Road Star Interview: Hendrik Redant came out of the Flemish Classic’s man mould; tough, strong and powerful. Ed Hood caught up with the man from Ninove in East Flanders to hear about his two part career – Behind the handlebars and behind the steering wheel of a team car.
A BiG man with BiG results needs a BiG interview. Ladies and gentlemen, Belgian 80’s and 90’s road star and subsequently successful DS, Mr. Hendrik Redant:
PEZ: You turned pro in ’87 with Robland, tell us about that team, Hendrik.
Hendrik Redant: Finding the Robland team was thanks to my mechanic, Raf Coppens who was with me in my amateur years. I had always put my studies as priority so was not really seeking to become a pro cyclist. My parents (who became my biggest supporters later on) did not want me to practice race cycling, as they were afraid of crashes and it would have stopped my studies. The moment my studies were finished in July, I started training for real; I won 13 races in around one month. This made me think that I could become a professional. My mechanic introduced me to Mr Luc Landuyt, director of the Robland team, and I got a spot on the team. The team director had already noticed already on the few training rides we had in January that winter that I could be a strong asset to the team, consequently I raced all the Belgian races as that team was mainly focussed on the ‘Kermiskoersen’ – races over 180/200 km around local laps – as the sponsor was a local company. That year I became the best rider in the classement made for those Belgian races. I won, some 200 points clear of the second rider, with a total amount of points that was never reached before. The team was small and we had a small budget; I even raced with my own seven year-old bike during the first two months that year as there were not enough bikes for everyone on the squad at the start of the season. Although it was a great group of people – and I stayed very close friends with the director until his death a few years ago – all our travel was by car, no busses, and there were lots of things we had to take care of ourselves, but that didn’t bother me and I achieved good results that year.
A young man with Robland and with Lotto
PEZ: You had your first win as neo pro – Lichtervelde, a good start to your career.
Indeed, my first win was in Lichtervelde, but only on October 1st that year. Although my results were very good, I could not win. There were a lot of fights going on between teams, and the director of another team also noticed that I did well, so he gave the order to a few riders of his team to cover all my moves. This resulted that I was always in the final of a race but it was very difficult to win because always a few riders made a ‘combine’ against me. This result was that I was about 40 times in the first three of a race, with about 18 second places, but only one victory. Although in my first year I was seventh in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, second in Omloop Vlaamse Ardennen and fourth in E3-Harelbeke in my first month. I was declassed in Omloop het Volk (nowadays Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the day before Kuurne) with 30 km to go because I went through the red lights of a train-crossing while chasing (at 200 m) the first group. I crashed in Paris-Roubaix (together with Sean Kelly) with about 25 km to go while also still in the first group. So the start of my career was strong.
Hendrik Redant and Edwig van Hooydock – Omloop Het Volk 1992
PEZ: In ’88 you won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne for the first time, a race you always did well in.
In ’88, I did start well. I was ninth in GP Wielerrevue on Wednesday, fifth in Omloop het Volk on Saturday, first in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday, first in GP Samyn on Wednesday, fourth in Omloop Vlaamse Ardennen on Sunday. . . and that trend continued. Kuurne was always a race what was very good to me, and after I finished seventh in my neo pro year, I always wanted to perform well there. This resulted in: seventh in ’87, first in 88, first in ‘90, third in ‘91, 36th in ’92, 5th in ‘94, second in ’95… so you could say that race suited me well.
On the attack in the Tour of Flanders 1991
PEZ: Also in ’88 your first Grand Tour, the Giro – tell us about that experience.
That Giro was a special experience; we had the minimum support, cars, material, staff. . . Also our team was (except for a few riders) very inexperienced, most of them had never ridden a big Tour before that moment whilst some had never ridden outside of Belgium before. You could see that clearly in the TTT as we crashed due to not having enough skills, not having been able to see the course and no preparation (as a team) in advance. Our team that year was half Belgian – half Italian. Our director was Mr Luc Landuyt for the Belgian races and Mr Giovanni Savio in Italy, he directed at the Giro that year. We didn’t have a lot of budget for the race, so there were not really a lot of cars available, and for sure no bus. Lots of times we had to ride to the start by bike, and as I was frequently dropped in the mountain stages, coming in nearly last of our team I had to go to the hotel by bike after the finish as well. I rode lots of kilometres extra on that Tour. That year was also the legendary stage over the Gavia in terrible circumstances, due to a snow-blizzard. I think I was one of the few riders that really finished the complete stage by bike. Lots of the riders got in the cars. Unluckily for me we only had one car in the race, so I had to finish it off on the bike. But overall, the Giro made me stronger, I even finished ninth in the last stage, beaten in the sprint by top fast guys like Urs Freuler and Paolo Rosola.
Lotto in 1989
PEZ: Lotto for ’89 – why change teams?
As I had a very good year in ’88; Jean-Luc Van den Broucke, observed this and wanted me in his team for the hard Belgian races. For me it was the next step in my career. From the very small, familiar Isoglass-team, to the (at the time) best Belgian team. So I did not really hesitate, although my director Mr Luc Landuyt was a bit disappointed when I left his team, for me it was a good step.
PEZ: And you won the Samyn for the first time, another race you always did well in.
I was always good at the beginning of the year, and always in the races where cold, bad weather was the norm. I won immediately the GP Samyn – which I also did the year after in 1990. It gave the Lotto team a good start in Belgium after a rather bad start in France that year, so the victory was more than welcome. The GP Samyn was made for me, I loved riding on those roads where I was almost training every day. I did this race one time as an amateur in ‘86, I was in the leading group for almost the whole race and finished still ninth. As a pro I was first in ‘89, first in ‘90, third in ‘91, fifth in ‘96, in the other years I was working for a sprinter – Museeuw or I was pushed into the barriers while sprinting. My victories in that race were solo like in ‘89, or from a small group of seven riders, like in ’90.
PEZ: Le Tour in ’90 what was that like for a ‘Classics Man’?
Very hard, but at least I had more team support, and a big bag of experience already. Most of the time I had to work for Johan Museeuw, who won two stages that year; the one to the Mont-Sant-Michel and the stage on the Champs Elysées in Paris. In the last stage I was the rider taking him into the last turn to the finish; on the video you can still see me lifting the arm when he won. So that year I was mostly used as the ‘engine’ when we had to work; we also had the late Claudy Criquelion ninth on general that year.
Redant rode with and managed Johan Museeuw
PEZ: Your best year ’92 – how did it all come good that year?
That year started well with a victory in Ruta del Sol, the stage to Granada. I did lots of work in the other races in preparation of Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, where I had to work hard for Museeuw. Although a crash in a race in Belgium early March – at Wanzele, which I won in 1997 – compromised the classics part of my season, I was still 10th in Paris-Roubaix, after a puncture when alone in front. But as a result of the crash I had a big problem with my Achilles tendon, and had to stay off the bike for around six weeks. Although this resulted in the fact that I was training much less at the start of the season it meant I had lots of reserve to do the second part of the season. So I went from victory to victory… Sadly for Johan Museeuw, he broke his leg in a crash in preparation for the Worlds, but this gave me a free role for the rest of the season. After my double stage win in the Tour of England – The Kellogg’s – and a third on general, I was ready to go for myself, and I kept winning and performing on high a level, second in Paris-Bourges, winning Paris-Tours that year, and the first edition of the Japan Cup – then continuing to win more in some races in South Africa.
PEZ: You won Paris-Tour that year, a huge victory, tell us about it.
Our sprinter, Johan Museeuw had broken his leg and could not compete, so in a way we were a team of opportunists that year. I had signed for another team (Collstrop) a few days before the race, and my director sportif was not really happy with that. But lots of meetings before that date did not result in a contract with him – that’s why my decision was to go for another team. So after this situation I was not really the lead man for him in that race. I was a bit demotivated; we had a very strong crosswind and I ended up in the last group after a few kilometres. Luckily I had Rik Van Slycke – my team mate, and now a director as well – with me, he talked to me and motivated me to start fighting again in the race.
We started to chase from group to group, ‘til we got up to the second peloton. Rik was ‘done’ by then but I felt better every second, so I just accelerated and rode to the first group in one effort. I even attacked and got away with a French rider. Although team ONCE closed that gap down. In the final, after an attack by my team mate Frank Van den Abeele, it all came back together, so I attacked again with about 25 km to go, perhaps only a dozen riders could follow. Looking around in that group, I saw Laurent Jalabert, Phil Anderson, but most of all, the very fast – and leader in the UCi WorldTour-classification – Olaf Ludwig. I knew I was going to be beaten by him if it went to a sprint, but I remembered my two victories in the Tour of England where I got the better of him because I attacked before the sprint. So I decided to do the same again, and attacked with about eight kilometres to go. Only Christian Henn could make it back to me, he kept working with me until the red kite – we only had about 100 metres on the chasers all the time. In the sprint I just accelerated as I always did and I put him at a distance. I still cherish that sprint as one of my strongest accelerations ever. My most beautiful.
PEZ: Collstrop in ’93 – was that a good move, you were there only for one year?
Only one year indeed. I was working again with my friend and first director, Mr Luc Landuyt. That year I was the captain of the team and prepared for the season very conscientiously; although maybe too thoroughly. . . At the start of the season I was already as skinny as when I came out of the Tour de France. My condition was awesome, but I got sick with the flu the day before the opening races in Belgium. My favourite Omloop het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne were gone. Very disappointing. This was actually the only time I got sick during my career; I still think I did too much that winter to prove I could be a good team leader – I did not give my body the necessary rest during that winter to be refuelled for the year to come. I wanted to restart too soon – with a second place in a stage of the Tour of Murcia but couldn’t improve upon that. I was still OK during the first months, but I could not win or really put the hammer down in my favourite classic races. I still was 14th in Paris Roubaix, but I was not happy with that as I should have done better. It all started to turn around in the Vuelta that year, which was in the spring in those days. I felt better every day and made it a goal to take a jersey, so I went for the ‘Red Jersey’, that year the winner of the intermediate sprints (Meta Volantes). I succeeded and I was standing on the podium in Madrid with the jersey. Later that year I became better and still won some races and stages in little tours in France, also a second place in Tour d’Armorique, and second in a Kellogg’s stage, fifth in Paris Bourges, and so on, but I was not as strong as compared to the year before due to my lousy start of the season when I got sick.
PEZ: Then to ZG Mobili – an Italian squadra but just for one year – how different was the mentality?
The mentality was completely different, but I was back with Gianni Savio again as my director, and this time with more budget to have a competitive team. I learned to take more attention to my diet, and lost some weight which was good for me to survive better in the climbing stages.
I had to learn Italian but that happened fast. I was there to work for our sprinter – Fabiano Fontanelli – I was doing that almost to perfection but in the last stage during the Tirreno-Adriatico Fabiano got beaten by Roberto Pagnin, whilst I still made eighth place despite leading for the last kilometre; that made them they decide I was going to become the sprinter. I loved my year with ZG-Mobili, and learned a lot. Also there I experienced that I was able to cope with different mentalities and different nationalities – as I had always been before with Belgian teams with Belgian riders. That experience helped me a lot in my subsequent career as a director.
The start of Het Volk
PEZ: Then TVM – a Dutch team, tell us about your time there – how did it compare to Belgian and Italian teams?
TVM was well organised, and for the first time, I was in a team with a BUS at the races. What an experience; not undressing anymore on the streets or in some car, but in the privacy of your own bus – great. I was there to support Peter Van Petegem as he was the next upcoming man in that era. I think I did very well, and I helped him win his first Omloop Het Volk. I loved the mentality and the spirit of the team, and I also had a good relationship with the team manager, Cees Priem. I must say I had some great years with these nice group of friends and riders, their ‘one for all, all for one’ mentality was my thing.
The crash on the Kemmelberg
PEZ: And you went straight into management with them; was that an easy transition for you?
I got the offer from Cees Priem in the winter of 1996 but decided only 15 min before the team-presentation in May as I was still very fond on being a rider. But luckily I did decide to be a director as I had my very bad crash on the Kemmelberg that year in the Three days of De Panne and that ended my career. Although Cees Priem kept his promise and when I was recovered from my crash a few months later I started my career as a director. The beginning was hard, as I had to say ‘NO!’ to some things the guy did – things I was doing a few months earlier myself. . . But everyone respected me immediately, and my transition went smooth.
DOMO-Farm Frites 2000: Marc Sergeant, Patrick Lefevere, Mario de Clercq and Hendrik Redant
PEZ: And that was the team you were with – in various forms – right up until 2010?
I stayed with TVM until ‘99, then it changed to Farm Frites in 2000, from there I went to DOMO-Farm Frites under Patrick Lefevere for two years. I changed again, following my friend Marc Sergeant to the LOTTO-team. I stayed with them till 2010, I had one year off due to the Pegasus affair, and worked then for UnitedHealthcare for seven years, in 2019 I moved to my current team.
Monaco Tour’09: Silence Lotto – Cadel Evans and Matthew Lloyd
PEZ: Tell us about the ‘Pegasus’ affair – the ‘team that never was’.
A terrible period where I was confronted with lots of negativity due to promises made by someone who did not tell us the total truth… I contacted a lot of people to go and work with me, although the project never really was ‘on’. Maybe the initial intentions of Mr Chris White were good, but he never told the whole story I’m afraid and in the end he never seemed to have had a REAL bank guarantee to file at the UCI. I put a vast amount of energy into that project; and tried to scale it down at the end to have at least something, a Pro-Conti team perhaps or later even a Continental team. But even then there was not enough money to even make that successful. It was a very big disappointment for all the people involved; lots of people lost their jobs, myself included; a few of them even had to leave the cycling scene.
Lotto Silence DS
PEZ: Why go to the US?
I made a lot of approaches to team directors and managers; Mr Mike Tamayo was one of the few that answered me but by then it was the beginning of the season. He said he was interested but had no budget left; nevertheless during the month of July I was contacted again by him and I got invited to come and see the working of his team in the States during the Colorado Classic. It was a very nice meeting, and Mike convinced me to join the team for the remainder of the season and for the year after; it resulted in a seven year working relationship with him until the end of sponsorship of UnitedHealthcare.
With UnitedHealth Care
PEZ: Tell us about your time at UnitedHealth Care.
I loved the time I spent there, it made me aware of all the work that was necessary to make a team work, as he made me responsible for the whole set-up of the team in Europe. I did not have any assistance in Europe, no secretary or additional help as there was no extra budget for that. Nevertheless he told me to set up a Service Course, finding a location, creating a company that could do all invoicing, managing the import of the bikes, recruiting staff to work with me, organising all the housing for our team, obtaining all the race invitations through my extended network of contacts, all transport – cars, trains, planes. . . Arranging everything so we could have a complete program in Europe with the team, all whilst working as director sportif. Those were very long days – a very big learning process, but I loved it all the way.
Dimension Data, then NTT, now Qhubeka Assos in 2021
PEZ: Then back to Europe with NTT, this must have been a nervous year for you until Assos came along to co-sponsor the team?
Indeed, it was a nervous winter, but I always believed that Douglas Ryder, our team principal would come with a solution. I knew him already from the times I raced in South-Africa in the 1990’s. Douglas worked his ass off and came finally with a solution. He can be very proud of his achievement.
PEZ: What do you rate as your finest hour on the bike?
The last hour of the Paris-Tours race in 1992, I was going as fast as I wanted that day.
Top win as a DS
PEZ: And your greatest achievement as a DS?
Winning the 13th stage in Montpellier in the Tour de France 2005 with Robbie McEwen. This was when I decided to start chasing a lead-group that had 11 minutes on the peloton as I was convinced McEwen could win. No other team wanted to help as we had a mountain-stage the next day and everyone wanted to conserve energy – until, of course, the last few kilometres where as if by magic everyone found new legs again. I had to convince my guys more than once to continue the chase until the finish but making sure we still had guys to lead out Robbie. But we succeeded, another one of our riders (the lead-out guy) Freddy Rodriguez even got third. It was a magnificent team-result, I would have been ridiculed if we hadn’t achieved this result but I believed in it and wanted it to work.
A very happy Robbie McEwen and Lotto teammates
PEZ: And if you had your time over again?
I would do it the same, but maybe would be a bit more selective in my racing as I raced too much – one year I did 161 races. Much too much. If I had done that then I’m sure I could have won more races, but nevertheless I loved every minute of it – crashes not included though!
Lotto were very happy with the Paris-Tours win
# He’s the real deal, this man, thank you Hendrik and wishing you and the team every success in 2021. #
Ed meets Hendrik