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Father and son (2/2)

Hennie and Tom Stamsnijder. Father and son. Hennie became the first Dutchman to win the cyclo cross world championship in 1981 and rode the Tour de France in 1981 and 1982. He works as a marketing manager for Shimano in the Netherlands. His son Tom followed in his footsteps and at 30 years of age is still a professional road racer with Team Giant-Alpecin. We asked the Stamsnijders to join us for a friendly face off. Here’s the second instalment of two.

What’s the next big technological innovation that’s going to impact road racing?

Hennie: The disc brake. It’s going to affect road racing in all conditions, not just on descents, because it gives you greater braking power. Unlike rim brakes, disc brakes respond immediately.

Tom: The cycling world is extremely conservative. It doesn’t really like change. But when they see a company like Shimano come up with something new, they realize that the company has really made an effort to understand what matters to cyclists. An innovation’s success depends on what people want. At first they’re always sceptical, because ‘new’ is always scary. But as soon as cyclists try out something new, they’re sold. Immediately. And they believe in it immediately too. That’s the power of new developments.

If you were to organize a cycling race, what would you change to make racing more interesting?

Hennie: What would be useful is fewer moves. We had plenty of moves in my time, but nothing like the ones today. Nowadays, it’s the towns that pay the most that are likely to get a stage. And if that happens to be 400 km down the road, then so be it, throw the racers onto a bus. That needs to change because it’s not sustainable.

Tom: Well, I think that part of the problem is that you’re often riding stages that are 200 -250 km long. But my experience in the Grand Tours is that 150 km stages are much more interesting. Shorter stages would be more exciting for the spectators because there would be more action. But it shouldn’t become so extreme and so hard that it paralyzes riders.

Hennie: Indeed, you can shorten the distances. Riders will adapt to that and the stages would be more dynamic. But if you make stages short and heavy, and then expect the riders to relocate 400 km up the road, they won’t get any rest time. They need time to recuperate. So if they return at 5 PM, because that’s usually prime time television, they should actually be lying in their beds in the hotel within the next hour.

Tom: Organizers simply need to focus more how to make it exciting, and they shouldn’t think that extreme is always more exciting, because it’s not. Some people aren’t into the sprints, for example, but if you see how they can film things these days, by putting cameras under the bikes, I guarantee it would keep you glued to your chair. If you can implement that across the whole race, especially during important moments, then you’ll see the tactics that are being used in a race much better, how important positioning is, for example, why someone chooses to be where he is. I think there’s a lot of room for progress in that sense. 

Do you feel a certain pressure to keep up with social media, Tom?

Tom: No, I wouldn’t call it pressure. But I have noticed that if you’re going to do something, do it well. You see a lot of people do it half-heartedly. I did it really professionally for a while and had someone who helped me out with it, and you notice then that people really appreciate it. Social is an extra tool for interacting with your fans. It can also be used to verify truths. For example, if someone’s words have been twisted or taken out of context after an interview. Then social media is an easy way for a rider to respond and defend himself.

Hennie: But social media can be a dangerous thing for sponsors. Because there are many racers out there who don’t consider the consequences of a Tweet or a post on Facebook. Lots of things can go wrong. So sponsors are a bit wary of social media. A bad Tweet or a photo used in the wrong way can have serious consequences. 

Last question: could a winner of the Tour de France in the 1960s, 70s or 80s be able to win a Tour de France today?

Tom: As long as they don’t know what it was like then and what it is like now.

Hennie: Everyone adapts themselves to the situation. So those riders would have to adapt themselves to the way things are now. It’s easier to move from nothing to something than the other way around. Moving from nothing to something is a gradual process, but moving from something to nothing is a really difficult process. But, you know, every period has its champion, and that’s never going to change.

Tom: Racers in physically top condition surface during each period, who have the same weapons at their disposal as other racers. These same riders would be able to compete today, as long as they had the same knowledge as today and were able to use it. I’m thinking of all the scientific advances we have, in terms of nutrition and the scientific approach to training. Yes, then I think they could definitely compete today. 

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