A lot has changed in recent years in the field of training professional cyclists. Nowadays every team is looking for the smallest possible advantages: the marginal gains. Even the tiniest details can influence a racer’s performance. In an interview with outgoing head coach at Team Sunweb, Adriaan Helmantel, we talk about the changes that have taken place in the team in recent years.

How did you get into the world of bike racing?

“I’ve been involved in the sport since I was 15 years old. I used to play football, but around the same time Miguel Indurain was consistently winning the Tour de France, my cousins infected me with the bike racing bug. I joined Cycling Team Jo Piels. I eventually rode at continental level; just below professional. Despite the fact I never managed to reach the highest level as a cyclist, I had years of pleasure being involved in the sport and got to see how it worked from the inside out. I studied professional fitness training and exercise science at the same time. I set up my own company and coached skaters, inline skaters and cyclists. I ended up working for the Royal Dutch Cycling Union (KNWU) and from there I moved to the Argos–Shimano team.”

Adriaan Helmantel Team Sunweb

Adriaan Helmantel. Credit: Team Sunweb

Adriaan Helmantel, from coach to head trainer

“I joined Argos–Shimano as a trainer for the men’s team. I was responsible for a group of 28 riders. I began general training duties, but these soon evolved into specific training programmes for races. I was eventually made team coach for numerous races. It soon became clear to me that true progress couldn’t really be made with just one trainer for such a large group. Several new trainers have since been employed by the team, and I have become part of the trainers group. My position has evolved into one which involves a lot more more coordination.”

How has this influenced your day job?

“My job has changed considerably. I now train far fewer individual riders: from 28 to (ultimately) 4. I’m also more involved in setting out the overarching training programme. As head coach I’m also a member of the performance team, a team of experts from various disciplines who work together to get the best out of the riders. I am also responsible for the various training camps. I find it really interesting to be involved in the ‘when, where and who’, as well as the preparation and the content of the training camps.”

Team Sunweb training

Team Sunweb on a training camp.

What are the biggest recent changes in the way riders are trained?

“You need more than one trainer for 28 riders in order to be able to deliver quality. Luckily, Team Sunweb realised this early on and began changing the system immediately. The team of coaches was expanded. By lowering the number of riders per coach we can concentrate more on extracting the full potential of each rider. This has meant that the team has grown in a number of ways. Also, at the end of each season we analyse what can be improved or changed in terms of our approach to helping the riders. For example, altitude training has become increasingly important for Team Sunweb riders as a preparation for major races.”

“We prefer to keep everything to ourselves within the Team Sunweb coach group. Some teams allow riders to have an individual coach. We keep everything in the group. This shortens the lines of communications between coaches, riders and the team. We can also therefore more easily adapt the training method, programme or nutrition for everyone. This also reduces the chance of misunderstanding. External trainers don’t know exactly what’s going on within the team and the team has less grasp of what the riders are going through.”

What makes Team Sunweb so special?

“Team Sunweb’s strength lies in the close cooperation that happens between all the different disciplines within the team. We call our team the ‘performance team’. We work together on a performance plan for both the team and the individual riders. The focus is not just on training but also includes nutrition, bikes and other equipment, for example. The approach is very integrated and our aim is to best help the rider in all aspects of his or her sport.”

Are you interested in other Team Sunweb riders? We also recently spoke to (former Team Sunweb) professional rider Simon Geschke. (See: The person behind the rider: 8 questions for… Simon Geschke)