Scinto blog: What makes a good directeur sportif

Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli manager Luca Scinto with Giro della Romagna winner Oscar Gatto.

Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli manager Luca Scinto with Giro della Romagna winner Oscar Gatto. (Image credit: Sirotti)

Ciao a tutti, hello everyone,

Thanks for clicking on my first ever blog for Cyclingnews. I'm flattered that people might be interested in what have to say and hope what I write each time is interesting. Please let m know what you think.

I'm not part of a big budget WorldTour team but will try to give you a true inside view from the directeur sportif's point of view. Modern cycling seems to be all about points, breakaway leagues, commissions and doping scandals but I hope to show you that passion, hard work and a lot of suffering are still what makes cycling special.

I've thought long and hard about what I want to say in my first blog. I could have lamented about the difficultly of finding sponsors, complained about how our poor our sport is governed or explained why I'm against the idea of a Champions League style structure in cycling. But I'm an eternal optimist and love my job and love cycling, so I'm going to talk about something much more closer to my heart: my riders and my relationship with them.

I'm convinced it's a vital aspect of any success and is definitely more important than anything a dodgy doctor or coach can give a rider.

A good directeur sportif has to work hard to understand their riders. It's not easy because there's often a generation gap and it takes time and effort to build a special relationship. But when you work together and then pull off a big win, it's always worth it.

I've been criticised for eating at the same table as my riders. But I do it to understand how they're feeling. If someone is not eating or there's a bad atmosphere at the rider's table, I can spot it and then get to the bottom of it by talking to them. A directeur can't just sit in the car and call the tactics. The riders need to understand they've got a friend in the team car, not an enemy.

I use the carrot and the stick method. Some riders need shouting at, while others need a hug and convincing that they can win.

Some directeur sportif send out the daily race schedule via email and have little contact with their riders. I make an effort to visit my riders in their room every evening, to encourage them, to talk to them about the next stage but most of all to make sure they know I care about them.

Unfortunately riders think more and more about themselves and less and less about the people who help them and support them. Points have become more important than people and a lot of directeur sportif don't care enough to make the effort to build a good relationship with their riders.

I supervise all my riders' training and speak to them all on the phone. I follow training rides on a scooter and visit them at home and arrange special training camps. I'm happy to do that extra bit if the rider is willing to do their part.

When I first became a directeur sportif, my mentor and a key role model Giancarlo Ferretti, warned me about getting too attached to my riders. He was right but there's nothing I can do about it.

Yet our results during 2012 proved it's worth investing time and emotions. When Matteo Rabottini won the mountain stage of the Giro d'Italia to Pian dei Resinelli, he hugged me and said 'We did it! You were right!". Hearing him say 'we' filled me with joy. It proved that all the work –both physiological and psychological, was worth it.

Andrea Guardini's stage win at the Giro d'Italia was an emotional moment too, even if he's since decided to move to Astana for 2013.

I suspected he was going to leave the team and could have let him quit the Giro when he was struggling in the mountains. Instead I shouted at him and cajoled him to fight on, knowing he could win stage 18 in Vedelago. When he beat Cavendish it was a huge moment for all of us.

We couldn't match the offer from Astana but I wish him all the best, even if I'm convinced he'd have done better with us in 2013.

I think the fans like my team because of the way we race. We get stuck, we fire up the race. We don't sit back and wait for the selection, we go for it, take a few risks but race with our hearts. That's how we managed to take on and often beat the biggest teams in the peloton, even if we've only got a fraction of the budget of some WorldTour teams. Oscar Gatto beat Contador in the Giro d'Italia in 2010, Guardini beats Cavendish this year and Rabottini held off Rodriguez to win. We targeted all those victories very carefully and pulled them off.

I think that perfectly shows what we can achieve and bring to a big race like the Giro d'Italia, even if we're a relatively small team. I just hope RCS Sport give us a chance to do it all again in 2013.

Happy holidays to everyone!

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Luca Scinto is the directeur sportif at the Farnese Vini-Selle Italia team. He raced as a professional between 1994 and 2002, sacrificing much of his own career to work as a dedicated domestique for Michele Bartoli and Paolo Bettini.

Scinto comes from near Pistoia, the centre of Tuscany cycling. He is passionate about cycling, loves being a directeur sportif and is not afraid to speak his mind.