ten in the tough Tour de Beauce in Canada and podium placings in British Premier Calendar events.
But a move in to coaching with former An-Post team-mate Stephen Gallagher – under the ‘Forme’ banner – in the autumn of this year proved to be much more successful than either had imagined.
This, along with the fact that Fleeman’s Cycleshack cycle shop is proving highly successful, means he has decided to call a halt, rather than search for a contract in a very difficult European arena where a large number of Pro Tour riders are still searching for a contract.
We spoke to him just days after his decision was made.
Why now Dan, you still have music within you?
“On reflection I wish I had done what Dan Lloyd has just done — Garmin let him go, and rather than ride for a lesser team at a much reduced salary, he’s decided to call it a day.
“I should have done the same two seasons ago, but my situation was different then and I carried on with Raleigh.
“But you’re either a pro or you’re not a pro – £10,000 per year won’t pay a mortgage and enable you to live, unless you’re still staying with your parents or your wife is supporting you.
“One of the problems you have as a rider is that agents aren’t interested in riders who are on minimum wage; if they have a ‘star’ on a million Euros then they don’t really need anyone else.
“I spoke briefly to my current team and to Champion Systems – and perhaps if that had come to fruition then I might have continued, but to be honest, my heart isn’t in the UK race scene.
“The clincher is that the coaching business has taken off in a way which none of us foresaw; in the weeks prior to my making the decision to quit I was having to deal with a dozen emails regarding the business before I could get out on my bike.
“It’s never been my style to do things in a half-baked fashion and I’ve made the decision that my future lies with the coaching business.”
Why can’t you get excited about the UK race scene?
“Prior to last year, I’d only ever done a handful of races in the UK, I started off in mountain bikes as a junior then when I got into the road I went to Belgium and France to race – when I won the British U23 title that was one of my very few races in the UK as an amateur.”
“I rode with DFL, An-Post and Cervelo; with all of those teams we were riding big races with big crowds, closed roads and great atmosphere – I rode Fleche-Wallonne, Piedmont and Lombardy with Cervelo.
“I’m not criticising the UK scene – there’s no doubt that it has improved greatly these last few seasons – but it’s just not like racing on the continent and that was the norm for me.”
Can a rider go straight from the UK race scene to Pro Tour?
“People are going to cite Russell Downing as an example of a rider who did just that, but that was because he won the UCi Tour of Ireland.
“He could have won every UK Premier Calendar race for five years and not got a Pro Tour ride — it was the UCi Tour result which got him the contract.
“The UK scene is definitely bigger and better than it has been, but there aren’t enough races — you have six or seven excellent Premier Calendars and then…
“There’s only one stage race and it costs a fortune to even just enter races — on the continent the organisers get the sponsorship and cover your costs.
“To ‘make it’ you have to go to the continent when you’re 19 and stick with it, keep plugging away.
“It’s not the racing which cracks guys, its being away from home, family, friends — if you can hack that and just keep at it then you’ll get there.
“Look at Matt Brammeier, people say; ‘he’s come from nowhere’ but he hasn’t — he’s been out there, racing, living the life, getting that bit better every year.”
I thought you might have signed off with a hat trick in the British hill climb championship?
“I might have done if I’d known that I was going to decide not to race again; but we simply didn’t imagine that the coaching would take off in the way it has done.
“And the course wasn’t really for me — the guy who won it was on a time trial bike!”
Getting back to contracts, do most riders leave the negotiations ‘til too late?
“Definitely, you have to be sorting out your ride for the next season in June or July — the continental guys say that you have to be sorted for the next season by the end of the Tour de France.
“If you’re a ‘big’ rider then your agent will be phoning around to get you a deal — the more money he gets for you, the higher his cut.
“But if you’re a smaller rider then you have to be pro-active, as I said earlier, the agents aren’t that bothered about you if you’re on minimum wage.”
What about your dream of riding a Grand Tour?
“I’m disappointed, naturally — but I did as well as circumstances would allow.
“Five years ago I didn’t think I’d be on one of the biggest teams in the world — but all through my career I moved up and was always thinking about how to improve, how to get better.”
“Physically I’m probably better than I was with Cervelo but mentally it’s very difficult to go from lining up in Tour of Piedmont to trying to scrape a living in the UK.
“I have 40 years of work to do, I want to get on with my future now rather than eke out a living on UCI minimum wage.”
Where did the coaching idea come from?
“I was coaching a few guys locally — and I always have folks asking me about where to get a physio, a massage or a bike fit.
“If you’re on a big team then all of that is taken care of for you — but even then, that’s only when you’re at the races, at home you have to sort that out for yourself.
“Over the years I’ve built up a support network; physios, nutritionists, coaches, bike fit – all people I’ve worked with and trust.
“And that’s the nub of our coaching concept at Forme that we can give you all the support and knowledge that you need to progress.”
But isn’t half the world into coaching now?
“I don’t want to comment on what other folks are doing, but in general coaches tend to be ex-riders or sports scientists — and you can learn a lot from both.
“But with us you get the best of both worlds, Dan Lloyd is working with us, he’s ridden the Tour de France, I’ve ridden in support of Carlos Sastre and Stevie Gallagher has won the Ras.
“But we also have guys like David Bailey working with us — he’s a fully qualified sports physiologist and was part of the GB coaching staff at Beijing.”
Two final questions, will we see you pin on a number again and will we interview you again?
“You should, never say never, so maybe I’ll come back to racing when I’m fat and 40?
“And interviews? – of course, when I’m coach to the stars!”
Check out Forme Coaching for more information on what Dan and his Forme team have to offer.