Earlier this year during the Tour of California, I had a chance to talk with Toyota-United’s Henk Vogels about the art of the sprint. The black magic known as the leadout train was demonstrated in today’s Tour de Georgia stage where Vogels, and Dominique Rollin led out Ivan Dominguez with Hilton Clarke sweeping behind Ivan.
LL: Has your role on the team changed, with all these new, young sprinters coming in?
Henk Vogels: Really, just trying to mesh the guys, I’m the lead out guy, I’m the guy that makes the decision on the road when it has to be made straight away because I’ve been doing it for so long, these guys all know what to do I don’t really need to tell them, but if they are decisions that need to be made, I’m kind of the directeur on the road. So just trying to get the boys organized and as well I can win some bike races as well, so yeah that’s mainly my role.
LL: How does a good lead out work?
HV: The main thing, if you have a gun sprinter, there are two different ways of working it, there are like the seven guys working for the sprinter riding the last 5 to 10 k at the front to keep him our of trouble or you have the sprinter who is someone like Robbie McEwen or Ivan Dominguez who prefers just to sit in with the other sprinters and just use his raw speed and use the peloton. Ivan, last year, he won most of his races when he had the whole team riding for him in the finale, but in races like this (Tour of California) when you have the team of Rabobank with Freire, High Road with Cavendish, and Quick Step with Boonen, it doesn’t really much sense to get the whole team going on the front for our sprinter. So, my role is really to see how Ivan’s going and whether he wants to have the leadout which we don’t know yet, we’ll see. We’ll sit down and talk about that tonight and get him in the right position with between 800 and 600 meters to go and go from there. But it’s really kind of an art to get that person in the right position whether that be on Tom Boonen’s wheel or whether he wants to head out early so it’s a lot of communication in the race so the main thing is to be in position to leadout or just put in position so he can go out with the other sprinters.
LL: How do you communicate the ‘when and where’ to go?
HV: Radios or normally I just scream. I’ll be screaming at the guys, go, stop or stay here, go now, it’s pretty easy, it’s not that hard.
LL: A lot of people can’t do it, so how do you learn this stuff?
HV: 2 Tour de Frances, 2 Giros, 2 Vueltas, 15 years in the pro peloton…. it’s experience.
LL: You’ve been in teams with Robbie McEwen, Steels, Van Petegem, how different are each of these sprinters?
HV: Every sprinter is so different, Cipollini was just raw power with an incredible eight-man lead out, whereas McEwen only needed one or two guys just to surf around the outside and put him on the sprinters’ wheels and then he’d go from there because he was the fastest, no where near by any means the strongest so it’s just a matter of who that sprinter is and you just have to rely on how he feels and how he wants to do his sprint.
LL: Do you have to adapt your style depending on the sprinter?
HV: Yes, absolutely, like I said, you’re either doing him full scale leadout where you’re hitting out with him on your wheel with 650 to go, or whether he just wants to be put strategically onto another sprinter so it all depends on the day too, he may not want the whole team to have that responsibility and just follow the sprinters and see how it goes so it’s up to him.
LL: So do you prefer either way?
HV: No. whatever.
LL: I’ve noticed that the team doesn’t typically sweep behind Ivan, why is that?
HV: This year, I think we are probably going to try to do that at some stage but, the perfect guy for that is Hilton Clarke, he’s fantastic for that, you’ll never get rid of him, he’s very, very good, but yeah, I mean I think you’re just wasting somebody you know, I like the idea of it, I’d rather have someone in front of him with a little bit more punch just in case something happens.
LL: What do you need to have to be the last leadout guy?
HV: You have to have that strength to keep him there and that explosivity. I’m not really the kind of an explosive guy but I can hold high speed for quite a long time, where Domniguez is 5k an hour faster than me so, you know that’s perfect to have somewhere there to keep him there for as long as he can so. I’m more of a stronger sprinter not really the quickest guy.
LL: Do you see yourself as a mentor on the team, to try and teach what you know?
HV: I try and take the younger guys a little bit, teach them some etiquette on the bike and off the bike, what I mean by etiquette is the way we do things, especially the young guys like Dom Rollin who’s got such a huge future, young Jonny Clarke who’s also new on the team. Most of the other guys know exactly what to do, they’ve been pros for long enough. There’s a couple of new guys, like I said, Jonny and Dominique, they need some direction, I think Dominique Rollin can win a lot more races in his career so he’s just incredibly strong so if you can harness that… yeah I mean, I don’t say it out loud but I kind of try and help them.
His comments about Rollin and Clarke were dead on. And Vogels does scream out to his boys the when and where as we all hear from the sidelines.