For the third time Heiko Salzwedel is back to coach the GB team pursuit squad – over the last few years he’s taken the Danes to Olympic medals; dragged the Russians well under the magical four minutes and most recently transformed the Swiss team into a World Cup force in this fastest and most precise of endurance disciplines.
But with GB out of the medals at the Worlds, going down heavily to the Aussies in Glasgow in the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic clock ticking, GB have once again called up on his services to arrest the rot.
Here’s what he had to say recently to VeloVeritas …
Third time (lucky?) with GB, Heiko?
And you’ll be involved with the new ‘Track Team Brad’ too?
“I remember very well my first meeting with Brad during a kermis series in a little Belgian village in 2001. We had a coffee and he told me that he was going to win Gold at the Olympics.
“Wow, that was a big statement and I replied that there is a long way to go and it requires a bit more than just to race some little kermises.
“Nonetheless, I was really impressed by his knowledge and detailed analysis of historical cycling races and his strong minded ambitions.
“Later, he proved his point more than once.
“When Brad sets his mind on something, he digs deeper than anyone else I have ever known and he goes the extra mile – as recently seen the Worlds. I could hardly hide my emotions, being the Swiss Coach in Ponferrada and watching this showdown between Wiggo and Tony Martin from my former home town in Germany.
“Just recently I provoked Brad with the question, if this Wiggo team just a spontaneous idea or a kind of retirement plan ? but I knew already the answer before he replied.
“By the way, my involvement with British Cycling and their riders actually never really stopped completely.
“You might remember the time when I was in charge of the T-Mobile Devo Programme, there have been riders like Cav, Ian Stannard, Geraint and others involved, with Cav and Ed Clancy leaving their “cosy” Manchester based Academy programme for a harder challenge to live, race and survive in Germany.
“Later on, I was asking Robbie McEwen to look after Swifty when he signed as Neo-Pro with Katusha.”
Does your family still base in Berlin or do they come to the UK with you?
“Although I am going to move back into my old apartment at Beetham Tower my family initially remains in Berlin.
“Nonetheless, we will spend as much time as possible together, both in Berlin and in Manchester.”
You had those Suisse boys getting pretty quick – without giving away secrets – how do you get guys to improve so much, so quickly?
“Quite honestly, these guys have been good before I arrived. And my friend and colleague Daniel Gisiger is doing a fantastic job, running his Team Pursuit focused programme.
“There is this element of excitement within Swiss Cycling, similar to the situation in Australia I have experienced back in 1990.
“Interestingly, 90% of my Swiss U23 squad has a job or studies.
“There are no secrets, just pure dedication, 100% commitment, team spirit, good professional planning/coordination and clear, realistic step by step goal setting.
“Implementation is the key.”
GB seem to have lost momentum – 2014 was there first time without a team pursuit medal for years – then Australia soundly beat them in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games – what’s happened?
“I’d better find out quickly within the next couple of months, but it seems they are back on track, winning the European Championships in Guadeloupe last month.
“First thing when I start, I will have intense talks and meetings with all people involved, especially one-to-one talks with the riders.
“Also, of great value is for me the advice from Shane Sutton and Paul Manning…”
Is your main job to get them back on par with the Aussies?
“Although the Aussies are especially for GB as a nation the most familiar opponent, it’s not my philosophy to focus on just one country.
“Actually the opposite; I’d rather focus on things we can control ourselves, especially to maximise the strength of each individual rider without ignoring (and, therefore to better) some weak spots we all have.
“It makes no sense to check what others are doing. We’d rather follow our own plans and tick off our markers progressing through our own set strategy, step by step.”
That Aussie ‘production line’ keeps churning them out – how ? And New Zealand have made great strides…
“There are no longer such great systems – at least as they have been seen by outsiders – with both countries currently struggling under financial pressures; the Aussies more than NZ.
“And to pursue a financially better future on the road is, for many riders, more attractive than Olympic medals on the track.
“GB is privileged to have the unconditional support of Sir Dave Brailsford and SKY.”
When you were with Russia there was a 3:56 ridden in the National Champs and we all expected great things – but they never materialised at the Worlds/Olympics, why was that?
“Correct, the team clocked 3:56.21 in St.Petersburg in August 2011.
“During the 2012 season, the Russian Olympic team aka Rusvelo raced two out of four World Cups and won both with 3:56.23 (Astana) and 3:57.6 (Beijing)…
“Unfortunately, during the tapering for the 2012 World Champs in Melbourne our best rider Ivan Kovalev was injured in a hit and run accident and was flown home.
“In addition, at the London World Cup and at the Olympics we had some accreditation and visa issues which prevented the start of some of our best riders.”
Remind us what the ideal team pursuit rider should be like.
“Firstly, as the discipline name said, it has to be a team spirited rider.
“The team counts all and you have to adjust your way of thinking accordingly.
“Not only in training, but also in your general life – like being married…
“And then come the special physical attributes for each individual position/starting order…”
Of all the guys you have worked with, who were the most consummate team pursuit riders?
“You will understand that I won’t and can’t give a ranking of different times and countries.
“But most memorable are of East-Germany’s Steffen Blochwitz closing a gap of two seconds to minus 0.2 seconds against the Soviet Union during the Seoul’88 Olympics and 20 years later, Denmark’s Michael Mørkøv fighting back his way into the Olympic team and scoring Silver behind GB…”
Can a team pursuit rider participate in a Six Day programme?
“Yes, why not? It is good for speed, cadence and endurance, but needs carefully micro-managed.
“As we did in the lead up to the 2008 Olympics with Alex Rasmussen/Michael Mørkøv.
For the London Olympics, Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh sacrificed practically a year to be on the team pursuit squad – is that what it takes now for everyone?
“I wouldn’t it particularly call it sacrifice, especially when a potential (and moreover, a realistic) Olympic Gold medal is the carrot.
“You have to focus everything towards that one goal, and not only for a year.
“Many athletes are dedicating their whole career for this one thing.
“I am sure it didn’t harm their sporting career in any way.
“I hope it made both riders even more dedicated to put even more efforts in their ambitions, no matter what thing they have on their radar now.”
World Cups in South America, the Europeans in Guadeloupe – what’s your opinion on those venues?
“Why not? We have to accept the fact that in these days the World is getting closer together.
“I am very happy that our sport is becoming world-wide more competitive and globally accepted.
“To see World Champions from Hong Kong and Colombia on the track and Chinese riding le Tour is a true reality check that our sport is a global sport, as very few others could claim…”
The 3:50 barrier, when will it go, who’ll break it first?
“It’s overdue… I expected to break the 3:50 already in 2012 in London, but there were only two really competitive teams.
“Not sure yet about the conditions (climate, track) in Rio for 2016, but British Cycling staff are doing a recce in Rio right now…”
What’s still on the Heiko ‘to do’ list?
“Bringing home a Gold medal on the track for GB.”