Our CEO Struan catches up with Sean Kelly in Ireland
Our CEO Struan Meets up with Sean Kelly for Pre-Ride in Ireland
How does it feel to have won 9 monumental classics, 193 professional races in total, and to be known to be the classics rider of all time?
When you look back at your career then you realise how successful you have been. When you are in there competing you just go from event to event, and you are focusing on one event following the other one. It is later when you get to the end of your career – you retire and then you look at the number of races that you have actually won and the monuments and the big classics you have won. It is then you realise how great your career has been.
So when you were riding you weren’t keeping track of the number of races you were winning?
I think when you are in there and training and working with your team you are not thinking – well, I won this one two years ago. It is just another big event, and when you go to that event, and if you manage to win it, then you are going onto another one. You are not counting how many major classics you have won. You just want to continue on and keep on winning, and I don’t think the number of majors or the number of classics you win is something you are aiming for. You just want to continue winning consistently every year.
Did you find you have a breakthrough race when you thought I have nailed that, I know how to win?
When you are at the early part of the career and you are coming up and you are close to winning a big one, and then when you actually manage to do it, it is a breakthrough and it takes a lot of the pressure off. It is often the case in many sports – when you have managed to win a big one, then you can win a number of them, and after that because you have experienced winning it, the pressure is off a little, and you are not so nervous. This is a problem in all sports as when you are nervous you sometimes make mistakes. It is also difficult to win the classics, but when you have won your fourth big one they are saying to you it will be easier.
Did you find your mentality changed once you won that big one?
No, I think you continue on the same focus and the same mentality, but you feel more confident when you have actually cracked it and got your fourth big one. In biking it is all about working hard at it and doing a lot of training. A big part of it in getting ready for the big events is doing the correct training – and that is a big amount of time and commitment because with bike races, the long classics, the big events, they are six or six and a half hours, so you need be doing that distance when training. And you have to be very consistent, very focused, and if you can continue on being focused, being committed, and when you have won a big classics before, you can win more.
What do you think was the biggest accomplishment over your 17-year career as a top level cyclist?
I don’t think there was one. I had such a brilliant career with so many of the classics and also won the Tour of Spain. I did well in the Tour of France – won the green jersey four times. It is not just one event really as I said, when you win the fourth big one it does help a lot as you get the confidence that you can actually do it, and then it just goes on from there.
Did you have a particular favourite race you loved doing?
There are some races that you like taking part in because in bike racing there are a lot of very big monuments, but they are not nice races to ride. If you look at the Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, they are not nice races – there are lots of cobble stones. The Paris-Roubaix you have a 260-km total distance, and 50 km of cobble stones. It’s not a nice race at all to ride but it is one of the greatest ones to win, and there are ones like Giro di Lombardia and the Liege-Bastogne. Those sort of events are much nicer races as they are on the normal roads.
Moving into the second part of your career – how did you get into the commentating?
I got into it because Eurosport had asked me to do the commentating for a long time. When I retired in 1994 they asked me again. I didn’t do it for a number of years, but then got back into it again and practice makes perfect. Firstly I had the experience of being in there professionally, riding the big classics and big tours, so you know the tactics as a past athlete, or a past bike rider. That is the reason they take you on. It is similar in other sports – like in rugby, like in soccer, like in all those TV sports, and that’s what they are there for and I can do it quite well. Tactically I can read the events very well. That’s the reason I think I have got my job with Eurosport.
Do you still nod when you get asked questions?
Well, I don’t know if that really happened and that is something we have heard about many times. I don’t remember doing it but it is something that has been well aired out there.
You came out with a SpiceRoads tour earlier on in the year – Bangkok to Phuket. What did you enjoy about that particular ride?
It was a fabulous bike tour, and the weather, of course, brilliant weather conditions in January/February – really warm conditions. The roads were really good; I was expecting the road surfaces to not be as good. And most of the roads were very traffic-free, so it was a great 7-or-8 day biking, and it is something I have been doing a lot of leisure events. I do a lot of leisure events around Europe, of course, and it is something that is growing more and more in Europe. Certainly the number of people riding bikes and taking part in leisure events now has just totally exploded here in the UK and Ireland, and so there are so many of these events. It is great to go to new places and a country that you have never been to before, and what better way to see the countryside than from your bike.
What would you say to people thinking of coming out on a trip like this?
Well, I think people might be a little bit hesitant about going to Thailand, and I was a little bit in that way last year when I was approached by SpiceRoads. I decided to go and I certainly enjoyed myself. I was amazed at how the roads were so good, and the traffic – very, very little traffic. I think we have more traffic here in parts of Ireland and certainly here in Europe, and the traffic was very tolerant to bike riders. That was a big surprise. The weather conditions were of course 40-plus degrees every day. What better way to ride at a casual pace and to see the amazing countryside while cycling through amazing scenery.
So you coped with the heat well enough?
Yes, I can cope with the heat when you get to 40 degrees. Of course when you are on tour you have a lot of stops, and a back-up vehicle makes it easy to get refreshments quite frequently. Of course you have to have done some biking before. You need to look at the route and see what distances you are doing. If you are riding your bike something around that distance, then there is no problem doing the trip from Bangkok to Phuket.
Thanks a lot Sean and see you next year.