Gabriel Rasch will be one of the men behind Team Sky's Chris Froome at this Vuelta a España, not as a professional rider like he used to be until last April, but as a sports director. The British squad named the Norwegian one of the directors for the Spanish Grand Tour, alongside Dario Cioni and Dan Frost.
This is a new step and perhaps a new little fairytale in the rough and hectic career of the 38-year-old former domestique, who was the oldest rider to make his debut in a WorldTour team in 2008 - at France's Crédit Agricole.
Rasch says he takes cool his new role on the Vuelta, in the same way that he rode his bike. "I am just very calm," he told Cyclingnews. "The Vuelta is definitely an important race where I have been three times as a rider. But I came here to help the team and to learn a lot about my job. I've always been learning a lot during my career."
The former Team Sky cyclist retired from racing after Paris-Roubaix in the spring and started working as a sports director one month later, at the Tour de Romandie.
"Team Sky's management told me about one year ago about the project of switching off," he recalled. "First, I was surprised and I rather expected to race a full season. But I thought it was a nice opportunity to take."
Rasch knows a cyclist must seize the moment, sometimes – or quite often in his case. A former domestique for Ivan Basso at the Italian development team Zalf in 1997, he then went back to Norway. He was briefly a trainee for Team Fakta in 2003, but he mainly rode under an amateur status for seven years and worked as a tile layer. Having no serious contract with a team, he took a long break off the bike in 2004 and focused on his manual work full time. Continental squad Sparenbanken Vest-Ridley hired him in 2005 and he raced the two following years with Maxbo-Bianchi, alongside his fellow countryman Edvald Boasson Hagen, now a rider that he directs at Team Sky.
Another Norwegian has helped Rasch to improve his path was Thor Hushovd, who took him onboard as a teammate for four years with Crédit Agricole, Cervélo and Garmin-Cervélo, and finally asked Marc Madiot to sign his friend at FDJ in 2011.
"I am fortunate to have friends like Thor," Rasch said. "When I joined Crédit Agricole, people saw I was very stable and I could do the WorldTour's level".
These skills and human values certainly helped him to get the offer as a director from Team Sky. "I always keep good relationships with people," he explains. "Cycling is a small world so I always leave on good terms. But it's also the way I am."
Rasch's story has something in common with Nicolas Portal's, another man part of the management of the British team. The Frenchman, who also experienced the team first as a rider, was a quiet water-carrier for his leaders at the big races and a "nice man" in the peloton, having spoken out only once to Dave Brailsford, in 2010, when he complained about his race program and some other internal issues – the general manager not only kept Portal on board but promoted him as a sports director.
Rasch said the change from racing to directing was easy for him. "It's strange but the first day I was sitting on the car at the Tour de Romandie, I was not missing riding my bike," he said. "I was already in the job. When I am around a table with the riders I feel I am more on the staff's side. My position is natural now but I haven't really changed my relationship to the riders. I am the same with them as I used to be: let's say ... calm."
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