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John Herety by Tom Southam
I’ve known John Herety for nearly fifteen years but it was only very recently that I learned something quite interesting about him: John Herety likes neatly stacked lumber. It’s perhaps not that strange that, during the years I worked with John as a rider, it wasn’t something I picked up on. Yet, a few weeks ago, as I stood in for John as team manager at the Tour of Korea, our car passed an enormous stack of logs in a timber yard. Our mechanic, James, spoke up from the back seat: ‘Wow, look at that log pile. I bet John would love that one…’
When I asked him about it, through laughter, he explained, “I do like the sight of a good wood pile, yes. The way it’s stacked, with the wood graded and the older stuff drying out, and the different sizes of it.” Having ridden for John Herety’s teams over the years it makes perfect sense. This is a man who likes things just so. Herety is about function, uniformity and a neat aesthetic. In his teams everything is done correctly, each component part has its place, and each piece fits so that the final creation, when seen from the road, isn’t only functional and efficient, it also tends to look pretty good, too.
In 2012, Herety and founding sponsors Rapha and Condor switched the focus from a pure results-driven outfit to the development of young British riders. For Herety, a former British national team manager, working almost exclusively with young riders was a new, yet familiar challenge. Eighteen months into the project, I spoke to John about his current stack of young hopefuls, now riding under the Rapha-Condor-JLT banner.
When you were still racing, did you ever think you’d become a team manager?
Yeah, funnily enough I think I did. I always took the role of team captain on the road in races, so I did kind of have an idea that I might evolve into that role.
Did you have an idea in your head when you started the job as to what kind of manager you wanted to be? And do you think you’ve stuck to that?
Yes, I definitely did. I was ill during my career because I was over-raced and overtrained. But a lot of that was self-inflicted. The management never told me I had to race but I was the type of rider who wanted to please. I’d basically just throw myself to the ground when it would have been a lot wiser to have climbed off.
I realized that, for certain types of riders, it was in their interests for you to tell them they should be having a rest and so on. I wanted to create an environment where it was easier for a rider to have an open discussion and feel confident to say ‘I’m not going too well, I’m not feeling good’. And in some cases I would say to them, ‘Right, you’re getting off. It’s not your decision, it’s mine’.
If the management says that, then the whole recovery process changes for the rider: it’s no longer their decision [to get off and recover] and a lot of riders can cope better that way. That definitely was part of my philosophy. My other ambition was to create a team where we had all the right back-up and support, with vehicles, bikes, kit and staff.
When I started managing in the UK, getting the right back-up was pretty simple. You just needed one car, maybe a van, the right roof rack for spare bikes, and then a masseur in place for each stage race. You did all the hotel bookings and so forth, making sure everything was perfectly organised.
As the years have gone on, standards have risen but the general philosophy has remained the same: to make sure that, within a budget, everything is there, and everything is right, so that all the riders need to do is race. Over the years, the wages in my teams have not always been the highest but I’d like to think that the set-up has been one of, if not the, best.
So when you started out managing, were you interested in looking after young riders, or is that something that came later?
To to be totally honest, what I like most is winning. I think the day that changes it’ll be time for me to ‘move upstairs’ to a more of a general manager's role.
That is the only frustrating thing when I’ve worked with younger. However, there is a big buzz working around young riders where you feel advice given is more helpful than that given to more senior riders [old dog/ new tricks – Ed]. So I’ve always liked working with younger riders.
Who would you say your influences are? Has anyone stood out, either when you were a rider, or manager?
I think in the early days – and this has obviously changed with regards to what has come out about the team since – it was Manolo Sainz of the ONCE team. In the early Nineties when I looked at how that team worked they had everything in place, the equipment was right, and they had all the backup staff in place as well.
I liked the way that Sainz had done all that, hindsight tells me that’s probably not a good thing to say, but at the time I was looking at the way the team functioned on the outside, not what turned out to be an organized doping programme, which of course I can’t admire.
But I also liked the fact that Sainz hadn’t been a particularly fantastic rider himself, and I still believe that you don’t have to have been a great rider to be a great manager. And that perhaps went against the thinking of the time.
The other two are both from football. Firstly, Sir Alex Ferguson [Manchester United manager for 26 years], he’s unparalleled in terms of man management, and while his management style is authoritarian on the outside, I know for a fact that he is very good at putting his arm around players when they need it. I also really respect the way that he looks after and develops younger players too.
And lately I’ve looked to Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager. He has really brought some modern ideas and psychology to the game, and I like his showmanship, too.
2012 was the first year that the Rapha Condor outfit really turned its attention to developing much younger riders. In some respects, however, Rapha Condor has always been a development team of sorts by virtue of it being a UCI Continental team. Have you always seen it that way?
Kind of, when you actually read the UCI regulations about what a Continental team is supposed to be, and the way that it fits into the structure of the sport; primarily it is supposed to be a platform for younger riders to improve and move to the next level.
When I look at it that way, and I take out the specific work we are doing with the young guys in this set up now, I suppose that probably my biggest regret is that I’ve not yet managed to move a rider on to the Pro Tour directly from my team. I’ve contributed to it, and plenty of riders I’ve worked with have gone on to have a career, but not yet one that I’ve worked with that we brought through the team, yet.
You’d have to agree that you’ve at least provided a platform for many of those guys who did move on, Luke Rowe, Zak Dempster, Jon Tiernan-Locke, to name a few.
For sure, I’d like to think so. Judging by the numbers of guys who’ve made the effort to stay in touch, I do think that it is the case that at some stage the teams that I’ve run have contributed in some way to where they are now.
Development is quite a difficult thing in my mind. You can do all the race tactics, the support, the programme etc – but the rider has to make that step himself. No matter how much you want him to do it you can’t make it happen, you can’t push the pedals for him.
Is that frustrating?
No, I can’t control that. But there are things that hold me back from developing guys faster, and helping more. Not having a race radio is one of these things. It’s one of my bugbears now. There is stuff that can be put right on the spot in races that I see, and that would enable me to teach riders very quickly.
All this crap about race radios allowing managers to dictate races, that is absolute rubbish. I have always used it as a tool to try to improve a rider’s ability to race and learn tactics, and never have I dictated a rider who could win a race – I’d love to be able to do that but at this level it would never happen.
In my opinion the UCI have it wrong on this, and if they want to ban it, remove race radios at the highest level, where riders know what they are doing, and what their job is, and allow young guys at our level to use them as a tool to learn. It’s all well and good to note these things down and discuss them in a post-race debrief, but it is so much quicker and much more effective, if you can tell a rider on the spot.
You’ve seen a lot of riders come and go, what have the successful ones had in common?
I’d say it goes back to a desire to win, and a no-nonsense approach – they don’t suffer fools gladly at all. Most of the good riders I've been fortunate enough to work with haven’t necessarily been academically intelligent, but they’ve been very intelligent bike riders from an early age.
It’s something you can’t teach: they ask the right questions at the right time, very forthright in wanting to know what went wrong or what they could have done better. Cav definitely had it, and Bradley had it also.
I guess there is little room for sentimentality in your position, is it quite hard when you see a kid who really wants it, but you know just won’t make it?
It’s difficult that. It’s probably one of the hardest things to do. Usually I try to put them in a position where it is a self-realisation. One of the things that I learnt at British Cycling was to get rid of that sentimentality and to be quite honest.
It can also be hard when you have to let a guy go because he doesn’t fit, or as in the case of the team at the moment, he gets too old – knowing that he could go to another UK team where there are several older guys, because they will be successful and no doubt increase their chances of winning. That is hard as a team to take, because it looks like we were wrong to let them go, but that is how it has got to be at times.
On a personal level if it isn’t one of our guys that wins but it is someone else who I’ve worked with, I am always happy to know he has come through our system, to see someone I have taught something to, winning bike races.