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Simon Jones: You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable

Simon Jones with members of the Australian team at the 2017 Track Worlds

Simon Jones with members of the Australian team at the 2017 Track Worlds
(Image credit: Michael Aisner)

Simon Jones is familiar with success and gold medals. During his tenure with British Cycling and Team Sky through various roles, the 47-year-old helped build sustained success. When he was appointed as Cycling Australia's head of high performance in April, it was relatively headline free. A prosperous Track Worlds in Hong Kong with 11 medals for Australia helped in moving on from the Rio Olympics and suggested a new era was dawning.

The UCI Road World Championships, though, was a different kettle of fish, with the controversial decision to fill only five of the seven places the women's team had qualified for. Chloe Hosking and Rachel Neylan successfully appealed the selection, with the controversy raising questions of claims of sexism and favouritism.

Jones explained the decision was purely performance related, and with Cycling Australia's reduced budget, it is a sign of how he will steer the ship. While the women's team enjoyed success with Katrin Garfoot winning silver in the time trial and road race, Jones has no regrets regarding the selection and promises more hard decisions under his tenure.

"I knew we needed some disruption and we've not finished yet," Jones told Cyclingews at Cycling Australia's HPU centre in Adelaide. "When there is change there is challenge, isn't there? I think Bergen worked out brilliantly, to be honest. Great results. I don't mind rattling the cage a little bit and like I said, we need to be conformable being uncomfortable. I've not ever worked in a high-performing team that hasn't felt uncomfortable. I've not seen a system that is comfortable being successful. I wasn't too surprised, to be honest."

Jones' 'rattling of the cage' extends into the federation's new HPU strategy of winning four to six cycling gold medals at the Tokyo Olympic Games. And to achieve the long-term goals, Jones' remit extends to the 2024 Olympic Games, the Briton is laying the groundwork, even if that includes unpopular decisions such as fielding a reduced squad for the 2018 Track World Championships.

"There is no entitlement here. We get given government money, taxpayers money to do a job, and that is the overarching driver here. But we need to make sure that we have shared ambitions with the organisation and athletes having a real close match. It was quite a big decision but there is an end game decision here and that is what the priority is here and like I said, if I was trying to please everybody in this job, I wouldn't be doing my job. I am here for the bigger picture and overall organisation goals. That is the bit I am really responsible for."

Cycling Australia's new direction is partly affected by its financial situation that has forced a lean body to operate on an even tighter budget. That extends to the riders on the road and track with Jones explaining he and the HPU unit are targetting best medal outcomes. An efficiency driven ethos designed to deliver success. And Jones isn't afraid to miss events he doesn't believe would yield a medal. A far cry from his time at Team Sky who operate on the largest budget of the 18 WorldTour teams. The decision is also sporting with Jones adding it is important to keep the riders hungry and get off the "treadmill".

"The decision about not going to the Track Worlds is about stopping and reflecting and slowing down," he said. "It enables us to redirect funds into strategies which potentially, and that is the key word, potentially, could give us a performance gain in 2020. And the reason to not send teams is teams are numbers. That is where the cost is in your team pursuits and I think considering the men and the women both medalled, it was a pretty big call to do that. I am really proud actually of supporting and understating what we are trying to do, which is a big call as they are used to doing it. Some of them really wanted to win another world championships or have a chance to win at world championships but for the greater good and long-term goals, I think it is important that we slow down and stop and take a pause and a breath."

2020 vision

Having struggled at the Olympics since 2004 when Australia won six gold medals, the track team rebounded from just two medals in Rio last year to claim 11 medals in Hong Kong. However, Jones wants that level of success on the big stage and not the first year after an Olympic Games.

Although a home Commonwealth Games takes place six weeks after the Track Worlds, Jones explained the April event didn't necessarily affect the decision to send a reduced squad to the Track Worlds. The Commonwealth games will also serve as an important test and process in the lead up to Toyko 2020. Asked if failure on the Gold Coast would result in a rethink for Toyko, Jones explained, "The best way to look at any failure is a learning opportunity.

"We have to push to succeed and we are going to make some mistakes but the key thing is to learn from the mistakes and then also try to minimise the mistakes we make. You never stop them. You have to accept you are going to make mistakes."

With Olympic qualifying heating up from 2018 onwards, Jones added that there is a bid in play for a Track World Cup doubleheader with New Zealand in 2018/19 and 2019/20. A co-creator of the successful Revolution Track Series in the UK with Sky principal Dave Brailsford, Jones also said an Australian equivalent could work and would be important in supporting domestic racing. A revolution event in Australia and the Track World Cups could also assist Cycling Australi's financial position through sponsorship ad reduced travel.

And while the Olympic dream has taken several hits in recent years with revelations and allegations of doping, corruption within the IOC, and the high costs required host the event turning counties off in times of austerity, Jones believes the Olympic Games remain a pinnacle and aspiration for cycling

"I still really enjoy the spectacle and what I believe the Olympics is about. Maybe I am naïve. I just think it is inspiring and if anything, more so on the Para side. I think the Para stuff is just unbelievable what the people do, how they manage to do what they do with the constraints that some of them have. I find it inspiring, and I love the multisport. I think it brings people together, I think we see quite often what we want to see don't we. I still personally find it inspiring and I don't know what the future will hold for it you be honest. I have my head down, worrying about the next one."

Jones is no apologist for wanting success and while the path to glory may be challenging, he is working hard to ensure everyone knows what riches will await them should they succeed.

"You need to say 'we are going to the top of the mountain here. It is going to be a pretty hard journey,' so we have to make sure we are prepared for the hard journey. You have to be honest with what is required to win," he said. "That is doing the right thing by people. I am more of a sit-down conversation face to face and listen person. I hope I am not a stick, even need be but that's the last resort. We have to use their hopes and dreams and they have to align to us.

"When people set their own goals, it is easy. Of course, we see the world in different ways and people see different routes to that goal but ultimately if you have someone you sets the bar high and you are working with them then, I don't want them to have our goals. I want our goals to be the same. Then it is carrot not the stick. You are going forward together for the goal. So that is the approach I want to take certainly not one where I am telling and got the stick out. Absolutely not."