With only seven new riders of which two were already trainee the core of the team who has the confidence of the management stays intact for the new season. The improvements which the team looks for will mainly aim for getting the maximum out of the team. ‘There is no way that the measures will not lead to improvement’ says Daan Luijkx halfway through the interview, when countless new initiatives within his team Vacansoleil-DCM had been discussed. And improvements are what is needed, he thinks. ‘Last year we had high peaks with Lieuwe Westra in Paris-Nice, Thomas De Gendt in the Giro and Marco Marcato in Paris-Tours. That is great, but sometimes we fall through the floor. We want to at least equal the highest peaks, and the troughs have to become less deep. I am well aware: that is not going to be easy.’
At the office of the team in the town of Sprundel, from where the cycling team Vacansoleil-DCM operates, management and sport directors have put together a package of measures which have led to further professionalization ‘We have an all-round approach, which is innovative’ Luijkx thinks. ‘A medical coordinator, a physical/mental coach and two sports scientist have been added to the team. We have also engaged an external organisation which can make adjustments in our sports and team dynamics processes if required’
With Aart Vierhouten, an extra sport director has also been employed, who monitors the through line of every rider. ‘If we are a rider short anywhere, we shouldn’t call up a rider in his rest period. The through line is sacrosanct for both sides’, Luijkx explains about one of Vierhouten’s most important duties. ‘On one hand I want to move away from the lack of obligations and on the other hand I want to make riders feel secure that they are not alone, when things are difficult.
It is a big package of innovations, which Luijkx sums up. “We want to improve things every year. The steps we are able to take do become smaller each year. These steps were still left to make, and I think we can make a lot of gains by making them.
One of the most important measures for the new season is the mental coaching. “At the end of 2012 we kicked-off a yearlong program with Gert Baartmans and Sierd Nutma of BN Professionals. The need to become more consistent in the performance, to create more conscious about the team values among staff and the urge to use mental power were the main reasons to start this program. The program started in November with a nightly team building. This was followed by an assessment of the riders and sport directors after which the task awareness and mental cleverness were discussed and trained. With all employees, from staff to mechanics, we work on the values and culture of the team. From here we move on with a coach program for sport directors and riders. The goal of team development is supported by continuous connecting to the values. The great thing about the interventions and training is that everyone sees the chances and that a self-correcting power is coming to surface in the whole organisation.”
The professionalising of his team happened fast, in recent years. ‘This year we are also making another step in the scientific approach, so the riders have to be able to reach optimal performance at several moments in the season. This brings us full circle’ Luijkx thinks. ‘Although we will still continue to ask ourselves the question: what do we have left to do?’