PezCycling News - What's Cool In Road Cycling : Vacansoleil Up Close With Frank Kwanten

Vacansoleil Up Close With Frank Kwanten
Vacansoleil are making the headlines at the moment; there’s the Pro Tour application, Bjorn Leukemans’ win in the 1.1 Druivenkoers and last but not least, the recruitment of Stijn Devolder and a certain Riccardo Ricco. PEZ contacted the team’s commercial manager, Dutchman Frank Kwanten, to get the low down.

PEZ: You raced yourself, Frank?
Yes, but my engine was only good for 120/130 kilometres; then I was dropped like a stone!

PEZ: What’s your background?
I went to Johan Cruyff University where I studied sport economics; I applied for the post with Vacansoleil and my experience with cycling and educational background got me the job.

PEZ: You are ‘commercial manager’ rather than ‘press officer’ – what’s the difference?
As commercial manager I also look after the sponsors’ interests – for example, if the sponsor wants to attend a race with VIPs I’ll take care of that; and I’m also involved in obtaining new sponsors.

I enjoy the variety; there are smooth days and hectic days –like when we announced we’d recruited Riccardo Ricco!

One of the main things I like is that you come into contact with a lot of inspiring people, directors of companies who are very successful – I never imagined that at 28 I’d be gaining this kind of experience.

On the other hand with the team being quite small, I have to do a lot of different tasks and sometimes it’s hard to get away from the day to day stuff to look at the bigger picture.

PEZ: I make it 15 wins for the team, this year?
It’s 12 in UCI races, including the Druivenkoers, which Bjorn Leukemans just won; I think a more significant statistic is that of our 22 riders, 18 have been on the podium this year and we’ve had 57 podium finishers – that lets you see that it’s not a team of domestiques.

PEZ: The team leads the UCI European Tour, are there any benefits to that?
Not really tangible benefits but I think that it indicates that we are ready to step up to Pro Tour – it’s like football, if you win division two then you are ready for promotion to division one.

PEZ: Are the sponsors upset that you didn’t get in the Grand Tours, this year?
We set a three year plan when we launched the team but achieved our objectives in the first year – including participation and a stage win in a Grand Tour (Borut Bozic, Vuelta 2009)

This year things were different for Pro Continental teams, for example there was BMC and they have the world champion, Evans – this gets them preference.

We tried to raise our profile with the Feillu brothers but because we’re not Pro Tour we can’t ride races like the Tour Down Under, Milan – San Remo, Tirreno or the Dauphine – we need points.

For next year we’ll be recruiting more good riders to get us the points to guarantee participation.

PEZ: What’s the difference in terms of cash between Pro Continental and Pro Tour?
There’s no maximum and no minimum but we’ll be committing an additional 30 to 35% - from around four to five million to around seven million Euros.

The extra spend enables you to do things like run a dual programme, for example.

PEZ: Recruiting the Feillu brothers – perhaps that didn’t go the way you expected?
First of all, they are both nice guys, they accepted a challenge when they came to us and they have a good image, clean cut and professional.

We were proud that they made the decision to join us.

But Brice is a rider who prefers the heat and it has to be said that he had trouble adapting to the fact that French isn’t the language on the team – he doesn’t speak English.

Romain had troubles with his lungs early season but we were very impressed by the way he trained hard all through July when the Tour was on and he’s coming into form now - with stage wins in the Vuelta Ciclista a Burgos and the Tour de l’Ain, as well as a top ten at Plouay.

PEZ: Johnny Hoogerland seems a little quieter, this year?
He trained very hard during the winter and was second in the season opening race, the GP d’Ouverture Marseille.

But he crashed in Paris-Nice, although he did decent ride in the Tour of Flanders where he finished 11th – he’s coming into good form now, with a win in the mountains classification in the Tour of Poland; Lombardy is a big target for him.

PEZ: Mr. Ricco?
He deserves a second chance, we’re aware of his past but we believe that he wants a clean future and new image with us.

PEZ: The medical he took, tell us about that, please?
All riders joining the team receive a check, not just Riccardo Ricco.

The team doctor and physio give them a thorough examination but we also have an anti doping doctor from the University of Maastricht check them out - I think you would call him a ‘clinical chemist?’

We have a lot of trust in the doctor we use – he previously worked with the UCI - he checks the blood values and confirms to us that everything looks fine.

PEZ: On the one hand he’s a big name, but might his reputation work against you getting invites?
There are plenty of examples of other riders coming back from drugs suspensions with regret about what they did and being accepted by fans and organisers – take Millar and Basso for instance.

PEZ: What about his ‘signing’ with QuickStep?
He spoke with us on the Tuesday, two weeks passed and then we spoke again, we made the offer on the Friday and he accepted on the Saturday – as for his negotiations with QuickStep, you’d have to ask them and Riccardo.

PEZ: What will be his first race for you?
We hope it will be the Giro del Veneto on August 28th – Riccardo fits our profile very well, we like young attacking riders; like Hoogerland and Wout Poels who has been riding very aggressively, recently. [Ed. That didn't work out, so his first race with the team will be the Giro della Romagna]

PEZ: And what will make 2011 a success for Vacansoleil?
We’re aiming to get a top three in a Grand Tour or major Classic; we want to keep our sponsors happy and we want to grow the team – not just in terms of top ten placings but in terms of relationships so that everyone is enjoying what they do.

Laudable sentiments in the cut throat world of pro cycling; with thanks to Frank and wishing him and his team all the best for the rest of 2010 and beyond.


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