The Big Australian
Having started racing later in life, Australian rider Karl Menzies joined Advantage Benefits/Endeavor, a developmental team, in late 2004. As a team captain, Menzies is enjoying his racing in the US and recently sat down with Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski to talk about racing Stateside.
Australian Karl Menzies has been enjoying his first full year of North American racing on the newly formed Advantage Benefits/Endeavour pro team. He, along with countryman Richard England joined the squad directed by former pro Robbie Ventura - the pair met the veteran sprinter after racing around Wisconsin against him at last year's Superweek. When Ventura retired and became director of the team, he got in touch with the two and brought them to the US to ride with this pro team; a team very much focused on development. "They were just outstanding," Ventura remarked about their performance last year.
For most new pro teams and their neo-pro riders, the gap between being a top amateur team and an average professional squad can be enormous. However, for Menzies and the new Advantage Benefits/Endeavor team, the first half of the season went well. The team consistently placed riders in the top ten at races like Redlands, Joe Martin, Cap Tech and Nature Valley, where Richard England won the fourth stage, and San Dimas, where Menzies placed third overall.
Unlike most of his fellow riders, Menzies is not what some would call 'young' in terms of cycling. The 28-year-old has been racing on the road for many years and brings that experience to the team as a leader. He also brings physical and mental strength, which contributes greatly to his role as a role model for riders coming through the ranks.
Cyclingnews: You were in the States last year at Superweek with an Australian team - MGZT?
Karl Menzies: It was an amateur team - it wasn't really serious.
CN: Yeah, after the last stage you tried to sell your bikes so that you wouldn't have to haul them back to Oz!
KM: A few guys did, yeah...I didn't have anything to do [after.] [Richard England] and I met all of the Endeavor people at Superweek, and from that Endeavor joined up with Advantage Benefits to make the team. We just met them, racing against Robbie [Ventura] - he saw us race. We kept in touch over the Australian summer, and come December we said we'd ride for the team.
From that we didn't really know what we were getting into, as far as the team goes. For us it's been a pretty big experience.
CN: So you came into U.S. racing with a little taste of what it is like, but not too much. How has that been?
KM: Superweek is totally different - it's mostly criteriums. You don't get to race all of the NRC guys on there, so it's totally different. NRC races with a team like Jelly Belly or Health Net...all of those teams, if you don't have a strong team to back you up you aren't going to stand a chance. Whenever you see results, it's the team that has the results. The team got them up there.
CN: How have you enjoyed racing here?
KM: It's been awesome. We've been traveling around racing all of the races that they've set for us. There are no expectations at the start of the year so we've been pretty much flying blind. But now we've got some big results and the team is confident. We had two in the break at Lancaster with Richard in fourth, and that was good for our team - the season has been good so far and I hope it continues that way.
CN: What has been the best result/experience this year so far for you and your team?
KM: The best result for me was CapTech; it was pretty special - I ran second there to Davidenko by a tyre. The important thing was the team chased down the break at the start, swapping off until 20 laps to go - then I was out with a go and ran with all of the top domestic teams.
And then Lancaster, of course, was good for our team as well. Just to get the team riding for you is a pretty big thing.
CN: What is your history on the bike, coming from Australia? Have you ridden only on the road or do you have experience on the track like many other Australian riders?
KM: I was mainly on the road. There isn't a big team scene over there because everyone's away, either in Europe or in the US until the Sun Tour kicks in. Everyone comes over here or Europe because there are teams where the sponsors get behind them. It's a lot better racing outside Australia.
I got into cycling a little late. I enjoy the racing over here and sponsors are ultra-keen to put money in, and to build up our younger riders as well. I'm 27, and in this sport you can continue on until you are thirty-two or thirty-three, but if you aren't in it at the start when you're young you can't come up as a rider. But that's what our team is doing, building up younger riders.
CN: So is your role to help the younger riders make the transition to professional cycling?
KM: We have good captains with Brian Sheedy, Frank Pipp, and myself as just one of the older riders. It's good to see the younger riders come through and just experience the big races.
CN: What are your plans for after this season and beyond?
KM: I'd like to stay with this team and help it grow. Any team has to start somewhere. Like Health Net, I'm sure they didn't start out as the big hitters, and now they are. And our team with a bit more experience can get there eventually. That's what I'd like to see; share the results around, and get some big results for the team. We haven't won a lot of big races yet, so to get some strong wins would be good.
CN: How important was for the team to perform well at Superweek?
KM: Yeah, our main sponsors are in Wisconsin and Michigan, so for us there is no better advertising than Superweek. We had the full team there - it's always a pretty big goal for the team, and everyone [on the team] has raced it before. It's not that big a race on the whole calendar, but for us it's important. This is because our sponsors, at the end of the day, are the people we're racing for.
CN: What other races are highlighted on the calendar for the team?
KM: San Francisco maybe, at the end of the year. Some one-day races here and there - obviously the criteriums like Bank of America and the USPRO Criterium Championship.
CN: What is your take on the North American racing scene?
KM: The American scene is getting bigger and there are is a lot more prestige. Gord Fraser winning the bunch sprint in Trenton against all these good Euro guys...at least when he beats you in a sprint it doesn't feel so bad! There is a lot of credibility in the races here.
There are more Australians coming over - and we stick together a little bit just because we talk a bit differently. It's good to see Henk Vogels [who now races for Davitamon-Lotto in Europe] and stop and say, 'G'day!'
CN: Is it hard for you or your family spending so much time away from home?
KM: They don't really mind. I don't have many strings like some other guys who have girlfriends. I'm unattached right now. (You can throw that in there! I can give you a number too if you want to put it at the bottom...)
To our single female readers: Cyclingnews never did get that phone number for Mr. Available...but if you are at any of the NRC races this summer, you can probably catch him with his Advantage Benefits/Endeavor team - and being an Aussie, he's always ready to say g'day!