By Anthony Tan
After nine years as a professional filled with his fair share of ups and downs, Australian David McKenzie has decided to hang up his race wheels.
In his final pro race last Saturday and an event he won four years ago, the Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic, the gregarious Victorian wanted to go out with a bang in front of a home crowd, but it wasn't to be, missing the crucial chase group of 11 riders to eventually finish in 19th place.
"It's been a long time cycling as far as racing goes; I was a little bit sad Saturday afternoon after the race finished, but sad for good reasons, you know," he said to Cyclingnews on Monday evening, sounding quite happy for someone who doesn't know exactly what he's going to do next.
"What am I going to do? Am I going to go back to Europe and race full-on and get back with a ProTour team? I'm not - I'm not prepared to lay it on the line and do that full commitment anymore. The decision was sort of easy - the hard thing is to be honest with yourself, it's hard to let go. I'm a bit of a believer that we all have our destinies; I never look back."
This season, his destiny found him a place on Professional Continental Team Wismilak, a young, inexperienced team based out of Indonesia with a big budget and big ambitions. [Read story on Wismilak.] It looked to be a dream scenario for McKenzie, who would be able to enjoy team leader status, a generous salary and a reasonably high level of racing, as well as spend most of his time back in Australia with his wife and two kids. But having completed events such as the Giro d'Italia (which he won a stage in back in 2000) and other high level races in Europe, the 31 year-old began questioning his reasons for staying involved as a rider.
"I guess one of the things that got me thinking about retiring was that I only did six races with [Wismilak] for the year," said McKenzie. "It wasn't like I wanted to do a full season - I was happy with that - but it makes it a bit hard to stay motivated.
"I think a lot of elite athletes in any sport, it's hard to step out of the sport, so I thought, 'Shit, I might not get this offer in 12 months' time or two years' time if I keep racing.' You got to be realistic with myself."
The 'offer' he's referring to is the prospect of putting together and managing a professional cycling team as early as 2007. Backed by the HLP Group, a Victorian-based financial services company that have been sponsoring McKenzie while he's been racing in Australia and who currently employ his wife Susan, the intention is for the team to be at least the size of AG2r Prévoyance or Team Barloworld and to compete predominantly in Europe.
"I'm not actually sick of training or sick of training - it's just that this is the stage I'm at in my life and the opportunity's come along with a great company to get involved with them and I thought I'd be crazy not to. So it was an easy decision in the end," he said.
Look out for the full interview with David McKenzie later in the week.