Columbia DS Brian Holm Gets PEZ’d!
If Mark Cavendish is prepared to anoint him as the ‘coolest man in cycling’, well … you can assume our next interviewee probably is! Once one of the sport’s top domestiques, Brian Holm is now a DS with the Columbia squad. PEZ got to talk racing, learning, fashion and money with him in Majorca.
I first got to speak to Brian Holm at the Tour of Britain back in 2005, and on every subsequent meeting he’s been a fascinating interviewee and a nice guy to boot. I started off by asking the simplest question: after such an astonishing run of success in 2008 – how do you top that?
Brian: I promise you that when Mark (Cavendish) won his third stage of the Tour, I’d already started to think about it. One day, I forgot to switch off the radio … the riders were already in the bus but they could hear us.
Brian Holm chats with co-director Rolf Aldag.
I said to Aldag in the car: What the **** are we gonna do next year?!? So it’s an extremely good question!! Taking more than 85 wins, we have to be honest, is going to be a bit difficult. I don’t think that will happen two years in a row. I think to win some bigger races like Liege-Bastogne-Liege instead of Fleche Wallone would be good.
Fleche-Wallone was fantastic (won in ’08 by Kim Kirchen), but you always take a risk to move focus from Fleche to Liege. You could end up with nothing, but I think we’re ready to do it now, and I think we have the team to do it.
To win less, but bigger …. we have to move our goals a little bit.
PEZ: From what I’ve heard, the goals set for the squad seem to be realistic.
Brian: Last year, I think it was nineteen riders won races for the men’s team. Their goals were all realistic. I think it’s important for the riders to be motivated and have good ambitions.
For the young riders, they can try to win ‘smaller races’. For some guys, it’s better to go for Gent-Wevelgem than Tour of Flanders. Start a bit smaller then you can grow.
The riders are so ambitious and they were so focused on winning every single race. Like last year, we went to the Tour of Ireland. Mark (Cavendish) went and won three stages. We were happy with those three wins, and we went to the last stage to try … and what happened the last day? We tried, I knew the climb to Cork, and suddenly Rabon wins the stage and Pinotti wins the GC. Can you imagine?!
No race is too small. Very often, you see it the other way around. Some riders felt that they were too good for the smaller races in the past.
I have to say I love the old T-Mobile team, but sometimes the big guns didn’t give anything for the smaller races. In a TT in something like the Tour of Denmark the best rider would be 46th … it was a bit embarrassing sometimes.
Holm, still chatting, this time with Erik Zabel.
Here … I love when I see the results of a TT and we’ve got three guys in the top ten. Then you’re really proud, trust me! Sometimes when you’re with the young guys or the riders in the ‘second row’ you have more fun as a sports director because they try to win, and the sponsor very often ends up quite satisfied, too.
PEZ: How about Bob Stapleton?
Brian: Bob wants to win … a lot! Ha, ha, ha! Well … in ’06, the T-Mobile team won something like 16 races, and then there were the problems, with the sponsor pulling out. It was a difficult period for everybody.
Bob was working his butt off to make us survive, and, especially in the management, we realised what Bob did for us and for cycling. We survived, so I think everybody is really grateful to Bob.
PEZ: What’s the relationship like between Bob, an American entrepreneur, and the European guys? Is it a strong bond?
Brian: Yes, but it’s extremely different. To be honest, normally, I’d fit into an old-fashioned kind of European team where things aren’t so sophisticated! Ha, ha!
It’s hard being this popular.
With Bob coming in … we have core strength sessions in the morning for the riders. I was like at the start (makes a sort of “50-50” face) … In the end, I realised Kim Kirchen’s back was getting better. He didn’t complain about his back for the first time. We started in the Tour (de France) with the cooling-down systems. That came from the US.
It was a new way of thinking. I was surprised but all the small things he did added up to a lot.
I believe we have a team as clean as a team can be, and we are still winning. I would say Bob, and also Rolf Aldag, can be proud of the job (they’ve done). Aldag just quit cycling competitively and came to this and I have to say he did a good job.
PEZ: Changing tack completely, you have your own sportswear company. How did you get into all of that?
Brian: Well, I started riding my bike back in ’71, and now I have ten suitcases of jerseys for all the years I was riding and racing. I had the woollen trousers, the lot.
Brian Holm put his time into the bike. That’s for sure.
I was really into the clothes … as a kid, maybe in ’75, I started buying the French magazine ‘Cyclisme’, and I still have them all at home. I just loved the clothes. Tell me a rider and I can say what team, what clothes and what shoes he was riding in the ’70s.
I like the ’70s because the riders just look like film stars – sideburns, Ray-Bans! A fantastic period of cycling! I like the bikes, too!
PEZ: And you’re a big fan of the British designer Paul Smith…
Brian: Yeah! You know I’ve made clothes with Paul Smith, cycling gear?
I was with Bjarne Riis in Copenhagen back in 1997 or so … and we saw some Paul Smith shoes for sale. And I said “This is a good price for Paul Smith stuff, I think I’m going to buy these.”
This was ringing a bell with Bjarne. He goes: “I think he wrote me a letter asking for one of my yellow jerseys.”
I was like: “Yes? And? Did you send him one?”
“You *********** …. a letter from Paul Smith and you don’t answer?!” I was so embarrassed! I couldn’t get it out of my head. Soon, we had a yellow jersey on the bus, from Ullrich I think, and I felt so guilty, I found the address for his office on the internet and sent it to him. Then I didn’t think about it anymore.
A while later, he called me! Then we went to race in the UK and myself and my old friend Paul Watson, who was a professional racer, went to see him.
Last year, I asked if he could help me design a jersey with his stripes on it, and he did … and it’s very nice! I like the Paul Smith stuff, I’m a big, big fan!
PEZ: So does it take up a lot of your time, the clothing company?
Brian: I like having the company and besides that, it’s good to have something different from cycling. I like to do something else. I always remember Walter Godefroot having his shop ….
I have to be busy. I always do classes in the winter, computing and so on. Every winter, I make sure I do some updating because being a professional cyclist for 15 years … it’s like coming out of jail after 15 years. You’re behind everything, you have to start from zero.
You have to take your time. If you’ve made a bit of money, you can survive for a few years with that. Start doing classes, then build it up, maybe start a little company. Of course, it can be difficult. For some it goes wrong. Look at Luca Gelfi (The ex-Giro d’Italia stage winner committed suicide aged just 42 the week prior to this interview-Ed).
It’s funny how proud you get when you start to make a little money because when you’re a cyclist the money just comes. Also as a DS, you wouldn’t have a better job in your life … we’re sitting here in the sun!
But the money you make with your little company, even 1000 Euros coming in, it makes you so damn proud!
With thanks to Brian for his time and anecdotes, and Kristy Scrymgeour for the assistance.
Go check out Brian’s stuff here: TempoWear.dk/