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Departure of Slovenia's sports director creates uncertainty ahead of World Championships

Road World Championships Imola 2020 Men Road Race Imola Imola 2582 km 27092020 Primoz Roglic Slovenia Tadej Pogacar Slovenia photo Luca BettiniBettiniPhoto2020
The Slovenia riders at the recent Olympics in Tokyo (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Andrej Hauptman has left the Slovenian National Cycling Team as sports director, effective immediately, according to Slovenian news source Delo.

The change is but one of many that has rocked the national team, with other departures including the team president, Tomaž Grm, as well as its secretary general, and public relations officer, all of which took place in recent months. 

Delo, which broke the news last week, reports that there has been a "behind-the-scenes" electoral battle within the national team that has spanned months, the proceedings of which are yet to be made public. 

Hauptman, who is also a sports director at UAE Team Emirates, has been the coach of the Slovenian national team since 2016, and has thus overseen all of that team’s recent successes, including this year’s Olympic gold medal won by Primož Roglič in Tokyo, and the third place in the Olympic road race by Tadej Pogačar

With the World and European Championships coming up, the departure of Hauptman raises more questions than it answers, though it was long-suspected that Hauptman would abdicate his duties after the Olympics in order to focus on his work at UAE Team Emirates with Pogačar. 

Cyclingnews was able to obtain comments from many Slovenian cyclists, both via text and from on the ground at the Vuelta a España, and among them the reaction to the departure has been mixed.

"It’s shit," Primož Roglič said before stage 5 of the Vuelta. "Obviously we had some nice results with [Hauptman] especially at the end," he said, referring to the Olympics. "But hopefully we can find a solution to replace him."

When asked if he would be riding the World Championships, Roglič remained noncommittal.

Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) confirmed that Hauptman had stepped down because of his obligations to UAE, and said that the added workload of managing the national team was a definite factor in the decision.

"Now it's a hard job to do, being a sports director in our team and also being a technical director in the national team," Polanc said before stage 4 of the Vuelta.

"So instantly he decided that he [would do it] for four years. His mandate then after the Olympics was, maybe it's too much... it's a lot of stress, you know, he's going from race to race and he needs to spend also some time with the family, but we [at team UAE] are all thankful that he is with us and that he will be in the future."

Some riders expressed concern over the status of who would be appointed to Hauptman’s position as coach before the World and European Championships at the end of next month. 

Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Victorious) told Cyclingnews that he was "a bit sad" at the departure.

"I have a good relationship with Andrej and especially now after such great successes," Tratnik said. "It’s quite hard now that the European Championships and the Worlds are coming... so they have to find someone before that. I wasn't in touch [and have heard] nothing because this news came five days ago or something like that. And I was already here [at the Vuelta], so nobody contacted me."

Despite being slated to ride the World Championships, Tratnik confessed that: "Even I don't know who our [new] candidate is, so it's a big mess, I think."

Other riders were less concerned, though they still found the change regrettable. Luka Mezgec (Team BikeExchange) who is also racing Worlds this year, expressed a similar sadness that Hauptman was leaving.

"Andrej was a great team manager, a great coach," Mezgec said. "He obviously had a lot of experience to lead us to some really good results at the Worlds and the Olympics on his own. 

"And we're also great friends. For me, he was the guy who actually opened the door to going from mountain bike to the road, which was at a continental team where he worked at the time. I had a really nice relationship with him, but yeah, I can understand that, with UAE, he is really busy with Tadej. So it's a reasonable decision to just focus more on the team and that's it."

Matej Mohorič, who Cyclingnews also reached out to over text, didn’t seem particularly concerned by the change and its implications for the races at the end of the season either.

"I am still focused to do well in the World Championships and I don't worry too much about who will be the new coach," Mohorič said. "I know from past experience we riders will race like one, like we have always done."

As to who the next Slovenian National Coach will be, nothing definitive has been released yet. The Slovenian Cycling Federation said that a new selection would be made within two weeks of Hauptman’s departure.

Kate Wagner is a Chicago-based writer and critic. Her work on cycling can be found in various publications including ProCycling. Her newsletter, derailleur,  covers cycling in an unconventional, experimental fashion, featuring essays, short stories, multimedia works and illustration.