American John Murphy had been looking to make the jump to be able to race the tough one-day races in Europe. The call came last September when the 25-year old signed a two-year contract with the BMC Racing Team and here he is on one of the best Classics team with Alessandro Ballan, Marcus Burghardt, Karsten Kroon and George Hincapie as teammates.
“I wanted to race in Europe and I wanted to do the Classics and to be with George it’s going to be pretty spectacular. He lives in Greenville which is about an hour from Athens so we met for a ride together, get to know each other, hopefully give him a little assurance that I’m going to be able to help.” said Murphy who resides in Athens, Georgia.
He then smiled when asked what kind of help he could provide. “I don’t know like take him bottles, wash his clothes, wash his car, mow his grass, whatever.” Whatever needs to be done.
Throughout our conversation held during the BMC training camp, even while joking around, the reigning US Criterium Champion displayed confidence in his abilities. He knows that it’s going to be tough with races such as Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix on his schedule but he is ready.
When asked if he was apprehensive about the coming year, Murphy paused and replied. “You know I’m not worried about it I’m going to prepare myself as best as possible and what happens happens.” He then smiled and said “Talk to me in April.”
But can you teach a rider better known as a criterium rider to become a classics rider? “Well you don’t really teach,” replied Hincapie, “you just show them how to race it and these next two or three years it’s important for the team to ride well in the classics and he’ll be a big part of helping us do that.”
It does take time for a rider to get comfortable racing the hard one day races in Belgium. “Everybody is different,” said Hincapie, “he’ll adjust but I’m hoping and I have confidence that he’ll adjust quickly.”
Stars and Stripes. In 2009, Murphy then riding for the OUCH presented by Maxxis team, finished second at Downers Grove making him the first American to cross the line to claim the US Criterium Championship title. For him, the best part of that victory was that it proved he could deliver on a team goal.
“A team can have full faith in me because that was one race that I was told months in advance that I was going to be the guy, they wanted me to win the jersey and that’s what needed to happen, I needed to be ready. All my years on HealthNet and OUCH, they never gave me a distinct firm plan, you need to do this at this race and win this race, I was like okay I can do that. I did it and you know what, give me an objective and I’ll do it.”
The title was certainly a highlight but not the end all be all of his season. “You can’t really say that your first National title is not the highlight of your season so that was the highlight of my season but I wouldn’t say that it’s what necessarily made my season.” said Murphy. “For me winning is good but sometimes getting beaten is sometimes better because you learn more from it. When you win like a jersey you feel like you’re on top of the world, when you lose you realize that you have to improve, I take more from races where I think I could have won and didn’t than I did.”
Going over to Europe means that Murphy will not be able to wear his Stars and Stripes at races and he’s okay with that.
“For me to not wear the jersey is a dream because it means I’m in Europe racing the big races, if I take the jersey and wear it all year, that’s cool, it’s a privilege, prestigious but if I don’t wear it, it means that I’m in the big races, maybe crits are a little bit behind me, something like that. Crits are great and I like doing them and I’m good at them but it’s not my bread and butter.”
Murphy will return to the United States in April with two UCI races on his schedule for June, the Philadelphia International Championships and Tour de Beauce. He is also hoping to add the Athens Twilight to the list when he could proudly wear the Stars & Stripes in his hometown. “I need that.” said Murphy.
Not a Crit rider? Say what? Stars and Stripes not withstanding, Murphy doesn’t see himself as a crit rider. “Saying that I’m not a crit rider doesn’t mean that I’m not a good crit rider. Saying that I’m not a crit rider that’s not what I’m best at. You can be good at something but it still can not be you best. I think I’m going to be better at the classics than I am at the crits.”
His confidence comes from year of racing on the mountain bike, which he did from age 12 to 18 before switching to the road and from his engine. “I think I’m better when the race gets longer, more attrition, harder where there’s more to it than railing around some corners, a fast sprint and bumping some elbows. It’s like that, but five hours. I have a big engine, I need to work all day, I need to get rid of guys.”
Murphy raced for two years with the US National Team in Europe, in 2005 and 2006 where he had two top 20 in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs.
“I’m good on the pave, I’m good on the cobbles, short steep hills, cobbled hills because you can’t just stand up and muscle those you have to finesse it and if you do your back wheel goes everywhere so you have to have some riding skills, some bike handling abilities, you have to be able to fight anything.” said Murphy who went on to compare the classics with the fighting for positions for the last two corners of the Downers’ Grove course for the US Criterium Championships. “It’s like that times a hundred because you have to do it for every single section whether it’s a cobblestone climb or a pave section at Roubaix or anything you have to do it all the time. I’ll be able to do that every race.”
“It’s a race to the race.” For Murphy the fight for positioning before the first cobble section in Paris-Roubaix is worst than any field sprint in the US.
“You think about it if you’re not in the top 10 or top 20, there’s a crash, you lose the whole race that’s it.” explained Murphy. “You can’t win those races being the first 10 or 20 guys but you can definitely lose it by not being there. You watch any Tour of Flanders, the first turn, the first pave section it’s like the guys come to a standstill and they’re already 30 behind they’re not pedaling. Meanwhile Boonen is at the front just tearing into it, there’s no way to catch him ever, it’s game over.”
Homework. Murphy spent time watching and analyzing videos of Classics over the holidays. “You watch the races and you already know who won so you watch how they do it, how they react, how they handle themselves before the start and everything, it all makes perfect sense. You look at it and of course he won, not only was he the best guy but the smartest guy all day long, always saving behind his team, always having his team taking him around.”
He also adapted his training, whereas in the past he worked to make himself more of an all rounder this year it’s all about preparing for the classics.
“I haven’t been up in the mountains two or three times a week, I’ve been really focusing on five-minute power and my sprints, the things that I really think are going to be the difference in a race like Roubaix or Flanders, 3-days of La Panne and Qatar.” said Murphy who has not really trained on his TT bike either this past winter.
And of course the mental preparation. “And just getting ready in my head to do two and half months away from home, going to a different language, going to a different culture and fighting day in day out, trying to really be ready for it.” Murphy will be living in Gent, Belgium during his first racing period in Europe.
Go Time. Murphy is currently racing at the Tour of Qatar. His packed schedule includes Tour of Oman- February, Het Volk, Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, Samyn- Fayt la Franc, 3 Days West Flanders, Nokere, Groene H, E3, Gent Wevelgem, 3 Days La Panne, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
He is ready to jump into the races, see what happens and learn from the experienced riders on his team.
“My schedule is kind of open, kind of loose. Guys like Ballan, Burghardt or Hincapie are in tune with this run in to Roubaix and they know what they like to do, they know how they like to approach it, which ones they like to skip, which one they like to go not to race but to ride, which ones to do to to try and win, meanwhile I’m just going to get dump in the middle of it and figure out through them how I like to do it and while getting experience. I’m several years away figuring out which races I like to be in.”
Many riders want to race the Classics and many never make it but, on his fourth year as a professional cyclist, John Patrick Murphy is ready.
“You always have to have hope, you never know when the call is going to come and then it’s just go time and that’s what happened. I was one signature away from two years back in the US, it was really tight timing and then it all worked out, I can’t be happier.”
We asked Murphy to look forwards to three years from now and how he could see himself winning Paris-Roubaix, would it be from a small group or off the front from an earlier attack? Solo off the front was his answer.
“It’s a nice situation that I’m in with all these heavy hitters is that I can sneak away, they can’t afford to chase me and them. If I’m actually good enough to get away at the moment.” chuckled Murphy, “which is what separates the men from the boys.”
Before our conversation concluded Murphy wanted to talk about his coffee, the JPMurph Cycling Coffee Roast, roasted by Cafe.ine – known to many as the mobile coffee shop at the races.
“They’re roasting my own blend which is JPMurph espresso roast also available in decaf, beans and ground. jpmurph is my brand and my corporation that I started, it’s really good espresso. It’s what I drink every morning.” said Murphy. The coffee is available on his website jpmurph.com.
“They’re not doing my coffee, it’s the best.” answered Murphy when asked why another coffee blend.
Told you, confidence.