November 20, 1997
Heiko Salzwedel has been dumped as the National Road Coach after 7 years.
That is the fact that
emerged from a meeting in Sydney today. The ex-track coach Shayne Bannon
will replace him in the top job in Road Cycling.
The background and interpretation is however significantly more complicated. It is a fairly complex web of jealousies, political rivalries, perhaps some national antagonism, and probably positioning between track and road interests.
Salzwedel held two positions. The honorary National Road Coach title at the behest of the Australian Cycling Federation (now called Cycling Australia the administrative body) and the Head Road Coach with the Australian Institute of Sport (a body funded by the Australian Government and concerned with developing and coaching).
The official press release makes it clear that it is the first position he has lost and the second is subject to a contract with 3 years to run. This contract has not been cancelled.
One of the rumours is that the Head Coach of the Track Program, Charlie Walsh is keen to be the overall cycling coach for Australia. A press report this morning from AAP says that Charlie denies any motivation in that regard.
Informed sources have told me that there has been pressure on the ACF to get rid of Heiko long before any hint that the costs for the road team were over budget. The AIS has suspended the road program in October (which saw the Giant-AIS team abandoned and several Australian road riders scrapped and out of work) on the pretext that the budget had blown out. But the animosity and bad grace towards Heiko was well known in cycling long before this.
When the road program that Salzwedel had developed, with little help from sponsors in Australia and perhaps officials, was threatened, he sought new sponsors at least save part of the team he had spent so much time putting together. He secured a deal with the American car manufacturer, Saturn to take on some of his team.
But then the ACF/AIS delayed making any official decisions for some weeks. Finally, they decided on a modified arrangement which cost at least 2 riders their jobs, in comparison to the arrangement that Heiko had tentatively negotiated.
The other agenda appears to be rivalries among the coaches. An official reason given is that Salzwedel did not have the support of other coaches in Australia and that he would not communicate with them. Salzwedel denies this of-course. Other sources also debunk the claims.
Bannan's take-over of the position has been seen by several road riders that I have spoken to tonight as the "inevitable takeover by the track interests of road racing". Shayne Bannan was the ex endurance coach in the track program.
Salzwedel is reported to be livid but for the record says he "will work within the structure set" (unofficial source rather than direct quote).
Salzwedel has been a fairly constant critic of the powers of Australian cycling. The interpretation that the road riding fraternity has placed on this is that he has been a very dynamic and forward looking coach who met with bureaucratic resistance. He certainly has developed road riding in Australia. Some of his prodigies are now matching it on the world stage with the best riders.
Leading race promoter Phill Bates was highly critical of the move today in a press release. He is a strong supporter of Salzwedel and recognises, where others do not, the contribution that Salzwedel has made to road riding in Australia.
It appears that the move came after a meeting of coaches sent a message to Cycling Australia to dump Salzwedel. He was apparently not consulted and said so in official statements today.
Bannan has been the national road coach before (with little success to show), then went to Adelaide to work as assistant to Charlie Walsh in the Track Program. Recently he has been working under Salzwedel with the under-23 team which is largely based in Italy during the racing season. Several bright prospects are in that team.
The riders I have spoken to since the announcement today are appalled by the decision. They believe it will further entrench the divisions that are now clear in Australian cycling. It is divided across track and road. Across states, across administrators and riders. They say there is very little effective promotion of the sport going on and riders are frustrated by the abandonment of the road program. Salzwedel, they say, was a creative, energetic, visionary coach who had the respect of the rider's if not the track coaches and the bureaucrats. When it is the riders who ride the bikes, which respect is more important?
This is a sad day in Australian cycling. And by the way, I still haven't received the full results from the National Championships held nearly two weeks ago!