Frankie Andreu Gets PEZ’d!
Frankie Andreu hit the cycling headlines recently with his resignation from his director position with Michael Ball’s Rock Racing team. PEZ caught up with Andreu recently to find out more about his plans for the year ahead and, with a new season just starting, to talk about some racing.
Contributed by Guy Wilson-Roberts
For some commentators, Andreu’s resignation from Rock Racing did not come as too much of a surprise as they pondered his continued involvement with a team manager who was becoming increasingly controversial in his public statements and his choice of new riders. Both Frankie and Rock Racing seem to be amicable about the split and indicate that it was simply not the director’s job that he expected.
It must have been gratifying for Andreu that when he announced his decision, letters pages and cycling forums exploded with messages of support.
For Andreu, though, it left his 2008 calendar somewhat open and PEZ was keen to catch up with him to find out what his plans were to fill in some of the blanks. Most of all, though, we wanted to talk about racing.
Andreu’s pro career as a rider spanned the thrilling but turbulent nineties. He witnessed Greg LeMond’s retirement from racing, the dominance of five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain, and was at the forefront of the new American presence in European racing – first with 7-Eleven, then Motorola, then US Postal to be on hand to help out with the first two of Lance Armstrong’s remarkable comeback Tour victories.
Over those years, he rode just about every race there was, from one-day Classics, to the Grand Tours, the World Championships, and the Olympics. With a new racing season about to start, who better, therefore, to be our guide. In short, given Andreu’s years in the peloton, we thought he would have some ‘cool racing stories’ to share – and we were not disappointed.
Frankie along with his Motorola teammates on the start line at the Tour the day after Fabio Casartelli’s death.
Andreu was assistant team manager with US Postal in 2002 and manager for Schroeder Iron Cycling Team in 2003, before a stint as co-director with Toyota-United until the middle of 2006, then Rock Racing last year. Before talking about his plans for 2008, PEZ wondered if the Rock Racing experience had soured his view of team directing.
“I have not soured on the team director role at all,” Andreu said. “I love it and it’s what I enjoy the most doing. I love working with the athletes and coordinating everything that is needed to run a successful racing program. I like being at the races and when the team wins I get as much enjoyment from it as if I won the race myself. It’s a great feeling and I hope to be able to return to the peloton again.”
For now, though, the year ahead. In 2006, when PEZ last spoke with Andreu, he was working with the Agency for Cycling Ethics (ACE), the Los Angeles-based anti-doping monitoring organization whose goal is to ensure that the sport is being played fairly and ethically.
“As for ACE, I have stepped down from their organization,” he told PEZ. “My role with them was to spread the word about ACE and get their information to as many teams as possible to know that there are ways to protect the teams investment and the sponsors investment. ACE is currently working with Team High Road and Slipstream. I think what these teams are doing by having an outside source do the testing to maintain a clean sport is exceptional. It is a big load for these teams to coordinate this with ACE but hopefully in the end it will pay off.”
Also, Andreu had mentioned in reports recently that his television work would be part of his plans. Or so PEZ thought.
“For starters, my part with the VS Tour group is not decided yet,” he explained. “Every year they have meetings on what they want to accomplish, how they want to accomplish it, and keep within their budget. It’s a huge group that works the Tour and I hope to be a part of it again. I enjoy doing it very much and I hope to return for the 08 Tour and hopefully some other assignments.”
Moreau’s come apart in the Tour? A highlight or badlight?
Andreu certainly did look like he was having fun during last year’s race, and we wondered what the racing highlights were for him.
“There were plenty of highlights and badlights, as I would put it,” he explained. “To see the craziness around the hotels and team bus after some negative news came out was incredible. It was chaos with everyone pushing and shoving all trying to get a sound bite, a word from a rider, or anyone that would speak to the press. The highlights were all around us in almost every stage. Watching Cancellara win in yellow, Robert Hunter’s win, the stage where Soler won in the mountains, Linus Gerdemann’s solo mountain win, the stage when Moreau cracked in the cross winds. Every day is filled with stories and it’s amazing to watch.”
Andreu typically had some great insights to offer at the Tour and, hoping for a sneak preview, we asked him about the parcours for the race this year.
“Honestly, I have not even looked at it,” he confessed to PEZ. “I like to wait until May or June to see who is doing what and see which riders are riding well and riding the Tour. Then I like to look at the course to see who fits in where and who will benefit from each stage. Every year there are always surprises so no matter how well you know the course and who is riding. Someone always comes out of nowhere with a great result.”
Tour director Christian Prudhomme has put his own mark on this year’s Tour with no prologue and one less mountain stage, among other changes. Some commentators have suggested that the Tour will be less taxing and that Prudhomme was responding to criticism that tough stages encourages doping to survive the 3-week Tour.
Andreu finished nine Tours himself, riding every year between 1992 and 2000. PEZ asked him his view on the idea that the Grand Tours need to be shorter and less demanding on riders so as to discourage doping.
“I disagree,” Andreu said. “The riders can handle it – they handle the Giro, the Vuelta, and before that there is the Tour of Switzerland and the Dauphinй. There is a gradual buildup of stage races leading to three weeks, it’s not like all of a sudden twenty-one days is thrown at you. In the end the pace up the mountains might be slower or the average speed for a time trial slower – but so what? The riders make the race not the course. Some of the hardest days for me have been on transition days with only multiple cat 3’s and 4’s. These days there is no rest, no one wants to get dropped, everyone is afraid of a break, and they race flat out from start to end.”
And out of those nine Tours, which one was the hardest and which one the most satisfying?
“Every year changed. In the beginning it was just to finish. It was extremely satisfying to finish my first Tour de France. After accomplishing that, the goals changed to winning a stage. That never happened for me: I got 2nd a bunch of times in different stages but never the win. My last year in 2000, just finishing the Tour was extremely hard. I had to do a lot of work early on and that took a big bite out of my energy during the last week. No matter what, coming into Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower and riding up and down the Champs is the greatest.”
Awwww, that’s what I was looking for.
Oh that too, that’s nice.
When PEZ spoke to Paul Sherwen recently, he said that while the Tour was the biggest and the best, the Giro was more of the aficionados race for the dedicated fans. PEZ asked Andreu what he recalled as being special about riding in the Giro.
“I think the Giro is more hardcore than the Tour, course-wise,” Andreu suggested. “Every day there are mountains – they put mountains right before the finish and the sprints are crazy. It is a special race. In the Tour you have flat days for the sprinters, TT days for the time trialists, mountain days for the climbers, and a few transition days for the all-rounders. The Giro has many days for the all-rounders and again these stages are particularly tough. The Giro also has sometimes worse weather, and steeper climbs which can make watching the race more entertaining.”
Ultimately, though, for Andreu, it was difficult to make the comparison.
“There are always boring days in the Tour – the flat days, the days the break goes up the road and everyone rides tempo. But the Tour is where the pressure really is applied to perform because of the media and the attention it gets from the world. It’s hard to compare anything to the circus that’s called the Tour de France.”
Riding the Grand Tours was tough enough, but PEZ wondered about some of the other races on the calendar. The Classics might only be one-day races, but surely they present their own challenges. What were the toughest one-day races, we asked Andreu, and how did they compare?
Frankie leads Michele Bartoli at the Tour of Flanders.
“I thought the one day races were harder,” he answered. “In the multi-day tours you can pick your days to go for it, and sometimes without knowing it there might be an easy day. In the classics like Roubaix and Flanders it’s a constant battle from the start to the end. Each section of cobbles has its own field sprint to the start of the bricks and then the constant attacks. Add to that the crashes and beating you receive from the constant pounding and I don’t think there is a comparison. In addition, a race like Milan-San Remo is crazy exciting not only to see who wins but to see who gets injured. The race is so fast and on such small roads that every year someone always gets messed up. The same with Gent-Wevelgem. These are probably two of the most dangerous one day races out there.”
Yep, the Kemmelberg is hard.
Andreu rode Paris-Roubaix numerous times, including a top-10 placing in 1994. It was a particularly tough year, even for Paris-Roubaix, with rain and snow and a start temperature reported at 36 degrees Fahrenheit. George Hincapie described the conditions as “brutal”, but it did not stop Andrei Tchmil taking the win for Lotto with a 60 kilometre solo effort. Only 48 of the 191 starters actually finished, so PEZ wanted to know what stood out for Andreu about his ride in 1994.
Ok, so this isn’t ’94, but it was another good performance from Frankie at Paris-Roubaix.
“It was a muddy mess and I had no idea where I was in the standing coming into the final five kilometres,” he said. “There were so many crashes and flats and obstacles that you would pass guys then fall then other guys would pass you. It was impossible to know who was in front of you and who was in back. There were times I would pass a pile up with multiple riders and had no idea who was in it. Then a little later I remember [Gilbert] Duclos-Lasalle riding pass me in his 53×11, flying to get back to the front [he finished 7th, having won it the year before at age 38!]. The motorcycles were crashing it was really a crazy day. In the end I just tried to out sprint my group at the finish and placed, I believe, 8th [9th but, yes, the first in his group]. No matter what, you have to be strong – but the strongest does not always win in Roubaix.”
Specialization in the Classics, or the Grand Tours, or targeting particular races has become more popular in recent years, with only a handful of riders – such as Damiano Cunego and Cadel Evans last year – contesting for the top places in races across the entire season. We asked Andreu what his opinion was on racing all season versus peaking for a couple of key races.
“I don’t think you can race an entire season in top form now,” he said. “Every race is so difficult and fast that you have to pick and choose. If you want to win you have to specialize, you have to train right, and you have to peak at the right time. It’s hard to do the early season, the Classics, the Tours, and then finish up with more Classics wins. The season keeps expanding like with the Tour Down Under and keeps going until late in the season. For a rider, you get more out of winning a race than being consistent all year long. You need those peaks to keep your job.”
But talking of peaks of a different sort, Andreu has ridden the majority of the legendary mountain climbs in Europe and it seemed only fitting to ask him which were some of the toughest climbs and if he had any particular memories attached to them.
“That’s a good question and it varies,” he answered, pondering the comparison. “Whenever a climb came at the start of the stage it was a nightmare. I can remember after finishing Alpe d’Huez that the next day we started up the Galibier. Anyone that was dropped here would be eliminated from the race because of the time cut. I was so tired but we had to go as hard as we could up the entire climb. It took forever and it was a full sufferfest.”
Andreu was also present when a fellow American triumphed on the legendary climb in 1992. But the way Andreu tells the story, it was not quite so glamorous for him.
Yay for Andy, but Frankie still had over 40 minutes of climbing to go.
“I also remember the time Andy Hampsten won Alpe d’Huez,” Andreu recounted. “I had done some work beforehand but we had to go over something like two category 1 climbs, and 1 HC climb before we reached the bottom of Alpe d’Huez. I was wasted and barely riding when right at the bottom of the climb the fans on the side of the road were cheering me on and yelling at me that Andy had won. I remember thinking, ‘Who the hell cares – I still have to climb this thing!'”
He never rated himself as a pure climber, but was often expected to work hard in the mountains for a team leader or for a stage win. But as Andreu tells it, there were ways to ride smart.
“When you’re not a good climber, you live the mountain days to survive,” he explained. “Many times I remember the climbers and flatlanders would all get on the front at the start of some big climb and try to block the road to prevent any little Colombians from attacking. We would yell at the front line, move left or move right, to make sure that every inch of pavement was blocked. Eventually the little climber guys would get through and all hell would break loose, but before that we had already started our survival tactics.”
And the toughest day in the mountains?
Frankie’s day started with a full-on slaying of the first climb…
“My hardest mountain stage was a stage to Briancon in the 2000 Tour. The stage was long, like 260 km [officially 249.5 km, but still unusually long] and we did about 60-80 kms in the valley before we hit the first of about four climbs. My job was to set tempo up the first climb as hard as I could until I blew. The problem this day was that it was a screaming head wind so it was easy to sit on. The team didn’t want any break to go up the road so early in the stage so I flogged myself on the front breaking the wind while everyone else sat on. Right near the top the attacks started and I was shelled immediately. The grupetto went by me at race speed while I was at explosion speed. I had to give everything to get back on and stick with the grupetto. The sad part was that I still had about 170km of racing left and it never got better for me.
“When I got back to the room I just fell on my bed and laid there in my cycling clothes for like an hour. I couldn’t move to even get undressed or get in the shower. That was one very long, long, hard day.”
And finished a LOOONG time later after Lance and Pantani had their showdown.
Andreu rode as a professional for twelve years, retiring at the end of 2000, and PEZ has no doubt that there were many other days that were long and hard – that would make for great stories. But there had to be something that kept him going and we asked him what it was that motivated him to stay riding for so many years.
“I enjoyed racing very much and the team atmosphere,” he answered. “Some of the best days were training with my friends and riding in the mountains for five or six hours in the middle of nowhere. No cars around, just talking about everything while riding. We had many days like these and I appreciate them more now than I did then.”
PEZ is grateful to Frankie for taking the time for an update on his plans for 2008, as well as sharing some cool racing stories with us. With a bit of luck we will see him at the Tour de France this year for more of his insights, commentary, and story-telling.