Have you ever dreamt about sitting down with a relaxing glass of wine and spending an evening just chatting cycling with a former World Champion? What if you could spend time with a Triple Crown winner? Well, that’s how reading the new book by Stephen Roche ‘Born to Ride’ felt to me. It gave me the distinct impression that I was having an intimate conversation with one of the all-time greats in the world of cycling.
The stories and the thoughts behind the action in the book are fascinating. Stephen’s personal views of the nature and culture of cycling in the 1980s–the teams, the Directors Sportif, the teammates and the rivals are the needed details. They fill in gaps in the urban legends and the well-documented stories that have become the lore of cycling. To be allowed into the depths of that world, just a bit, is a compelling read and well worth the price of admission.
Setting the stage with the details and drama of the World Championships of 1987, Stephen Roche narrates the tale of that fateful day, bone-numbingly wet, riding the circuit course at Villach, Austria. “During these early laps I am just staying in the wheels, sheltering from the wind behind other riders, freewheeling almost. That’s obviously an exaggeration, but that’s how easy I want it to feel, so that I can save everything I can for the end.” The winning strategy, the gear choices, the details of the day are the simple things, like putting on three rain jackets layered upon each other, that make for a build up that seems so very personal and intriguing. It also makes a fascinating read for fans of cycling and of sports psychology.
Mixed in with the racing are touching details of Stephen’s early days trying to gather up money to make the trip over to race in France as an amateur, as well as, engaging stories of the many people who helped make it possible. Stephen openly lets us in to his personal life in a genuine and straight forward manner. It is this glimpse into the triumphs and failures of the man that make you feel closer, that make you want to read more. It also makes you realize that a Triple Crown in cycling doesn’t insulate you from being human, from being a parent, or the devastation of having a child who develops leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. Within these pages are the joys of winning and the sorrows of life.
One of the most intriguing takes I have from the book ‘Born to Ride’ is the strong undercurrent of confidence that comes through when Stephen Roche talks about being on the bike. He didn’t just think he could win, he knew the race was his to win, and he belonged on the top step of the podium. Interestingly, he is quite honest about the price he paid for it, within his own team and with others, cyclists and fans, who thought his tactics were not “pure” team spirit.
For me, these insights into the mindset of a champion come through between lines, chocked full of the images of iconic cyclists who are brought to life through Stephen’s reminiscences. The legends of cycling from Miguel Indurain, Laurent Fignon, Roberto Visentini, Sean Kelly to Robert Millar play prominently throughout Stephen’s career. The book runs the gamut from glimpses of the boy, who collected clippings of Sean Kelly and was told at school he “wasn’t likely to get anywhere”, to the triumphant 1987 World Champion and winner of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.
Like most conversations, which zig and zag and take you to unexpected, but not unwelcome places, Stephen also addresses the climate of doping in cycling that existed at the time, his opinions of the present-day UCI and its concerns about “cheating” and improving the image of the sport, and his role in each. It left me ever more hopeful for the future of cycling, that there is still a sense of direction for the sport which comes from people like Stephen Roche who have been there and lived it.
As I came to the end, finally putting the book down, there was a sense of joy and a sense of loss. The interlude with the past, like a fine wine or a lovely evening, was over all too soon, but I was left with a profound sense of place and a newfound appreciation for the real challenges and sacrifices it takes to be a cyclist. Overall, ‘Born to Ride’ is an absorbing and interesting new book, Stephen Roche’s first full autobiography, and I highly recommend spending a few enjoyable evenings savoring the conversation.
Title: Born To Ride
Author: Stephen Roche
Published by Yellow Jersey Press, The Random House Group
Available from 7th June 2012 in Hardback & eBook
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Alex winning Nocturne - Image ©Copyright Tom Simpson Photography
Alex - ©Copyright Kramon
A Conversation with
by Anna Magrath
Alex Dowsett chats to me about cycling, living with haemophilia, Team Sky… and the significance of martial arts bears in modern cinema.
Alex is one of British Cycling’s rising stars, and this year the Essex rider joined the ranks of Team Sky. Alex, who has spent his career perfecting his time trialling technique, has had a lot of success against the clock. Alex joined the Trek-Livestrong Development Team after spending three years with the British Cycling Olympic Academy. He spent a lot of time in Quaratta, Italy with British Cycling before he was snapped up by Trek-Livestrong in 2010, a team owned by Lance Armstrong. Under Director Sportif Axel Merckx Alex flourished. In 2011 Alex came back to the British Cycling fold by signing to Team Sky where he’s had an excellent start to his season.
Alex suffers from haemophilia and he’s the only rider in the Pro Tour peloton with the condition. I caught up with him to talk about his career and how his condition has impacted on his life.
How has your first season with Team Sky gone?
This years been pretty good so far, I mean I sort of set out with the aim not to disgrace myself in my first year in the pro ranks, so I’m pretty sure I’ve not done that. I got my first podium in the prologue of the Electro Tour [Ster ZLM Toer] a few weeks ago… and I finished sixth overall and I’ve just finished 5th overall in the Tour of Denmark [Post Danmark Rundt], 3rd in the Time Trial on Stage 5 which I am really, really pleased with. It’s just nice to prove to myself that I can be competitive at this level. So it’s still onwards and upwards. Unfortunately I’ve had a little bit of an ankle injury just the last couple if weeks so I had to take some time off but it’s all been fixed and I’m back on the bike and trying to crawl back to where I was before.
What was the ankle injury?
It’s basically a form of arthritis, I haven’t got a lot of cartilage in there which the doctors have fixed with cortisone injections along with a lubricant which they injected straight into the joint and that seems to have fixed it. The doctors are pretty confident that it shouldn’t give me any hassle. They say there’s research into other sports that are weight bearing and there are footballers in far worse condition than I am in, playing football is pretty hazardous for the joints.
Is it something they’ll have to keep an eye on?
Yeah I might have to have this injection they say maybe at worst every six months but I might never have to have it again. So it’s just a case of if it comes on again I know something can be done to ease it, so it’s not bad at all to be honest.
So will that injury be impacted upon by your haemophilia or is unrelated?
The haemophilia certainly wouldn’t have helped it, I’m not sure whether it’s directly related or not, it’s difficult to know to be honest. It might stem from me playing basketball a lot when I was at school, that could have aggravated it. It could be a culmination of a number of things, haemophilia included most likely, so it’s not something we see as being massively important, it’s just a case of managing it and dealing with it as best we can.
Alex and Team Sky - Images ©Copyright Chris Maher
Alex Tour of Utah, Stage 4 Crit - Image Copyright Brian Hodes @ VeloImages.com
So have you enjoyed your time off the bike or were you itching to get back out there?
Yeah it was good, well it was frustrating for a while, it was a bit of a worry. I only really had one day were I was pretty down about it all, I went out that night and lost all my worries though. I didn’t drink because I live in the middle of nowhere so it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare when I want to go out and have a drink. I had a nice time though and met a really nice girl that I’m still talking to so it’s all good in that respect, I was stone cold sober! It couldn’t have gone better really and I felt great in the morning not having a hangover.
What’s your next focus then?
Well for the next few races, with all this time off, I’ll be largely playing the domestique team roll, doing what I can for whoever’s really on form and going for it. I’ll be doing things like getting bottles, lead outs and just generally looking after the boys.
Who’s on the next team selection with you?
Errr… [Chuckles] I haven’t the foggiest, I mean I probably should know, it’s all on the website, we get the race brief through a couple of days before we travel. We do so many races with so many people it all just rolls on to the next one, there’s a large number of us. Usually directors ring around everyone a few days before a tour or race to see how everyone’s feeling and how the training’s going and how well they’ll be performing. It also depends on whether the race is going to suit you more than others.
So how are you settling in to Team Sky?
Oh it’s been brilliant, they really do look after their athletes, the support you get when things are up and when you’re down is equal which is something that you may not get with other teams. It’s easy to neglect the riders that have had problems during a season but that certainly isn’t the case here, they all really get looked after. It’s brilliant that all the riders are really prepared to help each other out too. There’s no competitiveness within the team. It’s a fantastic environment to be in.
You were with another great cycling team (Trek-Livestrong) before making the move to Team Sky, so what made you want to move?
I think ultimately I’ve been supported right from the start by the GB squad and British Cycling, from a very early age. Sky is a fantastic team that’s really moving forwards and pushing the boundaries. So the option I guess at the time was Team Radio Shack or Sky. The problem with the Radio Shack offer was that it was only definitely for 1 year, whereas Sky were offering a definite 2 years. Also Dave Brailsford [Team GB and Team Sky Performance Director] phoned me himself to talk about going moving there, but from Radio Shack it was my agent who phoned me to tell me about the contract offer on the table. I mean if the top guy can take the time out and ring me himself it says something about the team and the sort of respect they have for all the individual riders. There were a whole load of factors that contributed to the decision. The Olympics were part of it as well, that’s a big target for me, being part of the collaboration between Team Sky and the GB Team is massive, it means my race programme is completely tailored around being as perfectly prepared as I can be for the Olympics.
Alex riding Ster ZLM Toer - ©Copyright Kevin Kempf
So are you still aiming for the Time Trial in the Olympics?
The way it works is if I ride the time trial I also have to ride the road race, so I think with me being a young rider, whilst I’ll aim for it I think a medal might be out of reach… well in the time trial I’m more likely to be an outside chance of getting a medal. So I’m turning a lot of my focus on being a team player in the road race for Cav [Mark Cavendish], and then it would be a case of making sure he does as well as possible, and then I’ll turn my focus to the Time Trial.
You must be feeling pretty good with your results lately (injury aside), I mean your performance at the Smithfield Nocturne in London and your result in the Commonwealth Games show you’ve got a lot of strength?
Yeah and I think it’s something I can develop as well, I mean come Rio [2016 Olympic Games] I hope to be a gold medal contender. When you’ve got the likes of Tony Martin and Cancellara [Fabian Cancellara] I’m just not at that level yet. I think there’s an age and strength issue. David Millar is a prime example of that: in the Commonwealth Games I showed I have the potential, I was only 3 seconds behind him and then the headwind just completely pulled me apart. It’s just pure strength which comes from the experience these guys have of riding loads of grand tours.
So is the grand tour circuit one of your main goals and aims at the moment? Sky are reasonably new to it, as you are, but the performance they’ve put in has been amazing?
Yeah, well before the Tour, I err… Well there was a possibility of doing the Vuelta [Vuelta a Espana]. Now that I’ve had this injury and that Brad [Bradley Wiggins] said he was gonna hit the Vuelta hard it was no longer an option. My first grand tour may well be the Giro [Giro d’Italia] next year. I did the under-23 Tour de l’Avenir last year which is the under-23 Tour de France basically.
Chris Froome & Alex Dowsett - ©Copyright Kramon
Alex Dowsett - Tour of Utah
Do you think the pressure of the Olympics being so close to the Tour de France next year will mean Team Sky have to rethink who will ride the tour to give Team GB a chance?
Yeah I mean it won’t effect me at all because I don’t think I’ll be a contender. I guess with the likes of Geraint [Thomas] and Brad there’s a few issues there and also there’s a lot of guys in a situation like Edvald Boasson Hagen, I mean what’s he gonna do? We just don’t know to be honest, I think I’ll leave it in the team managements hands, I certainly wouldn’t want to have to make those decisions.
What do you feel is your proudest moment to date, not necessarily the biggest accolade?
I won the under-23 European Championships last year, but eight weeks earlier I was on the floor with a broken shoulder blade and the doctors told me I’d be lucky to get on my bike let alone train for it. I was back on my bike faster than a shoulder blade break, I was on the turbo within a week and back on the road in ten days, and these were the haemophilia doctors saying this, I mean usually a break for me would be two to four weeks just in hospital.
So you’re one of these people who gets a kick out of proving someone wrong?
Yeah, there’s nothing like proving someone wrong to add a little bit of incentive. I have a fair bit of grit. I’m not stupid about it, all within reason. One of the doctors at this hospital (I think she usually works with children), she treated me like a child the whole time, that was the incentive there and then I guess.
As someone with haemophilia did you find as a child that you were discouraged from taking part in sports because of the dangers?
Yeah definitely. Certain sports, particularly contact sports are a big no-go which is understandable, I think it’s something I’m trying to change and encourage as well. I mean it applies to kids in general, there’s so many mainstream sports whereby people judge if you’re not good at them you’re never going to be a sportsman or athlete. My dad was a racing driver so as a kid I did a lot of go-karting, and then swimming, followed by sailing and I moved on to cycling. But I did the sports that you wouldn’t usually stumble across, you just have to have to opportunity to try it out, kids need to be shown and given taster session to get them outdoors. I mean for all I know I might be living next door to a potential Michael Schumacher, but without that chance a child may not have that interest ignited. Obviously that’s just an example, there are plenty of other sports out there that don’t cost a fortune to try out or get involved with.
So you’re really trying to raise the awareness of sport across the board?
Yeah, certainly in the haemophilia community. It’s easy for parents to be scared, they find out about their child having the condition and it’s a deep shock to them. They then just want to wrap the child up in cotton wool, but the fitter you are as a youngster the less problems you’ll have. It’s a bit of a double edged sword. All parents are protective of their children and don’t want to see them get hurt, but a child can gain their independence, strength and confidence through sport, which can help them later in life.
Alex Tour Of Utah, Stage3, 2010 - Image ©Copyright Michael Crook Photography
Were your parents very supportive towards you taking part in sport or was it something they worried about?
Yes they were very supportive, I wouldn’t be were I am at all if it wasn’t for them. When the doctors said that swimming was a great way of keeping my haemophilia at bay, Mum had me swimming five different swimming lessons in five different towns six times a week, she was finding as many swimming lessons as possible. Dad would take me go-karting every Sunday morning, he got me a small dinghy for sailing. They were really supportive for sports that I showed any kind of interest in.
Do they still get nervous when your out on your bike?
Oh yeah, yeah, [chuckles] if I’ve been out for longer than I said I would be my Mum will give me a ring. It wasn’t a problem when I was living in America, she didn’t know where I was, now I’m back in England it’s “Where are you? Are you at home yet?”, “No mum I’m at a cafe”, “Well make sure you give me a ring when you get home… Don’t forget!”, “Yes Mum”.
Though if I forget to take my medication Mum will be on my case. It rarely happens, but I know the day I slip up will be the day that Mum and Dad will be on to me. It’s good, I’m very lucky to have the parents that I have.
How do you go about giving children with haemophilia advice and encouragement to take up sport especially, with the understandable worries parents have? You do think parents should allow kids more freedom?
Yes, I’ve worked with the UK Haemophilia Society now for some time, but now I’m starting to work quite closely with the World Federation of Haemophilia. I’ve done a few interviews for them and basically I’m just trying to share my story and experiences with others. Actually I’ve had a guy on Facebook contact me from the Ukraine recently whose son has been diagnosed and he found an interview and article and sent copies of it to me. It was in Russian which was pretty surreal. He said (and I’ve had a few emails like this and it’s really cool) that my story has helped them. I know how traumatic it was for my parents when they found out, I was 18 months old, it was pretty grim for them. The doctor at the time painted the worst picture possible. If they’d known then what they know now and what sort of life I could have and achieve, then life would have been a lot easier and a lot less stressful for them.
It also impacts on siblings, I have a little sister and there were some rough times, they’d worry that my little sister Lois would get left out, but I’ve got fantastic parents and Lois is a bit of a hard nut herself. We’re all fine, all reasonably normal [laughs].
Alex at Revolution 30 - Image ©Copyright Hope Tranter
What’s your favourite discipline and do you prefer road or track?
Time trial, definitely!… and I have to say road is my preference.
Will you be doing any of the Revolutions at Manchester Velodrome this season?
Yeah, I’ll be doing as many as I can, I’m sure there’ll be one or two that clash with Sky training camps but I’ll be there. I do enjoy them.
A lot of your team have come through the British Cycling Academy as you did, what do you feel are the main benefits you’ve had from the process?
They taught us to look after ourselves and behave like pro riders before we reached that level. I noticed when I went to Livestrong I could actually drop my levels of discipline, whereas a lot of the Livestrong riders that had just come in from junior squads, or just racing in other teams, they had to suddenly raise their game, whereas I could relax a little bit. They covered things like self discipline to organisation, food and obviously training. The academy really teaches you to look after yourself and to be disciplined as well. It also give you a lot of independence with the living arrangements. It’s pretty hard as well, we’d have days in the winter which were grim and you had to survive on just under sixty quid a week. That was just for food basically, but when you’re doing 25 hours a week training you tend to eat quite a bit. You’d have days where you wake up pretty early, ride into the velodrome any weather, have a two hour Italian lesson, then lunch which you had to make yourself and bring in, then a three hour track session, then dinner that you’d had to make yourself and bring with you, then your track league… And then you’d ride home at 11 o’clock at night. To go to bed and get up the next day and do it all over again.
On one occasion, in fact one of my first track sessions, my phone battery had run flat over night. I’d been making a number of calls in the evening and forgotten to charge the phone and I used it as my alarm clock each morning. I ended up missing the first track session. I rang up Rod Ellingworth and said, “Sorry about that, I’ll make it in for the second session though,” and he said, “No, you’ll come into the velodrome now!” and when I got there I had three cars to clean lined up in the car park. I went out and bought myself an alarm clock that night. I wasn’t going to have that happen again! At age 18 it was an eye opener for me, I soon learned. The average kid is starting their first job or heading to university or college and able to mess around a bit or have an off day, so it was a bit of a shock to the system. Our accommodation was in Fallowfield, Manchester which is student central and the flats were above a Wetherspoon’s, next to a nightclub and opposite another nightclub, temptation everywhere. That sorted out who were the ones that were going to make it, though some of the guys that went out did make it through. It was just knowing your limits and getting the balance, there was a time and a place for it.
Alex winning at Smithfield Nocturne 2011 - Image ©Copyright Phil Jones
Talking of going out, do you get much time for a social life? And if and when you do does it revolve around a cycling set?
Erm… The academy was pretty grim at times but it was what you needed to do. Training in Italy was good but it was tough, eight guys who all thought they were gods gift to cycling living under one roof, there were some fireworks but for the most part we all got on. We were stuck in a small town, nobody spoke English. We ate, slept and trained together, that was pretty tough, no escape from each other. Then I went to Livestrong and suddenly I was in America! Living in the States was great because everything they say about the English accent and the girls is absolutely true [laughs]. I also found I was racing better when I was happier. Now I’m back in England I’ve got a good group of mates that live around me, I don’t go nuts, a lot of my nights out are for dinner or down the pub, a cafe or trips to the cinema. I go to the cinema a lot because I’ve got a good friend who’s a bit of a film buff. It got to the point that the only film we hadn’t seen from the current listings was Kung-Fu Panda. He was still up for it but I said, “Nah, this is starting to reach new levels of sadness, we’re gonna have to do something different tonight! No films about martial art bears!”
I take it fairly steady in the season because I know that’s what I need to do. I’m reasonably disciplined about it, the team helps you as much as they can, but at the end of the day it’s up to you. You have a nutritionist that comes round and tells you you can afford to lose one or two kilos to burn off your fat levels but ultimately it’s down to you to make the effort, they can only do so much. The same applies to training and getting yourself ready for races. All the facilities are there, it’s up to you how much you make the most of the opportunity, they can’t make you get out on your bike and put the extra hours in. If you don’t perform you don’t get into races, you don’t get your contract renewed and then you’ll never win! You’ve got everything laid out for you, you just have to grab hold of it and make the most of it.
If you sustain an injury how do they control your medication during a race, are they able to treat your condition on the spot?
Well the beauty of racing with the team now is that there’s always a team doctor at the races, he’s aware of my condition and holds my medication, and when I come down he’s there to scrape me up off the floor, he makes sure I’m alright. It’s all handled really professionally, and the team have really taken it upon themselves to learn everything they can about my condition because it’s pretty unusual and I think I’m the only one in the pro peloton with it. The medication has to be taken every other day but when I fall or get an injury I take more. The medication gets me up to about sixty percent of the levels of a normal person, which is enough to keep any problems like a minor injury caused by crashing at bay. Then if I do find myself on the floor I just take extra. My drugs aren’t controlled substances, it’s not the same as say someone in the pro peloton with asthma, they would have to fill out forms to allow them to use their inhaler. If you’re going to require a drug that can be abused and used as a performance enhancer then you have to fill in a form. A lot of the asthmatic medication would make you test positive. If you have to take a drug that will cause you to test positive then the doctors will give you a form that’s called a therapeutic use exemption form, which they hand in with a sample that says,“This guy’s on this drug, but it’s fine because he’s got asthma.”
Where’s your favourite training ride and what are your favourite stop-off treats?
Oh… A massive cake! I guess I like it a little bit too much. A pre-breakfast ride: I get up, have coffee and then ride on empty for about and hour and luckily about an hour away from me is pretty much the best cafe in Essex so that’s where I spend a lot of my time. It’s called The Blue Egg, the cakes are excellent. I usually have the date and oat slice because I kind of convince myself that it sounds healthy, it’s probably got a lot of butter and sugar in it but they don’t tell you about that, so what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you I guess.
What advice would you give to kids interested in getting involved in cycling?
Get out and try all forms of racing and see which discipline suits you. I think kids should try lots of different sports too, I mean when I first started cycling I was swimming as well and I think it really helped me on the bike. I mean Time Trials were my thing, it was all I did until I was a junior. I first tried the track at about 15, I then started doing it with the junior GB squad at 17.
Alex at the National Road Championships 2011 - ©Copyright Ian Robinson
Click here for Alex’s Facebook Page.
Click here to view Alex’s Twitter feed.
Click here for more about Alex & Team Sky.
Click here to be taken to British Cycling.
For more information about the World Federation of Haemophilia.
To be taken to the UK Haemophilia Society website.
British National Time Trial Champion
5th Overall Tour of Denmark
3rd in Stage 5 (Time Trial)
3rd Overall – Prologue – Ster Zlm Toer (and best young rider prize)
1st Smithfield Nocturne
1st European Time Trial Championships U23
1st Stage 5 Cascade Cycling Classic (USA)
Tour of Utah
2nd Stage 2
Tour de l’Avenir
2nd in Prologue
2nd Commonwealth Games Time Trial
1st Chrono des Nations U23
1st Richmond Grand Prix
1st British Time Trial Championships U23
7th World Time Trial Championships U23
11th European Time Trial Championships U23
3rd Abergavenny International Criterium (UCI 1.2)
4th British U23 Road Race Championships
3rd British Senior 10 mile Time Trial Championships
1st Team Time Trial Tour d’Alsace (UCI 2.2)
1st British Time Trial Championships U23
1st Perfs Pedal Road Race
1st Overall British Premier Calendar U23 Champion
1st Rudy Project Time Trial Series
3rd British Senior 10 mile Time Trial Championships
4th British Senior 25 mile Time Trial Championships
1st British Junior Road Race Championships
1st British Junior 10 mile Time Trial Championships
1st British Junior 25 mile Time Trial Championships
1st Tour of Switzerland 7.7km Time Trial
1st European Junior Team Pursuit Championships
My thanks to Alex and all the photographers.
Click to read Sam’s interview with Alex
©Copyright 2011 Anna Magrath @ Cycling Shorts. Please do not reproduce any content without permission from myself or the photographers.
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.
This month at CyclingShorts.uk.com I’m bringing you an exclusive, we’re excited to feature a great article by my friend Fitzalan Gorman from www.usprocyclingnews.com She caught up with the riders of BMC Racing to get their thoughts on teammates and how that will play a part in their continued success on the world circuits of the UCI Pro-Tour.
American Riders on BMC Racing: Larry Warbasse, Taylor Phinney, John Murphy, George Hincapie show off 2011 team colors at Spain Press day - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com
Training camp is often the only time of the year that all riders, directeur sportifs and staff are all together in the same place. While officially it is work, these few weeks are the calm before the storm that is the long professional cycling season. At the end of January, BMC Racing held its training camp along the Spanish coastline near Denia. This area has fairly quiet roads with lots of options including flats and undulating, hilly terrain. While here, I got a chance to talk with various members of BMC Racing to find out a little more about the teammate side of cycling.
Cadel Evans and Tim Roe at Press Day in Spain 2011 - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com
So what do you think of your new teammates?
Brent Bookwalter: “These guys add a certain level of class and experience to the team. Many of the new guys have serious Grand Tour experience and are veterans at the pro tour level in both age and experience. I’m rooming with Ivan Santaromita. We are the same age, he was born in 1984, but he has been racing in the pro tour longer than I’ve been racing road bikes. Guys like that, guys who have been around the block, are very capable, classy and accomplished riders and there is a lot of depth there.”
Cadel Evans: “I’m rooming with Yannick Eijssen. He has so many questions and is so motivated. I can only hope that I am giving him good advice. Along with Tim Roe, I hope that I can help develop these young riders better. I’m also excited about having Manuel Quinziato for the Tour de France. He will probably have the biggest influence on my results.”
What do you think of your mentorship with Chris Butler?
George Hincapie: “I have a bit more mentorship role with Chris than with the other riders because I train with him all the time. He has a ton of potential. He had one of the highest watts per kilo at camp for this time of year, which I was excited about. He needs to learn how to ride in the peloton and how to ride on the flats, but when it comes to his climbing, he is definitely world class.”
George Hincapie at BMC Press Day interview in Spain - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com
As a rookie, how do you take advantage of the wealth of experience offered from your veteran teammates?
Chris Butler: “I definitely try to soak it all up. I live 2 kilometers away from George in Greenville, so I am definitely biased towards him but there are so many resources on this team. I feel like Karsten Kroon can ride a bike better than anyone else in the peloton. I just want to follow him around and learn all of that information.”
BMC Racing feels different from so many other pro tour teams: There is no other agenda here other than racing. Do you feel this way?
Brent Bookwalter: “Obviously the objective here is to win and to get results but I think we are really fortunate that our head sponsor, Andy Rihs, the head management, Jim Ochowicz, and the heads of this team are not “win at any cost” kind of guys. They place a lot of value in creating a team more than just bodies pursuing results. They are creating a real family with the hopes that true results will arise from that. I feel that we are fortunate to be in this type of environment over one that demands winning.”
John Murphy: “I feel that if you took the same group of guys, and put them first in a situation that demanded they win, and then you put them in a situation where the team provided everything they needed in terms of products and support, 9 times out 10, the supportive environment is where the riders will succeed. I think it is the best approach to anything competitive. Demanding winning isn’t the right psychology.”
Many hours are spent riding for someone else. Tell me a little bit about the mental side of riding in support of one of your teammates.
Brent Bookwalter: “Whether it is George, Karsten, Cadel or anyone else on this team, you step up. I think anytime you care about a person, on a personal level–more than just a coworker level – there is a greater incentive; there is more at stake than career success. There is personal success because you can honestly be happy about that person stepping up on the podium at the end of the race instead of yourself.”
How hard is it to put your personal agenda aside to support your teammates?
John Murphy in Spain at BMC Press Day - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com
John Murphy: “You work for the team and know that you will get your time. It has to go both ways and it is a constantly revolving circle. As much as you want to be the one winning and putting your arms up in the air, nobody does that by himself. If you are lucky enough to be that person, then you have to appreciate everything that everyone else is doing for you.”
Brent Bookwalter: “At this point, we are all professionals. You create longevity and professional success in this sport by fulfilling that role. To some extent, you can have satisfaction in it. You can think, it is not my job to win at the end of the race but it is my job to cover the pack for the first 100 km and I am going to turn myself inside out to do that. It definitely isn’t a thankless job.”
Final Impressions on Teamwork and BMC Racing:
While here in Denia for the BMC training camp and press day, I was impressed by the individual strength of each rider, but it was the overall spirit of cooperation amongst the team that left a lasting impact with me.Cadel Evans explained the uniqueness of BMC Racing perfectly when he said; “I am allowed to be myself on this team”. This team just feels different; the respect and attitude between the staff, riders and coaches can be seen in every interaction they have with one another. While everyone’s goal is for BMC to win races, it feels like they are working towards this goal collectively, much like a family.
BMC riders: Jeff Louder, Chris Butler, Brent Bookwalter, Chad Beyer, Chris Barton at Press Day 2011 - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com
Many thanks to John Murphy, Brent Bookwalter, Chris Butler, George Hincapie and Cadel Evans for taking a few moments to talk with me about the team and for giving us an inside look into how teamwork plays into the fabric of BMC Racing. Best of luck to BMC Racing with all their goals in this upcoming season!
Team Time Trial--2009 Tour de France Image ©Copyright AFP
Who are these riders who give their all in support of the team and its superstar cyclists? Who are the domestiques?
Let’s make no mistake here, all pro-peloton domestiques are super talented riders. They’ve won races throughout their careers and show great promise.
Of course, they have to be that good. If they weren’t great cyclists, they’d never come anywhere close to being considered for a Pro-Tour team. Nor would they be part of that chosen few who support the team in the big races, the Giro, Vuelta, the Tour de France. It’s the pinnacle, the place where all great cyclist aspire to be.
On Cycling Shorts I’d like to spotlight these riders, look at some history of how domestiques and tactics have developed, and profile current and retired domestique riders. In the meantime, maybe we can also get a few to talk about their experiences as professional riders and domestiques.
First though, I really want to start with an ideal, a model of what I think has evolved into the Ultimate Domestique. This is the rider with exceptional, star talent who choses to ride in support of the team instead of inflating his own palmarès.
Yes, it is true. Most of cycling’s superstars started their careers as domestiques-carrying water bottles, blocking the wind, protecting the star rider, then they developed. Lance did, Boonen did, even Contador did, and some of today’s top riders still play both roles, in a sort of super domestique way: stars in some races, support in others.
But occasionally, through circumstances of team or timing, a rider will fulfill the supreme supporting role; that of the Ultimate Domestique. An outstanding rider, one who could easily be a superstar on a different, lesser team, yet he is someone who choses to be part of something bigger. The Ultimate Domestique is that star cyclist who choses to ride and give his all in support of another and help the team win a major Tour!
So, who is my choice? Which rider epitomizes that role of the Ultimate Domestique? Hands down, it’s Andreas Klöden.
Photo Courtesy of Team RadioShack
An outstanding rider in his own right, Kloden’s individual talents on the bike are really pretty darn impressive. Twice he’s finished second at the Tour de France (2004, 2006), won at Paris-Nice (2000), and brought home a Bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Yet, he’s chosen time and time again to spend his career with the some of the world’s best teams (Team Telekom/T-Mobile, Astana) riding in support of the most heralded superstars of this generation–Ullrich, Armstrong, and Contador. And much to the frustration of those covetous Team Directors who would love to pay him to come be the big star on their teams.
Klöden has used his talent and stamina to support his team leader through the mountains, in the time trials, and through the grueling weeks of a Grand Tours with the focus on the Tour win for the team. Once again it looks like Klöden will quietly operate away from the intense glare of the spotlight and continue to play his role as the ultimate domestique, this year with his new Team RadioShack.
Having seemingly been dropped from the media’s tentacles, Klöden rarely gives an interview anymore–which is a shame, because among other things he seems like he’d be a pretty fun guy to get to know. Instead he allows his performance on the bike to speak for itself, but that probably says more than dozens of interviews ever could.
So, while I think we may get lucky and see a few more individual accolades before Klöden retires from professional cycling, one thing appears to be certain, he’s discovered his place and he seems happy. Andreas Klöden has found his cycling balance as the ultimate team player — the Ultimate Domestique.