Imagine the scenario. You run one of the biggest budget teams in the sport but sadly the results haven’t followed. Some riders have done well but in general things haven’t gone to plan. Maybe it’s time to change managers, who do you call?
Well this is a real scenario faced by Katusha and they’ve brought in Hans-Michael Holczer. Despite the emergence of Dennis Galimzyanov and the consistency of Joaquin “Purito” Rodriguez, the team’s results have not matched the budget. Worse, the team’s name was involved in the Tour de France’s only doping scandal when Alexander Kolobnev was ejected.
Oddly the team called the UCI for advice. And more oddly the governing body recommended Hans-Michael Holczer as a solution.
Holczer used to run the Gerolsteiner team and their light blue kit was visible but the team rarely won anything. Worse, many of the big wins landed were tarnished and some even stripped after scandal. Bernhard Kohl and Stefan Schumacher were caught using CERA; their star rider Davide Rebellin was busted too. There were several other cases.
Now either Holczer knew what his riders were doing and this makes him unsuitable; or he had no clue what his riders were doing which also makes him unsuitable. He lamented that Bernhard Kohl had a 12 page contract of which two pages contained provisions and penalties to guard against doping but given the many positives, you’d hope he had more than paperwork. Culture, ethics and useful support staff are more important that a piece of paper.
He also spoke out against the practice of internal testing which with hindsight looks worse that it was at the time; he said he preferred the bio passport. Yet when the UCI tried to get him to “rest” Levi Leipheimer for highly suspicious blood values Holczer later said he couldn’t jeopardise the hunt for a new sponsor. Money first.
Holczer left the sport and resumed his career as a maths teacher although you could spot him in the Tour de France village as a driver for Skoda, ferrying Germany VIPs and telling them about the race and there was talk of advising Team Sky when it started.
On the plus side, Holczer has hired Erik Zabel, one of the sport’s top sprinters in recent years and recently sprint consultant with Highroad. What part he played in Cavendish’s success is up for debate. But his advice apparently helped Cavendish know what line to take when he sprinted for the win in Sanremo.
It makes for an odd mix. The team is Russian but with a big logistical base in Italy, it has many Spanish riders and now we have a German layer of management with Holczer, Zabel and also Gerolsteiner’s deputy DS Christian Henn.
Katusha have a big budget but the results have not followed. In an effort to redress this the appointment of Hans-Michael Holczer seems an odd choice. Dave Brailsford said it’s hard to find team staff with pure records given the history of pro cycling. Indeed look at other squads and you’ll see some names linked to controversy. But if we see some in the top jobs despite controversy it’s largely because of association with some big wins. Holczer just didn’t deliver these results.
Sorry if this piece reads like a bit of a downer on Holczer but Gerolsteiner was a mess and his recruitment is an odd choice for a squad with almost limitless resources.
More optimistically the arrival of Zabel should help Galimzyanov and Alexander Kristoff but time will tell if things improve. Katusha have always looked a bit confused and Holzcer’s arrival is an odd one but given the money available for the team and their lack of results this year, 2012 should be better. Over to him to show what he can do, it’s the second chance of a lifetime.