Almanac Cycling: From Track to Road to Rio and beyond

Alex Edmondson and Orica team at Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic.

Alex Edmondson and Orica team at Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic.

Summer is the period of reflection and contemplation. This last week I have been active in both.

Today I took my kids to the beach, actually it was Williamstown, for the final stage in the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic. Having to drag them against their own free will (no electronic devices allowed) and mildly telling a white lie about the beach, I was surprised when they both seemed to enjoy themselves. A fantastic vantage point helped and also the bribe of ice cream afterwards for good behaviour.

On the car trip home I began thinking about getting my kids involved in club cycling. They already do their fare share of sports including netball, gymnastics, swimming, footy and cricket but there is something brewing in the cycling world.

For the past three years I have been filming and interviewing members and coaching staff of the Men’s Endurance Team at Cycling Australia. I have attended National Titles, Madison and Omnium Championships and have been fortunate to be invited to training camps and the occasional team meeting. I have also been paying attention to the road teams, as a number of the endurance track cyclists pick up rides with the various Pro teams competing in either a Continental series or UCI World Tour.

What I have witnessed firstly is that cycling does not require you to be of a certain body shape, unlike AFL where the tall midfielder is the norm or netball where height provides an advantage. Cyclists can be tall, short, solid, they can also have thighs the size of wharf posts (usually an indication of a sprinter).

Caleb Ewan, an Orica GreenEDGE rider, is tiny but punches way above his weight, having won a stage last year in the Vuelta and winning his third Bay Criterium series this month. Caleb is a sprinter with endurance. It probably helps that you don’t carry too much weight, rules me out, however power to weight ratio can work in your favour.

The Junior programs are as good as those available for cricket, netball and tennis while the attendance indicates cycling is not as popular with the kids as say an AFL Auskick or Milo Cricket or Net Set Go program, this is where I think my kids have an advantage. Not as many kids to compete with!

The State Junior programs are always on the hunt for new talent with an aptitude for cycling. SASI, South Australian Sports Institute, has an active campaign where they go out to schools and identify the talent.

One such recipient of this talent spotting is Annette “Nettie” Edmondson, current World Champion in the Omnium and Women’s Team Pursuit. Developed and nurtured by SASI staff including Tim Decker now National Men’s Endurance Coach, Nettie blossomed through the junior ranks and with senior National and World titles, the next challenge after Rio Olympics will be on the European Road Tours.

A side benefit of talent spotting Nettie is that her younger brother Alex found cycling a curiosity and with typical sibling rivalry, felt he could do better.

Alex has gone on to win multiple World Team Pursuit titles, an individual World Pursuit Title, several National Titles and Commonwealth Games medals, not to mention 2014 Cycling Australia Elite Track Male Athlete of the year. Alex was also awarded a scholarship with Team Jayco AIS U23 World Tour Academy, climbing the podium with a 3rd at Kermese in Belgium. His road potential and ambitions were rewarded, signing with Orica for 2016.

Many of the Olympic hopefuls started around 14-15, inspired by either Melbourne Commonwealth Games or by the Herald Sun Tour travelling through their town, others were inspired by the feats of Anna Meares. Others became involved because of family involvement at either club or state level.

Shane Kelly’s dad first introduced him to a velodrome when he was only a few months old.

The pathway for a junior cyclist is very clear. Club competitions, Junior State and National Titles, World Junior Championships if you are good enough.

The talent spotters are out there looking. Consistent improvement and potential will come with encouragement and challenges.

Embracing the development program will see results and with that State selection and National titles at Elite level, maybe selection in National team and if you are especially committed and on the path of excellence, selection to either World Championship, Commonwealth Games or Olympic Team.

But let’s not get too carried away, a lot of things must go right. You may be good enough for an Olympic team but selection is often determined by how many riders can be taken for the specific endurance events, Omnium and Team Pursuit.

In the Men’s Team Pursuit, there are at least twelve riders competing for the final squad of five, actually I think it is more like seven riders competing for one position as Alex Edmondson, Jack Bobridge and Michael Hepburn with their recent performance at NZ World Cup have inked their names on the selection sheet, who will make the final seat(s)? Four riders wanting that position are World Champions, and the other three are up and coming World Junior Champions who both rode in the successful unofficial World Record attempt.

Outside of this men’s squad are several junior candidates, the depth in Australian Cycling is strong.

So maybe there is a log jam at the top, but don’t fret, there is always the road.

Track Cycling is a breeding ground for Australian Road Champions, Stuart O’Grady, Robbie McEwen, Brett Lancaster, Michael Rogers, Brad McGee, Rohan Dennis, Michael Hepburn to just start the list going.

The women’s pro tour is growing and the opportunities continue for female athletes, especially as Cycling Australia is one of the few sporting bodies with over 40% female representation on the Board and actively promote women’s cycling as aggressively as men’s.

A truly equal opportunity sport.

With one of each in my stable, I would be able to send them off to the same sport at the same time, same day without having to gain a degree in logistics for current parent taxi duties over multiple sports.

So what’s the catch? Why aren’t there more kids flooding the velodromes of Australia?

Maybe it’s an unfamiliar sport, but with coverage of cycling on TV it can only improve.

Perhaps it’s the dirty past of cycling? All I can say of my experience is that this cheating mentality is not evident at Cycling Australia.

An interesting story; I sometimes put together motivational videos for the coach and in my first attempt I wanted to use a quote from Stuart O’Grady, which was quickly removed.

I have also noticed that in previous years the AIS squad training in Adelaide were left to their own devices after training, with some of the wilder boys keen to lead the younger ones astray. Currently the AIS riders are billeted out and retain a strong family connection with their hosts, something the AFL do well with their young players. The culture has changed and this translates down through all the respective State bodies.

So is it the cost? In the beginner levels, equipment is provided. Bring a helmet, runners and fitted clothing, lycra not compulsory. As your child gets bitten by the cycling bug, costs will increase.

Talking with one of the endurance squad, I was staggered as to how much a handle bar cost, let alone new sets of tyres, seat and the whole shebang. And that’s just for a track bike; add on the road bike and you are talking home mortgages. Once your child is awarded a scholarship with either State organisation or Cycling Australia, the equipment costs are included, a huge benefit. How do some parents afford this plus travel costs to interstate comps and other ancillary costs?

It is a total family dedication and commitment.  I remain staggered as to the sacrifices made by riders and their families. One family felt their son would make a Commonwealth Games team, booked flight tickets, Hotels and event tickets (dearer in some cases than hotel rooms) only for the son to miss the team. They still went and had a blast with the younger brothers no doubt keen to go one step better. Commitment, passion and making those sacrifices, something that is clearly evident in the cycling community.

Australia is always one of the top nations at International cycling events, the sport has a healthy lifestyle, you can see the country and maybe a few international trips, there are opportunities to compete in an Olympics and if not then the road is calling. And another benefit, it’s a sport you can continue with into your mature years.

Time to give Brunswick Cycling Club a call and enrol my kids before the rush.

About David Parker

A keen observer of all things sport and a Swans tragic, David likes to dabble in sporting documentaries including the Max Bailey doco for Fox Footy. David is currently filming a documentary on the Australian Cycling Men's Team Pursuit squad as they prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Comments

  1. Hi David, I really hope your kids get into cycling.

    As I live in Williamstown, I get down to the Bay Crits every year. It is truly a great spectacle. If I am not mistaken, the crowds were down this year – I do think that it is not promoted well enough.
    Caleb Ewan is a star, and in the words of his manager (who lives in Williamstown also) “could really be something special”. Gracie Elvin is exceptional also.

    One of my saddest moments in sport was when Stuart O’Grady admitted to doping. He was one of my sporting heroes. I hope he is welcomed back into the tent in the future.

  2. Thanks Smokie. I also noticed the crowds were down on last year, interesting to see what numbers they get to the Road Nationals this week, the field at the Bay series was not as strong in regards to the big drawcards, it seems many were saving themselves for Bunninyong this week.
    O’Grady is doing positive work with young kids in SA and providing bikes to help them achieve their ambitions, hopefully his achievements without assistance will be remembered.

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