The last time I had a proper chat with Allan Peiper he was sitting behind the wheel of a BMC Mercedes team car on the Eurotunnel heading back to the UK.
Typical of the friendly Aussie, he had offered me a brief respite from a blizzard which had swept across northern France and through which I had just scraped through on my motorbike on the way home from Paris-Nice after driving photographer Graham Watson at the race.
Peiper was on his way to the Drag 2 Zero wind tunnel in Brackley, Northamptonshire, on one of his early tasks as BMC’s new Performance Manager. Sat elbow to elbow with me bundled up in dripping biker gear, Peiper talked freely about his new role at BMC, doing up his new house in Geraardsbergen, his son from his first marriage and more.
We bid farewell on the other side, he to cruise north in comfort while I, unable to ride safely on the snowbound M20, got stranded overnight in the terminal.
A brief encounter, typical of a life in pro cycling where life is lived to extremes, and nothing lasts forever.
That was in March 2013. Four years on Peiper is still at BMC, these days working more on the logistics side as sporting manager. BMC has benefitted enormously from Peiper’s input on equipment, training and nutrition and while he may do less running around, he remains key to the team’s smooth running.
Hard to believe it’s 25 years since Peiper, 56, retired as a pro at the relatively young age of 32, seeing out 1992 on the Tulip Computers team. Three years before he had recorded his best finish in his beloved Tour of Flanders, seventh.
In 1990 he won a stage in the Giro riding for Panasonic-Sportlife as well as the stage two team time trial at the Tour. In 1988 he was tenth in the World’s at Ronse in Belgium, notorious for the Steve Bauer-Claude Criquielion crash in the final.
“After the stage to Alpe d’Huez in the 1992 Tour I lay fully clothed on the bed for 45 minutes but I couldn’t get my heart rate down,” says Peiper about his final season, “and the night before it felt like someone had hit my chest with a hammer. The soigneur said it was just fatigue but after that I just thought, sod it, it’s time.
“I could also see that my training was going better but my results were worse. The world was changing. I had an offer to go to Lampre with (good friend) Maurizio Fondriest but to be honest I was scared of going down that road in the early 90s.”
Peiper was no stranger to roughing it; a local Australian paper reported in the early 1980s how Peiper spent his first three seasons on the continent living with 20 other amateur riders in a disused butchers in Ghent.
First place in the final sprint on the group’s training rides would win the right to the first (and only) warm shower. This would be followed by communal dinner of rice and tomato sauce, or pork and potatoes when one of them won a race.
After racing in the 1978 junior world championships near Washington DC, he worked four days in a door factory in order to earn his air fare home.
Perhaps unsurprisingly it took him 10 months, laid off with gastro-intestinal problems back home in Australia, to recover before he returned to Europe to join the famous ACBB amateur team in Paris.
Despite being a glutton for punishment, Peiper now believes that it was training with Panasonic team mate and countryman Phil Anderson in 1987 might have foreshortened his career.
“It’s funny this but I used Phil’s max heart rate, which is 20 beats higher than mine, as my reference. It was the early years of sports science and I was doing capacity interval training. It took me to another level. I was away on the Poggio with Eric Maechler when he won Milan-Remo in 1987.
“Peter Post (Panasonic manager) said to me once, ‘if you keep on training like that you won’t be riding in two years. It definitely took it out of me mentally and physically. I never regret stopping though. At moments it was hard but I know I made the right decision.”
It’s important to remember what it’s like to suffer in the wind and on the climbs
The level of respect for Peiper guaranteed him a place on the staff of teams from Davitamon-Lotto, to T-Mobile-High Road, Garmin and now BMC.
Typically – because as you may have guessed Peiper is a bit of a one-off – he did not go straight into a team job after his pro career ended but among other things (triathlon and testing bikes for Winning magazine for instance) he made a good living selling hot dogs and hamburgers for a dozen years before joining Davitamon-Lotto in 2005.
“It was a good experience. It reminded me what life was all about. We used to go to Anderlecht for the football, music festivals and at races like Flanders we set up on the Bosberg, in Brakel and on the Molenberg. At Paris-Roubaix we got chased away by the French police!”
These days, after successful treatment for prostate cancer, Peiper stays closer to BMC’s head office near Ghent and his new home in Geraardsbergen, not far from the famous cobbled climb of the Muur.
He still rides his bike “because it’s important to remember what it’s like to suffer in the wind and on the climbs”.
As one of the architects of the BMC team, which has changed beyond recognition from a one-trick Tour squad behind Cadel Evans to the Sky-rivalling superteam boasting Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet and Tour favourite Richie Porte, Peiper has every reason to feel proud of his second career in cycling.
On the day we speak the team had just won the team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico, to continue their strong start to the season. Ongoing proof, still needed, that cycling needs good guys not only on the bike but in the back room too.