Interview: Jens Heppner and Enrico Poitschke on the new Team NetApp-Endura
With 11 wins and 21 podium placings, Team NetApp has had its best ever season. Was this success in line with your expectations?
Yes, absolutely. Of course we had high expectations, and these were even exceeded to a certain extent. At the Coppi e Bartali race, for example; that was a huge surprise for me. Since we work almost daily with the riders, and drawing from our experience, we know how much we can expect from the younger members of the team. It’s great when they then surprise us with immense motivation and a perfect team performance. This shows us that our work over the last few years has been worthwhile.
Can you give an assessment of each rider’s season?
The season was full of successes, so I can only pinpoint a few highlights here.
Leopold König’s comeback was something we were really pleased to see. It was not certain whether or not he’d be able to continue in his dream role, but with a great deal of discipline and some rehab-therapy he managed it, and proved his talent once again during the second half of the season. In just a few races, he rediscovered his old form extremely quickly, achieving top results after what was a very long break for injury, culminating in his stage win at the Tour of Britain.
Bartosz Huzarski developed into a real strategist in the peloton and is our right-hand man in the field. He often took over the captain’s role and implemented our instructions perfectly, which is very important now that radio is permitted only for WorldTour races.
Daniel Schorn also made a name for himself on several occasions this year. His sprints in the Giro d’Italia, alongside the best sprinters in the world, were truly remarkable. With his 150-kilometre solo race at the Brabant Arrow and his firm place in the lead group at the Tour of Flanders, he also showed the right qualities for the classics. His third place in the Limburg Classic was the perfect way to prove this.
We were also very pleased to see the way Cesare Benedetti has developed. His fifth place in the stage of the Giro d’Italia was outstanding. Even if he himself always claims to be a loyal helper, we have long been convinced that he is capable of getting very good placings for himself.
Blaz Jarc surprised us greatly. When he came to us as a trainee, we already suspected he had special talent. However, we weren’t yet sure where the journey would take him. We can now say that he has developed into the most important lead-out rider in the sprint and has even achieved some very good results for himself.
Just a word on Jan Barta to conclude: For Jan, this was by far the most successful season of his career and a huge step forward in his development. Overall winner at Coppi e Bartali, victory in Cologne, seventh place in the world championship time trials – and then his incredible ride at the Giro stage where he came in second.
The existing Team NetApp will change significantly next season. The involvement of new sponsor Endura, which will add its name to the team, will also bring eight riders from what is currently Continental-Team Endura Racing. There will also be three new contracts. In what ways will Team NetApp change?
We already had a chance to take a look at the new team members at the Tour of Britain, in which we observed them very closely. And with those we have known for longer in the peloton, we have of course discussed one or two things. It’s always exciting when new riders join the team.
In total, we’ll have three more riders in the team. That’s going to make it easier for us to run a double program. In future, we’ll have the chance to change riders around during the classics period and to therefore provide longer recovery phases. We’ll also have more options tactically. Until now, we had Daniel as a sprinter at the tours and Blaz, who has shown great form in the one-day race sprints recently. With Russel Downing, Johnny McEvoy and Ralf Matzka we have reinforced our capabilities considerably in this discipline.
That doesn’t mean we’re now a sprinter team, though. We aim to pursue two directions in the team. Firstly we have what we call a “classics group”. Then there’ll also be a “tour group”, which we have clearly improved on. This year we often had to accept that when it came to difficult mountain stages, Leo was able to ride in a good position, but he was often having to fend for himself. We have thus been focusing on getting more mountain riders in the team, like Iker Camano Ortuzar, for example, who has already tackled a number of big top-league tours and finished 26th in the Tour de France. Or the up-and-coming talent David de la Cruz. Even though we can’t yet assess de la Cruz accurately, because he still has a lot to learn in terms of tactics and technique, he has shown tremendous ability in the first four years of his cycling career.
Are both groups in the team equally capable in terms of competition?
That’s difficult to say, because we’re talking about two entirely different disciplines here. For tours lasting several days, you have more chances to achieve a good result, whilst with the classics everything is over in a day. At the classics, all the specialists and favorites are always lined up at the start and the competition is therefore enormous. There are perhaps ten riders in the entire world who are in a position to win the real classics; because to be able to win a classic, you need many years of experience, the physical prerequisites and, most importantly, the luck that makes everything fall into place on that particular day. But you need to find these riders first.
When it comes to the tours, it’s not always all the top tour riders that line up at the start. Here there are many longer recovery phases. And if you have a bad day, you can make up for it in the next stage. Now that we’ll have 20 riders, with half in the tour group and half in the classics group, we’ll have many more opportunities to start with a great line-up. We are therefore thoroughly optimistic.
In the new team there is a division between the tour riders and the classics riders. There are also a number of German-speaking riders and an equal number of English-speakers. How will you manage to create a harmonious team from that?
There will be two race programs: one for the tour riders and one for the classics specialists. Basically we always try to combine younger and more experienced riders. This way we can be sure that experience will be passed on. Then the riders are mixed up according to their qualifications. The Tour of Turkey, for example, is a typical race, where tour and classics riders can be deployed together.
From my own experience, I can say that the process of a team coming together tends to occur in an entirely natural way. The shift in thought occurs almost as soon as the team put on their new racing strip. For competitive cyclists there is no hierarchical division. Of course, as the team management, we will also try to force this process, because this year we have already demonstrated several times over that teamwork and blind understanding between one another are crucial for success. We will be using our training camp in December for this very purpose. We’re going to spend ten days getting to know one another and bonding, and we’ll also do some trust exercises. By the first day of racing at the very latest there will only be one team as far as the riders are concerned.
Speaking of the first day of racing; what are the big sporting goals/challenges for this year?
We have previously always been able to put together an outstanding race calendar, and we hope to do the same for next year, of course. Personally, I would be delighted to achieve a stage win at one of the big tours or a top ten placing at one of the classics. In order to realize this, we’re hoping for some good invitations so that we can prove what we’re capable of.
We hope to kick off our season with the Tour de San Luis. After that, we’ve got our sights set on the races in Oman and Qatar. That would be the perfect start as far as we’re concerned.