For those who have followed Phillip Grenfell’s short, but so far successful career, his recent stage wins at the Tour of Gippsland and Tour of the Murray River were a long time coming. Described by NRS leader, Nathan Haas as having a ‘severe case of white line fever’, the Australian is another welcome revelation to come out of the domestic series production line.
Grenfell comes from a background in competitive rowing; a path that a growing number of professionals are finding seems to work well as an introduction to cycling. A very similar set of core muscle groups are utilised in both sports, and after a back injury forced Grenfell to ‘hang up the oars’, making a go of cycling seemed a natural next step.
"I knew I could do ‘something’ in cycling, but this year has definitely reshaped my aspirations," Grenfell told Cyclingnews.
The 22-year-old attributes much of his success to former pro Trent Wilson, the current team manager of BikeBug.com, who offered him a ride in the team when he was still a very unknown quantity.
"I sent [Trent] an email last year; sort of saying ‘I’m looking for a team next year’ and he took a big chance on me," Grenfell said. "At the time I didn’t have any results or anything. He took a punt, he saw something, thought I was quick and put me on a program to build on that."
For his part Wilson explained that the decision to sign Grenfell up with the team came down to the fact that though he had talent, at the end of the day he was a ‘good bloke’.
"I’d had some problems in the past, with some guys not fitting in with the team. I spoke to a mate of mine and he gave him a massive wrap, gave him a ring, and thought he’d fit in well at the team," Wilson said, and the rest is history.
Grenfell showed glimpses of his talent in his first start with the team at the Tour of Wellington back in January. There he picked up seventh on one of the sprint stages, which gave the Australian some hope that he could compete at the top level.
A number of months of specific sprint and strength building meant that when Grenfell arrived at the Tour of Gippsland at the end of July, he had improved dramatically, and after a near miss on the first stage, he finally broke through for his first NRS win on stage two.
"I came into Gippsland with some really good form. The NRS is the pinnacle [in terms of domestic racing], you’re racing against the best riders in Australia, and to get a win was pretty awesome."
"I wasn’t surprised at all [by Grenfell’s win]," added Wilson. "He was cleaning up Heffron Park [the main Sydney criterium circuit] all through last year, and he gave Chris Sutton (Sky) a run for his money as well as Ben Kersten - even then it was clear he had plenty of potential."
Though unable to get another win Grenfell did step on to the podium on four more occasions in Gippsland, and but for the presence of a certain Steele Von Hoff (Genesys), he may well have had handful of wins to his name; not that he’s been discouraged. If anything the Genesys rider has been an inspiration.
"Next year I wouldn’t mind doing something like what Steele has done this year, and just racking up results. Teams look at me and they see I’ve only been riding for a little over a year and probably think I’m still a little bit too green."
Goulburn to Sydney Cycling Classic
Grenfell’s next race, the Goulburn to Sydney Cycling Classic, is in theory suited to the BikeBug.com rider, with the predicted bunch sprint, a hall mark of the race since its 1903 inception. Though Von Hoff, also lining up must be considered the favourite, Grenfell who rode the race for the first time last year thinks that with a bit of luck his team could spring a surprise at the Camden finish.
"I did it last year, got over Razerback, and it finished in a bunch sprint and I thought then that this is a race I would like to win," said Grenfell. "It’s one of the biggest sprinters classics in Australia. We’ve got a lot of cards to play; Joey Lewis and Chris Jory back mean we’ve got a pretty red hot chance going into the weekend."
Going Pro: It’s about enjoying myself above all else
Like Haas and Von Hoff, success in cycling is coming at an age for Grenfell, though still young, when bigger teams would prefer to see him posting results in Europe and in the US. While this is still a goal, Grenfell is happy to just to explore and enjoy where cycling can take him, rather than trying to reach too far, too early.
"Everyone has aspirations about what they want to achieve but I’m just pretty much happy riding my bike. I never thought I’d have a year like this, my life doesn’t depend on turning pro, I’ve always got my degree to fall back on, but I certainly want to see where cycling can take me."
As Wilson concludes, if Grenfell continues to build on the progress he’s made this season, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the years ahead.
"I spoke to Phil, and we’re pretty close outside the team, and I’m doing my best to forward his career in whatever way I can. We’ve had discussions about where we want to go next year or the year after.
"I have confidence that next year he can be the next Steele Von Hoff of the NRS."