THE mastermind behind a memorable Tour de France triumph was an Australian strategist who had to overcome life challenges of his own, reports JOHN TREVORROW:
THE defining image of this unique Tour de France was the final podium. Tadej Pogacar, Primoz Roglic and Richie Porte with the Arc de Triomphe in the background – all wearing masks.
But it was the best Tour de France in my lifetime and, with all the Covid challenges, fitting that it was able to come to its conclusion on the magical Champs Elysees in Paris.
But there was to be no final stage fairy-tale ending for Australia’s Caleb Ewan who was too far back in the final kilometre and finished seventh behind the flying Irishman Sam Bennett who won clearly from orld champion Mads Petersen and his fierce rival for the green jersey Peter Sagan.
Although there were some wonderful side stories, there was no doubt who was the star of the day. Tadej Pogacar was the youngest in this bike race and the youngest winner in more than 100 years. There have only been eight first time winners in the past 70 years and they all went on to brilliant careers. I have no doubt this amazing young Slovenian will do the same.
Pogacar attributes much of his success to the influence of head Sports Director, Australian Allan Peiper.
And Peiper’s story in this fairy-tale is much more than just that of team boss who sets strategy for the day. Peiper is still in recovery from serious prostate cancer and only last year was too sick to even watch the Tour de France when it passed within 200 metres of his house in Belgium.
I’ve known Allan Peiper since he turned up in Belgium as a talented 17 year old you and shocked the locals. He went on to have an impressive professional career and an even more influential influence on teams and riders as a coach.
I caught up with Allan on the Detour Live podcast on the morning after his young protégée had ridden probably the greatest stage win of all time to secure the overall victory.
“Yesterday the stars aligned and was the culmination of my life,” he said. “Not just my cycling life but my life. I believe your life has a purpose and mine was planned out from the time I was a young hopeful. I wanted a bike from when I was a little kid and every Christmas would come around and I would get a camera or something else but I just wanted a bike. And from the moment I finally got that bike I was free. I didn’t start racing for a couple of years but it started my destiny. How the hell did I arrive in Belgium as a 17 year old – How did I carve out a career – How did that stuff happen?”
It is obvious that Pogacar has a very close relationship with Allan and I asked how satisfying this victory was. “He is a special young man who listens and takes everything in. It is so gratifying to watch him take on everything I say. Whether it be tyre pressure or position in the bunch. I told him that Cadel always sat in the top 30 so as not to get caught in the splits and he followed that though every day.
“He is just a super young man and we did have a hug and a cry at the top of the mountain.”
I asked Al when was the moment he realised that Pogacar might actually win this TdF. “We were getting the time splits and although Tadej was steadily gaining on Roglic, I thought Primoz may have had a different race plan and been saving himself for the climb. Then we realised that he had reduced the gap by 30 seconds before we got to the climb. I told him to stick to the plan – keep the same tempo, don’t change anything because I didn’t want him getting excited and digging deeper when it was too early to dig deep. As we were getting time splits it was starting to sink in but even when we got to the finish and we knew he had it in the bag – you just can’t let go until it’s official. But from the moment of the bike change I could feel it was more or less in the bag.”
Al got quite emotional as he talked about his journey. “I’ve had a lot of good people give me a lot of good support over the years and I’m very grateful for that,” an obviously elated Peiper said. “And it’s culminated in this TdF. Stevo (Neil Stephens) got me this job with UAE a couple of years ago but then last year I had to have treatment for cancer but the team kept me on board even though I was out for most of the year And bought me to the TdF this year as lead DS – It was the opportunity of a lifetime and it’s been my focus for three months. I haven’t thought about anything else, just focusing on details.
“Even two weeks ago I said we can take some time back on Col de la Loze and then we can take the yellow jersey in the time trial so we don’t have to worry about defending it and we can slip into Paris in our slippers. It didn’t quite turn out that way on Col de la Loze but he pulled it off anyway – he pulled it off.Embed from Getty Images
“Yesterday morning I was super nervous, so I did a dry run following Kristoff who was my first rider off and we went through the whole process as if it was Tadej except at about 10 kph slower. I spoke to Alex as if it was Tadej including the bike change and everything – and that settled me a bit especially with the bike change that had me most worried.
“We did practice for it quite a lot. I went down there in June as soon as the borders were open from Covid, I was down there two days and did the course three times and actually rode it myself and got an idea of the gears and which bike to ride so when we got down there in July with Tadej we had 10 people there and we went through everything. Tadej rode the course three times including a full simulation in TT suit, TT helmet – full gas for the 36 kms, full gas up the climb, full bike change and we practised the bike change about 10 times.
“We new he was good for this. In training he was only 10 seconds of Bardet’s climb record and that included the bike change. So we new he was on the money. As he said he knew every pothole in the road and that makes a difference.
“On the rest day I got all the team together and I told them a story. As a DS I had led at a grand tour only once before and that was the Giro in 2012. We won it with Garmin, a half-baked American team and we won it because we had a plan and we just stuck to it. And I said I can feel an analogy with that team and what we are doing now. I respect all you guys but it is just the same. We don’t have the strength in numbers but we have to stick to the plan and every day we went through that – riding at the front, staying together, looking after Tadej and yes we had a couple of mishaps along the way but you know you couldn’t write a better scenario – you just couldn’t.
“We had a little party when we arrived back at the hotel and I told them about how sick I was last year with my cancer. The TdF stage passed 200 metres from my house but I couldn’t get out and watch it because I was so sick with the treatment. But here I am a year later at the Tour with you guys. You have to keep believing that things are going to be better – and what I’ve learned through my life is everything is just a phase – no matter how bad things are or how hard it is at that moment – it will pass – everything is just a phase. If you can split it up like that then things don’t look insurmountable.”
Allan Peiper also has a very close relationship with Richie Porte and touched on the incredible ride of his good friend. “He is a gem of a guy and we had an emotional cuddle at the top of the climb yesterday. He sent me a text this morning saying how he was keen to get back to Monaco and finally meet his new daughter Eloise. “Can you get you’re guys to set a fast pace on the final stage because I have a plane to catch,” Richie said. So I sent it on to the team via the group Whats App and Tadej came back with a thumbs up.”
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