Australian Ben Day came out swinging at the San Dimas Stage Race, winning the opening time trial and successfully defending it until the end with the support of his teammates on the Fly V Australia team.
We sat down a day after his victory to talk about his and his team’s future, where our conversation covered motivation, the ProTour, being an Australian cyclist, mentoring, coaching and cricket.
“I’m part of a journey, we’ll all part of this massive big journey that the team is on. We have riders on the team that have more experience, we have riders that are less experienced. We need to share our knowledge and motivation, I really enjoy that part of it.”
The Fly V Australia team is on a mission to become the first ever Australian ProTour team.
Motivation. “I think it really sets a great amount of motivation to the beginning the season.” said Day about the importance of doing well at the beginning of the season.
“At the end of last year I had a few body issues where it finally came to a point where I had to do something about it. I had a chronic hip injury that I had my whole life basically. It was a condition that was only repairable with an operation finally and after years and years and years of constant treatment, it would always seem to come back to where I started from. I had to make a step to really combat this.”
So last October Day had surgery to fix the problem and then spent a fair amount of time rehabilitating, which he is still doing.
“It’s a little bit of an unknown but it’s actually an unknown that excites me because now I feel that I’ll be racing on a few more cylinders and I won’t have these issues to deal with as much as what I did before. So to come out with my less than normal preparation from what I would have normally have done, to come out here, for my training to have progressed so quickly, to have found this form so quickly for me it’s really motivating. Sometimes you get to a point, you get to a race where you have a great result and then after that it’s like ‘let’s just sit back and relax a little bit’, at the moment it’s all about I got to this race, had a great result, I’m on track with my training, let’s keep pushing, let’s keep working towards the bigger goals later on this season. ”
Day has definitely noticed a difference since the operation. “I’m riding straight for the first time in my life.” he chuckled.
“I’d been riding sideways for quite a long time. It’s caused all these muscles imbalances in my body, I don’t want to use it as an excuse but there’s quite a few races where I’ve been sitting there and thinking ‘what the hell am I doing, this is just idiocy’. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve managed to be on teams where I’ve had some soigneurs who have dedicated a lot of time to me, to look after my body and get it better. And still I need to have a little bit of extra attention just to keep everything straight and aligned. It’s an investment in my body and something I need to keep doing and be aware of.”
Work is still being done to deal with all the imbalances. “Doing all these little exercises, doing these little hip kicks, I should start some Irish dancing club maybe that will make it stronger.” he smiled. “But it’s getting better.”
It wasn’t looking good going into San Dimas or so he was told afterwards. “It seems to be two steps forwards and one step back. Thursday I came down to this race and I had the soigneurs work on me and they wouldn’t tell me at the time but ‘holy hell this is not good’. And not until after the time trial did they say to me ‘you were in pieces yesterday’. And every day that it went on, I got better and better but it’s that constant treatment that seems to be helping me at the moment. I don’t know what flared it up so much the other day, maybe it was the travel, maybe it was the preparation that I had leading into that. It’s something that I have to learn from a little bit as well. I’m assuming as the year progresses and the years following, it’s going to become less and less an issue and the times between treatment will be greater.”
He’s also had two position changes in the last two months which he’s still tweaking a little bit.
“The way I forced myself in doing that is the way I set myself up on my bike. It’s already so much better and the way I have it set up now I don’t have room to slip back into bad positions, still things will tighten up. If I just rode my bike all day I’d be alright but having cricket matches in Boulder always seems to flare things up.” laughed Day.
Wait… cricket, isn’t that boring? He smiled and said something about baseball. I countered with beer.
“July the Fourth, I’ve renamed it Australia Day, they do something else here on July the Fourth but I Can’t remember what that was. Every July the Fourth I have a cricket game, hopefully there’s no race that will clash with that but I think there will so we’ll have to move the date a week. We have a cricket game in Boulder in my backyard, it’s good game. It’s the funniest thing watching the Americans bowl.”
The first big goal for the team this year is the Tour of California. The team is building up to May by racing at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour of the Battenkill, Tour of the Gila. “Everything in preparation for California. Part of my role with the team is to be a mentor and captain these guys and be present even if it’s not always racing for myself.”
In June, the Tour de Beauce, an important race for Day who married a native of the region earlier this year. “It’s like my second home now, my home away from home.”
Then he’ll re-focus to the rest of the year. “I’d love to go back to the World Championships and Commonwealth Games again but that’s always out of my hands a little bit, so have a good year.”
ProTour in his future. Day is completely on board with this team’s vision. He has known team owner Chris White for around fifteen years. “He used to try and beat up on me a little bit when I was racing criteriums as a junior back in Australia.”
“Chris is a fairly quiet spoken person but when he talks he inspires the whole team, from staff to rider. He has this very distinct vision of what he wants to do, where he wants to go, it’s not just a dream, it’s a process that he’s shared with us. I’m lucky enough to have spent some time with him and talk about strategies and ways of doing that, I get to talk to him coming from the riders’ viewpoint and about what we need to best excel in this profession and he’s very receptive to that.”
The plan is to be racing in Europe in 2011 and ProTour in 2012. “You could say it’s a dream but at the same time it’s a vision that actually has all the structure behind it.”
“We won 94 races last year, we’re at 15 already this year. We’ve got such a tight knit group of cyclists here, they’re such absolute professionals, the motivation and commitment amongst the riders is awesome. If we keep being successful, we’ll attract the sponsors, we have the right foundation for them to come onboard, for us to be able to return a quality product for them and they can then be partner with us on our journey.”
Day thinks that he has the abilities to compete in Europe. “I’ve been before and I did well there. I was always in teams that I didn’t have complete support. We get looked after well here, we have great staff.” And the White is willing “to make investments outside what are normal traditional viewpoints of what a cyclist needs. We’ve done bonding sessions across the team, sports psychologist, we have a great therapist to work with us and our sponsors aren’t just sponsors, they bring with them great knowledge that can further us as athletes.”
But he is always looking to better himself. “The one thing that I think every person in this world should be is humble. If there’s anybody in the world that thinks they know everything then I don’t have time for them. That’s my coaching philosophy, that’s my riding philosophy. If we’re not trying to be better at what we’re doing, we’re getting worse I really believe that and being close-minded is really a poor excuse. I always want to be better, I want to be stronger, I want to be leaner, I want to be smarter, I want to further all these things. “
And then there’s looking after the boys. “ I want to make sure that everybody is getting everything that they need as well. I have a lot of ambition here, it’s something that I want to be a part for the rest of my career and then after cycling, I’d love to be involved with where we’re going.”
Aussie Aussie Oye Oye Oye. “The Aussie cyclists really get along really well, even if we’re on different teams, there’s no bitterness between us and we always hang out, have a beer, have a good chat on the start line, finish our races and have a beer afterwards.” said Day who never really thought that he needed to be on an Australian team.
“But now that this has come up and something that’s going to be the first time that it’s going to happen in our country, for us to finally have a ProTour team which is so direly needed. We’ve got all these cyclists and we don’t have places where to put them all and now we’re finally getting in to a position where this team is going to grow and be an outlet, we’re going to have the world’s best Australian team, racing the biggest races in the world.”
“All these people in Australia that stay up til three or four in the morning watching the Tour, they’ll be watching an Australian team and surely that’s something for them to be excited for and patriotic about too. So now that I’m involved with it and now that I’ve seen Chris’ vision with it, now that we’re all a part of this while thing together, it’s something that’s really special. If there’s anybody on this team that doesn’t feel that they’re privileged I’d be surprised.”
Day doesn’t know why there are so many Australian cyclists in the United States. The number has grown over the past 10 years and the scene has also changed. In just two years since his first participation in the Tour of California in 2007, the racing has gotten much hard.
“It’s bloody hard, everything’s changed, the riders are getting better, the support is getting better, it’s this great professional scene. It’s a viable option here to be a professional cyclist and be proud of what you’re doing which is a very important thing. Gone are the days where Europe is the only place to be.”
“The US is a great place, Europe is great place, let’s enjoy all of it if we can, let’s not segregate it so much. But the thing is we always have to leave Australia, we don’t have a choice. I don’t think we’ll ever have enough professional racing in Australia for it to support us. Europe has the culture, Europe has the traditions and stories but there’s some incredible racing in the US, it’s a means to be a professional cyclist as well.”
But Day does want to race in Europe again. “My ultimate ambitions have always been the Tour de France and the Olympics.”
“That was for me a great achievement.” he said about representing Australia for the first time at the 2003 World Championships. “To represent my country is amazing. There’s a lot of people who drive cars over there that don’t like us so much so to be riding around like I did the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006, I was riding around the streets of Australia getting cheered and it’s a completely opposite thing every other day of the year. I’m very proud of my country and I’m very proud of representing it and doing everything that I possibly can for it.”
“And then I think you ask every cyclist and the Tour de France is the pinnacle, it really is. Everybody asks you ‘oh you’re a cyclist have you ever done the Tour de France?’… ‘no but I know this other bloke who has’. I’d love to do it, it sounds excruciatingly hard, you wonder why you’d want to do it but just to be there and complete it would be such an achievement. And to be involved in the race and come out the other side I think would change you as a person, physically and mentally.”
Mentor. Part of his role on the team is mentoring the younger riders and that includes teaching about – well – thinking.
“Going to Europe there’s a lot of false crap over there, they try to preach to you and I believe in tried and proven methods, try it yourself, if it doesn’t work then try something else. Always try to better yourself but you have to use a little bit of common sense.”
But not just in Europe. “In the US, you’ll read a magazine and you’ll see ‘this product will make you do this or that product will make you do that’, try this, try that, there’s a lot of marketing and hype and bullshit, these are all choices that an athlete needs to make. We have to abide by the rules, we can’t take any risks, we need to look after our bodies as best as we can so it just a matter of making the right decision, that’s kind of the basis of it all.”
He also likes to see how the riders are training and approaching things. “If there’s a suggestion like I think you should be drinking more water, it sounds like you’re really tired and maybe you should have a break. Everything happens for a reason whether you’re riding like crap or you’re riding really well, let’s talk about it for a minute so you understand how you got here and take the right steps to not do it or do it again depending on what you want to do.”
And coach. “One of the reasons I wanted to start coaching too is that I believe there’s a career path in cycling, it’s a year-to-year contract sport which is the biggest downside of the sport if you ask me, the instability of having a job.”
The instability of the sport was a “kick in the butt” to officially start his coaching business.
“I’ve been outspoken about what to do with cycling for a couple of years and I’m not the world’s most experienced rider but I believe that I have a good head for it and like I said before, I’m humble enough to learn from other people and I think I can filter out good information and bad information.”
Last year he didn’t know if he was going to have a job and he looked at his options and asked himself ‘What am I really passionate about?’.
The answer was “Well everything that has to do with the body, whether its osteopathy, physiotherapy, or anything to make oneself better but then when it came to training, the physiology, the mental sides of things, for me that was so second nature, and well maybe I should start making this official.”
His business has now grown to a point where “he’s happy to let it cruise because I’m busy enough.”
“I get so much kick out of working with these people. Somebody in a Cat4 getting a win, I have an eleven year old and he won two races last weekend, so I won two more races that any other pro did last weekend” he said with a smile.
He enjoys the mentoring part of his team and his coaching and it has helped him too. “I’m researching things all the time now, I’m now a lot more ‘get out and go about finding information to improve myself’ and different training techniques,”
“I’m not just waking up in the morning, sending a few facebook statuses out there, going training for a few hours, sit in the coffee shop and then play cricket in the backyard… don’t believe everything I say, “ he laughed, “but it’s just made me a lot more knowledgeable and now I see how I got here.”
Calmer. The Day I saw this week seemed a lot calmer that the Day I remembered from years ago. He attributed that to a few things.
“When I was in Europe I felt pretty suppressed. I didn’t feel like I had a voice at all. I came to the US, I started racing with Ed [Beamon] at Navigators. Finally there I was able to have a bit of banter in English,” he laughed, “we’d trade off a few ideas here and there, at least we had dialogue, I appreciate dialogue. Toyota was a great team, so many great champions on that team. I think I started evolving there but I had a pretty big crash that year in Georgia, that knocked a massive part of my season, that was harder than most people realize. That started giving me a little bit more ambition in getting myself heard and contribute what I wanted to contribute because I hate biding my tongue I really do.”
Then there is the Fly V Australia team. “We started from the ground up, we had a lot of lack of things, we had a team that came together late, we were uncertain but the one thing that we always had was the vision, we could see where it was going and the passion was there. And I’m like ‘well to make this to best that it can be from my side and to control it for what’s not going to make me crazy, I’m going to grab it by the horns and contribute what I want to see here’. And then that went so well, I now find myself in a position of higher responsibility and officially in this role of helping out the boys and being a captain, it’s something that I really enjoy. I think now that I’m in the second half of my career, I still love to win but I really, really love for my team to win. I didn’t win 16 races last year, my team won 94 races last year. The joy of crossing the finishing line and having a big group male orgy on the finishing line is cool.”
And Day got married a month ago. “I found a wonderful girl who puts up with me with who I am, that’s all going really well. We’re madly in love, she’s awesome, we’re really really happy.”
But as a Québécoise, she doesn’t play cricket or does she? “She’s not too bad, she was actually not too shabby the first time, I was impressed and then I asked her to marry me.” Day replied with a laugh.
That was it? “A little bit after that actually. I’m not saying that it was or wasn’t coinciding with her cricketing skills.” One final smile and we called it a day.