Power and Influence at the Tour de France: Meet the Key Directeurs Sportifs

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The Tour de France 2023 is just around the corner, and the teams are gearing themselves up to maximize their potential in the race.

There will be 22 teams on the start list of the 2023 Tour de France. As usual, this includes 18 UCI WorldTeams (WorldTour ranked teams), the two best-ranked second-division teams, and two wildcard teams (invited by the organizers).

Usually, the discussion centers around the riders, such as who the team leaders are or who the prominent sprinters or climbers are. However, these teams are made up of more members than just the riders, arguably the most important of which is the directeur sportif.

The directeur sportif (sports director) of each team essentially runs the show on the sporting side of things. Analogous to the head coach in football, the directeur sportif provides insight into the current situation of the race, following the team in a car.

They also provide the team with the proper tactics they should use in each case, often updating these as such during a stage, reflecting the current situation of the race.

So what is a directeur sportif, exactly? And who are the masterminds behind the 2023 Tour de France pro cycling teams?

Tour de France 2023: Meet The Directeurs Sportifs (Title Image)
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet. Edited from the original.

What is a directeur sportif?

The directeur sportif (sporting director) – often shortened to DS – is the person in charge of the cycling side of each team at the Tour de France.

This includes a range of responsibilities, which tend to vary from team to team. Each team may have a larger sporting director team that allows the lead directeur sportifs to delegate some of their duties to their assistants.

However, in general, the main role of a directeur sportif at the Tour de France is to formulate a tactical plan for each stage as they come, maximizing the potential of the riders in their team.

Similar to how a head coach in football might do the same for each game.

This needs to be adaptable, and often the tactical plan may change mid-race when a specific opportunity opens up or closes – so the directeur sportif follows the action on the road in a team car and communicates via earpieces to the riders in real-time.

In addition to this, the directeur sportif is often responsible for selecting the team list, as well as the roles of each rider. During and before the race, they also serve as a motivator for the riders to attempt to pump them up to snatch some wins.

But, as mentioned earlier, it’s likely that the responsibilities of this role varies in each team, with some choosing to have huge teams of sporting directors in order to have experts in different parts of the sport.

Merijn Zeeman (Jumbo-Visma)

The directeur sportif of the WorldTour’s number one cycling team – Jumbo-Visma – Merijen Zeeman has quite a job to do at the upcoming Tour de France.

Having already achieved what is arguably one of the greatest successes of any Dutch sporting team in decades, in helping Jonas Vingegaard to win the Tour de France 2022, he will be looking to establish himself as a legendary directeur sportif of the sport by doing the same again.

Unlike many of the others on this list, Merijn Zeeman was never a professional cyclist, but instead worked his way up through the ranks of the Jumbo-Visma staff (formerly Rabobank/Blanco/Belkin).

He is already extremely well regarded by the team’s general manager, Richard Plugge, who said:

Merijn is an incredibly good coach. When you see who he manages in our organization, that is really special. It’s not just the riders, but also the coaches and other staff. It is comparable to what [famous Dutch football coaches] Erik ten Hag and Louis van Gaal do.

Richard Plugge

Despite his growing reputation as a manager, he has previously had run-ins with the Tour de France organizers, for example when he was kicked out of the 2020 Tour de France for misconduct after a bike check on Stage 17.

He recently released the team list for the 2023 Tour de France and will be hoping to capitalize on the incredible set of riders he has this year to take his second Tour de France win in two years.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas and José Antonio Fernández (UAE Team Emirates)

After losing their very successful long-time directeur sportif, Joxean Matxin, in 2022, UAE promoted both José Antonio Fernández and Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas as joint lead directeurs sportifs.

It’s some fairly big boots to fill, considering Matxin was lead directeur sportif during Pogačar’s two consecutive wins in 2020 and 2021, but both José Antonio Fernández and Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas have extensive experience as managers and ex-pros.

José Antonio Fernández, age 52, has been both a general manager and assistant directeur sportif at UAE Team Emirates since 2018, but this year he is both the general manager and a joint lead directeur sportif, which is a lot of work.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas might be 16 years junior to José Antonio Fernández at just 36 years of age, but his managerial resume is almost just as impressive.

Having been a prominent assistant directeur sportif for Michelton-Scott, Team BikeExchange Jayco, and UAE Team Emirates, for both the men’s and women’s teams since 2019, he clearly has a lot of trust from the general managers of UAE.

The all-Spanish sporting director team will be looking to reclaim the throne for their star rider, Tadej Pogačar after being pipped to the post by Jonas Vingegaard last year.

Though, it’s not like Pogačar will be riding alone, he has a strong team around him to help him to mount a serious challenge for the yellow jersey in 2023, including Joao Almeida, Adam Yates, and Jay Vine.

The managerial team doesn’t end with the Spanish pair, either. With 15 assistant directeurs sportifs surrounding them, there’s plenty of room for them to delegate certain aspects of the role to their assistants, who are often specialists in specific parts of the managerial role.

Let’s see what this huge 17-strong managerial team can do in the Tour de France 2023, with arguably the strongest competitor in the race.

Roger Hammond (Ineos Grenadiers)

With their old directeur sportif Sir Dave Brailsford – who took British cycling to the forefront of the world with Team Sky – being shuffled to general manager in 2021, Ineos Grenadiers appointed British ex-cyclist Roger Hammond as their senior directeur sportif.

Hammond had an excellent cycling career in both cyclocross and road cycling. He is an eight-time winner of the British National Championships in Cyclocross, as well as a multiple-time winner of the British National Championships in Road Cycling, and has some stellar podium finishes in Spring Classics.

So, he’s clearly no stranger to winning in cycling.

After his riding career ended in 2010, he quickly switched his focus to managerial roles. He began as team manager for the then-newly-formed Madison Genesis team, for three years, in which he excelled in a managerial position.

He has also managed what is now Bahrain Victorious, and Team Qhubeka NextHash.

At Ineos, however, he has a strong team of 12 assistant directeur sportifs. With such a large management team, it’s clear that they’re trying to equip their team with the tools necessary to win the Tour de France 2023.

On their strong start list is a number of potential winners of the race, including Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz, Geraint Thomas, and Tao Geoghegan-Hart.

In addition to this, they are blessed with some absolute specialists in certain types of riding, for example, the time-trial world champion Felipe Ganna.

So clearly, these 13 directeurs sportifs have got their work cut out for them, especially if they wish to disrupt the expected two-horse race between UAE’s Pogačar and Jumbo-Visma’s Vingegaard.

Gorazd Štangelj (Bahrain-Victorious)

Gorazd Štangelj is a Slovenian ex-professional cyclist who is now the directeur sportif of Bahrain Victorious.

After a solid cycling career, including high-ranked finishes in Slovenian National Road Cycling Championships, he has had a long managerial career since 2012. Beginning in Astana in 2012, he moved to Bahrain Victorious in 2017 and has found success there since.

With a high-profile team including Mikel Landa and Wout van der Poels, he has quite the team to manage with Landa even being an outside favorite to take the yellow jersey.

The Other directeur sportifs at the tour de France 2023

Got more to add to the discussion? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jack is an experienced cycling writer based in San Diego, California. Though he loves group rides on a road bike, his true passion is backcountry bikepacking trips. His greatest adventure so far has been cycling the length of the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, and the next bucket-list trip is already in the works. Jack has a collection of vintage steel racing bikes that he rides and painstakingly restores. The jewel in the crown is his Colnago Master X-Light.

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