Keith Flory: taking Drapac’s performance to the next level
In 2014 Drapac Professional Cycling has made the much-publicised jump from being a Continental outfit to Australia’s only ProContinental squad. The promotion has meant the number of riders on the Drapac payroll has increased, and so too has the number of staff. One of new staff members is Keith Flory, the team’s director of performance.
CyclingTips’ Wade Wallace caught up with Keith to find out about his past, what’s involved in his role at Drapac, and his vision for the year ahead.
You came to Drapac from the UCI’s World Cycling Centre. Can you tell us a bit about the Centre and what it does?
I spent four years at the World Cycling Centre [which is] essentially the development arm of the UCI. It’s an entirely separate entity, albeit within the same sister organisation, and it’s funded from the Olympic Solidarity funding which is generated from the TV revenue from the Olympic Games.
The money is distributed from the Olympics to the Olympic Solidarity fund which is then distributed to international federations but also national Olympic committees. We just take our allocation for cycling and the UCI plough it straight into the World Cycling Centre and development programs.
What was your role at the World Cycling Centre?
My role was primarily to develop coaching programs that we ran there but that then later evolved into looking at establishing programs to train the entourage. So director sportifs (DS), soigneurs, coaches and then if I’d been there longer the list would have gone on and on. We’d just started a mechanics course too.
So all of those programs sat alongside the athlete program that we have. I worked with the coaches we had at the centre as well as developing those programs.
How did you get involved with Drapac?
My wife’s is Australian and we were actually moving over to Australia [from Switzerland where the WCC/UCI is based] anyway. She got a job and we decided the time was right with our small daughter, so it was a good opportunity.
And then Jonathan [Breekveldt, Drapac team manager] spoke to a friend of mine and they had a conversation about the project for Drapac — this was probably May or June last year — and Jonathan asked them if they knew anyone for this role.
Initially they were looking for more DSes and they put us in contact and I was like “well, I don’t really see myself in a pure DS role” so we talked about it and that’s where the performance role has gravitated to.
What does your role as director of performance at Drapac entail?
It’s all-encompassing in terms of performance but given that there’s essentially only me in that function what I’m having to do at the moment is just prioritise everything that we’re going to be looking at.
So at the moment my first priority is to set up structures within the team that essentially make it more efficient in terms of the performance side.
So virtually every rider has a coach and they all will have a coach, so one of my main functions at the moment … is to establish good relationships with the coaches of the riders and the riders to ensure that we have a coherent message of what the team wants, what the rider wants and the views of what the coach feels the rider’s strengths and weaknesses are.
Some of the guys we don’t know very well, some of the guys we know better. So it’s really valuable to get that network well established.
I know lots of other teams also can’t employ four or five coaches to work with their riders and I see frequently that that’s where the system breaks down — a team wants one thing from the rider, the rider wants another thing and the coach, at best, will come in the middle and at worse has their own agenda to work with the rider.
So it’s just trying to harmonise it all and ensure that we’re all communicating and on the same page basically.
It is part of your job to decide which riders will do which races, based on their form and their abilities?
It’s collaborative between myself, Henk [Vogels, director sportif] and Ago [Agostino Giramondo, also director sportif] — we’re looking at our calendar and we’re looking at the profiles of the races and where we think the riders’ strengths lie and we try to speak to the coaches, related to that as well.
And then we work backwards and say “we think that rider would be really suited to X race” and then work that back and communicate with the coaches.
In the short amount of time you’ve been with the team who are the guys you’ve seen, that you see as having a lot of potential?
To be fair I think a lot of the guys have a lot of upside; they have a lot of untapped potential. I think the structure of the team will hopefully bring that out.
Some of the guys are obviously a lot more experienced, in terms of WorldTour. But even speaking to those [guys] and trying to get a bit of background of what they’ve done previously, I still think there’s significant room for development with those individuals, whether it’s from a physical perspective or from other perspectives.
To answer your question specifically: Robbie Hucker, without doubt. He’s relatively new to the game and he’s probably the one stand-out. Obviously Tom [Palmer]; he’s had to drop back due to injury — he’s got massive potential. I think we need to work with Tom in various areas.
What can you do with guys like Jonathan Cantwell, Darren Lapthorne, the Sulzbergers — guys that have been around a long time and achieved their potential? What can you do to squeeze more out of them?
It’s a good question. I’m not sure I have an exact answer for that. With experienced guys they know their body pretty well, they know what they’ve done in the past, they’re really experienced. So it’s going to take a little bit more time with those guys to identify the areas because they have performed at such a high level.
But I’ve got no doubt there are areas for improvement — it’s just a lot easier with younger riders because they’re a lot more raw and their upside is a lot more obvious.
Someone like Tim Kerrison has brought real outside ideas (from a swimming background) and a scientific approach to his role as head of performance support at Team Sky. Do you see yourself filling the same sort of role as Tim? And what sort of style do you bring to the role?
I think Tim’s style is to come from a more pure sports science perspective where I won’t — I come from a coaching angle, from within the sport. At the same time, having spent eight years at British Cycling and four years at the World Cycling Centre, that has allowed me to observe different systems but then to step back and look at what other people are doing.
So I think I’ll come at the role from a coaching and applied sports science background, but not from a theoretical sports science.
Does Tim have a reputation for being a purely theoretical sports science guy?
No I don’t think so, and I think that’s why Tim’s been so successful at Team Sky. He’s able to apply the theory and cut through that. He’s certainly not a theorist; he puts it in an applied perspective.
But I think I’ll come at it from a cycling angle and understand the processes riders need to do outside of pure physiology. And there’s lots of areas of physiology outside of the pure engine that we’ll be looking at as well.
What do you see as your biggest challenge?
Getting to know all the riders and the coaches, first and foremost. Just relationship-building and communicating and trying to create lines of communication.
Whilst I’m a very similar age to the majority of the riders there are some that are younger and even in that 10-year age gap there is massive difference in methods of communication, from social media being the main point of communication with some age groups through to email being the main communication for other groups.
So that’s going to be a challenge but as I said, getting to know the riders and looking where their strengths and weaknesses are and where we can work on different things … and the coaches as well.
Because I’m determined that we should have positive relationships with all the coaches — they’re the ones working with the riders daily. Without them being on board with the philosophy of the team and the direction we want, we’ll just part ways, simple as that.
Are you a big power meter and numbers guy?
Yeah, I associate massive value with power. Before I started I spoke to Dirk Friel [founder of TrainingPeaks] and said “look, what’s the chances of us working with you next year?”. And that as a process went really well and pretty quickly, so that was great and to have them as a partner is a massive upside for us.
Straight away we can capture data; we’ve got data on training and race bikes so we’re getting as much data as we can. So without doubt I’m a massive fan of power and everything it can do, but at the same time it doesn’t tell you the whole story.
I kind of have two philosophies: yes, [power] is invaluable these days, but at the same time we still need to look at the human side of it. I know riders that have power values that are actually quite poor in terms of the absolute best in the world, but they’re still winning bike races. So it’s not all about the numbers.
Will you let the coaches take care of most of the number-crunching or is looking at data going to be a daily role for you?
I think at the moment it’s daily. I’m just observing what they’re all doing. And I’m not going to be jumping in and butting in with the coaching and saying “actually, he should be doing this”.
What I said to the coaches when I first started was I really want an open dialogue, for me to be able to say “oh, have you considered x, y and z?” and equally for them to be able to give their feedback on the rider but also potentially the rider’s program as well.
They’re the ones that are working with the riders, they’ll know the riders better than we will in some respects.
So I’m looking at the numbers, looking at the data, but more to get knowledge and a feel for what the riders are doing and also what their capacity is and then working with the coaches.