Riders and teams are back at work ahead of the 2018 pro cycling season. In the latest instalment of the Velon Road to 2018 series, we speak to Rory Sutherland about what it's like to change teams.
Rory Sutherland is 35 years old and has already changed teams three times during a 12-year career but admits moving from Movistar Team to UAE Team Emirates this winter is still causing anxiety.
“It’s a nervous time,” he says. “For most people, in any walk of life, changing jobs, changing house, changing countries creates some anxiety for everyone - and it’s the same for riders.
“You step out of your comfort zone of the team that you know and the people that you know, and all of a sudden you change to another group of people. It doesn’t have to be a difficult step, but it’s a step.”
Sutherland is one of hundreds of professional riders who are currently bedding into new teams following transfers born out of ambition for some and necessity for others.
Sutherland’s case is different to most. He has moved with the joint remit of becoming a mentor for younger riders on the UAE Team Emirates roster and a domestique for fellow new arrival Dan Martin, who has been signed from Quick-Step Floors to lead the team at Grand Tours.
Yet despite being an experienced and exceptional case, Sutherland has to go through the same process of integration as everyone else, which normally starts with meet-and-greets and team-building activities immediately after the end of the season.
“We met up in Milan and in Lugano in Switzerland for a few days,” he adds. “We had a couple of days of meetings and then we went hiking up a mountain, then to a waterpark, a spa and also had a few meals together – that kind of thing. It’s just to get to know people.”
Sutherland speaks Spanish as well as his native Australian-English and is a familiar face to many in the pro peloton, but the majority of UAE Team Emirates’ riders and staff – a large proportion of whom are Italian – are unknown to him.
“I don’t know many of the guys,” he explains. “I signed across with Dan Martin, who I know really well, but the rest of the guys, like the Italians, I really don’t know at all.
“[Alexander] Kristoff and [Sven Erik] Bystrom, two Norwegian guys, came from Katusha and I didn’t know any of those guys either.”
Unfamiliarity between riders and linguistic differences are something UAE Team Emirates tackle head-on as soon as a new rider arrives.
“To share the rooms of hotels in the training camps and at the races with team-mates from different countries is important in order to learn the common languages used in the team,” sports director Marco Marzano says.
“In the first months it is fundamental to know very well the new riders. After this first period, when the new riders become familiar with the team, all the riders are considered in the same way.”
Familiarity between team-mates off the bike has to be supplemented with an even deeper understanding of each other on the bike, but Sutherland insists this type of knowledge comes only with time.
“You can go on training camps with guys, but you are not in the trenches with them,” he says. “Training is a happier, relaxed environment. You need to get into the down and dirty of races to learn who they are as racers.”
The same can be said for getting to know sports directors. Sutherland spent two years working under Philippe Mauduit at Tinkoff-Saxo in 2013 and 2014, but he does not know UAE Team Emirates’ other staff members and a learning process will have to take place over the early months of the season.
The final piece of the integration puzzle is transferring to a new bike. Sutherland has spent the past three years on Canyons but will swap to Colnagos in 2018.
“When you transition to a new team, 99 times out of a 100 you change bikes, clothing and maybe even shoes, and for riders it’s a very big change,” he adds.
“Changing bike is a big challenge. It depends how sensitive you are to change in general, but no matter how perfectly you set up a bike, it’s always different and that’s why it takes time and energy to change.
“Like everything with changing teams, it’s a process.”