Scott Sunderland: winner of the 100th Melbourne to Warrnambool
At the end of January, Scott Sunderland was doing what he’s done for years: racing the ‘kilo’ on the track. Four laps of a velodrome and the result is known. It’s not easy but it’s over in a breath over a minute. At the Darebin International Sports centre he clocked 1:02.359. Nice one Scott, national champion again…
Been there, done that… etc. Only this time, he won gold as part of the Budget Forklifts team.
Sunderland is 27 and he’s been a consistent performer on the world stage since he took over the family tradition of racing bikes when he was just a young man.
In 2004, at the age of 16 he won three titles at the Australian junior championships: road race, time trial and two-man time trial. He’s won plenty of medals since, some on the road, many on the track. World championships, Commonwealth Games, national titles – kilo, sprint, keirin, team sprint… been there done that.
This weekend in Warrnambool Scott Sunderland punched out over 1,600 watts in the finale 100th edition of Australia’s oldest road race. At the end of 279 kilometre, after almost seven and a half hours in the saddle, Sunderland sprinted.
And on Monday he was back on the bike training for the next challenge.
RIDE caught up with the champion of the 100th Melbourne to Warrnambool on Monday to find out about his win, his return to road racing, his power output… and a few other things.
Here is a transcript of our exchange with Scott Sunderland, the ‘kilo’ rider who won Australia’s oldest, longest road race.
Q&A: Scott Sunderland
RIDE: It’s the Monday after the weekend before. On Saturday we saw Scott Sunderland win a 279 kilometre, 100th edition of the Melbourne to Warrnambool. I’m having a chat with him now on Skype.
Scott, it’s a long race for a ‘kilo’ rider to win.
Scott Sunderland: “Yeah, definitely. There are a few more extra kilometres rather than just an all-out one kilometre. It was good to get to the final of that race with good legs.
“With the team around me was able to really have a good go in the sprint and was able to hold on for the win.”
A race like that – with its long history – and also its long course – allows people to get the rhythm of the story. Every step of the way Budget Forklifts seemed to be in the action. The move by [Jake] Kauffmann seemed phenomenal, and then ‘Jacky Bobby’ doing what he did… it just allowed you to follow wheels. Or is that just the interpretation we get from watching the highlights?
“In a team like ours, when we started every single rider probably had the legs to win the race in their own way.
“With such a strong team it worked out that Jake Kauffmann – who finished fourth last year and third the year before – was again such a strong rider. He gave it a red-hot crack to get across to the break which was phenomenal. It was an eight minute gap and he was able to ride across solo, and take 60km to do it, it’s an example of how dedicated everyone in this team is.
“By him doing that, it also took pressure off all of the other riders.
“Later on, like you said, Jack Bobridge bridged across the gap and we had two guys together off the front. It sort of gave everyone else in the team that little bit of breathing space, to follow moves, and to try and stay strong in the race.
“We had really good instructions on how to ride and everything that could work out happened. I think, in the highlight reel, we featured a lot more.
“At every stage of the race we were fairly confident in what was going on.”
Who was your final lead-out man?
“I had Sam Witmitz ahead of me, but going into the final few kilometres I still had three guys in front of me: Sam then, in front of him, was Tom Nankervis and Mitch Mulhern. To have that many guys at the end was great and a good sign for our team that everyone is up to good form.”
I don’t mean to belittle your efforts but the sprint looked like a ‘formality’ – it seemed like you won by a long way…
“It was definitely a long sprint. I think it is a hard one to gauge. Everyone has mentioned how it is a difficult sprint to read but we had the numbers going into it.
“Oliver Kent-Sparks hit out pretty early so the reaction was to go and I was lucky.
“I looked after myself all day and was able to finish it off with a strong sprint. Even with it being an uphill headwind, I still had the legs to deliver me to the line. I think it was about 300 metres out, possible, where I went.
“It’s a good sign that I’m on the right path with my transition back to the road.”
We’ve seen kilo rider from the past have a go at the road… famously Russell Mockridge could ride a ‘Warnie’ pretty well. But Theo Bos and Ben Kersten have recently had a crack at the change from kilometre to road racing. Can you give us a little bit of the difference in body structure for winning a 279km race versus a kilo? What were you riding the track at when you were winning Commonwealth Games gold medals?
“My heaviest as a track sprinter I was around 93 kilos, and down to might lighest weight as a road rider I’d come down to around 77kg. There’s definitely a big loss of weight.
“The strange thing is that, as a junior, I was pretty successful [on the road] and that gives me confidence moving on. It almost doesn’t feel like I’ve had such a long time away from the road.
“As a junior you can go from track sprinting one year and then doing road races in the off-season. It’s a bit like that now; it’s new and exciting and I look forward to training and being out there giving it a good shot when I can – and take the opportunities when they arise.
“As an under-17 second-year, I won the [national] road race, time trial and was second in the pairs time trial.”
Can you offer a summary of the history of cycling in your family?
“My pop used to race; he was second in the national road championships as an amateur and he wanted to try and make it to the Olympics, so he stayed amateur in a bid to achieve that. He was unsuccessful in obtaining that goal.
“Cycling flowed through the family though and my dad and uncle both raced.
“My brother started riding and I followed him. It’s gone down the line.”
Is the track aspiration all over? Are you now purely a road rider?
“The hard thing is that I’m having good success on the road. That’s what I’ve wanted to end up with my racing.
“My coach is Tim Decker, the national track endurance coach, so there’s always a bit of encouragement to try and go for Rio but I’m looking forward to next year in any form – and I’ll see where I end up.”
I had an interesting chat with Dave Martin who most people in Australian cycling know well. We were sitting in the grand stand at the 2012 track worlds. The British high performance management team was sitting in front of us and he was saying how they liked to copy the Australian coach methods and tweak them, and then the same applies four years later when we take some of their lessons. He was giggling to me about a plan that he and Tim Decker were considering: they were to get you to start the team pursuit… did you know about this plan?
“I’ve heard whispers of the plan years ago and I think the idea sprouted from Dave’s cunning in 2012. The pursuit is a difficult event to try and break in to because there’s been such success with the Australian team.
“We have been dominant. It’s been us or Great Britain for so long now that it’s definitely hard to even get considered for that line-up.
“It’s hard to say how that experiment would have gone.
“I’m two years in as an ‘endurance’ rider and I’m getting closer but I’m just waiting to see how I go.”
Let’s go back to Saturday and the 100th ‘Warnie’. What were you doing when there was all that attacking and counter-attacking going on up front? There’s a lot of time to think in seven and a half hours of racing…
“Yeah, that’s the thing, there are probably about five different races within the race and you can lose track of what’s going on. You have points where you really have to focus.
“Towards the end I was trying to be in a really good position in case anything happened, especially at around the seven hour mark when everyone was getting a little bit tired.
“There are points in that race when people can let wheels go or even just cramp out of the paceline or something like that.
“I was just trying to follow good wheels but there was no real point, with my sprint background, that I was going to try and go solo. For me it was about getting there and then try and kick clear in the finish.”
It’s all pretty obvious stuff but did you feel like you had to fight for your lead-out guys? Were there people pushing for your wheel. Is there that kind of action or does it feel a little restrained when you’re used to keirin sprinting?
“It’s different. Road racing can almost be as bad as a keirin race with people trying to get in your line and stuff like that.
“When we went it was perfect timing: we had everyone there, we all knew what we had to do, I had the perfect delivery… at that point I don’t know what was happening behind me but I think there was probably a few people trying to get my wheel.
“I know Alex Edmondson was following me. He’s a good mate of mine and it was great to see him back in action again [after injury].
“But yes, it can have that keirin-esque feel to it in a sprint.”
Apart from it being a round number does victory in the 100th mean something extra to you?
“Last year was my first year racing it; the 99th… and I had a bit of bad luck when I crashed early and had to chase to get back on. Then I punctured later on, so I used up a lot of energy within the race even though it was a little bit easier than it was this year.
“I got a feel for the race and knew a little bit about what I could expect.
“I remember thinking last year how I’d like to really try and win the ‘Warrnambool’ one year if I ever got the opportunity.
“Tim Decker won it in 2007 and this year, during the race, I saw him around the 250km mark and he’s like, ‘You only get one shot at this. Make sure it counts.’
“That’s what I did. It was business as usual even though you’re 250km in and know there’s still about 30km to go… mentally it’s not that bad. I just made sure I stayed calm and then rode it was though it was a normal race.”
How many rides have you done in your life around that distance?
The Warrnambool and the Warrnambool…
“I have done 200km rides solo and stuff like that.
“When it’s in a race like that, it becomes more mental – you just have to turn on like clockwork, ride to a plan, make sure you eat and drink and do everything right to get to the end fresh.
“I don’t find it that bad even though it’s over seven hours of racing… it’s just about making everything work.”
Did you have a power meter on? Do you have a power file?
“Yeah I did have an SRM on the bike.”
Can you give us a quick overview of the numbers from Saturday?
“Uhm. Ah… I don’t know.”
Just for the sprint, what did you put out?
“I did the sprint at around 1,670 watts of peak power after seven and a half hours.
“I raced at about 79 kilos on Saturday.”
That’s impressive power. No wonder you opened up such a gap. Even though Alex is a very strong rider and obviously Oliver was there but… that’s a big effort.
“We were really lucky with the weather. It didn’t rain but the wind did pick up a bit towards the end of the race.
“It is a very prestigious title – especially as it was the 100th edition.
“It’s the longest race in Australia and, for a rider in transition, it’s definitely a good sign of things to come. I got to the end feeling fresh and fast so I’m very happy with ticking that off and putting that win on my resumé.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold
* * * * *