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Allan Peiper, who directed Tadej Pogacar to victory in the Tour last year, is forced to sit out this year’s race due to cancer treatment. But he still is very much a part of the team’s Tour defense and has been working extra hours from his home in Belgium to support Pogacar and the entire UAE team.
Words and Images by James Startt
Australian sports director Allan Peiper has made one of the great journeys in the sport of cycling. And from his days racing as a junior in Belgium—where he rented out a bed in an old meat market—to directing Slovenian standout Tadej Pogacar to Tour de France victory last year, Peiper has shown incredible resilience and courage. For the past five years, Peiper has also battled prostate cancer with a variety of treatments. As a result, this year he will not be at the Tour de France, as he decided that he was simply not up for the physical demands of the three-week race.
It was not a decision that came easily for Peiper, but earlier this spring he understood that it was the best decision for both himself and the team. “In March I just thought that the load of racing stress was a bit much for me considering the health circumstances,” Peiper said shortly before the Tour. “I have been through a lot in the last couple of years, and the team management was supportive of that. So we changed my race program but also in a way that would allow me to just focus on the Tour de France.”
Certainly his absence from the race is a blow to Pogacar and the entire UAE Emirates team at the start of this year’s Tour. After all Peiper has earned a reputation as one of the best tacticians in the sport. “We would not have won the Tour last year without Allan,” UAE sports director Joxean Matxin, said flatly before the Tour started. And he would know, having driven with Peiper in the team car last year.
But while Peiper is not at the race physically, he is still very much a part the team, as he is assisting the team from his home in Belgium, putting together PowerPoints for the morning meetings as well as being in constant contact with the team sports directors at the race.
“When Allan said he couldn’t do the Tour this year, we started looking at other options,” team manager Mauro Gianetti added just one day before the Tour started. “Finally I just said, ‘Allan you are going to do the Tour with the team. You may be in Belgium, but you will be part of the Tour team.’”
And so Peiper started working out a plan where he could be of the most assistance from a distance.
“Two years ago already when I was in chemotherapy I was home for six months. But I did all of the PowerPoints for all of the races—the Tour de Suisse, Tour de Romandie, the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. I was busy even though I was at home. But I was just able to work on my own time. This is a little different, but management has the confidence in me and the directors are really appreciative of me doing that because it takes a lot of time and preparation.”
Peiper explains that putting together a PowerPoint presentation for one stage of the Tour de France takes several hours.
“I was working on stage 7 yesterday, which is 248 kilometers long, and that took me about two and half hours,” he explained.
“Most of the teams work on an application called VeloViewer which is a sort of live course tracking,” he continued. “You can adjust things, put in details for extra feeding or the length of the climb. And you can only adjust that from your computer so you really need to do that before the race. The work we do on VeloViewer is essentially what we use in our team meetings on the bus when we preview the stage. So I will go over the whole course on Google Earth and put in additional information into the PowerPoint. For a race that is 250 kilometers long, I might look at Google Earth 500 times, checking out the size of the road, where it might narrow, information like that which is really crucial. And you can get a very good idea of the race route today. All of that might be 15-20 pages of PowerPoint, and then I will add a couple of pages on our objectives of the day and outline each rider’s responsibility.”
And while Peiper may not participate in the team meeting on the bus every morning, he will organize a Zoom call with the sports director before the teams roll out of the hotel before each stage. “That will have to happen pretty early, so that they can to get information into the PowerPoint before they can go to the start,” Peiper adds. “And we will also reconnect after the finish to see what happened during the day, to see what the rider’s impressions are and to look ahead to the next day.”
Peiper insists that he will not be directing the Tour de France from home, but simply offering outside perspective, from what he is seeing as he follows the race. “You know, the directors, like everybody on the Tour, are just so consumed by the race. When you are inside the bubble at the Tour you are not seeing a lot of outside impressions, you are not seeing what is on television. You just don’t have time for that.”
Peiper will of course watch the race on television, but also comb other sources to best anticipate the following days.
“One thing I did last year was that I listened to the podcast from Lance and George Hincapie. I did that every day to the start. It gave me a lot of different perspectives because it is also important to get impressions from people that are not biased, and hearing George and Lance speak, from two guys that were both really good bike riders and both understand racing, well, that gave me an idea of what other teams might be doing or thinking. What stages are coming up and how that might influence the day. It allowed me to say, ‘Look this is what I think will happen, but this could also happen and you have to be prepared.’”
This Wednesday is the much anticipated stage 5 time trial. And it is a stage that he visited and reconned this spring. And according to Peiper, it is a stage that could provide some real surprises. “I didn’t think the time trial course in Laval was going to be much. But in the end there is a lot going on. There is not 500 meters where there is not a round-a-bout, or a corner, an uphill, a down hill. It’s really technical. I spent a day there, and really studied it, and on the basis of my visit, Tadej will go there and see it before the start of the Tour on his way to Brest.”
Peiper admits that winning a second Tour will not come easily. “The biggest challenge for us is our collective experience of riding for a leader, having to defend the lead, and having the confidence in all situations not to panic. We just don’t have the same experience as teams like Ineos or Jumbo Visma,” he says. “Our team has considerably strengthened our team since last year, but we just don’t have the collective experience in the grand tours like some teams.”
But while Pogacar stunned the cycling world with his come-from-behind victory on the penultimate stage last year, Peiper is confident that the Slovenian sensation is well positioned to defend his title this year. “I think Tadej is a better rider. He knows himself better and he knows what he is getting into more than he did a year ago,” Peiper explains. “And he will need that because no one will underestimate him this year.”
If you want to read more on Peiper’s incredible journey in the sport, pick up a copy of our Official Tour de France Guide for an in-depth feature.