Hans Michael Holczer took over as General Manager of the Russian Global Cycling Project Katusha in September 2010, and nine months later, www.katushateam.com sat down with the German manager to discuss the remarkable progress so far with the Russian Global Cycling Project Katusha.
Katusha Team Web (KTW): Herr Holczer, it has been 9 months since you assumed the general management of the Russian Global Cycling Project Katusha. How do you evaluate what has been achieved so far?
Hans Michael Holczer (HMH): Yes, I remember it well because after I reached the agreement with the Russian Global Cycling Project, I went to the Cyclassics race inHamburg. I was invited toMoscowto meet with Mr. Igor Makarov, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the ITERA International Group of Companies and President of the Russian Cycling Federation, to discuss his ideas on how to manage a cycling program.
KTW: After you were out of the sport of cycling for a few years, what did you think about getting back into the sport?
HMH: Well I had some concerns to re-start my cycling career, as I have been employed as mathematics and history teacher inGermany, but it worked out. I had a good anticipation when I went toMoscowas I never expected that Mr. Makarov would ask me to take over this exciting project.
KTW: Can you talk about how you became the general manager of the Russian Global Cycling Project Katusha?
HMH: Heiko Salzwedel, the head of Russian Team RusVelo, recommended me for the position. I have known Heiko Salzwedel for quite a while. We have a great deal of mutual respect, and he was the coach of my son-in-law. We had some working contacts in 2009 when he was involved in the organization of Team Sky. Today we have more contact, on a friendly basis, but because I am a General Manager of Katusha Team and Heiko runs RusVelo Team, we do not cooperate; they are a totally different team than Katusha Team.
KTW: What were your goals when you began as a General Manager of the Russian Global Cycling Project?
HMH: In all the teams we have managed, we have always tried for a special spirit, a unique atmosphere that seeks to create a family atmosphere in the team. When I came in the door, I wanted to create an environment where I showed to the riders, to the staff that I appreciate their work. To give this back to the team, that was essential. To have a strong sense of give and take, to let people know the value of what they contribute to the team.
Another element I wanted to bring in, something I have learned over the years of team management is that I will not interfere in the decisions of the sports directors.
So this was the clear management philosophy I brought to the Russian Global Cycling Project. My predecessor Andrei Tchmil had already hired Valerio Piva as sports director and Sebastian Weber from the HTC Team as conditioning and training coach.
I then realized we also needed, just as a top level team, a technical manager. So I hired Michael Rich, who had ridden for me and worked as sport director at Gerolsteiner. This is an important point to the new vision at Katusha Team, as we have brought in a new scientific approach to our material and training.
Perhaps some people think I am at the team every day, doing training for the riders, but that is absolutely not my role. As General Manager, I am doing pure management job here. We are bringing appreciation to our people and that is coming back in results. We have created a real team spirit here for Katusha Team. After Giro d’Italia, Katusha as a team including Russian riders topped the UCI World Rating, and one of its leaders, Spanish rider Joaquim Rodriguez, also became the first in the Rating. I really appreciated that he and the entire team gave it more than 100%! Their performance was extraordinary!
KTW: Herr Holczer, what is your background in cycling?
HMH: I have a lot of experience, going back 30 years, starting with small amateur teams, then small professional teams like SchauffÖschelbronn, which became Team Gerolsteiner in 1998. Out of pretty much nothing, we made one of the most acknowledged ProTour teams in the world and the team ended after 10 years. I also have a lot of solid business management experience as well.
KTW: What happened when you took over last September?
HMH: It was the hardest 4 or 5 months of my life! It is not easy to come into an existing structure, to have your own ideas, but I found that the Russian team quickly welcomed these changes. Yes, there were times it was really difficult, but in the end we have really put the Russian WorldTour team on track. I am seeing the results from my work, because the team is working well. One of the basic elements of the success was to go back to basics, to have a normal, professional approach where we communicated clearly and quickly so people knew what the decisions had been taken and what they need to do.
KTW: Can you talk more about the more scientific approach you have implemented at Katusha Team?
HMH: This has been fundamental to our success also. There have been trend setting teams in this area, like Postal, Phonak, Gerolsteiner, HTC, SKY and others, like CSC, who introduced new technologies, new approaches in cycling. Things like team building camp, and these things are an integral part of the philosophy I have brought to Katusha Team.
Previously, there wasn’t a lot of team emphasis on bike testing or position fitting here; riders tended to do this on their own but now we have integrated the processes into the team. And you can see the results. For example, many observers were saying that Purito (Rodriguez) would lose 2 minutes in the final Giro d’Italia time trial but in the end he was much, much closer. So this is a result of this process; maybe the sensational new Canyon Speedmax time trial bike is a part of it, and also that Purito worked hard with Sebastian Weber and Michale Rich to improve his time trailing on the off-season. At first, it was difficult as it was a different approach than before, but it has now become successful.
KTW: What do you think why the Russian team needs foreign sports directors and managers?
ХМХ: I can say that the Russian Global Cycling Project Management’s approach is very reasonable. Igor Makarov has brought together best foreign professionals into the Project; they perform a kind of “completion” of Russian riders that came up through development teams which have no foreign riders. It is with the help of foreign professionals that Russian drivers in Katusha acquire valuable experience accumulated by the world professional cycling elite. In addition, this strategy helps prepare a new generation of coaches and managers in the Russian cycling, who use the experience of foreign professionals. For example, Gennadiy Mikhailov, who used to be a Katusha racer, is one of the Team’s sports directors now.
KTW: Where do you see Katusha in one year from now, June 2013?
HMH: At the moment looking ahead, we are hoping to continue our success in the major races like the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, as well as World Championships and the Olympic Games for Russian riders in addition to the World Tour races. We also want to improve our time trial performance, to show a strong classics season in 2013, and of course, another good Giro d’Italia. Those are the key goals for our World Tour Katusha Team. But I am also much focused on our development teams represented by Russian riders only.
KTW: Could you talk about global goals of the Russian Global Cycling Project?
HMH: Our main goals have been determined by the Project Management from the very beginning: global development of the Russian cycling and training of the Russian Olympic squad. As I said, Katusha is a “melting pot” for riders to come up through or a kind of “graduating class” in the Russian Global Cycling Project for a new generation of Russian riders who have come through other Project stages. Thanks to comprehensive support, we are on the right track, but the process takes time.
We have almost 40 young riders on our continental team Itera-Katusha and U23 & U21 Itera-Katusha squads. We have new riders who come up and are included in the team all the time. Now we will really focus on building up these teams for the future. This will become more efficient with each year, and I am absolutely sure, this will give an impulse for development of not only Katusha riders but also of the Russian Global Cycling Project.
I know that the Russian Global Cycling Project now has a new development team “Rus”. That will help us develop Russian riders for the top level of the world cycling. This “farm system” is working in many other sports, for example, in American baseball. We believe the Russian Global Cycling Project Katusha is on the right track and now we will get the development upgraded to build up the farm team structure to develop Russian riders for future victories. Because the Russian cycling is our priority!