Josh Prete is an Australian Road cyclist racing in Europe with the UCI team Whirlpool-Author. Follow him on twitter @joshprete and his website http://www.joshprete.com
GreenEDGEFans: You hail from far north Queensland and it’s that, it’s far north! How did you get into cycling?
Josh Prete: It’s been said before, but there really isn’t much else to do up here! I can’t remember exactly how I started cycling, I dabbled in almost every other form of bike riding ever since I can remember, and the progression to road just seemed logical.
GEF: Regional Australia has never lacked talent but lacked facilities but you do see lots of success from athletes from regional Australia, any thoughts?
JP: The big difference between being a young cyclist in a city and growing up in regional Australia is the amount of races you can get to. As an under 19 rider I was doing maybe two or three good quality races a year, which were the national championships plus another tour, and when you are trying to get selected for the national team that’s not enough.
That’s also where the selection process starts for the U23 national system, and if you are no good in U19, you don’t get noticed by Cycling Australia, and you are on the back foot by the time you start U23. Unless you are a massive talent, the only way you can become competitive nationally as a junior is to train super hard, and sadly I have seen lots of really talented young riders from around here getting burnt out by the amount of training you have to do to stay competitive against the city kids who can race almost every week.
GEF: You are racing for a Czech professional team Whirpool Author and Adam Hansen was instrumental in helping you gain this contract, how difficult is it for a young Aussie rider to break into Europe outside the national training programs?
JP: I was so lucky to have Adam to vouch for me, If he hadn’t helped me out I can’t see how I could ever have gone to Europe. It would be hard for an Australian who had no previous experience racing in Europe, or no friend to make the initial contact with someone to get a ride in a continental team the way I did. So for guys that aren’t in any development program in Australia it’s just about meeting people at races and showing them that you are committed.
There are lots of people in Australia who can help out, and usually all it takes is a phone call or an email, and you can get a start in a club team in Belgium or something, and then once you are over there you have to make the most of it. A lot of the Euros have a bit of respect for the young Aussies in Europe, because it is a pretty big thing to pack it all up and leave your friends and family behind just for cycling.
GEF: Could you comment on living in the Czech Republic?
JP: Living in Czech is great, it’s a different experience to living in typical cycling countries like France or Italy for sure, but it is a really nice country. I live in a nice city called Hradec Kralove, it is quite flat and windy there and not ideal for training, but I had to learn to train well with what I had, and apart from being flat it is still a nice place to ride.
For a cyclist, Czech isn’t the best place to race if you are in an amateur team, because there aren’t races every week as there may be in other countries, but riding for a continental team and getting to race all over Europe it is a cool place to be based, as you get to travel and see a lot of the continent.
GEF: Australia has a connection with Czech cycling, in late 1990’s the Australian AIS trade team Giant-AIS teamed with a Czech team to form ZVVZ-Giant-AIS Cycling Team, which included Jens Voigt and Matt White. Were you aware of this connection to Czech cycling?
JP: I was aware of the team, but I didn’t realise the connection until I was in Czech and people were asking me about the team. It took me awhile to put it all together. There were some rumours of the ZVVZ team starting up again one day, but don’t hold me to that!
GEF: You’re home now, do you have a contract for next year?
JP: Nothing is signed, but I think I will stay with my current team. I would have loved to move to a good U23 continental team, I think that would be the best move for my development and I would have enjoyed the chance to see what I can do in the U23 Nations Cup races in my last year as an U23, but there is a lot of competition to get in those teams and I have no real contact with them.
I really enjoy racing with Whirlpool-Author though, and I have good friends in the team, so I would be happy going back there next year.
GEF: Outside of the long and wonderful support for cycling here in Australia from Gerry Ryan and his Jayco company, we have seen a plethora of sponsorship for teams in the National Road Series and state based series and we have seen successful teams like Genesys and the now defunct FlyV Australia successfully compete on the Pro-Con circuit. Do you see this synergy building and getting stronger and better?
JP: Yeah definitely, but I think the next big step for racing here should be building the Oceania Tour and having more UCI races in Australia and New Zealand, the same way that the Asia and American Tours have taken off over the last few years.
If we could have a real UCI season in Oceania with teams coming from around the world to race, I think that would really help the development of the sport in the country, and close the gap a bit between the racing in Australia and Europe. If that happened, we might see more young riders with a swag of UCI points from the Oceania tour becoming attractive to the big teams and making the leap straight from Australia to the World Tour in the same way Nathan Haas did last year.
GEF: As an outsider of the National system, what improvements would you like to see regarding the development of young Australian riders?
JP: I think the Australian U23 program is pretty hard to fault, The Jayco team has an incredible setup in Europe and a perfect U23 calendar. We will see the strength of some of the riders coming through that program at the moment in the World Tour soon enough. And of course you can see it has already worked with guys like Clarke, Bobridge, the Meyers, Hepburn, Durbridge… the list goes on.
This year I have also noticed that there have been opportunities for U23 guys based in Australia to race with the national team in Asian UCI races, which is great for their development and will ease the transition between NRS and racing in Europe.
There are always going to be people that miss out, but that is part of sport. If you aren’t part of a National program, it’s not the end of the world and you just have to forget about the opportunities that other people are getting and work harder.
GEF: As a young and successful rider, could you comment on the wage and conditions of younger riders?
JP: I have always thought of being an U23 rider as like being at uni, or doing a trade. So at this stage, all I am thinking about is trying to be in the best team possible and working hard to try to get on a Pro Continental or World Tour team. As long as I can get away with racing and living in Europe with as little expense as possible, that’s all that matters for me at the moment.
It’s different if you are a young rider signing for a Pro-Continental team or a World Tour team, because they all have good calendars so then you would have to start thinking about the salaries, but at the continental level, there is a lot of variety in what teams can do. You see teams with calendars that would rival some Pro teams, and then you see teams which do mostly amateur races, which might be important for sponsors, but are not great for young riders looking to move up in the world.
I’ll start worrying about good salaries when and if I can make the leap to a pro team. I am lucky to have some sponsors from my home town of Atherton, and of course Adam, who make it all possible. My parents have been incredibly supportive over the years too, and I am really thankful that they have let me chase my dream these past few years.