National pride is a powerful motivator and now, as ‘Le Tour de France’ takes center stage, there are many-fans and athletes alike, who wonder what the future of cycling will look like. But there are also those who continue to believe in the beauty of cycling and the tremendous potential it can provide corporations and nations alike.
Enter Carl Williams and his new Pure Black Racing Team. With a personal background at the highest levels of professional sailing and embracing the legendary New Zealand competitive spirit of a country hungry to branch out and challenge the world, Williams is invoking the aura of the hugely popular ‘All Blacks’ rugby team to create a new road racing presence in cycling.
New Zealand is certainly not new to cycling with standout riders the likes of Greg Henderson, Julian Dean and Hayden Roulston who year after year garnering worldwide attention in the pro peloton. Up until recently though, the emphasis for most up and coming Kiwi cyclists has been on the track. Pure Black Racing is out to change that, with the support of the national cycling federation and a growing list of enthusiastic sponsors and young riders, hungry to compete with the best.
The team has created a lot of early season buzz with the successes of Roman Van Uden and Mike Nothey at San Dimas, and Tim Gudsell taking the overall at Sommerville. With the additional experience of NRC pro Glen Chadwick providing a strong backbone for the team, the young New Zealand Pure Black riders, racing abroad in the US many for the first time, have plenty of motivation from their mates and their management.
I was on hand at the recent Air Force Crystal Classic, where the young Pure Black Racing Team was putting up impressive performances in a very competitive field. We caught up with rider Mark Langlands and got a look inside this exciting new team, its reliance on culture and the hopes for the future…
How did you get started in cycling?
Mark Langlands: I started doing BMX when I was 5 years old, continued with that until I was 13. There was really no opportunities to represent NZ until I was 18, so started Road Cycling when I was 12, and stopped doing BMX a year later.
Do you remember your first bike and any adventures that made you love to jump on your bike and ride?
Mark: I can’t remember my first BMX bike, but I do remember building some jumps on the driveway and throwing myself over them. Living on a farm, my Dad built us a track in one of the paddocks and we’d spend hours just riding up and down, normally coming back inside when some skin was missing or something was broken. My first road bike was an Apollo, I’d just get on and ride, go exploring and finding new roads and places.
What led to you getting your first pro contract?
Mark: I was approached by fellow Pure Black rider Mike Northey at Tour of Wellington in 2010 and asked if I wanted to join the Bici Vida Team that he was a part of at the time. Carl Williams, who was the director, got in contact with me and it sort of snowballed from there. I rode the 2010 season in New Zealand for Bici Vida, which just before Tour of Southland in November became Pure Black Racing and gained a UCI Continental Licence.
Do you think the concept of “team” on and off the course helps keep the team together. Would it be the same professional group without it?
Mark: Of course. When Carl put the team together he wanted to bring a group of guys together that got along well with each other. I think if the team was made up of riders who believed that they were constantly better than the others, then we would not have the same atmosphere within the team.
How often during the season do you race? When does your season begin & end? Do you race here [USA] and then back in NZ or is Boulder your home away from home for now?
Mark: Its kind of hard to determine when the season begins and ends for us. With our National Champs in January, its pretty important to be going well for that. So prior to that we’ve got a block of domestic racing from October through to the end of January, which incorporates the Tours of Southland and Wellington. Then with Pure Black, we race here in the United States from March until August, doing the NRC races and a few UCI tours, which is the most important part of the year for us. So our year is split between living in Boulder, and back home in NZ.
Cycling is a team sport with riders dependent on a tight knit group for support, but there seems to be something special about teams from New Zealand and Australia. Do you feel this is the case? What do you think accounts for it?
Mark: I guess being from a bottom end of the world and geographically isolated from the main cycling nations, when we do come away as a team overseas we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for each other to show that we are genuine contenders against those nations. And the satisfaction of proving that we can achieve results as a small cycling nation, makes the determination to get those results all the more greater. Even off the bike, especially here in Boulder, the Kiwis and the Aussies get on well together. I mean NZ is pretty much part of Australia according to most people over here so we should get along.
Do you have certain races right now where you are designated to score a victory or be the lead rider? Or is your job right now to ride mainly in support of others? Does that role change during a race (stage or one-day) or is it generally planned out ahead of time?
Mark: Not at this stage. At the moment, I’m content with being a support rider for the leaders of the team. If the opportunity arises to get a result however, then I won’t turn it down. I guess it can change slightly depending on whether people have good or bad days during a stage race or one-day race, and how the race unfolds on the road. We’re always able to adjust to what happens to ensure the best result possible for the team.
How would you define the term cycling “domestique” and what do you think that cyclist’s role is?
Mark: Someone who is unselfish enough to sacrifice their result to ensure the team as a whole gets a result.
Tell me a little about the mental side of riding in support of someone in a race. How do you “suffer” for someone else?
Mark: For me, first of all, I believe its a matter of respect for the person you are riding for. If you don’t have respect for that person, then you can’t suffer and hurt yourself to support them. I think once you have respect, then the mental part comes easily. If you start to doubt the other riders ability then it makes it that much harder to ride for them, so you have to back yourself to do your job but being able to push yourself that much further as a support rider is having confidence in your team mates ability as well.
Mark: Most of the guys are around the same age within the team, but one person who I do admire as a rider is Tim Gudsell. We both belong to the same club back in New Zealand, and he’s helped me from when I was a young rider through to being a member of Pure Black, so I have the upmost respect for him as a rider and a person. And now riding together with him in the same team, makes it pretty incredible to be riding with a person you have so much respect for.
You’ve had some serious injuries in cycling and have come back to be a great cyclist. Do you think the time away in recovery changed you in any way?
Mark: I think more than anything, the time I had in recovery made me realise how much I loved the sport of Cycling. I was just more determined to make it back, prove to myself I could make it back, and I think that mentally strengthened me to push myself harder to achieve my goals, not only as a cyclist, but also in life as well.
At the Air Force Crystal Cup race, some of you guys had a fun day out and about on rental City Bikes and saw the sights of Washington DC. On Pure Black is there a good feeling of comaraderie between all the members of the team? Tell me a bit about the team dynamic on and off the race.
Mark: Definitely! We are all friends on and off the bike, which makes it easier to gel together when we are racing. Back here in Boulder, we’re always having a BBQ at team mates houses, which is good to have a bit of relaxing time away from the bike. When we’re away from the bike, we’re all relaxed, when its race time, we’re all there in support of one another. There’s no ego’s in the team which also produces a real good dynamic between the riders and staff, whether we’re at a race or back here in Boulder.
You’ve written some great race pieces for the Team website. Is that something you enjoy doing in the off time–writing? Do you have any off the bike hobbies?
Mark: Ha ha! I do quite enjoy writing, I’m pretty useless at having an artistic side so if I can paint a picture using words then that’s my art coming through. I was actually doing Journalism at University last year but I wasn’t able to bring through my own personal flair, I felt a bit too restricted, so now I just write for my own pleasure and let people enjoy the flair I try to get into my writing.
I also find that cooking is pretty therapeutic for me, I enjoy getting my creative streak on in the kitchen, trying new things and creating something from nothing.
I’ve also got a passion for wine, hopefully once I get back to New Zealand I’ll plant myself a couple of rows of vines out the back of my house, a combination of Malbec and Pinot Gris vines to create my own wine. I want to own my own vineyard at some point in the future.
I think its good to have interests outside of cycling, it gets one out of the monotony of just riding your bike each day.
Who is your favorite top Pro-Tour cyclist? Did you have any favorite riders as a kid, or did you have heros from other sports (or from life or history)?
Mark: I don’t so much have a favourite Pro Tour cyclist, though I do admire Edvald Boasson-Hagen. It’s kind of hard to have a favourite when you don’t know the person personally. I can only do what my own personal abilities and determination allow me to do.
Outside of road cycling, I admire my brother [Paul Langlands] as a freestyle BMX rider. To be honest, I used to think it was all a big joke, it wasn’t really a sport. But after watching the skill involved, and the risk he puts himself through, it is pretty impressive. My coach, Brendon Cameron is another person who I look up to as a person and mentor. He has been helping me since I was a skinny little baggy-shorted rider coming into the bike shop when I first started, and both him and his partner Sarah, have been there for me throughout my career.
Thanks to Avanti, Shimano, Pure Black Racing, Kenda and Peak Fuel.