Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.
I met up with Matt Wilson recently, former rider and now Directeur Sportif (DS) of Orica-GreenEDGE, to talk to him about his new role, the Orica-GreenEDGE team itself, the Tour Down Under and a bit about life in general.
A former Australian national road and Sun Tour Champion, Matt rode with big teams like Française des Jeux and Garmin-Transitions and has a wealth of knowledge and experience about the sport, which he was more than happy to share.
Matt is very excited about the opportunity to become a DS and spoke about being on a steep learning curve.
He said the tactical decisions he has to make during a race were “very similar” to when he was a team leader while still a pro, but noted that ”the DS role is a lot bigger and more extensive.”
“I have 15 to 20 people to manage, coordinate and work,” he said, explaining that it’s a continuous process of dealing with the problems that come up and that those around him look to him for solutions.
“Riders and support staff all have issues and problems that all need to be managed,” he said.
A typical day sees him up and about before the riders, checking that the cars are fitted out for the day, following the race in the support vehicle and staying around afterwards in case he has a rider on the podium.
He also has to check equipment at the end of a day and see to the post-stage needs of the riders. Then it’s a team meeting, dinner and finally some planning for the next day’s racing, with maybe another team meeting thrown in.
He says his job comprises “a lot more than being a rider,” though he still rides on top of all that work, recently clocking up a thousand kilometers in nine days at the last training camp.
“It’s the best way to talk to people,” he said.
Matt was relieved by the win on the weekend by Luke Durbridge at the National Championships and said that “being in the car was so much fun, but way more nerve-racking than actually riding.”
“The joy was as much as if I was riding,” he says. I suppose the difference between being a rider and a being a DS is that you take away the physical exhaustion and replace it with mental exhaustion.
Matt also spoke about the pitfalls of his new job and putting his foot in it when it comes to the media. “When you’re a talent you can say what you want, when you’re in charge you have to be a more careful.”
Matt comes into the Tour Down Under with a wealth of experience, having raced eleven of the previous editions, including the very first back in 1999.
He has raced with some big teams but also raced with United Water, AIS and Team UniSA-Australia.
Matt spoke about Team UniSA-Australian, which he raced for several times in his career, noting that it was important to showcase Australian talent and that it’s a very special thing that they are included in the Tour Down Under, now a UCI world Tour event, because it does not happen elsewhere.
“Australian riders will flog themselves all December and January to get a spot,” he said.
This special arrangement that he Tour Down Under has within the UCI World Tour is testimony to Race Director’s Mike Turtur’s relationship with the world governing body, the UCI.
Matt and the team’s next race will be the Tour of Langkawi, which is from the 21st of February to the second of March, and then he will have a break as he and his wife Megan are due to have their first baby in March.
He then moves into a race program that is “full on until the Vuelta [a Espana].”
Matt spoke very fondly of Matthew White and said that because Matt is his friend “he still rings him for personal advice,” which Matt White freely gives because, in Matt’s words, “he really is a great guy, and it was all unfortunate.”
I asked Matt the plans for Orica-GreenEDGE for the Tour Down Under and it’s clear that the team is pretty much all set up for Simon Gerrans, who, I’m sure you all know, secured his second overall win at the race last season.
Matt spoke fondly about the life of a pro cyclist, despite living out of a suitcase and scratching around to make ends meet. He stated that he never lived longer than three years in one place throughout his career.
When I suggested that must be difficult, Matt, in his causal manner, simply replied that “if it’s what you’ve always known it, it’s not an issue.”
He said that he has never been more settled in his life, with his family growing, and that he is happy that he has a contract for the next two years.
We then spoke about Orica-GreenEDGE and how fantastic it has been for Australian cycling, and the commitment from financier Gerry Ryan.
“I cannot say enough about him, he is so friendly down to earth and so passionate about sport. When Luke Durbridge crossed the line he was nearly in tears,” said Wilson, commenting on Ryan’s reaction to his young rider’s win at the Nationals recently.
When talking to Matt, I felt as if he was talking about a part of his family when he spoke about Orica-GreenEDGE and the people involved in the team.
He talked about the characters in the team with an obvious fondness and said that one of the keys to the project’s success was the work done by former DS Matt White’s selection of a team that “all gets along together”.
Matt and I also talked about Dan Jones and the videos that he produces for Orica-GreenEDGE. We agreed there is nothing like it in cycling at the moment.
Other than tactical information or personal comments, Dan puts everything up there on the web in a bid to make cycling more accessible to fans.
“If I make a fool of myself,” noted Matt wryly, “Dan will still put it up.”
I must thank Matthew Wilson for spending 45 minutes with me and allowing me to share the privilege with the readers of The Roar – and I also have to complement him on his choice of beer – a local pale ale!
I think this sums up Matt Wilson: unpretentious, down to earth and a top bloke.