Bradley Wiggins might have taken the Tour de France crown from Cadel Evans this year, but there is a lot to applaud in Australian cycling.
Australians have played a big role in the phenomenal success achieved by Wiggins, the 2012 Tour winner and London Olympic gold medalist.
Wiggins’s father, Gary, was Australian and himself a talented cyclist, winning gold and silver representing Australia at the World Track Championships in 1977, as well as holding national titles at different distances.
Gary also raced professionally in Europe for several teams during the 1980s. Gary Wiggins may have passed on the cycling genes, but he was also what could be generously described as a ‘colourful’ character – he was an alcoholic and regular drug user who abandoned his wife and son when Bradley was two years old.
Imparting a more positive influence on Wiggins’s career, however, is the Australian contingent of Team Sky, Wiggins’s current cycling team.
Tasmanian rider Richie Porte and Canberran cyclist Michael Rogers, in particular, were instrumental teammates in Wiggins’s Tour triumph. The pair helped Wiggins through the mountain stages, giving him strong support and setting a blistering pace in the peloton at times. Rogers will be racing for another team in 2013.
Then there is Tim Kerrison, who has excelled in his position as the head of performance science at Team Sky. Kerrison is the number-cruncher and data expert, the analyst who breaks it all down and adds the touch of science to the training and racing programs.
The thinker behind the team, he has been credited with helping build its successful coaching structure. Kerrison has impressive credentials – he worked for British Swimming for four years, with the Australian swim team before that.
But arguably the biggest influence on Wiggins has been Team Sky head coach Shane Sutton. The gruff and no-nonsense Sutton moved to the UK from Australia in 1984 and himself won gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games.
He raced in the UK as a professional before starting coaching with the Welsh national team. He joined the British team just over a decade ago and has helped transform them from a mediocre cycling nation into world champions in the track and on the road.
As a coach Sutton has won just about every award there is in the UK. Coach of the Year from Sport Wales in 1998, Sports Coach UK’s Coach of the Year in 2008, High Performance Coach of the Year and he was awarded an OBE in 2010.
The 55 year old from country Moree is a forceful personality and seems to have played a kind of surrogate father role to Wiggins at times, somewhat in lieu of his real father Gary.
This close relationship was detaield in the engaging recent UK documentary ‘Bradley Wiggins – A Year in Yellow’. In it Sutton is depicted as a modest, self-effacing and very ocker character, describing his as OBE honour as “Other Buggers Efforts”. Sutton is like a cycling version of Steve Irwin or Barry McKenzie. He provides the kick in the arse when Wiggins needs it – he doesn’t mince words and doesn’t coddle the riders he coaches.
Wiggins himself says about Sutton: “He’s like the father I never had, well, I say father I never had but me grandfather sort of brought me up. But since I’ve been racing he’s been like a father figure to me really”.
Sutton concurs: “I love him like a son but at the end of the day I still got to be able to give him a belt around the earhole every now and then like I would my own son”.
Honest, direct and loyal – a throwback to the traditional Aussie – Sutton deserves some credit for Wiggins’ fantastic year.
And In 2013 Wiggins and Team Sky’s Australian links will only get stronger. Shaun Stephens, an Aussie triathlon expert, has been appointed as Team Sky’s performance coach. Stephens was previously head coach and program manager at the AIS and Triathlon Australia. He is regarded by many as one of the best triathlon coaches in the world.
The Australian connection to ‘Wiggo’ is hard to ignore. And while the self-styled mod and British cycling are both riding high right now, Australian cycling is not doing too bad either.
We still have the history-making Cadel Evans, who is gearing up for another Tour assault, not to mention Orica-GreenEdge quartet Simon Gerrans, Michael Hepburn, Matt Goss and Luke Durbridge.
Brothers Cameron and Travis Meyer are riders to watch out for, both possible stars of the future. Teenager Caleb Ewan has talent to burn and there is a lot of potential in the likes of Garmin-Sharp’s Nathan Haas, Rabobank’s Michael Matthews and GreenEdge’s Michael Hepburn. Jack Bobridge is only 23 but already a track champion, and his 18-year old protégé Alex Edmondson is on the same path.
Witnessing Evans lose the yellow jersey to Wiggins may have been a bitter pill for many Aussie cycling fans to swallow, understandably. But it’s worth remembering two things; that he did it with a little bit of help from down under along the way, and that our own nation’s cycling future remains bright.
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