News feature, April 30, 2006
A host of Australia's pro cyclists commemorated Anzac Day last week with a visit to the Cycling Australia - AIS [Australian Insitute of Sport] High Performance Base in Castronno, Italy, for a traditional 'Aussie BBQ' and cricket match ahead of intensive biomechanics and physiotherapy sessions.
World, Olympic and Commonwealth Games champions including Michael Rogers (T-Mobile), Stuart O'Grady (CSC), Graeme Brown (Rabobank), Matt Hayman (Rabobank), Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros-Wurth), Aaron Kemps (Liberty Seguros-Wurth), Brett Lancaster (Ceramiche Panaria), Natalie Bates (AA Drink), Kate Bates (Nuernberger) and Gene Bates (Team LPR) gathered in Castronno, some with their partners and children, for a social catch up and to christen the new High Performance Headquarters.
"It's really good not only to get yourself back into shape in a 'physio' sense but it's to catch up with the boys," said dual Olympic champion Graeme Brown. The pro riders also put in some road training with the current members of the Australia U23 programme (SouthAustralia.com - AIS) and caught up with the women cyclists in Italy on AIS scholarships.
"I imparted some words of wisdom to Lloydy (Matthew Lloyd) going up the climbs he was taking us up yesterday," laughed Brown, who attended with wife Hayley (nee Rutherford) a former rider with the programme. "It's good for them and for us as far as morale. It's the part of the season where everything is starting to happen, and putting aside the biomechanics and physio it's just a good place to be with a group of Aussies," he added.
Brown spent a year with the U23 programme before signing as a professional and agrees the Australian support crew are amongst the best in the world. "It's nice to come back to Karin (AIS physiotherapist Karin Stephens) although, for once, this year I was injury free up until I crashed three times in four days a week ago so it was really good timing to come here and get treatment."
"I also had a session with Brian McLean (Cycling Australia/AIS Biomechanist) to check my bike position to ensure I wasn't riding too far forward or back and getting maximum power," said Brown. "It's about the one percent that can make all the difference." McLean explained that, "Biomechanical screening involves optimising riding position and screening to ensure they are not riding in a way that could cause injury and if they are we work to correct it; we work in conjunction with the physiotherapist on those things."
"This week for the pro men it's really only been fine tuning and in general they've been fairly trouble free and close to their optimum," said McLean. "We've been monitoring them over many years and it's a case of bringing them back to optimum."
But Stuart O'Grady, who's young son Seth was one of the star ball boys for the cricket match, was one pro who needed more extensive support on this visit from both McLean and Stephens. "Stuey got a new bike and new shoes this year with his CSC team so we had to recalculate his bike setup based on the new equipment," said McLean. "He's ridden in what is his optimum position for the past ten years so we had to work to get him back to that position."
Stephens, who has worked with the programme for the past six years says 'her boys', as she likes to call them, also come to the High Performance base if they need assistance after a crash. "Stuey's was a complicated case after his crash six weeks ago when he broke five ribs on his right side; the problem was all his muscles were in spasm so I had to trick the body first to get rid of the spasm and then I was able to manipulate his spine so he could walk away pain free," she said. "But he missed the cricket match on my advice and was cheering from the hill instead."
But generally the screening process is more routine, with Stephens being the 'go to' person for overall physical conditioning, and not just for riders in a state of disrepair. "First thing I do is screen them to check, for example, their hip flexion and back mobility - and then out of this whole process I work with Brian to try to figure out why the injury is there and if it's a body position issue," said Stephens. "The other big case this week was Brett Lancaster who has a broken left collarbone, so he'll be back in a week or two for more rehabilitation."
Recently crowned Commonwealth Games road champion, Matt Hayman, who is a team mate of Brown in the Rabobank lineup also benefitted from a visit to Stephens. "I've had a couple of lingering things so it's good to come here and in three or four days sort out the physio issues and get set up for the rest of the season," said Hayman. "I also looked at the bike and positions with Brian and I'm lucky I've been with my team for so many years and have a good set up, but we changed a couple of things just to gain some improvement," he added.
Hayman said he was back to reality very quickly after his Commonwealth Games success, lining up a week later in the Tour of Flanders. "I was walking my bike up the cobbled climb like the rest of them," he laughed. "It would have been nice to stay in Australia a little longer and do some parades and things but this is my job."
Hayman explained the Australian programme is held in high esteem in professional cycling and credits National Performance Director, Shayne Bannan, for his work to set up the system for Australian riders. "In the early days Shayne did all the jobs from mechanic to manager and to see this base now with such quality accommodation and support in place is great," said Hayman. "It's getting results with many guys turning pro out of the programme, and lots of pro teams are interested in the guys who come through here; all credit to him, the programme and those on board who have made this such a good team effort."