An interview with Richard England, December 26, 2008
Australian Richard England's cycling career was almost over just as it had begun to pick up steam. Let go from his Bissell squad after nabbing his first big win in the 2008 Tour de Georgia, England couldn't find a team and was about to retire. He got a new lease on life thanks to a contract from Amore e Vita. Cyclingnews' Les Clarke spoke to England at the Melbourne World Cup earlier this year.
Richard England began his cycling career on the track, taking home titles in the Team Pursuit and Madison before turning professional on the road in 2005. He came to America to ride with fellow Australian Karl Menzies on the Advantage Benefits/Endeavor team before moving across to Priority Health in 2006, where he remained until the team, which was sponsored by Bissell in 2008. England's best result came with a dramatic stage victory in the Tour de Georgia where he outfoxed the other sprinters in Dahlonega.
Despite that high-profile win, Bissell declined to extend his contract this year. With more teams folding than growing, England was afraid his time in the peloton might be over. But his is one of few such stories which has a happy ending.
Cyclingnews: You've had a pretty exciting year – tells us about what happened with the team situation.
"I was almost resigned to the fact that I was going to retire after the Melbourne to Warrnambool this year at the ripe old age of 27." -Richard England thought his cycling days were over when he couldn't find a team.
Richard England: "It's been an interesting year in terms of team changes and the dynamics within the teams in the US in general; it was a pretty hard market to find a job come the end of the year. About midway through the year I decided that I wanted to try and make it to Europe and found myself a manager. Unfortunately over there [Europe] the market has changed, with plenty of teams shutting up shop - Crédit Agricole and outfits like that. It makes it pretty difficult to find a spot there.
"I was almost resigned to the fact that I was going to retire after the Melbourne to Warrnambool this year at the ripe old age of 27. I'd come to terms with that and started to think about what I was going to do. I was happy with it in the end; I got used to the idea and was looking forward to what I was going to do afterwards.
"I got back form Herald Sun Tour and had an email my manager saying that he had gotten me an offer with a European team - for me it was too good to refuse, the opportunity to go to Europe. Amore e Vita has changed its format this year - it's registered in the US as it's hoping to do a bit more American racing. They're reasonably aware of what goes on in America and the general way teams are raced there.
"I'm also looking forward to trying a new bunch of races that I haven't experienced before. I'm pretty naive as to what to expect and what the courses are like, etc. I'm really excited about the prospect of trying something new and different."
CN: It must have been a real mental hit going from winning against strong fields at the Tour of Georgia?
RE: "It was, and this was by far my best season in terms of consistency and stuff like that. Not racing the track last year really made a difference to how well I rode during the year. I feel like I sacrificed a lot during the year for my teammates in certain situations; we didn't quite have the structure at Bissell this year to have a lot of good guys that are good at finishing [a stage]. I got left to my own devices a lot during the year, which really cost me about two other wins and some podium finishes.
"At the end of the day the team decided to take a different approach to what they were doing and told me they could achieve their goals with some other riders. I respect that decision, and at the same time I don't necessarily agree with it; good luck to them next year but I've got every ambition next year, particularly when I'm in America, that I prove a point that I am a better rider than they gave me credit for. I'm not going to ride for revenge only, but it always helps... maybe an extra kilometre an hour in the sprint, which makes a big difference."
CN: Did you find out what sort of rider you were during this season, which was a successful one?
RE: "I think I've always known that my ideal role in a team is as a lead-out man. I really feel like I'm competitive in the finishes, but I really don't quite have the top end speed that some of the pure sprinters have. For me, the Georgia stage that I won was perfect – it had three cat 3 climbs towards the finish, which meant that a lot of the pure sprinters were out of there. That gave me the opportunity to line up against the guys who weren't pure sprinters, I took a bit of an opportunity and a risk, hit out early and it was a 400m sprint in the end. The risk was worth the reward.
"For me, I really wanted them [Bissell] to get a faster sprinter than me to come in for this year and they didn't quite have the budget to do that, so ultimately I had to shoulder a lot of the responsibility; it was a good challenge but at the same time I know I'm not a Dominguez or a Karl Menzies - I just don't have that top end speed that those guys have. When I'm put in a competitive position I think I'm capable of podium'ing against those guys, but I don't think I was put in a competitive position by my team, bar a couple of occasions.
"That makes all the difference; if you can have someone take you to the last 500m, you're a lot fresher when the sprint comes around. I think there was probably only two races all year that I got taken to the last 500 by a teammate."
CN: Some of these guys are getting taken to only 200-300 metres...
RE: "That's right. You've only got to look at way someone like Cavendish was taken to the line - look at the way any of those guys are taken to the line. No doubt in a straight-up sprint that guy would pump me by six or seven lengths, but he also pumped 90 per cent of the Tour de France field by five or six lengths!
"I really think you need to put a good team together for the finish - you need three guys who can really finish off a bike race, and everybody can rotate in that structure. This year we really only had one in every race. It was really only me, and then occasionally someone else would pop up. We didn't have a consistent group working together and I think that really cost us at the end of the year."
CN: That's a good wrap of the year - what are you doing here this week?
RE: "This week I'm helping out a few American friends who have come over with a really small team. We've got one endurance rider and one sprinter. I'm just helping out to make sure things run smoothly for them so they can race better as they're more relaxed."
CN: And a return to the track for you at any stage?
RE: "No, for the moment I'm focusing on the road. I'm trying something different this year - I actually got in the gym three weeks ago for the first time. I'm doing some gym work at the VIS and I'm really enjoying it. It's a new experience for me to actually get in a gym and be on a stationary bike next to Leisel Jones or another Olympic gold medallist - stuff like that you don't get to experience every day, and when you're on the road by yourself it can be a little bit lonely. I'm in the gym three times a week with some rowing gold medallists, swimming gold medallists; it's a good experience and something I'm enjoying."