Mark Langlands - Image ©Copyright Pure Black Racing
Conversation with Mark Langlands of Pure Black Racing
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.
Do you have a mentor on the team or are most of you guys about the same age and time in cycling?
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.
Team Pure Black Racing - Image ©Copyright Pure Black Racing
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.
Thursday 09:10 California Time
Jamie Staff – Image ©Copyright Way Ahead Photography
A few weeks ago I hooked up for a chat with British Track and BMX cycling star Jamie Staff to find out how the World and Olympic champion is settling in to his new life and routine over in the States as USA’s Director of Sprint, and to discuss his other projects and thoughts on his old team back in the UK. It’s 9am California time and Jamie’s just finished clearing away breakfast. He settles himself down for what ends up being a rather long chat.
So tell me about your new role as Director of Sprint.
We [the family] moved over here last year, as you say. My title is Director of Sprint, which basically means I’m the coach for the sprint team but I also have creative control. I have a lot of control over how I go ahead with the programme. I’ve got a few things that I’m trying to do. When I stepped into this role over here there was basically nothing in place: no sprint programme, structure or anything. There had been in the past but they just pulled the plug on it after the Beijing Olympics.
What was the reason for that?
They just didn’t really have the right coach. They’d had a long line of coaches that I don’t think were suited to what the programme needs. I know some of the coaches that had worked with the US before, and it is a somewhat daunting task. It’s a lot to do, but I’ve come in with a lot of energy and know-how and already seen improvements in the short time I’ve been in. The mens team sprint, they’ve set a new US record twice now, and they did set a new Pan-American best time, but that got beaten in the finals in Columbia, but y’know it’s baby steps. For me it’s just about riders’ improvement, as long as we keep riders improving we’ll get where we need to be, we’re not looking at beating world records by any means at the moment. From day one I stated, “look don’t expect any major results [short-term].” Even if we get to London basically it will be an achievement, even if we get on the plane we definitely won’t be competitive in terms of shooting for medals, there’s just no way.
So are you looking further ahead to 2016 in Rio as a realistic goal?
Yeah, that’s my target, and even then I don’t know if we’ll be in gold medal position. I mean you’ve got the likes of Team GB, France and Germany which have had great programmes for many years. So I’m quietly confident in my abilities but at the end of the day it’s down to the riders, you can only guide them and give them so much, the rest is up to them.
Does the track team in the US have a different attitude to the British team?
Jamie Staff with USA cyclist Dean Tracy – Image ©Copyright Brian Hodes @ VeloImages
Erm… It has been in the past but I’m trying to change it [he chuckles at this]. The US mentality was just about trying to beat the other best American, it was about being the best in the country. It was very short-sighted, so I’ve really worked hard with that in saying, “that’s not good enough and that’s not gonna work with me and if that’s your attitude…”
Americans are very good at setting goals in sport, for example in athletics they compete at the top of the world rankings, is it an ethic that’s just not been built into the track sprint team?
I think it’s just because it all boils down to the support they’ve had in the past. If you’ve had a poorly run programme, with a coach that doesn’t really truly believe in his athletes then you’re going to get a very moderate outcome. So I’ve come in, and I’d say I’m multidimensional in my coaching philosophy: it’s not just what you get the riders to do on a daily basis, it’s instilling many other things in them, trying to change their philosophy, goals and beliefs. Basically it’s getting them to believe in themselves and believe that they can be the best in the world, and just raising the bar. That’s what I’ve worked hard at, and I’ve already seen the results from that, so, it’s been very rewarding from my point of view so far. We’ve definitely got a long way to go, but I’d definitely say we’re ahead of where I thought we would be after this short period of time.
You’ve been in America now for nearly a year, and coaching is very different from getting out on the track yourself. Did you find it difficult settling in to a different lifestyle and routine?
Oh yes, for sure. I mean I’ve lived here on and off for ten years with BMX, my wife is from the US, my kids were born here too, and we were living here for a couple of years before we came back to the UK. So I mean in terms of just everyday life… and I know the riders well, I know the track well, I used to train here, I know a lot of the management around the track, so it wasn’t like a foreign country where you don’t know anyone or don’t speak the language. So from that point of view it was very easy.
Coaching is very different to being an athlete, and not every great athlete would make a great coach. I was very fortunate to be part of the British Coaching Programme. I did their education programme, and I even worked writing some of the literature that they produce for their coaches, so I had quite a bit of involvement. I did work with the British BMX team for a little bit as a coach on a part time basis, but that’s basically how I ended up in the job. I never really thought I’d be a teacher or a coach, or anything like that, it didn’t really appeal to me, but as I started doing it I found it very rewarding and enjoyable.
Did you start the coaching training long before you finished your career on the track?
Yeah, I was doing some BMX coaching in 2006. I helped the BMX programme – it was sort of leaderless and didn’t really have a director in the UK – so I kind of stepped into that role, as well as doing my track training I was coaching the BMX guys. So yeah, I have had some coaching experience, and again just working closely with the Coach Education Programme in the UK, which is a world class programme, I think just gave me some of the fundamental principles. I’ve been very fortunate really. I kind of knew my career was coming to an end, so you do start trying to educate yourself or try and gain experience in other areas and I think that’s how I fell in love with coaching.
When you had your back injury had you already decided you wanted to move on, or was it a case of “Oh no, not another injury, I don’t want to deal with this”?
Most of the injuries I’ve had have been short-term, mainly impact injuries, and it’s simply diagnosed and you just get over it relatively quickly. Back injuries are probably one of the last ones an athlete wants to hear or talk about, I mean I’ve had back problems before but it’s been a simple physio visit and a couple of weeks later you’re back to being one hundred percent. But this one was… well, the physios were quite confident I could get over it, I had some scans and tests, but all these things start piecing together over time and being back in the UK was just a lot of pressure on the family. With the wife being from over here amongst other things, we found that hard. And then age obviously comes into it, you know you’ve got to be realistic about your ability especially as I was heading towards London 2012, so there were quite a few different aspects that came together to make that decision. And I think – as I tell my riders – you’ve got to want it more than anything else in this world, you’ve got to be so hungry for that goal otherwise you’re wasting your time.
So you feel the hunger was waning?
Yes, yes for sure, I’ve always been that sort of person. Once I’ve achieved my goal I’ve always found it hard to maintain that drive and hunger.
And was that the same with BMX?
Yes the same thing really, I’d done everything I could. I wasn’t always the best, I was far from it some years and so, I think that was why I was inspired every year to try to be a better BMXer.
Jamie Staff 1996 BMX World Championships Brighton – Image ©Copyright Neill Phillips @ EpicDream Productions Ltd.
Why did you choose Track over say, Downhill MTB? Having so much explosive power and such a strong upper body?
[He chuckles] In BMX obviously you would probably be closer tied to MTB [Mountain Bike], like you said, or Four-Cross [also known as Mountain Cross] or something. But one of my goals was Olympic medals so I looked for the disciplines that were within that range and practised one of them.
It was just by chance really, in the late 90’s we [some of the BMXer’s] went up to Manchester to do some physiological testing on the watt bikes, I did the test and put out more power than any of their track guys. So they asked the question, “hey do you wanna do track?” and I was like, “well is there any money in it?” and they said, “no,” and I was like, “well, then no I don’t, I’ve had years of travelling around the world, this is great!” And I think if they’d spent a little bit more time explaining about the Olympics and what my potential actually was, then maybe I would have pursued it at an earlier stage. There are actually a lot of similarities, a lot of the behind the scenes work you do is very similar. Yes the bike looks completely different but the gym work is basically exactly the same. It’s all the same basic work, so the only thing I had to do was get used to riding a track bike, which after riding a BMX bike was very easy.
You have to contain your movements a lot more though, you can’t throw yourself around as much?
Yeah right, that takes some learning. But yeah, in BMX I was always the first to the first turn, and I wasn’t always the smoothest jumper or the fastest through the rhythm section, but it was my horsepower that kind of won me the races. And that’s why I think track appealed: no obstacles, just start, finish. Go, get there as quick as you can!
Do you still get out on your BMX since the back injury?
Er… Not really, but my back is fine now, it only really hurts when I put it under extreme stress. So squatting over two times your body weight, and doing repetitive circuits on the track, is when it would hurt. I mean right now I don’t feel that problem at all, and my back feels fine. I actually feel great. You know, as an athlete you’re pounding your body every single day in training and your body’s under constant stress, and so therefore you’re quite sore and irritated all the time. And it’s quite pleasing actually that, now I’ve retired, my body feels a hundred times better than it did when I was training.
So are you still continuing with some sort of training regime?
I don’t do too much to be honest, I’m a little bit burn-out on riding a bike, I’m trying to find something else to do. I played some racket sports when I was in my early teens and when I was a youngster, with my dad, so I’m maybe looking at doing something down those lines, something different. I mean I live at the velodrome twelve hours a day, I need to try to get away from that and do something different. I need to find something that will drive me to remain fit and healthy, I don’t want to get on that slippery slope. Just for the stresses of work, as you can imagine now, it is hard, that’s one of the things I’ve learned.
As an athlete I was always looking at family members or friends and saying, “why don’t you just work out? Why don’t you train?” And now, having no physical goals like that I find it so hard to get motivated. I always struggled to comprehend, why don’t people just stay fit? You know, why don’t you go and do something? When you have goals and targets it’s dead easy, but when you don’t it’s so hard. And at the end of a long working day, whatever your job, it’s the last thing you want to do. I’ve been out running a few times but that just bloody hurts so much, I try to find something positive in it, but I need to find something that’s enjoyable and just suits my personality.
You’ve recently become a football or should I say “soccer” coach for your twins’ under six team?
Yeah, I got thrown into that role, but it’s quite fun, I enjoy it, it’s just a local soccer tournament.
Are your twins getting into cycling?
Yeah, my son rode before he was three, my daughter could ride when she was three and a half to four, they’ve both got bikes they’re out all the time. We live in a little cul-de-sac so that’s great for bike riding, they love it.
Would you encourage them to follow a career in cycling?
It’s a tricky one. I mean, I think BMX is a fantastic sport for young kids, it teaches them many skills which they can then take away and apply to other cycling disciplines. It allows you to get into cycling at an early age, as opposed to say mountain biking or road and track, so I wouldn’t stop them from doing it, but I’m really kind of un-forceful. I mean right now my kids are doing soccer but before that my daughter was doing ballet and my son was doing tae-kwon-do, I kind of want them to experience many things, and they need to be the one that figures out what they want to do.
You feel sports is vital for kids development?
Absolutely, I mean I was a shy kid, terribly shy, and through cycling I explored the world and I think I matured as a person, it gave me so many valuable lessons. I think you could do that through any sport, it boosts your confidence tremendously. You’ve got the obvious physical benefits, but it’s the mental ones as well. I’m so lucky I was able to go down that route, and I won’t push but I will definitely express to my children that it’s a great avenue to take. But it’s up to them, I’ll just try to be as supportive as I can, just like my parents were. They were never pushy.
Were your parents into cycling?
No not at all, no one in my family is really sporty at all, the family played squash, badminton and things like that, but no one was at any significant level. It was just something I fell in love with. That is the key thing, trying to find something that you love, and you would do anything to be able to do it. When you have that kind of passion for something that is when you have the potential to be very successful.
I know you had plans a while back to start up a youth academy, is that still something you want to do?
Jamie coaching Holly Swarbrick at Newport Velodrome, Wales – Image ©Copyright Guy Swarbrick
Yes, in the UK. That was the hardest thing for me I think, just walking away from a lot of stuff in the UK. I don’t want to walk away from anything, I’m still trying to put it together. The Cyclo Park [being built in Kent] is a great facility and I’m trying hard to stay involved with that. Literally as we speak I’m putting together just a little bit more detail [in to my academy plans]. Hopefully it will be aimed a bit more at the elite level, y’know with nutrition, psychological, physiological input into riders and helping them with their careers and career planning, season planning and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah I’m still currently working with Kent County Council on that. I’m looking for sponsors right now, I’ve obviously got some good relations in the industry which I’ll be targeting and then there’s some chances of other major sponsors.
The aim is to try to relieve some of the financial responsibility from the actual athletes, because I know how poor cyclists are. I mean it’s very different over here, you can charge an absolute arm and a leg for coaching, but in the UK it’s very, very different, I mean people don’t want to part with ten pounds. If the academy is a success I would love to roll them out all over the UK or maybe even worldwide! You need to grab peoples attention while the sport is on a high to keep the momentum going.
Considering cycling as a sport doesn’t get much national TV and media coverage, certainly compared to the rest of Europe, how come we have such a hotbed of talent and how are kids coming to the sport? Obviously in recent years the profile has risen, but even before that it was always there just under the radar?
I think British Cycling is doing a brilliant job, especially in recruiting cyclists, whether it’s for leisure or sport. I mean BMX is definitely nowhere near where it was in the 80’s and I don’t know if it ever will be. The participation in cycling as a sport has gone through the roof, so I think British Cycling is doing a good job. I hope it’s not fickle. I think we have to be realistic about London’s results, I think Team GB will be successful in certain terms, but I doubt they’ll replicate what they did in Beijing. That’s just sport and that’s life, that’s the cycle of the athletes. We went through a glory period, and it is gonna be hard for them. You can’t replicate that year after year, it ebbs and flows.
I guess that’s even more the case when everyone discovers your secret formula to success?
Exactly, and I hope that those companies that have come into the sport as sponsors remain for the long term loyal to the sport, and I hope they’re not just in for the short term ride. Cycling has many great elements to it and I think the UK is a fantastic country and is embracing that, with building cycle paths and the general infrastructure, they are making improvements. It’s far better than it is over here in the States. I mean yes we have the great weather over here, but they don’t have the cycling infrastructure at all.
So is it city or rural areas that have the better facilities?
In the city you don’t get anything cycle-related, I mean there’s the odd bike path here and there that follow the contours of the rivers from the overflow of rainfall down from the mountains. The US is far behind the UK in terms of that. In the UK the government’s backing a lot of the programmes whereas over here the government’s not interested so it’s all down to the local cities, councils and private investors to try and get stuff going. You’d be amazed at the lack of input over here from the government, in terms of cycling and funding. USA Cycling is, well it’s good that they are self sufficient and they’ve got a business model that works but they don’t get a penny from the government, not a single one, so all their money comes from private investors and just the everyday business through membership. So that’s how they generate their revenue.
So I guess that’s why Road Cycling is the poster sport for cycling in the USA because it can bring in major sponsors and TV coverage?
Exactly, yes, USA Cycling is definitely not in the position that British Cycling is, but then again that’s all down to the National Lottery, if you pull that funding away then, well it would be interesting to see what happens.
Team GB Sprint to Gold in the Beijing Olympics – Image ©Copyright Chas Pope
There’s quite a Jamie Staff shaped hole in the British Sprint team for first man at the moment, and as you know, Liam Phillips the BMX rider is trying out on the track for 8 months. And in that time he’s got to try and get near 17.3 seconds in order to match where the French are with Gregory Bauge. Do you think that is a lot to ask of him?
It is, but I’ve known Liam since he was a little kid, I think he’s got potential, I don’t think they need to put all their eggs in one basket, being purely Liam. I mean Jason Kenny could do it, but he doesn’t like being man one, he likes to be in man two position, and he’s the best man two they have, and Chris is the best man three they’ve got, and yeah obviously they’re trying to fill my shoes. But it is an extremely tall ask of Liam, and I think they’ve got their work cut out for sure. I mean they asked me to come back and I laughed, I was like “yeah right!” I mean I don’t know, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t replicate what I did in Beijing. But I think Liam has a shot, but at the same time I think they need to chase other avenues with Ross Edgar and push Ross as much as possible. My choice would be (and obviously I’m not there on a daily basis but I know the riders potential): Jason Kenny, then Ross Edgar then Chris Hoy, that would be my call. I mean going into Beijing, Ross was a little bit slower than Jason at man two but it wasn’t much, and even if we had had Ross in the team on paper we would have won, so I know it’s tricky and certain riders want certain positions.
Jason’s gained a lot of power from training for man one, will that have effected him in any way adversely in other areas?
No, I don’t think so, you just have to look at Gregory Bauge, he’s man one and he’s three times World Sprint Champion but he’s not great at the Keirin. So if I had to call it I think Jason will probably end up man one in terms of the team sprint.
But I think Jason definitely has a chance of taking the sprint position in the GB Team, I think Chris will keep the Keirin role, and as I said I think the team sprint will either be Jason, Ross and Chris or, if Liam can come in, then it would be Liam, Jason and Chris. Liam has definitely got a lot to do. I mean at Liam’s age when I was BMXing, I was in my prime, in my mid twenties, and I only got good at the end because of the help from BC, and it wasn’t that I was peaking at thirty-five, it was that I applied everything that they were throwing at me, and that was learnt, and by pushing myself. So you know Liam does have the potential to do that, he’s coming on well physically, he’s really gained a lot of strength over that past couple of years.
Do you keep in touch with a lot of the guys back home?
Yes, periodically, I mean it’s a small world cycling, even though you might not speak to someone in a year, when you do see them it feels like three weeks. I’m a family friend of Liam’s. And the likes of Chris and Jason, I’ll drop them an email every now and then. And every month I’m on the road and during the world cup season, we catch up. I miss them all tremendously, I really miss the UK, and being part of the team, but life goes on. But I couldn’t be happier in my new role and doing what I do, I’m very fortunate to be doing what I really enjoy.
What are the home comforts that you miss from the UK?
Believe it or not, I miss the rolling green fields of Kent, and obviously when we lived in Manchester the surrounding areas there were also very similar. In Southern California you don’t have the ability to escape, I mean anywhere in the UK you can hop on a train or in a car and within an hour you’re in the middle of nowhere. Whereas here, I could go to the middle of nowhere and it would be a dry desert. You do feel kind of trapped by that sometimes, you can’t always take that big deep breath of fresh country air.
Jamie leads out the Mens Team Sprint – L to R Ross Edgar, Jason Kenny & Jamie Staff – Image ©Copyright Andy Carnall
Have you visited the London velodrome yet?
Yeah I went there when it was halfway completed, they were just getting the roof ready to go up, there wasn’t a track or anything in there. I’ve seen the pictures and the video and it does look fantastic. When I come over for the world cup in February we’ll do some touristy stuff with the team, get that out the way, and check everything out. I know the US team was asking if the track would be opened up before for training but I’m pretty sure it won’t be. I’m pretty sure Team GB will keep it to themselves, and only open it up when they have to for the World Cup. So apart from that I think it will be closed doors until after the Olympics.
What are your thoughts on the new rules set out by the Olympic committee on the number of entrants per event?
You can understand it from one point of view, but then I think they often forget why people do it. I have this issue on a daily basis now. When I go to a World Cup I’m only able to take three guys and two girls and I’ve probably got ten guys and four girls. Now for those other riders if they don’t see any chance to compete then they’re going to lose motivation, lose drive and probably end up quitting. You want to have the top echelon of riders at the competition, which I understand, but at the same time you can’t take away the dreams of other people, they need to have the chance to prove themselves. I mean you look at Team GB: they probably have four or five decent sprinters, but only one’s going to the Olympics, and so that fourth or fifth quickest rider right now is probably looking at his age, looking at his options and thinking, “well screw it, I don’t think I’ve got a realistic chance of going, why am I doing this?” On the day of the race ultimately it does all come down to who’s in the best place mentally and physically. Even the very best have bad days on the track.
The same applies to the huge amount of pursuit talent, I just don’t think it’s going in the right direction, I think as a competition the one in Beijing worked fine, it had two athletes in most events which was great and I don’t see anything wrong with that. So what if GB has the best two or three riders, why should they have to pay for that? So I mean I can understand it from one point of view, but I think in the interest and the long term of the sport it’s not doing it any good.
Do you still have your first Raleigh Mag Burner?
[Chuckles] No, I wish I did! I actually question what my parents did with everything, because I don’t have an ounce of stuff. I think my parents just gave everything away, sold it or whatever, just to pay for the other races, so it would just discretely disappear. I mean I have nothing, I have some things in the US from when I used to race for Haro, I have some GB tops and stuff.
So do you have a collection of bikes nowadays?
Nooo, you’d be amazed, if you look around the house you wouldn’t know I was a bike racer. In my office I’ve got a couple of jerseys up on the wall and a few pictures from the Olympics, but that’s it. In the garage I’ve got a mountain bike, one BMX and one road bike. I’m not fanatical like some, I mean I know this one kid, he said he’d got like thirty bikes and I said, “you’re kidding me?!” It’s unbelievable, and we don’t have the room basically and I don’t think my wife would appreciate having twenty bikes in the garage. I think she’s had enough, she’s got her bike, I’ve got mine. I’ve got one for if I want to go off on the road, I’ve got something for playing with the kids on the BMX. At the end of the day if I wanted something I could always get it because I know plenty of people in the industry but I’m not that fussed.
For now British Cycling are staying at Manchester Velodrome do you think the pressure will build for them to relocate to London and the new facilities?
Jamie Staff competing in The Revolution Series at Manchester – Image ©Copyright Guy Swarbrick
No, Manchester has too much of an interest in British Cycling and the upheaval of all the staff would be too much. I’m sure there will be divisions of it potentially that will move down there, maybe one element of it, you know like education or Go Ride. They may extend down there, and obviously there’s such a catchment area, it would be silly not to do something with it. So I’m sure it will be a fantastic velodrome that’ll be extremely busy but the nuts and bolts of British Cycling will definitely stay in Manchester in my opinion.
What advice would you give to young riders that want to get their talent noticed?
To get their talent noticed it’s basically going to be racing. I think it’s far harder these days. When I was a kid, because the sport was in it’s infancy, everyone was at the same level. Now for a junior or young kid coming into the sport where even the young kids are extremely talented, it’s got to be very off-putting and nerve racking and they basically just see it’s near enough impossible for them to get better within that sport. So I think you’ve just got to focus on yourself and make sure that you improve, and over time you can do it. It doesn’t take long for a young kid to get into BMX – you’re still talking a number of years, maybe three or four years before they’re really good – but in the scheme of things that’s not very long at all. So just don’t be put off by the talent above, don’t let that deter you.
So it’s very important they join a club?
Yeah yeah, definitely, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes cyclists seem very closed with information, but I think once you start talking to parents or club officials or whoever, they’ll open up and tell you quite a bit. So just talk, ask questions and people will be forthcoming with information and help guide you. And then obviously in today’s modern world with the media it makes that so much easier.
Do you think you’ll come back to the UK at any point and do some coaching?
Hopefully yeah, I mean, like I said, my plan with the academy in the UK is that I come there every three months and do a two or three day seminar, that’s the goal. The premise of the academy is to basically educate people on their upcoming quarter, so we’ll break a season down into four parts. So prior to that next part I will come and educate you on the things that you need to be thinking of and the processes you need to go through.
So for instance: you’ve just finished your race season and now you’ve got to deal with some time off, so I’ll tackle that. A lot of people don’t take any time off and it’s all about having other interests and hobbies so you don’t get burnt out, because I think many kids are just too intense for too long, you’ve got to have balance in your life. So I’ll just deal with different issues at different parts of the year. I’ll also cover bike skills and winter riding, and I want to get some
Jamie Staff – Image ©Copyright John @ Cycling Focus
companies involved with parts, equipment and bikes, and help educate people on clothing, tyre choice and even get some pro riders to help inspire them.
I feel there is such a lack of information out there, it’s just ridiculous. I’m just trying to open up the knowledge that I received from British Cycling and obviously what I’ve learnt myself. I want to open it more to the general public, and get some of that information out there because I do feel it is somewhat closed off. I mean there are no real secrets but you would think there was. It’s just careful planning and hard work basically, that’s what it comes down to, there’s no magic helmet you’re just gonna put on, no magic shoes, it’s just bloody hard work at the end of the day, and I think people need to hear that.
To find more out about Jamie click here to go to his website.
To find out more about the USA Cycling Team click here.
Jamie’s major career results include:
- 1996 World BMX Champion
- 2002 Bronze Kilo (England), Commonwealth Games, Manchester
- 2002 Silver Team Sprint (England), Commonwealth Games, Manchester
- 2002 Gold Team Sprint, UCI World Championships, Ballerup
- 2003 Silver Sprint, National Championships
- 2003 Silver Sprint, UCI World Cup, Mexico
- 2003 Gold Kilometre, UCI World Cup, Mexico
- 2003 Gold Team Sprint, UCI World Cup, South Africa
- 2004 Gold Keirin, UCI Track World Championships, Melbourne
- 2004 Bronze Team Sprint, UCI World Championships, Melbourne
- 2005 Gold Team Sprint, UCI World Championships, Los Angeles
- 2006 Silver Team Sprint, Commonwealth Games, Melbourne
- 2006 Silver Team Sprint UCI Track World Championship, Bordeaux
- 2007 Bronze Kilometre UCI Track World Championship, Palma De Mallorca
- 2008 Silver Team Sprint UCI Track World Championships, Manchester
- 2008 Gold Team Sprint, Olympic Games, Beijing
- 2009 Silver UCI Track World Championships Team Sprint
My thanks to Jamie and all the photographers.
©Copyright 2011 Anna Magrath @ Cycling Shorts. Please do not reproduce any content without permission from myself or the photographers.
World Championships Review
(Montichiari, Italy 2011)
by Jody Cundy
Wow what can I say, 3 days of competition, 3 medals, 2 World Records and 1 National Record. Going into Italy the main concerns I had were:
1. Could I pull out the pursuit ride my training has been geared to?
2. Would all the pursuit/endurance training I’ve done effect my top end speed?
3. Would 3 events back to back be a step too far?
Day 1 (4km Pursuit)
Well question 1 was answered on day one and it was a big yes!
Preparing for the worlds myself and my coach (Chris Furber) targeted 4:45 as a realistic target, if I could do this, then based on previous results this would put me in the top 5 or 6 riders in the world and score a healthy amount of points for the London qualification process. However it would be a massive challenge as my best time prior to the world championships was a 5:03.286. Things had been going well in training, and I was on target, I just had to get up there and put all the components together. With Chris walking the line I tried to keep my 1st kilometre measured and controlled as I’d been finding it easy to get carried away, especially when your legs feel good. More importantly though this had been my big downfall in training and had led to some rather slow and incredibly painful efforts!
Jody at the World Championships Italy 2011 - Image ©Copyright Christina Kelkel
By the time I reached 3km I was feeling strong and still in control of my speed, and I now had my opponent all set for the catch. I swept by him in turn 3 and then pushed on through to the end, with my legs beginning to really burn with a lap to go, but hearing the bell I just had enough to get me to the finish line.
As I looked up to the score board I was amazed to see I’d rode a 4:44.085 (an almost 20second personal best time) and had a rank 1 next to my name! With just one heat to go it meant I’d definitely be doing a 2nd 4km in the finals, but I would have to wait 5mins to find out what medal I’d be racing for. In the final heat world champion and world record holder Jiří Ježek posted the fastest time of 4:41.895, and with his opponent falling short of my time it meant I was a guaranteed silver medallist and I would be racing Jiří in the final.
Before the final I talked with Chris and discussed how we were going to attack it, as now I had made the final my competitive nature had taken over, and I wanted to give Jiří a good fight and make him work for the title. My qualifying ride was a controlled measured effort, and I believed I could squeeze out a little more and put some pressure on Jiří. So we decided on riding to the WR schedule, and see what would happen! This was all well and good, however by the time I was at lap 3 I was a long way up on schedule, a very dangerous place to be in a pursuit, especially as this schedule was 4 seconds faster than I rode in the morning. By lap 6 my over exuberance started to take its toll as I struggled to maintain the rhythm and speed I’d started with. Kilo’s 2 and 3 were pretty steady before I managed to find my legs again, but by then my race was over, Jiří had me in sight. I managed to make it to the 4km without being overlapped, but Jiří was world champion, and I now had a new pet project to add to my list for London!
Day 2 (1km Time Trial)
With the pursuit over, and all my goals reached and exceeded it was time to get back to events I know and love, and to answer question 2. The kilo was going to be an interesting race, with 25riders down on the start list and team mate Terry Byrne snapping at my heels in training the pressure was on. Terry was off 2nd rider and was out to post the marker everyone would be aiming at, and he did just that blasting out the gate to a 2second PB and a time that only I had gone quicker than, and he’d done this before I’d even started warming up!
￼I was last to go and with Terry’s time still top of the table with Jiří Bouska 2nd and Eduard Novak 3rd, it was time to see how much my legs had recovered from the previous days efforts. Out of the gate and I wanted to get the bike up to speed as fast as possible, 1st lap complete and I was 0.971 seconds up, my legs were feeling good as I settled into my tri bars and continued to accelerate through the middle section of the ride as I crossed the line I was a full 2.55 seconds clear of Terry and 0.3 seconds inside my WR winning time from Manchester 2009. Question 2 was answered, I’d not lost any of my speed, and as a bonus from all the endurance training the last 2 laps didn’t hurt as much as in previous kilos. I think that’s the first time I’ve actually been able to enjoy my victory laps!
Day 3 (Team Sprint)
Jody World Championships, Italy 2011 - Image ©Copyright Christina Kelkel
The last day of competition was the team sprint, and I was teaming up with Darren Kenny, who had already successfully defended his 3km Pursuit and Kilo titles in the previous 2 days, and Terry Byrne who would be riding man 2 after his silver medal in the kilo the night before. This was a new line up compared to past events, as the rules and classification classes had changed since the last world championships, as our existing team was no longer a legal line up.
With 15 teams riding the competition had become stronger, and in ride 10 the Chinese team set a new WR time of 51.655, taking 0.5 seconds off the existing mark. However this didn’t faze us as we knew that in training we’d been quicker than this new standard. Lined up on the track it was important that we executed the starts and changes over smoothly and legally, as fast as possible, and we did just that, blazing around to a 49.809 to take the top qualification spot and smash the WR in the process. In the final, after looking at the race data from the heats we made some different gear choices and felt confident we could go faster. As we blasted round the track our confidence was well founded as we smashed the WR again, taking it down to 49.540 with the feedback from the morning making a big difference in the final, the Chinese finished in 51.771.
With the final race complete and under my belt it was clear all my questions at the start of the week had been answered, I could pull out a world class pursuit, I hadn’t lost any of my top end speed, and to top it off I was still riding fast on the last day of competition, setting the fastest 3rd lap I’d ever done in the heats of the team sprint, with a 14.198.
Jody shows off his latest bling from the Worlds - Image ©Copyright Christina Kelkel
Montichiari was a fabulous experience and one of those weekends of racing that as an athlete you love, because all the hard work has paid off and everything has come together.
As a team we topped the medal table with 9 Golds, 8 Silver and 1 Bronze. It’s starting to look good for London. All that’s left to do now is sit down with Chris and analyse the performances and work out how to get even quicker for London. I have a few days off, and then I’ll be back on my bike preparing for a summer of endurance that will hopefully set me up for next year.
All images ©Copyright Christina Kelkel