There has been no transition in Robert Hunter’s life as he moved from the saddle of his Cervélo bike to the seat of the team car as a directeur sportif for Garmin-Sharp after retiring at the end of fifteen year long pro career. He’s now at the helm of the American-registered squad learning his job alongside Geert van Bondt at the Santos Tour Down Under.
"I wanted to do one more year as a rider", the straight forward 36-year-old South African told Cyclingnews in Adelaide. "But [team manager] Jonathan [Vaughters] wanted to go with younger riders. It worked out fine. It was time to stop. I didn’t go into depression or anything because of not racing or training."
Hunter announced his retirement after riding his last race at the Tour of Britain in mid September. He took the last win of his career on home soil with the overall classification of the inaugural Mzanzi Tour prior to embarking for the Giro d’Italia, a race he’ll work as a directeur sportif as well this year.
"Now I’m filling a void in the team management", he said. "I’m here to make sure there’s no missing link between the riders and the direction of the squad. I get on well with most of the riders. I’ve always thought of my after career. I’ve always wanted to remain in cycling, a sport that I’m really passionate about. But a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to stay involved."
Hunter got involved in management even during his time on the bike, having played an instrumental role in promoting the likes of Daryl Impey and Chris Froome when they were looking for a team to start their career way before they wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France last year. He didn’t only pave the way for them when he became the first South African to win a stage at the Tour de France in 2007.
"With Daryl, I’ve become really really good friends while Chris is more an acquaintance than a friend," he said. "I wouldn’t have put my neck out for him if I didn’t believe he’d become the rider he is now. [Barloworld team manager Claudio] Corti didn’t want to sign him [for the 2008 season] but I told him this guy will finish on the podium of a Grand Tour."
"I’ve always enjoyed helping guys getting opportunities to succeed in cycling", Hunter continued. "From Africa, not everyone has had this opportunity. Daryl and Chris were forced to battle to get into the system because of coming South Africa or Kenya. I’d like to carry on helping South African riders. Although I’ve been living mostly in Europe since 1998 and I’m still based in Switzerland [near the lake of Zug with his wife and two daughters], I’m so passionate about South Africa."
So quickly after his career as a rider, Hunter holds two accreditations from the UCI, as he successfully passed the exams for being an agent and a directeur sportif.