Aike Visbeek: “UAE offered Biniam Girmay two or three times more than we could offer”

Intermarché – Circus – Wanty was one of the best performing teams in the 2022 road race season, clinching a top 5 spot in the 2022 UCI WorldTour Team ranking. Behind the scenes a lot has changed in the team since it bought CCC’s UCI license back in 2020. In the latest episode of the Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast, Patrick Broe sat down with Aike Visbeek, Performance Manager of Intermarché – Circus – Wanty, to review the team’s 2022 season and discuss changes the team has made to create a high-performance environment. Below are some key excerpts from that interview.

Why he Joined Intermarché – Circus – Wanty

At the time of joining Intermarché, Visbeek was still under contract as Director with the now folded SEG Racing Academy, one of the most renowned development teams in cycling that supported riders like Thymen Arensman and Daan Hoole. Before joining the Racing Academy, Visbeek was part of a very successful seven year stint with Team Sunweb. He helped the team set up a sprint train and strategy for Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, which ended up having one of the best strike rates during a golden era of sprinters that included Greipel and Cavendish. During the 2015 season Visbeek’s focus changed to Grand Tours as Tom Dumoulin quickly rose to the top of the team with an unexpected performance in La Vuelta, leading the General Classification up until the 20th stage. Two years later Sunweb managed to win the 2017 Giro with Dumoulin, beating Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali for the top podium spot.

With such a background in team management, it is clear that Visbeek would have many choices if he chose to return to WorldTour management. When asked why he chose Intermarché in 2021, Visbeek stated that the opportunities he would have within the team to make an impact on performance was a key consideration.

I realised there was a golden opportunity to build something from scratch

Aike Visbeek

Fighting the odds of Relegation

In the winter of 2020/2021 the future of Intermarché – Circus – Wanty was not looking bright. The team was heading towards relegation, having a low number of UCI points acquired from CCC, the budget being on the lower end of WorldTour and an ageing roster of riders not expected to grab massive amounts of points. Visbeek attributes planning and an increased focus on performance culture as key for the improved performance and Intermarché’s eventual safety from relegation.

The big shift I made was to work with year plans rather than month-by-month

Aike Visbeek

Visbeek states that every winter during the off-season in 2020 and 2021 he would prepare a presentation for the riders regarding the relegation battle.

I wanted the riders to understand, how does it work, what is our situation and what are our focus points.

Aike Visbeek

By May in 2022 the team had accumulated so many points that Visbeek was able to tell the riders “this is not a point any more, congratulations, we are going to be in the WorldTour.”

The signing of Biniam Girmay

The breakout star of Intermarché – Circus – Wanty in 2022 was Biniam Girmay, winning Gent-Wevelgem in a four man sprint and taking a Giro stage win in an uphill drag sprint head to head against Mathieu van der Poel. The young Eritrean was signed by the team after the folding of French ProTeam DELKO, where he still had a contract for the next three seasons.

Fayence – France – wielrennen – cycling – cyclisme – radsport – Biniam Ghirmay Hailu (Delko) pictured during the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var – Stage 2 from Fayence to Fayence 168.9KM – photo William Cannarella/Cor Vos © 2021

Girmay had already caught people’s eyes during his years as a Junior. He became one of the few juniors to beat a very talented Remco Evenepoel, by winning the first stage of Aubel-Thimister-Stavelot, however early in 2021 he was without a WorldTour contract. Early in Visbeek’s tenure he prepared a list of possible young riders the team needed to target in the transfer market:

When you have the smallest budget…and have to constantly hire good riders, you really spend a lot more money.

Aike Visbeek

The signing of Girmay was on top of Visbeek’s list. Before DELKO folded Visbeek had already made an attempt to get Girmay on the team, but his contract did not have a clause for possible departure to a WorldTeam. Once Intermarché heard rumours begin to spread of a possible folding of the French team, Visbeek gave it another shot. He states that by having a plan, a structured organisation and a team that would feel like a familiar environment, Biniam chose to sign with Intermarché over UAE Team Emirates despite them offering two to three times more salary.

Catch the full episode on all major podcast platforms or on Spotify below.

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