PEZ Talk: Brian Vandborg
Interview: Brian Vandborg retired at the end of 2013 after a career that saw him compete for CSC (twice), Discovery Channel, GLS, Liquigas-Doimo, SpiderTech and Cannondale. Two teams folded and a season was ruined due to mononucleosis, but he was a strong team rider to the end. Ed Hood found out more about the man from Snejdjberg.
Al Hamilton reported it thus in EuroTrash at the end of 2013:
Vandborg to Retire
Double Danish elite time trial champion (and also twice champion at U23 level); Brian Vandborg has announced his retirement at the age of 32 due to not receiving any offers from teams for 2014. The Dane turned professional in 2004 for CSC before moving to Discovery Channel for the 2007 season. In 2008 he had to step down a level to Team GLS before going to Liquigas for two years. 2011 saw him back with Bjarne Riis at Saxo Bank-SunGard, a year with Spider Tech-C10 then this year with Cannondale. Vandborg said to veloropa.dk: “I would have liked to have ridden on for another year or two but the spark is not really there at the moment and eventually I felt like I’d had my time.”
As a man who used to give us the low down from races as diverse as San Luis and Catalonia we thought we’d catch up with him to see how retirement is treating him:
PEZ: How did you first get into cycling, Brian?
I casually started riding my bike around the age of 15, but only during the summer when the Tour was on TV – and Bjarne Riis was doing well. I did lots of other sports but when I was 18 I decided to join a local club and get a license to race.
PEZ: Tell us about your amateur career and palmarès.
I immediately started winning and kept moving up through the categories and after a year of riding I was fourth at the U23 national TT, then I joined the national team and won the next two national U23 TTs and also made the podium in the road races. Internationally I was in third at the Rundt um den Henninger Turm and I was third at national senior TT championships.
PEZ: How did you get the ride at CSC?
The last couple of results mentioned helped getting me a contract with CSC, but also DCU (the Danish Cycling Federation) talked with him and suggested that Bjarne should sign with me). I didn’t really have to do anything.
PEZ: Disco and Johan – was there a big change in the mentality of the two teams – why move?
Bjarne was all about teamwork and team building camps. Johan didn’t do anything specific in that sense. However, the spirit was still good in the team. So honestly I didn’t feel that it was too different. The move simply happened because I didn’t get my contract renewed with CSC – and Discovery was a massively impressive team, so the decision to sign with them wasn’t that hard.
PEZ: Then GLS, a move backwards, was it hard to handle?
It was a bit hard to handle when Discovery folded. I searched long and hard to find a Pro Tour or Pro-Conti team but it didn’t happen. And although GLS (being a Conti team) wasn’t what I hoped for, they still allowed be me to live abroad and travel to races. There was a great atmosphere on the team, but I had a hard time being motivated for the races.
PEZ: Liquigas and back to the top rung – how did you get that ride?
Ivan Basso called me up out of the blue. He said he always appreciated my work at CSC and that he felt I deserved another shot at the big leagues. I didn’t think twice.
PEZ: Then Bjarne again at Saxo…
Yeah, well, I had been super happy riding for Liquigas and it was the first time in my career that my race program didn’t change every other week. But the offer from Saxo was better and with Alberto on the team, a victory in the TDF seemed almost certain. And Bjarne seemed to have plans for me in the Tour, so being on a Danish team, riding/winning it seemed like the chance of a lifetime . . .
PEZ: Spidertech – that must have been disappointing, with the team ending prematurely?
Yeah it was super disappointing. We had done some good races and the atmosphere was the best I’d ever experienced. Like with Discovery I still had a contract (for two years in fact), and it was really hard to once again having a team folding on me.
PEZ: Then Cannondale; like coming home?
Well, the folding of Spidertech happened really late, and Cannondale was the first team I contacted and luckily they still had a spot left; there were never any hard feelings from me leaving after 2010.
PEZ: You were Danish TT champion in 2013 but quit at the end of that year – why?
It’s always good to go out with a bang, right!? Well, I thought I had a pretty good year, but still had a hard time getting a contract. And it gave me some time to reflect. In fact I hadn’t enjoyed cycling as much the last couple of years, the uncertainty was annoying and quite frankly I hated always being treated like a little kid who didn’t know how to take care of himself. People watching what you eat, how fat/lean you are etc. It really got to me. I think that if people have made it this far, then it is obviously because they are doing the right things. Obviously talent is a big part of it – and I understand that some people need more control than others, but generally I found that directors and staff were really poor at looking at the individual rider.
PEZ: What was your last race and did you know it would be your last race?
The last race was the Gran Premio Bruno Beghelli – and I knew it was the last one. I really wanted to do well in the last Italian races of the season. Especially to prove that not being selected for the Worlds was a big mistake (which it was!) but I missed some of the late season because of illness, and I was in bed with fever until the morning before that last race – so I probably shouldn’t have ridden…
PEZ: Four Tours, two Giros and a Vuelta – the best and worst memories of those, please?
Well, I honestly don’t have many good memories from either the Giro or the Vuelta. One year at the Giro I got sick and abandoned – the other year Ivan was in Pink two weeks into the race and was going to win it – then he got sick. I did the Vuelta in my first year as a pro, and whilst of course it’s great to get to do that, I suffered most days. The Tours – the greatest memories are from the first two years. As with the Vuelta, the first Tour is mind-blowing. The first week I was enjoying racing and all the fuzz – then of course things got more serious and the pain took over! Pellizotti won the polka dot jersey and Nibali and Kreuziger in top 10 I think. The year after, I made it into the decisive breakaway after two hours of racing (100km) on that now famous stage where Andy Schleck dropped his chain. Voeckler dropped us all from the break on that mountain and won. I was caught a few K from the finish by the Contador group and finished 10th. And in 2013 winning the green jersey with Sagan (especially after that stage where we, as a team dropped all the top sprinters). And finally – of course – the finishes in Paris – goose bumps all four times.
PEZ: Who impressed you most as a rider and as a DS during your career?
Ooh, there are so many. And I would rather list a bunch without getting into why – it would take too long. And I’m mentioning only teammates and disregarding that some later admitted to cheating – more looking at how professional and determined they were. Cancellara, O’Grady, Voigt, Leipheimer, Sagan, Nibali…
Of DS’s I’d say Kim Andersen (for analyzing the races and knowledge of the course), Gallopin (similar traits – but better at speaking with the riders) and Stefano Zanatta.
PEZ: What was the proudest moment of your career?
Fourth place at Worlds TT in 2006, followed by winning stages in the Tour of Georgia and Tour de l’Ain. Winning the (unofficial Worlds?) – TTT Eindhoven Chrono with CSC in 2006. Then the national championship TT wins and finishing the Tour. Also of course the Beijing Olympics – but I don’t know how to rank that, because it is obviously huge to get to do it, but I didn’t perform at all!
PEZ: Do you sometimes wish you had been on teams which made a real science of your strength, the chrono – Garmin maybe?
Oh yes! It’s funny that even though I was one of the best in the world during my first years, I hardly ever had my TT bike to train on. And the few attempts that were made looking at my TT position was so half-hearted.
PEZ: Do you still ride the bike – and follow the sport?
I had been riding a bit up until September last year for work (training various companies) and I’ll start a bit again in April doing the same. I haven’t missed riding during the winter in Denmark to be honest; I run instead.
PEZ: What do you miss most about the pro life?
The simplicity I guess. Yes, it is hard work, really hard work. But it is also all you have to do. You train five hours and then you aren’t expected to do anything else; in fact, if you’re not lying in bed with your legs up, you’re not being a serious pro! People often ask me if I don’t miss the races, if I don’t miss the Tour. Now, yes, I’m still following cycling – I still love it. It’s just not for me anymore.
The only races last year that I missed while watching them on TV were Strade Bianche (I’ve only done it once, but it’s a fun and beautiful race) and the Tour of California; I always felt good there, I have a strong connection to it and always did well.
PEZ: Tell us about going back to school, please.
There are several reasons for going back to school. I didn’t want to be one of those guys who had no plan after stopping their career, I didn’t want to be a DS, and I didn’t want to work full time with cycling related matters. The last part is not because I wouldn’t find it fun, but because I felt that I owed it to myself to broaden my horizons and not just do the “easiest thing” – the thing I knew how to do and not think too long or hard of how to do it. So I applied for the program that attracts the brightest people (based on grades, that is) and luckily for me only 60% get in on their grades. The rest are international students or students like me who (apparently) wrote an interesting essay. The program is called International Business and takes place at Copenhagen Business School. It is super interesting and I learn a lot every day. I probably spend 50 hours per week on school stuff and still most of these kids in their early 20’s are kicking my butt.
PEZ: Any regrets about your career?
Well, one should never look back with too much regret. However! Of course I would have liked my career to have been without the folding of Disco and SpiderTech – but that was out of my hands. As was not being selected for Worlds 2013 – and that is probably was hurts the most, not being able to finish off having done the Worlds TT. And I’m sure I would have gone top 10, but hey, I can’t prove that. About things that I could have done differently, I guess I could have trained a bit more, but who couldn’t. And I regret not having gone two-seconds faster to take the bronze in 2006 in the Worlds TT. Overall, I am, however, very pleased with my career, I got to do all the big races I ever dreamed of – I even won a few. And to finish off on a sentimental note – I even made a few friends for life.
# We wish Brian well on his new path in life; another of those ‘good guys.’ #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.