The AN Post Rás. It was probably the highlight of my 2011 season, so I had high expectations coming into the 2012 edition of the race. Last year I rode for the Irish national team but this year I was taking to the start line in the often-described-as ‘feckin brilliant’ black and white jersey of Rapha Condor Sharp.
I flew over to Dublin by myself to meet the rest of the team who were driving from Manchester. As soon as I arrived one of the lads noticed how much I was smiling. It isn’t just the tough unpredictable racing that makes the Ras such an enjoyable week, the atmosphere amongst all the teams and staff is something I’ve only experienced at this race. The Irish always know how to have a good time and it’s definitely the attitude of people that plays a large part in a good atmosphere that always keeps teams eager to return.
Looking back at the past winners of the race, it’s not a surprise that the team are well known in this part of the world. However, this year Rapha Condor Sharp has taken a completely different approach – focusing on the development of younger riders. The Ras squad was no exception with our eldest rider being 23, which I’m sure would give us the youngest average age of any team competing. The lineup consisted of; Rich Lang our Aussie climber/sprinter/everything’er, Chris Jennings our South African climbing specialist, big Ben Grenda our strong man from Tasmania, Rich Handley the British rider who can also do much pretty anything and finally me, Felix ‘the local’ from Ireland (and Brighton).
The first few days of the race consisted of 140km+ stages with tough rolling roads. We all rode aggressively trying to get at least one black jersey in every break. However, it quickly became apparent that the Ras was going to live up to its potential of being unlike any other race in the calendar. Break after break would try to escape but each attempt was swallowed up. The roads in Ireland are always rolling and usually have a rough broken surface, which made the averaged speeds of over 48km/h every day in the first hour pretty unbelievable.
Every stage of the Ras from beginning to end is like the first 10km of every other normal race – relentless attacks with everyone wanting to get in on the action. Straight away it was apparent that this year’s race was to be tougher than the 2011 edition. There was a lot more strength in the international teams, which meant you had a lot more riders strong enough to attack and consequently a lot more riders strong enough to close the gaps.
Rich Handley fought his way into the successful breakaway of stage two and finished with a 28 second advantage over the rest of the U23 peloton. It doesn’t seem like much, especially at such an early stage of the race, but this smart move from Rich proved to be decisive. With no time bonuses available, the only way for the race favourites to take time out of Rich was to either get away in a break (difficult now with teams wanting to desperately defend their slender advantage) or they’d have to ride away from him on the tougher climbs. Luckily for us, no one in the race was capable of doing that.
As the week progressed we became more and more organised. John kept us on our toes with tactical advice each night and our jobs were simple. Myself and Grenda were to follow all the early moves, disrupt the breakaways and, if needs be, close gaps to any splits or breaks that contained dangerous riders. Langy and Chris had to keep Rich up at the front of the race and then take over the job from myself and Ben in the last few km’s. Rich’s job of having to always be at the front was probably the most stressful – having your team mates work solely for you adds a lot of extra pressure but it was clear that was our best chance of securing the white jersey, so it we were all fully committed to him.
This organisation made things easier for us mentally as well. It’s a great feeling when you know you can ride at 100% to close a gap for your team leader, safe in the knowledge that one of your teammates will be there to immediately back you up and cover the next attack. Morale within the team was high all week, which definitely makes a big impact on the way you race together. Being able to have a laugh in the evenings and forget about the race for a few hours has a very positive effect.
Rich rode well over the very steep climbs of stages five and six and held onto the U23white jersey. One climb in particular was like nothing I’ve ever seen before – Mamore Gap on stage five. It was towards the end of a 160km day, and it must be over 30% in places. A few of us took the decision to ride 28t cassettes but I still struggled to make it over the top. It was 2-3km long and easily the hardest climb I’ve ridden. I had to ride hard in the first 2-3 hours of the stage to contain breakaways and generally try and make Rich’s life as easy as possible. Finishing the job riding over the line in Skerries was one of the best feelings I’ve had on a bike. Thanks to all my team mates, Rich, Ben, Langy and Chris for a great week. Also thanks to John, Ian, Rob and Iona for keeping us in line and for keeping it fun.
Jay Thomson & Ben Day at Wind Tunnel Mooresville, NC Image ©Copyright CristiRuhlman
I caught up with Ben Day of Pegasus Racing and Fly V Australia to get his take on just how “mateship” and teammates played a part in their successful 2010 season. As the team is in the process of applying for a UCI ProTour license, I also wanted to know how that philosophy will play out as the team moves over to Europe to compete in the 2011 season.
When we think of a cycling domestique, we usually think of individuals. Those cyclists who ride in the peloton giving shelter to their GC rider, bringing food and water and pretty much being the unknown force behind the pro-peloton.
But… what if an entire team could be that way–sharing the responsibilities and promoting a culture of just that: TEAMWORK. Might it not be a driving force on the cycling scene, one with a very special team solidarity?
There is a team that has done just that, and done it successfully. That team is Pegasus Racing’s FlyVAustralia. In fact, during their time on the US domestic scene, they’ve ridden together so successfully, this year alone they have scored 84 wins; that they have now made application to the UCI to head to Europe and ride there, hopefully as a ProTour team.
Tell us about “mateship” on FlyV and how its actually helped you and the guys be so successful this season? And also how you see it working as Pegasus Racing takes it to the next level?
Ben Day: The whole mateship ideology, we kind of garnered out of how in Australia we call each other “mate” all the time. It lends itself for us to be a lot more friendly to each other, I guess you could say it’s teamwork Aussie style. But in this context with the team, it just reinforced the importance of what it means to work together as a team and sacrificing yourself for the sake of the team. It’s teamwork with no personal agendas, as is often the case in other systems. I believe we have 84 wins so far for 2010 with one more tour to go, so you have to say its working really, really well. The challenge will be going into next year with the new ProTour team. For us going in there and bringing in some foreign riders and staff, we’ll be trying to teach this method to them as well, and see if they can take up where we’ve left off.
FlyV Australia team Image ©Copyright FlyVAustralia.com
You guys have had such great success here in the USA. With the team dynamic that we’ve seen, you all have something special. How do you think that’s going to translate to the new team? Tell us a bit more about that.
Ben: It’s going to be a bit of a challenge in itself. You know, these guys we’ve hired, we’ve hired them with the intention and foresight that these are going to be great people to have involved with the team. It’s a process, not one that just happens naturally though. In the beginnings of 2010, we did some helicopter crash training to help bring the group together and to be in some stressful situations together and learn more about each other. And that helped us with the rest of the season, where we had a lot of success.
But we kind of operate on a very honest platform. And when someone’s done a good job, like when someone wins a race, they’ve done a great job and they don’t really need a lot more pats on the back. But guys who’ve sacrificed themselves for somebody else to win the race, those moments, they’re the ones that are the most important to say, “really good job, well done, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have won.” You really need to appreciate that kind of thing.
We have a very honest and open communication with everybody on the team. But at the same time, if somebody doesn’t do their job we also hold them accountable. So I think having that is… to put it bluntly… a no bullshit platform to work on, people are held accountable. If they’re good, they get congratulated; and if they don’t, then we sit down and talk about it. It’s not just left for people to figure over or for people to talk behind other people’s back. We’re open and honest with each other and we genuinely care about the bloke next to us. When we celebrate, we celebrate together. When we lose, we rally together to support each other for the next feat.
You’ve also signed alot of Aussies for 2011. Like you said, you call yourselves “mates”, do you think it’s in the culture and might make it a bit easier to fit into the team?
Ben: Yeah, it’s definitely in the culture. We’re just like that – Australians are very laid back people and don’t get worked up over small things. You know we’ve signed 11 riders, and so far there are also 11 foreign riders with still spaces to fill. So for the moment, and we will always be, an Australian team. I think that Chris White’s spent a lot of time making sure that he finds people who are willing to…….people who have similar mindsets, the personality of working hard, being laid back willing to comeback and do it for the team. They are going to be our mates and we’re all going to have a great year next year I’m sure.
Ben refines TT position - Image ©Copyright Randy Ruhlman
For next year, we’ve heard that you’ve already got Robbie McEwen and Robbie Hunter. They’re both veterans, but they also know how much hard work it is and how much they have to depend on the team. Are you looking for more guys like them, or more all-rounders, GC, or what?
Ben: At the moment we’ve been able to get a really, really good Classics team together. For now we’re a little bit short when it comes to GC guys, people who are capable of performing in three week tours. But you know when you look across the peloton, there aren’t a lot of teams that do have GC contenders in these 3-week tours.
Looks like you have got some nice young riders, and you have some on the roster who are coming with you, like Jai Crawford and Jay Thomson to name a few. So you should have good development on the team then?
Ben: Yeah, we still have a few spots left and we’re going to see who’s left on the marketplace, but then we need to develop as well. We’ve got some young, very talented riders on board, and in a year or two, you never know, these riders might be knocking on the door of the biggest tours in the world.
You mentioned that you had a good Classics team, as well. Do you think you’re going to do a lot of the Classics or focus on development and some of the shorter tours?
Ben: For sure, but the whole process, the ProTour process is still pending. We don’t know, whether we’ll get the license – it gets in there anywhere between Nov 1st and the 15th. But we have some guys who are very, very established in the Classics already. And they are excellent cyclists and they have great reputations. I’m sure we’re going to have starts in a lot of the biggest Classics in the world. So I think that will kind of be the focus in the first year, and where we’re guaranteed to have some people up there getting results.
But then, still as well, there are people who come out of the woodwork and we’ll be at tours and trying for stage wins and just trying to better ourselves all the time. We haven’t been in Europe for a while and we’re going in there with the realisation that it’s not going to be easy. But, you know, doing what we’ve done in the US, we’ve proven we can win races and we’ve got that experience already, so now we’ve got to get over there and amongst it and I’m sure there’s going to be alot of surprises next year.
Ben Day ready for another run on the wind tunnel - Image ©Copyright Cristi Ruhlman
You’ve been a GC guy on the domestic tour here in the US, but these are mainly one week or shorter tours. Are you looking more at the Classics or the shorter tours or straight towards the grand tours?
Ben: The shorter tours. I’ve been in Europe for 6 years previously, so I’ve raced alot of those big tours over there, just haven’t done the 3-week tours. The week-long tours, I’m more than confident that I can handle those and that I will have some good results in those in 2011. But when it comes to the three week tours, I’m humble enough to realise I don’t have the experience yet–there’s alot to learn about recovery… and it’s very rare for a first time Grand Tour rider to come in there and really take the world by storm. It’s happened, but they are really super-talented athletes. I’m just taking it step-by-step and I’ve got quite a few years left in my career and hoping by the end of things, maybe we’re having a different conversation. But let’s wait and see.
Anything else you think you might want to share with us about the new additions and larger Pegasus Racing and “mateship”?
Ben: It should be a good fit, but it’s not going just happen naturally–we’re going to have make sure we put some emphasis on it, as well. We’re planning a training camp in Outback Australia in November. It’s where we’re all going to get together for the first time. I’m sure we’re going to have some “interesting” little activities out there – get to know each other better, be at one together. It’s like a bit of a different concept to Saxo Bank’s survival camp. We do other things, but this is more to bring each other together, to learn more about each other, and it’s worked really, really well so far.
MATESHIP is the mantra that Pegasus Racing/Fly V Australia has put into practice. There is no denying its success on the US scene and that it has propelled them to the next step and towards the team’s European destiny for 2011. With the UCI making it’s decision within the next few weeks on that future, it will be very interesting to follow the team and watch as Pegasus Racing’s concept of ”mateship” launches onto the European scene.