By Les Clarke
Former Australian national track sprint coach Martin Barras has quickly settled into his job as head of the national women's road programme. The Canadian native took on the role after the Beijing Olympics, where he was criticised over the poor showing from Australia's track sprinters.
"The last time I was coaching on the road, radios had just been introduced, that's how long ago it was," Barras told Cyclingnews recently. "I wouldn't say it's been a shock, because it's still the environment I've been brought up in, but I just needed a fair bit of a touch up, and I'm getting that."
Barras had enjoyed a long period of success with the Australian squad, with the high point being the Australian team's performance at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He is widely acclaimed for his work with Olympic and world champion Anna Meares, who he worked closely with to secure those titles and the current 500m time trial world record.
Barras explained that he'll be based in Melbourne to allow for better family support, and said that he maintains contact with the riders of the track sprint squad. "The amount of time I'll be on the road is more than I've done in recent years, although I was travelling a fair bit already. That's the reason why I've moved the family to Melbourne - for some more support."
Having been credited with much of the success in Athens, it's hoped that Barras can construct the women's national team into a cohesive unit after a after this current transition phase. With talented youngsters such as Josie Tomic, Megan Dunn, Peta Mullens and Annette Edmondson - all riders with a track background looking to race on the road - the ingredients are there for Barras to 'work some magic'. "We're in an interesting situation; there are quite a number of young girls who have some promising talent. There is no shortage of numbers," he said.
"The other thing you notice is that a lot of the senior professional girls have retired, and if you look at this year's national championships in particular you can see those dynamics, where a lot of young women were looking around and seeing that those decision makers weren't around anymore. It's going to take a while to sort out who those new decision makers are; that's probably going to be the most important job I'll have in the first couple of years. I'll be helping riders make that decision and take the next step."
Despite a likely drop in government funding following the Olympics, and given the state of the global economy, Barras is confident he can make the most of a tighter budget by utilising his talented young women in the right way. "We have to deal with the financial realities of a post-Olympic year; nevertheless we've been able to construct quite an interesting program which we're staring in North America," he explained. "I think for the girls that will be great, because starting later in the season will enable them to break themselves in. We have a good solid program in Europe as well. I'm very excited about that."
Known for his affable nature and positive outlook, Barras is applying what comes naturally to his current situation - plenty of patience, combined with some optimism. He knows what he's in for, however. "With the track program I was lucky to be able to work at the very top, whereas on the road I'm starting back in the middle of the ranks," he explained. "I now have to work my way through, and it's time for me to put my money where my mouth is."