Matthew Wilson is an Australian domestique for Orica-GreenEDGE, he is also a cancer survivor and all-round good guy.
His story as a cyclist should give the newer generation a lesson in toughness, grit and determination.
GreenEDGEFans for The Roar:
Hi Matt and thanks for the interview.
Your career has had some ups and downs you have raced with big teams and smaller teams, how do you see your place in Orica-GreenEDGE?
Matt Wilson: Yes lots of ups and downs! Fortunately now I’ve found a great home at Orica-GreenEDGE. It has been a dream come true for myself and many of the older guys on the team who have spent our whole careers talking about having our own team and now it has finally happened. My role on the team is one of an experienced domestique and road captain.
GreenEDGEFans:You retired from professional racing in the late 90’s because your results with the National team based in Italy weren’t brilliant. You later found out you had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and were successfully treated. What made you decide on a come back?
Wilson: At the time I was diagnosed, I was working upwards of 60hrs a week in a kebab shop, bars and nightclubs trying to get ahead and I guess I wasn’t a very happy person. I remember being hospitalised for a couple of weeks after a bad reaction to the radiation therapy and thinking ‘I’m just getting better so I can go back to work at a job I hate’.
I was still in contact with Baden Cooke a lot during that time and he kept suggesting I get back on the bike. He had signed with Mercury that year and was winning a lot of races in the U.S and his career was looking up… It was a far cry from what we were going through in National Program together.
Anyway, I had a lot of time in hospital to think about it and eventually I realised that cycling was all I could think about. It was then that I made the plan to get back on the bike.
GreenEDGEFans: Your story of being in Melbourne with a desire to return to racing is inspirational. 60 hour working weeks, training fulltime and selling every thing you had to go race in Europe in 2001. Is there any special thing (thoughts/attitude/inspiration/persons) that you can pinpoint and share to all of us, that sustained you during these tough times?
Wilson:I guess I was very fortunate to have gone through the whole ‘cancer’ thing. I say fortunate because something like that will give you such a razor sharp and instant perspective on your life. All the worries and problems that you think are so important vanish immediately and all you’re left with are the important things.
Suddenly things weren’t that hard anymore and it was clear I knew exactly what I wanted and how I would get there and it didn’t really matter what other people thought. I think as well, the fact that I had totally committed myself financially to another shot at racing and gave myself no safety net, was a huge motivator because I had my back up against the wall. It was succeed in a year or bust, big time.
GreenEDGEFans: Throughout your career the name Baden Cooke appears and I believe you even rented a room from him when you returned to Europe. Is there any other people who you credit with helping your success?
Wilson: There have been a lot of people along the way who if they hadn’t put their necks out for me and believed in me, it’s doubtful I would have ever made it this far. Guys like Dave Sanders, Shayne Bannan, Matt White, Gerry Ryan, John Trevorrow, Jean-Franciose Quenett and of course Baden, have all at some time or another really put themselves out there for me and I’m forever thankful to them for that.
In all of their cases the fact that I never had as much ability as many other riders never stopped them from opening as many doors as possible for me and giving me the opportunity to prove myself.
Most of all though, my wife Megan remains my biggest supporter. She struggles every struggle and every up and down right beside me. My Mum remains my biggest inspiration, I don’t think a more selfless person exists.
GreenEDGEFans: As a domestique you are really successful, Robbie McEwen recently commented on you helping him get to the finish line before the time cut. Could you outline what a domestique does?
Wilson: The best domestiques basically understand that their legs don’t matter, all that counts is that the leaders are as fresh as possible when it comes down to the finish. There’s a million little savings you can make for the leader throughout the day which make all the difference.
Things like moving them up in the bunch at the right time, always sheltering them from the wind, stopping with them for mechanical issues or toilet breaks and obvious ones like getting bottles and riding on the front to bring back groups.
In cases like Robbie, you know that your only goal for the day is him making time cut so from the moment the flag drops you do everything you can to make that happen. It helps if you’ve had the experience of battling time cuts most of your career because you have a good sense of how to attack the day without over cooking it!
You were Australian Champion in 2004 and you always seem to return to Australia to race in our summer. Some professional cyclists skip summer here in Australia, why are you always back and racing?
Wilson: I love being in Australia and I really look forward to coming back every year for the summer. The early season racing there is a lot of fun and it gives me the chance to spend more time at home so it’s a no brainer for me to be there each year. It has also been a chance for me in the past to race for myself and have the support of guys that I’m usually supporting the rest of the season so that’s a big motivator.
What are some of the things that you enjoy doing outside of cycling?
Wilson: Mostly just spending time with family and friends. I eat out a lot… a lot.
GreenEDGEFans: How important is Orica-GreenEDGE to Australian cycling?
Wilson: Incredibly important, it will really help push cycling more into the mainstream. I think Australians really need a team to get behind in any sport and I think cycling can be confusing in that way. Not so much for the cycling savvy public but for the general public, they would watch the tour on TV and be confused by multiple Australians on different teams. It was as if because Cadel was on BMC and trying to win the tour they couldn’t support Stuey on Leopard as well. I think this team now gives them a bit more clarity in who to get behind.
GreenEDGEFans: What is the highlight of you career as a cyclist and as a non-cyclist?
Wilson: My first start in the Tour de France in 2003 was probably the most special moment for me as a rider. More than any win I have had or been a part of because it was a dream of mine since I started cycling. I can still remember watching it on a fuzzy black and white TV on SBS every night and just being fascinated by it.
GreenEDGEFans: Last but not the least, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Wilson: Hopefully happy and healthy and doing something I love!
GreenEDGEFans: Thank you for your time Matthew, you’re an inspiration and a star!