FDJ logistics manager Frédéric Vanoli has been working in the sport of cycling for as long as he can remember. Both his grandfather and father were team directors in France. And although racing himself was never a priority, the sport has always been in his blood.
Words and Images: James Startt
Peloton Magazine: You’ve been in the bike business as long as I can remember, even going back to amateur days in the 1980’s. How did you get into the sport of cycling and how did you become Logistical and Partners Coordinator for the FDJ team?
Frédéric Vanoli: Oh, I’ve been in cycling as long as I can remember, since I was born it seems. My grandfather actually had a small professional team, Team Vanoli, back in 1952. The long-time French cycling commentator Robert Chapatte was on the team and they won the French championships as well. And then my father Claude was a team director on the famous A.C.B.B. club in Paris. He worked with great riders like Phil Anderson, Stephen Roche and Robert Millar when they were still amateurs. He also worked with the legendary team manager Jean de Gribaldy (i.e. Sean Kelly’s first director) at Cycles France-Loire.
Myself, I raced for a while, but I wasn’t very focused. One day my father said, “You are going to have to choose between bike racing and the discotheque.” I chose the disco! But I still loved the sport so I started working as a mechanic.
I worked at the amateur club Anthony-Berny, the farm club for Castorama in the 1990’s and then was hired by Cyril Guimard for Castorama and moved with him to Cofidis, before coming to Française des Jeux the year the team started back in 1997. Later I worked for other teams like Team Coast and Team Mercury before returning to FDJ in 2005. I continued as a mechanic until I returned to FDJ and shifted into a coordination role.
Peloton Magazine: What is exactly your roll in the logistics of the team?
Frédéric Vanoli: I’m in charge of the supply of all the team’s needs with the different partners… be it the Lapierre frames, the Shimano components, the Ale clothing or the food and drink for the riders. I take care of any purchasing that is needed and make sure that the FDJ service course is always well stocked.
Peloton Magazine: In that regard, are you providing feedback from the riders directly to the partners?
Frédéric Vanoli: Well, I am part of the R & D team here as well, but that specific role goes more to Sébastien Joly. He was a professional and still rides a lot and he works more closely with the riders. He talks with me, but also with the riders when it comes to specifics regarding material. And with my years of experience I give my input from a mechanical perspective.
It’s interesting. We worked closely with our bike sponsor Lapierre to develop a new frame. Sébastien was given three prototypes as were several of the riders like our leaders Arnaud Démare and Thibaut Pinot. And what is fascinating is that they all chose the same model! For the first time in my career, all of the riders on the team—sprinters and climbers alike—are riding the same bike, the Xelius SL.
Another good example of how we work together is with a new power meter. For the last year and a half, we have been working closely with Shimano as they develop their own power meter. It has been a lot of work, but it is really coming together now and it is really satisfying. Today some of the riders are actually riding with this power meter, so it is very close to being finalized and we had a real role in its development. We have worked with Shimano for 20 years now. We have a very close relationship and we were the only team to have their power meter, so it is very exciting for us to see the work paying off.
Peloton Magazine: How has your experience as a mechanic helped you in this more administrative role?
Frédéric Vanoli: I can anticipate things really well I think. Because I have been to so many races, I can anticipate the needs of the mechanics while they are out at the races.
Peloton Magazine: How, from your perspective, have you see the sport change over the years?
Frédéric Vanoli: Oh, it is just so much more professional. Back when I started with FDJ in 1997 there were 18 riders and the entire team was no more than 30 people. Today it is nearly triple that. There are nearly 30 riders and nearly 100 people all together. Today we also have a press and media department, the R&D department I mentioned, as well as a hospitality department. Everything is just so much more structured. When I started out, everyone was expected to do a little bit of everything. Today, everyone’s role is well defined and everybody is really focused on their role.
Looking back, I would have to say Team Sky really pushed the envelope in this area. And today, all the major teams are just more structured.
Peloton Magazine: What is the most satisfying aspect of your job.
Frédéric Vanoli: It’s never the same thing. Things always come up in this sport—a package doesn’t arrive or something—and you have to find solutions. And you have to find them quickly.
Peloton Magazine: What is the hardest aspect of your job?
Frédéric Vanoli: Keeping everybody happy!