Almanac Cycling: Chapeau Jack
To excel in professional sport you need the x factor, so named because it cannot be quantified in specific terms. It is something that you must be able to switch on when called upon.
Jack Bobridge has the x factor.
Enriched with pure cycling pedigree, a third generation wheelman, Jack’s Grand Father was a State Champion, his Father a National Champion. Jack’s palmarès are a bit more impressive; 3 x Elite World Champion, 2 x Olympic Silver Medallist, 4 x Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist, 2 x National Road Champion and current World Record holder in the Individual Pursuit. Not to mention World Titles in U23 and Juniors.
Jack has raced and beaten many of the World’s best cyclists on the track and on the road. At the age of 27 and after completing his third Olympic campaign, Jack’s tank is empty. Having to compete since 2010 with rheumatoid arthritis, his body is unable to perform at its maximum forcing one of Australia’s best endurance cyclists into an early retirement.
Australian cycling has been blessed with a legacy of champions, Anna Meares, Kathy Watt, Shane Kelly, Bradley McGee, Cadel Evans, Stuart O’Grady come to mind, but for me I have enjoyed watching Jack the most.
He brought an unknown quality.
When he was on, everyone else struggled. From the outside looking in, it appeared Jack would produce his best efforts when he needed to prove others wrong. I felt that he rode with passion and wanted to prove to himself that he was the best.
In 2011, Jack won the Australian Road Championships. Weeks later at the National Track Championships, he broke the Individual Pursuit World Record in 4.10.534. The previous World Record was set by Chris Boardman 15 years earlier and felt by many in the cycling community that this record would be unbreakable. Especially as it was set while riding in the now banned “Superman” position. But that day, while waiting to ride a semi-final, Jack watched Rohan Dennis break his Australian Record, setting the second fastest time in history. Jack was fired up watching his record being taken off him and returned fire, posting the world’s fastest ever time.
Fast forward to 2016 and in the Australian Road Championships, Jack failed to ignite for the Time Trial, a pet event and one where he was expecting a podium finish. Rohan Dennis went on to win. With his passion ignited, determined to prove he could, Jack rode the greatest Road race in Australian Championships history. Leaving the peloton and breaking away, on a hot 33 degree day, Jack rode 90 km on his own in what effectively became a personal time trial, crushing the peloton and showing everyone what he is capable of.
My memory of that day is sitting inside the velodrome at DISC (Darebin International Sports Centre) with members of the Australian Pursuit team and his coach Tim Decker. Tim was riding a derny around the track, getting off every now and then and checking Jack’s progress. With 20km to go, declared boldly, “they won’t catch him”, resumed his derny duties, pacing Jack’s team mates around the track, job done.
I first met Jack under the clocks at Flinders St Station during a press call for his attempt on the World Hour Record. Jack had a presence about him, didn’t suffer fools but was engaging with all the right people. Jack went on to narrowly miss the World record of 51.852 kilometres, breaking Bradley McGee’s Australian record with 50.3 km in a super human effort that wracked his body with pain.
Several months later I interviewed Jack for a documentary I was filming on the Men’s Team Pursuit. I sensed that he was wary of those outside his bubble. Engaging and personable, Jack’s desire to win an Olympic Gold medal brought him back to the Track. Prepared to sacrifice his road ambitions for Olympic glory, his return, with Michael Hepburn from Orica, was crucial to Australia’s Olympic chances. Tim Decker had been building a youthful squad and needed the x factor that he knew Jack would bring.
The first indication of the team’s potential was delivered in Cambridge, New Zealand at a World Cup event in November 2015. Hepburn, Bobridge, Alex Edmondson and Luke Davison rode the fastest time by an Australian Team.
A few months later, the men’s pursuit would go on to defeat the mighty Team GB with Sir Brad Wiggins on board at the World Championships, without Jack Bobridge and Alex Edmondson.
Success in Rio was achievable.
I joined the team at a pre-games training camp in Mexico. The day I arrived, Jack and a few other team members were struck down with gastro. Jack still managed to complete his training efforts at full intensity. A bucket was quickly dispatched and for the next two days was unable to continue with training. He surfaced on the third and last day of camp, rode his efforts with his team and was joined trackside in the bucket brigade with fellow cyclist Callum Scotson.
An outbreak of gastro two weeks before the Olympics was hardly ideal preparation but Coach Tim Decker felt that the hard work had been accomplished, there should be no excuses in not being at maximum performance.
In the qualifying ride at Rio, the Australian team rode poorly, not adhering to race strategy and delivering a race result with inconsistent performances, there was a shakeup of the team for the round one race against Denmark, winner progresses to the Gold Medal race.
Jack was omitted from the team line-up due to his output in the qualifying race. The Australians went on to defeat Denmark in an improved performance and with the Gold Medal ride in the evening, Jack was brought back into the Team. Knowing Jack and with his passion now ignited, the best strategy Tim could devise was for Jack to lead the team out hard and fast, harness his frustrations to maximum impact. Hopefully there would be enough fuel in the tank for the remaining three members to hold on until the end.
The race went to plan, Jack went out hard and the team had built up a strong lead, but 4000 metres is the race distance and after 2000 Jack’s race was over. The three remaining riders valiantly held on until the last 1km when Team GB pipped them to win by 0.8 second, setting a new World Record. It mattered little that Australia also broke the previous world record and for them it would be a silver medal.
Pride wears many different faces. Tim Decker was proud of his team. To win an Olympic Gold everything, including execution must be at 100% and even then there is no guarantee that you will beat your opponent. The margins between glory and disappointment are extremely small.
It was one of the greatest Team Pursuit races, two teams throwing everything at each other, a day when the team wasn’t perhaps at its best but went out hard with aggression. For Jack, Sam Welsford, Alex Edmondson and Michael Hepburn, a Gold Medal would be denied; what was left in the wake was character, the ability to fight hard when their back’s are up against the wall. When you take these guys on, be prepared to fight, much like Jack’s cycling career.
Chapeau Jack! You were one hell of a cyclist.