An interview with Jeff Hopkins, March 11, 2005
A sprinter on a coffee-sponsored team, what a novelty!
Australian sprinter Jeff Hopkins has been living and racing in North America for a few years now. He was hoping for a breakout year in 2004, but was sidelined for the meat of the season with a nasty wrist fracture. As a member of the Jittery Joe's/Kalahari team in 2005 he plans to play the role of team sprinter along side GC contender Tim Johnson. 'Hoppy,' as his teammates call him, sat down with Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski at the team training camp in Athens, Georgia over, of course, coffee to talk about life and racing.
Some Australian riders have gone to the US and found fame and fortune, but many others have simply been able to make a living racing bikes, something that's hard to do back in Australia. A world time trial champion as a junior, Jeff Hopkins is typical of the latter group. He has spent the last three years riding for Micah Rice's Jittery Joe's team and seems very content with his lot as a working pro rider.
Cyclingnews: How is life as an Aussie in the deep South of the U.S.?
Jeff Hopkins: Pretty good. I spent a couple of years living in the Northeast -- Pennsylvania area. Then a couple of years ago, when I started riding for the team, I came down here, and I love it down here.
CN: A little bit different of a culture here, eh?
JH: Heaps! People are heaps more laid back. Not that people aren't nice up there, but people are real nice down here.
CN: What do you miss most about home down under?
JH: A bit of everything -- with me mates going down to the pub, people mostly, and meat pies! It's kinda funny, when I go home now, I miss a bit of stuff from over here too. Like diners, and [Aussies] don't really do chicken wings, and I like chicken wings.
CN: What is most exciting about this year for you?
JH: I think we've turned the corner, ya know? We're turning into a bit of a real team with Tim, and having a pretty full roster this year. It's kinda nice not having to be chasing our backsides racing all the time. We'll be able to have a few breaks during the year. Having Tim on board is going to take us to the next level -- for myself and everybody else, will make us work that much harder.
CN: What is your focus for this year?
JH: I'll be doing the sprints once again -- that's always been my thing. And the guys have always worked on doing the crits and helping me win those sprints, and that's going to be my focus again. Tim is pretty keen to get me in some of the tours to be able to sprint alongside him, going for the GC -- so I've got to get my act together and get training for the Tour de Georgia and Redlands.
CN: Won't that will be quite an increase in responsibility for you and are you ready to handle that?
JH: Yeah, that's the hard part. You can only have so many riders in those races. And for me to turn up not on my game and not riding well in the sprints, it's kind of a wasted position for the team. So, if I only make one or two stages, that's a waste of everybody's time. So I've got to get my crap together!
CN: What are your favorite races over here in the States?
JH: I really like Tour of Somerville up in New Jersey -- that has always been a good thing. I almost won it a couple of years ago -- I finished second behind Jonas Carney.
CN: Good thing he is retired now!
JH: Yeah, he's not around anymore, and he was the king of that race, so it will give me a chance!
I also like that new race in Charlotte last year. And I was just coming back from a broken wrist last year, so I didn't do very good. But I could hang in there and I think that is going to be one I will do well at. Trenton during Philly week is good, and NYC Grand Prix. But there are a lot of smaller races, like Athens Twilight where I can do well.
CN: What is your opinion of the new rides Garneau has hooked you up with this year? Are they comparable to the Kleins?
JH: Yeah, I'm a bit disappointed to not be on [the Kleins] again, but those Louis Garneau bikes are great! They look awesome and we raced on them for the first time yesterday, and they gave a bit of curry in the sprint there, it was great. They are stiff and light -- there's nothing really about them you can make better, ya know? We've got those TruVativ carbon cranks, and there aren't any parts on the bike that you can say aren't up to the job.
CN: How was the first race of the season with the new lineup?
JH: It was really good actually. The first race with Tim and I was amazed, he was pretty keen early on. He was up the road most of the day. I was pretty impressed with everybody -- more that I wasn't unimpressed with anyone for this time of the year! The more we race, everyone will paint themselves into a position more.
CN: Any messages for your mates back home in Oz reading this?
JH: Yeah, just keep up with the action. Keep looking for us and send us the emails... and meat pie and Vegemite!