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Roy Knickman Interview Part Two
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 11/29/2002
Roy Knickman Interview Part Two

Roy Knickman Interview – Part 2 of 3
by Matt Howey Cycling News caught up with Roy Knickman in the office the day before Thanksgiving and got his take on his career as a cyclist, Danny Pate, training, his Prime Alliance team, and much more. I’d like to thank Roy for spending this time with me. This is part 2 of a three-part interview.

[Read Part One of this great interview here] When did you turn pro?

Roy Knickman: I turned pro in….19…1986, so I was a junior, then I was an amateur senior for 2 years in ’84 and ’85 riding for the Levi’s-Raleigh team…or Isuzu-Levi team. I turned pro in ’86 for La Vie Claire, kind of an unusual joint thing where I still raced for my team in the U.S. and I raced for them in Europe. Then I got to ride the Tour of Italy when I was 20 years old. …and that was in ’86?

Roy Knickman: Yeah, that was in ’86… Now, was ’86 the year that you placed second in the Milk Raas too?

Roy Knickman: No, I had done that in ’85, I won the Brisbane to Sidney Commonwealth Classic Race in ’84, was second in the Milk Raas in ’85, second in the Tour of Berlin in ’85 – it’s kind of funny actually there’s a picture on my wall of the Milk Raas, just ‘cuz it’s a cool picture. Is it you and Erik Van Lancker?

Roy Knickman: Actually, Erik’s out of the picture, it was the guy who was the race leader for the six days before, it was the one kid I remember, he was such a nice kid, this Estonian Kid named Thomas Kirsipu – no relation to the sprinter. Very nice kid, interesting story getting to know him, he spoke very good English…so those were some of the results…the interesting thing with pro racing, it was the same with amateur, you could do amazing things as a junior, but you turn senior and they don’t care what you did as a junior – it’s what are your results in this field at this venue – then when you turn professional – you start from scratch. Yeah, I can only imagine…

Roy Knickman: Even if you were a world champion then, well what have you done to prove it… …a whole new game, I can imagine. You rode the Tour de France twice, ’88 and ’89, never actually making it to Paris, do you ever wish that you could have made it to the Champs Elysee, or did you feel that you had done your part and tried as hard as you could?

Roy Knickman: I probably did my part a little bit too much. My problem is that I didn’t really save enough. My job was to be there for the team – those two years were to try help Andy (Hampsten) in the windy sections, save him some energy – I had a good ride in the team time trial so I did my job and once you got to that point it was all personal, riding into Paris. I’m not a very efficient rider…I was never able to develop, through training and racing, the capacity to have anything after two weeks of racing and recover, I would always just fall apart after two weeks of racing. It’s still frustrating to this day that I, ya know, I couldn’t make that work – some people just naturally have that ability, but I didn’t. Yeah, I don’t have anything left after a weekend of racing…so!!

Roy Knickman: Even with the natural ability and all the things that made me a good rider, that wasn’t one, or wasn’t something that I could tap into, and my problem was that I just tended to ride a little too hard in the earlier weeks expending a little too much energy on team activities and things I thought I needed to be doing…and I just left myself short and just BLEW on sort of the last hilly day, and missed the time limit – twice. Wow.

Roy Knickman: So, what can you do? It would have been nice, but, ya know, it just doesn’t change anything. It just would have been a cool experience. Now, you kind of touched on something that I’m kind of curious of, you know a lot of amateur riders have only done 4-day stage races at the most, would you say the difference between the big professional tours, like the Tour de France, the Giro and the amateur races like Killington, Fitchburg, and races of that caliber – is the difference that residual fatigue that you get, is that one of the biggest challenges?

Roy Knickman: Well, yeah. You can win Paris-Nice or win the Dauphine Libere, and have no possible chance of being able to win a grand tour. You know, I had this conversation with Jonathan Vaughters, who we signed for our team next year. He always initially in his professional career, he trained to be good at the shorter stage races. Tuning his power and his efficiency and recovery for a week or ten days, and when he accomplished that and he switched to trying to prepare for a three week tour, he seemed to lose a little bit of his edge, with all other kinds of bizarre tragedies and circumstances… He was the one that got stung at the Tour de France?

Roy Knickman: That year he almost finished and was riding great, but his perception is – maybe he wasn’t made to have the recovery and be able to do well for three weeks….so just about anybody can do it, I finished the Tour of Italy when I was 20 and the main reason was, after the team time trial I was told to “hide-out” and to just ride my bike, so I had no obligation except for to maybe cover an early move and to save my energy to make it to the last day. It’s all a matter of energy management – if you’re burning matches for other guys BIG-TIME in week two, you’ve gotta be careful because you can empty the tank. You can get dropped early in a race and not get back on and miss a time limit. It’s a matter of what your goals are, I could have finished if I just rode for myself, but I wasn’t on the 7-Eleven cycling team just to build my personal mission of finishing the Tour de France. That was a secondary goal that I didn’t figure out how to do… You were riding for the team leaders…

Roy Knickman: Yeah, but that’s…yes there’s a big difference – the guys who can win the grand tours are the guys who can recover. You can tell in a prologue or an early time trial gaps are close and you get to the end of the race and they’re going just as fast. Everybody else is just depleted and can’t go as fast. Not to get onto the subject too much, I just want to ask you a few quick questions about it, because it’s obviously been at the forefront of a lot of cycling news the last couple years, but as far as recovery goes, many people have attributed that to drug use in the pro peloton did you see any of that when you were in the Tour or racing in Europe? Could you give me your view on that subject?

Roy Knickman: There’s always been medicine in the sport of cycling – we’ll start by calling that. Then there’s an EXTREME gray zone depending on your view and your upbringing as to where medical assistance is curing you from being ill because you’re destroying yourself by doing these races – and where it’s doping. People have taken IV’s purely just to catch up in hydration or aid in getting calories into the body. Well, speaking of Jonathan Vaughters earlier…I mean that whole “sting thing” he couldn’t take the cortisone that he needed to make the swelling go down and…

Roy Knickman: Right, and that’s just ridiculous…it’s one of those weird things where it’s like, well, there’s an obvious need for it…I don’t know enough about that specific situation to be able to comment about it, but I think obviously that was ridiculous – but sure – there has always been a certain amount of doping, but I feel fairly confident that the people who I knew and worked closely to…you know I rode with Lemond on La Vie Claire for two years, I rode with Andy Hampsten, I’ve ridden with Steve Bauer, my neo-pro year was Bernard Hinault – I believe all those guys raced one-hundred percent cleanly. Bernard Hinault was just mentally and physically an animal, Lemond was the same way, he trained so abusively – he would just abuse himself and hammer himself and load himself, in one day he would be ready – he was amazing. That’s something you don’t really get out of his book. In his book he tries to get people training in a normal way and what you just said kind of points out that the level of his training isn’t totally reflected in his book.

Roy Knickman: The best athletes, especially of old, are not necessarily the best coaches. I think Lance (Armstrong) is an exception because he has dissected bike racing piece by piece very scientifically and methodically. He looks at every gram on every component on his bike, every bit of food, every bit of training, he doesn’t miss a beat…unlike the old-timers, man, they just got out there and really – I would go and try and train with Lemond for a week, go up to Belgium and I would be SO tired – the load he would put himself under was phenomenal – he was a phenomenally gifted athlete. …but gifted or not, it takes training either way…

Roy Knickman: Well, gifted in that he could punish himself and recover and adapt and not just destroy himself. I see those qualities in a guy, Danny Pate on our team (Prime Alliance) – the more the guy races and the more he trains, the better he is. I believe that guy could go and race in Europe absolutely squeaky clean on water, and be finishing grand tours and doing big things one day. Does he have plans for that? Have you discussed that at all with him – plans for the European Peloton?

Roy Knickman: Most definitely. He’s been taking his time because he had a bad experience, ya know, jumped over to Saeco WAY before he should have and was kind of “odd man out”, wasn’t comfortable, was way too young, way too under-developed, just more socially – and since the two years with our team he has matured phenomenally as a person and as an intelligent bike racer. He’s only what, 24?

Roy Knickman: Yeah, yes…so I mean this is his make or break year – he knows that he needs to become a bit more focused and if he truly wants to go to Europe to make a push to do that with his results and with his focus. He would do that one of two ways…if we were to increase our sponsorship and take him to Europe, which he would prefer to stay with us, sure, but if we can’t do that…we’ll actively work to get him a ride somewhere because he’s of that level. But that goes to point that I honestly believe you can race with no medical at a very high level. You may not do quite as well, and do well as often, but the culture and the mentality – it needs to change. Old school thinking has to go out the window. I actually think that’s the advantage of the American bike racer, an advantage of the people that are around my group, and were around me when I coached the federation, as I’ve always said, you know – it’s a choice you DON’T have to make. You don’t need this, you don’t need medical, period. It’s a choice, and there are a lot of Europeans that once they know they can even have all the different stuff that maybe it’s just a placebo effect, that they THINK are good – mentally they’re destroyed – because OH…they can’t take this, they can’t do that… ….I can’t race without that….

Roy Knickman: Danny Pate is like, give me a Coke and a Candy Bar and I’m on fire… [laughter] … I think a lot of amateurs even with LEGAL supplements – get sucked into that and they end up spending tons of money on these supplements that they could probably race just as well without…

Roy Knickman: …and now the latest thing with Scott Moninger is the perfect example of why everybody has been playing with fire…we’ve had a lot of internal discussions on this because if you take a substance because you can’t get enough of it in food, or the quality of food doesn’t give you enough vitamins or aminos or whatever the case is, do you even do that is that pushing the envelope? At this point it’s getting to be too risky – beside the multi-vitamin – you need to know your nutrition and leave most of it alone. …right with that Moninger thing, they said that maybe it was contaminated…

Roy Knickman: ….I’m sure it was contaminated. I’ve spoke personally to Moninger's lawyer who’s a personal friend of mine and his history there’s not a questionable activity that’s happened with him even knowing him in his 20 years of cycling – AND there was and isn’t any benefit to him lying. If he says, I had this stuff tested and there’s more than a trace amount, IT WAS. I hope that whole mess gets straightened out, it’s too bad for him for such a good cyclist …

Roy Knickman: I mean, he WILL get penalized and I don’t event think he’s asking to NOT get penalized, because illegal substances came up in his urine and there SHOULD be a penalty EVEN if it’s a mistake – but if there’s a range, my stance is that it should be a minimal penalty if intent can’t be proved. But he should be penalized even if it was a mistake, just because the sport can’t afford it. People just have to start not taking risks, not taking aminos, are they gonna be contaminated? Well, you know, possibly…there was a thing I saw that said in many countries it’s up to 25% of the products tested that had some form of contamination that would show up as positive in a drug test. Wow.

Roy Knickman: That’s WAYYY too large of a risk to take…there were some years when I took aminos and a number of supplements, other years I took nothing and I raced well both years. I raced crummy during years where I took supplements and no supplements…so… What cyclist hasn’t tried a supplement at some point or another?

Roy Knickman: …yeah, your own little experiments, then you ask yourself, what am I putting in my body? Creatine, this and that….

Roy Knickman: I believe you don’t need much of anything besides good nutrition and understanding physiology, good training, good recovery practices with getting fuel back in your body and the rest is just damn luck…and that’s what we tell our riders.

To be continued...

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