Flashback – RIDE #47
With 10 issues of RIDE Cycling Review now available digitally on the Zinio platform we are going to publish a feature from each issue online. The second ‘Flashback’ comes from RIDE #47 and it relates to one of the first ‘antipodean’ stars of the pro peloton, Phil Anderson. The legacy of “our pioneer” is a lasting one. This is the first part of feature on the career of Anderson… (the second instalment was published in RIDE #48).
To find out what else is inside RIDE #47, click the contents pages at the bottom of this feature…
Phil Anderson – ‘The Australian who set a new standard: from Peugeot to Panasonic, novelty foreigner to genuine contender…’
This is the man who started it all. Australian cycling would be a lot different today had Phil Anderson not become a pioneer — a rider who discovered his strengths as an athlete and then used them to carve out a career that ended 15 years ago but continues to inspire people who followed him from the end of the 1970s — through the Hinault years and onward to the Armstrong era. This Aussie is a foe of the former patron of the peloton, but a friend of the current one. Here is part one of Phil Anderson’s legacy…
This time around we take it seriously. To an extent at least. Since Phil Anderson and I first met 15 years ago, we have become used to talking about other riders. Now it’s about him again. And he’s laughing at the idea. “People have heard my story, I thought you’d want to talk about what’s happening now.” They have. He’s right, but there are many who want to go back to where it all began. How did cycling in Australia get to where it is? What was the catalyst for this glut of interest in riding a bike? It’s obvious everywhere you go: there are people pedalling. It makes sense in this country. There are a few hot places and some cold spots too, hilly here and windy there, but most of the time the bike offers a perfect way to get around.
There’s a reason that people like cycling. It’s good.
This is the obvious conclusion once you get into it. And it’s this sentiment that is often alluded to in Close To Flying, the biography of Cadel Evans. But what makes a person who rides a bike try and do more with it than just go from point A to B? At some point, people tune in and find out more about racing. There’s been plenty of opportunity of late: the Tour de France is now broadcast live each day of the race in Australia. The action is relayed as it happens and the main complaint of those who view it is that they become so compelled that they are deprived of sleep for three weeks each July.
When you examine the impact of having a compatriot in contention for the yellow jersey of the Tour in 2009, it’s easy to see what influence cycling can have on people.
Before Cadel Evans came Phil Anderson. “I was outside the norm,” is how he reviews his reception when he arrived in the pro peloton in 1979. “For those who followed cycling it was just totally new to have someone from a non-traditional cycling country and I wasn’t just in the peloton, I was giving it a go. I made the headlines on quite a frequent basis. It was like I was an anomaly coming out of the blue.”
He talks about the early part of a career that spanned 16 years and thousands of races with ease. But it seems as though we’ve done it before. It’s been 15 years since we first met, only weeks after his final race. We see each other quite often but only occasionally have we discussed the extent of his legacy.
“Back in the 1980s,” he reminds me, “Nelson Vails burst onto the international sprint scene. There had been a number of black sprinters before but that was a long time ago. He stuck it out and earned a cult following. It was unusual, just like I was out of the ordinary because I came from Australia and started earning a reputation in what, until then, had been a Euro-centric peloton.”
A few lucky coincidences helped Anderson find the road to the top of his chosen sport. It didn’t come in the form of an epiphany; it was never his intention to create a career out of this cycling caper. He had a competitive streak that he managed by racing for the Hawthorn Cycling Club in Melbourne and, near the end of the 1970s, found himself jetting off to Canada. Together with the Sansonetti brothers, Sal and Remo, he was part of the Australian contingent for the road race at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. It seemed like a natural progression. And lo, he won the gold medal.
“Back then, there was no news coverage in Australia about cycling,” he said about his first trip overseas to race. I had no idea what it was really like in the professional ranks. You couldn’t read about it. I thought there was the Commonwealth Games, the Olympics and the world championships.
“I didn’t return to Australia after the 1978 Games. Instead of going straight home, I planned to go to Europe to do the world championships. They were at Nurburgring. I was 20 and I went to Germany and did that after winning the road race in Edmonton. I thought it was pretty much going to be more of the same: ‘Oh, I won that. I should be able to get amongst it in the world championships!’ I assumed that I’d be in with a shot at the amateur race in Nurburgring.”
This was at a time when there was a clear distinction between amateur and professional athletes. If you wanted to compete in the Olympics – which had originally been Anderson’s ambition – then you couldn’t hold a pro licence. Blissfully unaware of the scene in Europe, but aware that he possessed some ability, he had a rough idea of what he wanted to do: race as much as possible, gain some experience and by the Moscow Games of 1980, he would be ready to add another gold to his cabinet.
What he didn’t know is that his performance in Germany, although ultimately unsuccessful, would end his Olympic aspirations and put him on course to a prosperous paid career.
“I went to Nurburgring and rode my usual race. I think I was the only Aussie there although there might have been one or two more. But it was certainly a lot different to now when even the junior teams have training camps and a cast of staff to support the national squad in the lead-up to such an event. I attacked on the first lap, got away in a group and stayed away for about three-quarters of the race. Then I collapsed. I burnt myself out and didn’t finish. That was the worlds.”
Still, he was abroad and the idea was to compete as long as the season lasted, and then aim for Australia again. At the Tour of Ireland he won a stage then crashed and landed on his head. With “20 or 30 stitches in my face” the race was over, so too the adventure that had begun in Canada. It was time to go home and start thinking about getting to Moscow.
He didn’t know about the Tour de France; it wasn’t even a consideration for the young rider. He was born in England on 20 March 1958 and moved to Australia when he was young. He was an accomplished athlete yet even after his European experience he still harboured dreams of wearing a green and gold tracksuit at the Olympics. He knew it was possible to make money from riding but first he wanted to reach the pinnacle of amateur competition. It was pure chance that his career took a different path. “When I got home at the end of 1978, there was a bloke who owned a French restaurant in Melbourne.
“Gerald George was a big supporter of the Hawthorn club. He brought sponsors in and put some money into the club. He came up to me after I’d won the Commonwealth Games and told me he had a friend in Paris who ran a club there, the ACBB, and this guy had seen me racing at the world championships and was impressed. He wanted to know if I’d like to join.”
The Athlétic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt was like many suburban sporting centres in France that had cycling as one of its sports. It just so happened that the ACBB was also one of the more reputable feeder teams for the famous Peugeot team. It was where Tom Simpson got his start in France and that fact alone meant that this inherently French club was open to the idea of nurturing talent from further afield than was considered normal at the time.
“Gerald said that he’d give me an airfare if I took up the offer,” explained Anderson about what proved to be the beginning of the end of his amateur days. “I thought it’d be a good opportunity to start building a career. I wanted to race more in Europe and get a little bit more experience under my belt after having had the shocking world championships.
“I landed in Paris at the start of 1979 and had a training camp in the south of France. I won my second race near Toulon; I did well on a hilltop finish at Mont Faron. It was a one-day race and I got a start in the popularity stakes with ‘Mickey’ Weigant, the guy who had encouraged me to come over.”
It had been Anderson’s enthusiasm to race that cost him the chance of finishing the race in Nurburgring, but it was also what had attracted Weigant. By putting himself on display in that early escape group he earned some exposure and effectively a place in the famous ACBB collective. He’d win a lot that year: 15 races in total, as well as the title of the season-long series that consisted of amateur races around France.
He and Robert Millar were the stand-out imports that year. It gave Anderson plenty of confidence but, in one of his final races before joining Peugeot at the start of 1980, he received a timely reminder that the pro ranks were another league entirely.
“At the end of the year I won the amateur GP des Nations. It was a time trial down near Cannes and we had to do one lap of a course that was about 45km long.
“I finished in a time that I was quite pleased with and the professionals started afterwards. They had to do two laps; Bernard Hinault did the first in the same time as me. I thought I was pretty good. It was another confidence boost.
“But on the second lap,” Anderson explained of the time trial, “Hinault was three minutes faster. I earned a very early respect for the elite riders that day. It put me in my place.”
These were interesting times for cycling. It was Simpson’s death during the Tour in 1967 that had acted as a major catalyst for the introduction of doping controls. Amphetamine use was rampant until then but Anderson admits that there was still plenty of evidence of abuse during his early years in Europe. Of course, Hinault has always denied ever using performance enhancing products and, according to Phil’s take on matters, he accepts that the Frenchman did what he did without delving into the dark world of doping. But he also readily admits that he was aware of abuse by others in the peloton.
“I think there has always been doping. I won’t deny that,” Anderson told me when asked about his observations on that early phase of his career. “There were riders who were found positive and, to me, the news came as a surprise because I never looked at those around me and thought they were cheating. I believed we were on a level playing field and when I heard that someone was positive, it seemed strange.
“I was aware that in some races – not the big ones, just criteriums and things like that – there were stories of riders taking substances just to get a bit of a high. They were just like party drugs or uppers, to help them have a good time. There was nothing to the extent of what is rumoured to be out there now. From what I hear, there are riders willing to take horrific risks, but I wish it wasn’t like that.”
Back in his day there were positive tests; some big-name riders were implicated around the time Anderson was ready to make the move to the pro ranks. But controversy came in other forms too: young Phil made the headlines on a number of occasions because of his disregard for established reputations. His first meeting with Hinault was an uneventful one. They stood on the podium in Cannes after the 1979 GP des Nations – the pro and amateur winners side by side – and Anderson remembers the day well. Shortly after, he signed a contract to be part of the professional Peugeot team.
The 1980 season was the first of three in which he wore the famous black-and-white checkered jersey, but he would not go to the Tour de France as a 22-year-old. He lived in France, got to know the culture a little and started to learn the language. He won two races that year, minor ones, and he finished third overall (behind team-mate Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle) in Paris-Bourges, a three-stage race at the start of June.
The next year he was runner-up in the first two road stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, and third the following two days. The race was won by Hinault, ahead of Joaquim Agostino of Portugal and a young American, Greg LeMond. Anderson had done enough to warrant selection for the Tour that began in Nice on 25 June 1981. With the exception of the Australian and Graham Jones, the Peugeot team consisted of Frenchmen.
Tracing a similar route to that of the 2009 edition (except for the deviation to Barcelona), the first mountaintop finish came early: stage five ended at Pla d’Adet. Anderson finished 23rd in the prologue that was won by Hinault. He was seventh the next day (in a sprint won by Freddy Maertens) and Peugeot finished seventh in a 40km TTT held on the same day.
Before the mountains he would finish third on another day for the sprinters. By pinching time bonuses he was moving up the GC rankings but with the climbs to come, surely he would falter. That’s what virtually everyone assumed, everyone except the tenacious Anderson who not only held his own, but claimed the overall lead of the race five days in. It came as a shock to Hinault who had already established himself as the patron of the peloton, a dominant rider who could enforce his whims on lesser men. If one didn’t adhere to his desires, he would duly go about making a mockery of him.
It was in this setting that Anderson and Hinault had their first real reunion since that podium moment in 1979.
“When I got to do my first Tour de France in 1981, Hinault had already won it twice. He was highly respected and a successful rider. He’s a little bit older than me and I was just coming into the ranks. He was a seasoned winner but I didn’t know too much about him. I’d only met him that once before.
“I rocked up at the Tour and got away in a break on the day going up to Pla d’Adet in the Pyrenees. We got to the bottom of the last climb and Lucien van Impe took off. There was Claude Criquelion, a Spanish guy, Hinault and myself,” recalled Phil of the fifth stage. “The old ‘Badger’ attacked and I struggled up to him. By then van Impe was well up the road; then it was just me and Hinault. He looked over at me wondering who the hell I was; I don’t think he could remember me standing beside him at the GP des Nations. He possibly thought I was the mayor’s son or something like that.
Over 25 years later Hinault hasn’t forgotten the incidents he shared with Anderson early in his career. Furthermore, he hasn’t forgiven him either. “He quickly became a rival,” said the Frenchman about the Aussie in 2009. “When he arrived in Europe in the professional peloton, everyone noticed that he was a good rider. He achieved impressive results during his first season. He was a good all-round cyclist and it didn’t take long for him to take his place amongst the top tier.
“He was a rider who was comfortable on any terrain,” said Hinault. “As early as his first Tour de France, he demonstrated that he was a rider capable of winning the title.”
The real reason for the grudge, however, was not because of the challenges in their first Tour together. Instead, a controversy in St-Etienne in 1985 involving both riders means that Hinault is still not keen to befriend the Australian. “My main memory of him is a bad one,” explains the Frenchman. “We were in a battle for GC honours at the Tour at the time.
“On the approach to the line both of us started to sprint and he bumped into me and caused me to crash. It was bad, but it could have been a lot worse. There are no images of the incident but it happened on a turn in the final kilometre and I can assure you it was a dangerous piece of riding!
“The next day I was determined to get my revenge: I had vowed to return the favour and knock him down. In the end, I opted not to do this because I was so full of fury that I thought that, in my anger, I might have killed him.
“After this episode we never really spoke again. First of all because I retired not long afterwards, but really it’s just that I never wanted to have a drink with him.”
Phil Anderson’s career would span a pivotal time in cycling. He’d see out his racing days riding on the same team as a young Lance Armstrong. The pair would be room-mates during the Texan’s early years in the pro peloton and the Australian was often said to be the tactician at Motorola. But he also raced at a time when team captains were employed to perform for the whole season: to do the Classics in spring and stage races in summer. On average, Anderson raced about 120 to 130 days every year for 15 seasons.
He was fifth in the Tour twice and he competed in the race every year between 1981 and 1994, without ever abandoning. But his legacy extends well beyond this. The Peugeot years came and went but before his tenure was over, Anderson was part of a financial awakening for pro cyclists. He ensured that he was paid appropriately, even if it meant putting himself in the news once more for something other than his sporting achievements.
“When I signed with Peugeot the contract was for $1,200 per month, about 5,000 French francs. That was considered a good salary back then. Remember, of course, that this was at a time when professional sport was a relatively new concept; football players in Australia weren’t being paid anything. And in my first few years I was just happy to be making money.”
Companies were investing in cycling because they earned exposure for their brand. The best way to get a logo shown in the media was to win and Anderson did that regularly.
In 1982 he returned to the Tour with the ambition of trying to improve on his performance from the previous year. It started well. “On day two, after winning a stage in Nancy, I took the yellow jersey. After that we went up through the north of France and down through Brittany and I held on to the race lead until the time trial of stage 11,” he explained. It was only fitting that Hinault would be the man to take it from him.
“This confirmed that I wasn’t just a flash in the pan. I was there, winning stages and a contender for yellow. It put me on the list as a legitimate Tour rider. Every couple of years you get riders in the mix who get the jersey and then lose it a day or two later, but here I was the very next year coming out and taking leadership of the team and the race and defending it.”
It was good for motivation and helped in negotiations with the team. “Greg LeMond was a good mate of mine by then. He put me in touch with a law firm that represented Formula One drivers. I remember going to talk about my contract with a lawyer at the Peugeot offices on the Champs-Elysées. At the time I was maybe making $5,000 a month – something like that. It had gone up substantially since I started, but I had led the Tour half way around France.
“Peugeot wanted to offer me an extra $1,000 a month and I remember my representative saying, ‘I pay my secretary more than what you’re offering this rider here. It’s ridiculous!’
“They responded by saying no one else on the team was making that sort of money. My lawyer said, ‘Well, you haven’t had anyone except Phil in the maillot jaune for five years.’ It was an interesting conversation and we came to an agreement. The next day it was in the newspapers: apparently I’d gone into the offices of Peugeot and made my demands, and never before had this been heard of. It was on the front page of L’Equipe. My re-signing was deemed worthy of some decent coverage.
“By the time I got to Panasonic, I was doing pretty well. I was up to around $100,000 per year. A lot of that had to do with my friendship with LeMond. His dad was always advising me and I was well represented during that time. Up until Greg’s arrival as a negotiator, cycling wasn’t too professional. Teams would just come up and ask riders if they wanted a job. It wasn’t even like money was discussed back then; they just waited until the end of the month to see what they got.
“They were fun times but you had to be a hard-arse when it came time for negotiating. Once it was done, you’d knuckle down and get the job done.”
By now the Olympic aspirations were a distant memory. He was a professional in every sense of the word. But it wasn’t just the mercenary in him that prompted the move from Peugeot to Panasonic. He needed better support during races and that was promised to him by a Dutchman called Peter Post.
“I ended my tenure with Peugeot hoping that I would get better assistance from another group. Peter Post had been in charge of the Raleigh team at the time that he first approached me. He told me that they had a new sponsor for the following few years and they wanted me to be the leader of the team.
“Panasonic was a very progressive squad. Post had a serious demeanour and he was firm in his delivery of instructions. Everyone would click their heels and make sure they did as they were told; that was good because at Peugeot I felt that my directeur sportif Maurice de Muer didn’t have the respect of the riders. He’d come in and say what his plan was and by the time he’d left the room, none of what he said was considered.
“It was a cultural thing. I think the riders really would have preferred to help a French rider rather than some foreigner. The tables were turning and the French were learning how to cope.
“It was important that I had a manager who was respected and the riders followed orders. Post put his fist on the table and made sure that everyone knew what was going on. That’s how he started each day and that’s what I needed.”
By then, Anderson had moved north. It suited him to be in the heart of Flanders even if the weather wasn’t as nice as in France. “I loved Belgium,” he insists, even years after leaving it behind. “What attracted me was the people: they were very warm. It was a tough environment because of the conditions but the people up there really took to me and always made me feel very welcome. They also had kermesse races. In France you might have gone a week or two without any racing but in Belgium you’d look in the paper, see where there was a kermesse and you’d rock up. It was a great way to maintain condition, and to earn money. I could do my training in races.”
It was also in Belgium that some of his favourite events were contested. He is remembered as a Tour rider but Anderson was made for the Classics. His strong build was perfect for the pavé and he twice finished second in the Tour of Flanders. “I enjoyed the Classics, possibly because I lived in Belgium and I knew the route for the Tour of Flanders like the back of my hand.
“I submerged myself in the culture. People would rush out into the street if they saw me walking past in April and they’d ask how I was going; the next thing I’d see them rushing to a bookmaker to change their bets. It’s hard not to get involved and the Classics suited me pretty well.”
He’s not bitter about missing out on The Big Win – there were plenty of other impressive achievements along the way. And nothing can take away from his claims on the history of the sport in Australia. He was our pioneer, a rider who had both a disregard for tradition and the power to answer those who wanted to try and make a mockery of his enthusiasm.
How does he feel, though, about the interest that now exists in the sport in Australia, after spending so many years racing in virtual anonymity in the country he calls home?
“The obvious difference now is that there is so much support from the national and state sporting institutes. That, combined with the coverage that the sport now gets, has really raised the profile of cycling in Australia. Back then, there was very little known about it. Coverage of races can inspire children. They might catch a 10-minute highlights package of the Giro d’Italia or the Tour de France and it will spark their attention. The effect of coverage cannot be underestimated.
“When I was racing, there was nothing like that. It was difficult to encourage people to participate in a sport that they’d never really seen before.”