What it takes to be a pro cyclist, and Aussies you should watch out for

Robbie McEwen Columnist

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    Richie Porte wins on Willunga Hill. (Team Sky)

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    Professional bike riding is more than fitted lycra and big sunglasses, and I’ve seen more Aussies embracing the cycle lifestyle.

    As the cycling infrastructure around Australia continues to improve, there has been a notable increase in riders on the road – whether it’s commuting to work on a bicycle, or participating in a casual competition with mates.

    Although there has been a rise in recreational cycling, it’s a big step up to pro cycling. We’re not just lean men in lycra, we’re professionals who train hard. Looking back on my time as a professional cyclist, there were moments where I questioned if it was worth it, and my advice to those just starting their career is simple – set your goals high and be regimented in your training.

    Success doesn’t come easy, but the pain, sweat and tears will make you appreciate all the hard work. These days there is a certain perception around success, where I’ve seen cyclists rest on their natural talents without putting in the hard yards. This is where they get burnt.

    Like almost every other aspect of our lives, technology has altered the way we do things, and cycling is no different. We’ve come a long way with technology since I started my professional career, which is really helping cyclists around the world achieve their goals on the world stage, and locally in their own backyards.

    There have been massive advances in carbon fibre technology, aerodynamic clothing and helmets, on-board cameras and the use of power meters to develop training programs. These advances in technology have certainly helped us all become better cyclists, and will continue to assist in world records being broken.

    When I was competing professionally, the key piece of technology that helped me train was the power meter. The software analyses data from races and then helps coaches create a tailored training program according to the insights, looking at what the key areas of improvement are.

    The altitude simulator was another great training tool, which allowed me to gain the benefits of training at altitude without having to leave home. These tools, along with other advances in technology, will see the sport take off into uncharted territory in the very near future. We’re in such an exciting time, and I can’t wait to see how technology advances the sport.

    In terms of emerging talent, there’s been some great riders come out of cycling in Australia, and with the recent completion of the Rio Olympics, there were some notable names on the road cycling team that are definitely ones to watch.

    Simon Clarke, Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte are Aussie men at the forefront of the sport. The four women who were on the Aussie road team in Rio – Gracie Elvin, Katrin Garfoot, Rachel Neylan and Amanda Spratt represented Australia with aplomb.

    All these riders are athletes with incredible ability and the ambition to match, and I imagine they will soar to new heights over the next few years.

    With the emergence of new technology combined with their daily sacrifices, these athletes are poised to launch Aussie cycling even further onto the world stage.

    Of course not just anyone can join in professional races and ride the Tour de France. However, there are many mass participation events for budding cyclists to take part in that include a race category, while others can ride the course at their leisure or challenge themselves to ride their fastest possible time.

    This year I’m participating in The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, taking place on the 26 November in New Zealand’s beautiful Lake Taupo. Only a quick flight from home, I’m looking forward to riding alongside a lot of fellow Aussies. It’s these types of races that gives amateur riders the chance to measure how they’ve improved and can be the starting point in their careers that catapults them to success.

    Robbie McEwen is a former professional cyclist who won 12 stages in both the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. He is an ambassador for the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, held in November in New Zealand. Check them out here.