Inside the Life of Specialized’s Team Liaison at the Tour de France
Words & Images by James Startt
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“I just knew that if I could get back on a Specialized it would make a difference,” Mark Cavendish said just before the start of this year’s Tour de France in Brest. “And that is a huge reason why I came back to Deceuninck–Quick-Step.”
While Cavendish is experiencing nothing less than a renaissance in this year’s Tour de France, he is far from alone singing the praises of the iconic American brand these days. And while the California-based company may sponsor two teams here, many more riders here are wearing their shoes or riding their saddles.
“One of the things that is most satisfying for me is when a rider that is not on one of our teams comes up and asks me to sponsor them simply because they like the product, Gianpaolo Mondini, team liaison with Specialized says. “It’s not about money. We simply provide product. All of the riders wearing our shoes came and asked. If they are wearing our shoes it’s because they want to wear our shoes.”
Mondini, a former professional, who has worked with Specialized for the past 11 years, has seen the presence of the company grow within the peloton. And part of the reason for such growth is due to the relationships that Mondini has built as the Specialized team liaison. “Confidence takes a long time to build up,” Mondini says. “And it can be broken very quickly.”
In order to maintain such a tight relationship, Mondini, along with his colleague Leo Menville, spend 180 days a year on the road. “From the first team training camps, to the wind tunnel testing to the races we are present,” says Menville. “It is crucial for the confidence.”
“We are in the middle of the relationship between the teams and the company,” Mondini says. “Anything that is related to the teams in terms of supply of material goes through us. But also we are responsible that all of our material is well represented, is functional and is used in the right way. We are not talking just about bikes. We are talking about shoes, helmets, saddles, tires, you name it.”
“We work with R and D department at Specialized but also with the performance directors of teams, sometimes giving suggestions or communicating feedback to our people.”
“Specialized really listens to us,” says Ricardo Scheidecker, performance director at Deceuninck–Quick-Step. “But one thing I appreciate is that they are very proactive. That really helps solving problems or improving. We can always do better, and Specialized very much believes this. They are always trying to improve as well. The relationship is great. There is a lot of trust. And that is fundamental for the relationship.”
According to Mondini, the role of team liaison is not limited to Specialized sponsored teams. “Our job is also to monitor cycling in general. We need to be aware of what is going on everywhere, not just with our teams, but with others. What are the trends. Where riders may be going the next year. We need to report to California and give them the big picture.”
It was by keeping an eye on the big picture that Mondini understood there was still potential in Cavendish, despite a long series of setbacks in recent years. “Mondo gave me the belief more than anybody that I was still good,” Cavendish said. And while Cavendish was on the verge of retiring last year, Mondini sent him a new bike to test. And the exchange proved to be the basis for Cavendish returning to Deceuninck in 2021.
“I couldn’t get properly comfortable on a bike since I’ve left Specialized,” Cavendish recalls. “People thought I was crazy, but I just knew that if I could get back on a Specialized it would make a difference. So I asked Gianpaolo to send me a bike just to see how many watts I could do. And as soon as I got it I had the best 20-minute power output. I went out the next day and had the best five-minute power output ride. I went out the next day and I had the best sprint I had had in years. Watts are watts. That is a huge reason why I came back to Specialized. I was just so comfortable on it that I was able to produce watts.”
While Mondini is proud of the longterm relationship he has developed with Cavendish, not to mention the fruits it has produced this year, he is quick to point out that the British rider is not the exception.
“One of the most satisfying things for us is when a rider comes to us and asks which teams we will work with the next year because the want to sign to a Specialized team. That happens a lot right now and it is really satisfying,” Mondini says. “A number of riders have even come up to me and said, ‘I don’t understand, why is it that on any downhill I see only Specialized bikes at the front? Your bikes have to be faster!’”
Mondini, who rode for both Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong, actually returned to university after ending his career and earned a doctorate in psychology. “The doctorate along with being a professional combined to really help,” he explains. “It’s important to understand the needs and rhythms of cyclists. You know how to approach riders in the right way.”
With Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck–Quick-Step, Specialized has two full teams in this year’s Tour. But while the eight riders on each team ride Specialized shoes, there are actually more than 40 riders in the race with Specialized shoes.
“In addition to the quality of the product, there is also our own follow up,” adds Menville. “The riders know that if anything happens or if they have a special need, we will take care of it in a couple of days.”
“There are races every day and you have to know what happens in all of the races, who wins if someone crashes, you name it,” explains Mondini. “And then the company is always evolving so you need to keep up with that too.”
“We have daily challenges. We have morning challenges. We have lunchtime challenges and we have afternoon challenges,” Mondini adds with a gentle laugh.
But it is clear that Mondini, like Menville, thrive on such challenges. And that is just one of the reasons for the consistent success of Specialized products here in the Tour.