Flashback – RIDE #48

With 10 issues of RIDE Cycling Review now available digitally on Zinio we are going to publish a feature from each issue online. The third ‘Flashback’ comes from RIDE #48. It is about Phil Anderson, a rider who became the first non-European to lead the Tour de France early in his career and, in the twilight of his racing days, became a mentor to the future (seven-time) Tour de France winner. This is the second part of feature on the career of Anderson… (the first instalment was published in RIDE #47).

To find out what else is inside RIDE #48, click the contents pages at the bottom of this feature…

Phil Anderson exposing cycling to a new generation…

The TVM and motorola years: understanding his place in the peloton (Part 02: the Anderson Years)

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During a time of remarkable change for the sport of cycling, an Australian was a rider of influence. Phil Anderson helped develop equipment that is now considered standard and he introduced many to the beauty of racing. We conclude the ‘Legacy’ series on this star of the 1980s and 1990s.

“Being a cyclist defines what I am,” insists Phil Anderson about what makes him the person he is today. It’s over 15 years since he quit riding bikes for a living but his influence on the peloton can still be seen today. He was part of a generation of riders who not only made the sport of road racing more professional but also modern. He pioneered the use of products like STI shifting systems, sports eyewear and hardshell helmets. He’s 52 now and enjoying himself as much as ever thanks largely to the legacy he left after retiring from competition in 1994.

“I’m riding more now than I have since retiring from racing. I’m more involved now than what I was for a long time.

“I’ve got plenty of freedom and I’m out there a lot more in the cycling community. I do some charity work and I’m still invited to a lot of functions to talk about the old days or offer my perspective on what cycling is like at the moment. I’ve got my travel business and I’m getting a lot of exposure because of my conquests in the past. I get to catch up with old friends and do a lot of riding which is nice. I get to spend time with my son. You may lose one thing but you gain something else.”

Anderson is content in retirement although he’s anything but idle. The competitive spirit lives on inside the physique of a man half his age and his reputation still sees him issued with challenges long after he stopped taking turns of pace at the front of the peloton. “Every year I have a couple of race appointments that I look forward to. There’s the Otway Classic, a 100km mountain bike race, which is a beautiful contest and there are people who do it in six hours. I’m no longer in that league but in 2009, I won the over-50s category – the one for the old farts. People still come up and tell me that they’re aiming to kick my arse in the race, they keep me on my toes.”

At the Scotty Peoples Ride in Shepparton at the end of 2008 Anderson was a special guest. In torrential rain, he set off with about 300 other cyclists on a ride in memory of a local cyclist who had been killed while training on rural roads a few years earlier. For the entire 120km journey he related stories of his racing days to others who were thrilled to be alongside the great ambassador of Australian cycling. He joked about the conditions but never hinted that he wouldn’t last the distance; of anyone out there that day he could have been excused for being the fair weather cyclist. He’s got nothing left to prove, he’s training for the sake of fitness – not because has to. And he loves it.

When the pace increased, he matched the speed and kept on talking. Some there that day may have stopped riding because of the conditions but they had their chance to ride with Phil! Cadel Evans was also in the bunch that day, but Anderson finished over half an hour ahead of the future world champion. The pro punctured a few times and had to stop to fix his tyre while the veteran just kept on turning the pedals over.

48-anderson-02Phil rides because he likes it. “I do fun rides and community events. I ran a half-marathon last year and I enjoy keeping fit. When I first stopped racing I might have gone months without riding and while I don’t ride every day at the moment, I’m out on the bike at least two or three times a week. On other days I’m running. I love to keep fit. I couldn’t imagine living life without some sort of good physical condition… not to the extreme of some people but I make sure I squeeze a little bit of time in every day for some sort of exercise.”

He had a farm near Jamieson in Victoria that he sold a few years ago after divorcing his second wife. With his new partner Anne, he rented a property for a while but at the start of this year Anderson bought a house which he hopes will still serve him well when the urge to ride strikes. “I got a place down on the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Apollo Bay. It’s an old holiday house and once it’s all settled, I can get in and check out the integrity of the place and decide whether I pull it down or renovate it. Hopefully I can keep some of it.

“It’s got some lovely views of the ocean and backs onto the Great Otway National Park so hopefully it will be good terrain for some mountain biking. It’s in a small community called Grey River; it’s really just a stream that reaches the ocean near my new place and I think it should be good for fishing. There is a general store five kilometres away but it is quite remote.”

“I enjoy time on my own and I can survive in an isolated situation but I do love going to the city as well, places which have a heartbeat,” he admits. “Anne has a place in Melbourne which is nice; combined with the place down on the coast it’s a great balance. My son Aidan is 10 and he goes to school down on the coast and it should work out well.”

He also has two children from his first marriage: Matthew, 23, and Lauren, 25, who live in the States.

Although he cherishes the time he gets to spend at home Anderson is a cosmopolitan character: born in London, raised in Australia and based in Belgium and France during his career, he also has links with the US where both his ex-wives are from. He considers himself very much an Aussie and, as soon as he realised it was time to quit cycling, he was happy to be back on the farm not too far from where he grew up.

His career was divided into considerable stints at four teams: Peugeot (1980-1983), Panasonic (1984-1987), TVM (1988-1990) and finally Motorola (1991-1994). Together with riders like Greg LeMond, he used his influence as a successful rider to lobby his employers for wages that were once unheard of in cycling and has since invested well. These days he is a consultant/spokesman for the bike brand Malvern Star, an ambassador for the car company Skoda, and he sits on the board of several charities including the Amy Gillet Foundation. Most of the time, however, he’s happy being Aiden’s father, Anne’s partner and a guy who gets to ride his bike.

Ask people what they know about Phil Anderson and the common reply relates to him being the first Australian to wear the maillot jaune at the Tour de France. That’s true, but he also had a wealth of success in one-day Classics. “I finished second twice in the Tour of Flanders,” said the rider who was part of the scene when it was common for Tour riders to ride all the major races, rather than opt for the specialisation that we’ve seen from the next wave of professionals.

He remembers his defeats in Flanders well. “The first time,” he said of the race in 1985, “I was beaten by Eric Vanderaeden who was a team-mate at Panasonic at the time.

“We were in the bunch and he was away with Hennie Kuiper, maybe 45 seconds in front of the first chase group. They were coming back, somebody jumped ahead to try and bridge the gap and I countered the move and got up to the lead group. Then there were just three of us: two Panasonic riders and Kuiper.

“We got to the bottom of the Muur (16km from the finish) and I was on the front. Halfway up, before we hit the really steep bit, Vanderaeden was yelling at me: ‘Easy… take it easy Phil!’ I did as I was told, and just when I eased up he attacked. That was the winning move and I had to sit and mark Kuiper who had won that race before, but I beat him for second.

“Three years later, my first year with the TVM team, I was with Adri van der Poel and Edwig van Hooydonck going up the Bosberg. At the top it was just myself and Eddy Planckaert and the two of us rode away. Coming to the finish, I attacked quite a few times but he was a sprinter and I wasn’t strong enough and he kicked my arse in the sprint.”

But Anderson won a few Classics as well. His name graces the Amstel Gold Race winners’ list as well as the now-defunct Blois-Chaville which he remembers well. This was one of his final major triumphs for Panasonic before he opted out of Peter Post’s roost in favour of joining upstart Dutch squad TVM. “Panasonic was a very strong team. We had a huge force and rarely a week would go by when we didn’t win at least one race. A lot of that was due to the directorship of Peter Post.

“At the end of 1985, I suffered a bad back ailment, sacroiliitis, which started to hinder me. Until that point I’d risen up the rankings and was number-two in the world. I was coming back in 1986 as one of the favourites to do well that season.

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“Nobody really knew what the issue with my back was at first and it took months for it to be diagnosed correctly. Finally, we figured it out and the remedy was to rest for a couple of months. That’s very frustrating for any bike rider and for me to miss the Spring Classics was particularly annoying.

“This was when my relationship with Post began breaking up a little. It put a lot of stress on the team and me and it took a few months for me to recover but I did come back to good form by the middle of the season. I rode the Tour de France and did well at the Tour de Suisse before that, coming second in the most difficult stage, so I had the belief that I’d be okay again. After that though, I never got great results in the Tour. Whether or not it had anything to do with the back condition, I can’t say, but my priorities did change somewhat after that year. I started focusing on stage wins or chasing the title at smaller races.”

The injury subconsciously heralded a shift in direction for Anderson. Once a Tour title contender, he became a rider used to prop up a team, someone who by sheer regularity of success could gain sufficient ranking points to be amongst the best in the world. He no longer had aspirations for the yellow jersey. Of course he dreamed of it, but instead he moved to TVM and in the first year there missed the only Tour of his career. He picked up an error in part one of this Legacy piece to remind me of the omission. “It was printed that I did all the Tours from 1981 until retirement but there was one that I missed out on and that was 1988,” he corrected.

“I still did 13 Tours but the year I missed out I was on a team like what Cadel Evans has now. TVM didn’t have automatic selection in the biggest events and unlike Cadel, we didn’t even receive a wildcard invitation that year. Back then it was a different structure to how it is now but TVM was new and we didn’t have the points to make the top tier.

“At the end of the injury I was back on track and it was obvious in my results. I won Blois-Chaville which finished on the road between Paris and Versailles. When I was with ACBB I lived not far from there and I knew the roads pretty well.

“The year before I’d come second (to Ludo Peeters) so in 1986 I attacked a little before the end. There was a group of about 15 and I left them behind on a slight downhill about five kilometres from the finish and stayed away.” He believes this could have even been on the same road used for the famous final time trial of the 1989 Tour de France when Greg LeMond set the record average speed (54.545km/h, which is still the fastest ever for TTs over 25km). Despite not wanting to destroy part of the legend of the day, Anderson does admit it “was essentially a descent most of the way to the River Seine”.

By the end of 1986 he was back on track and Post had great confidence in him and signed the soon-to-be 28-year-old back on for another year. Anderson didn’t have time to hunt around for another team and essentially accepted the offer which included a salary increase. And so it was back to Panasonic for 1987 which would be his last year with that team.

“I ended up going somewhere that was completely the opposite: from a team with a dominant directeur sportif to TVM which wasn’t assured of a start in any of the big races. But I went there because I was promised a lot more control. I could bring some of my own staff – my doctor and soigneur – and I also had a say in the equipment we used. I insisted on having Shimano components and it was good because I could have a lot more control over what I was doing. When I was with Post, all the details were set in stone and a rider couldn’t do what he wanted if it conflicted at all. I was happy with the arrangement with TVM. I could choose my program, bring a few sponsors on board and select my staff… but there was a risk. We didn’t know if we’d make it to the Tour, that was the case from the outset but I was prepared for the gamble.

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“We had Italian sponsors and I got to ride the Giro d’Italia for the first time. I really enjoyed it. I loved racing in Italy. I’d win a stage of the Giro the next year and, in the 1980s, it was a really enjoyable race. It was relaxed for the first half of a stage and, towards the end, the pressure mounted and it would be time to race when the cameras came out for the live coverage.

“I won the ‘Inter Giro’ jersey once, was second in the points classification the same year when Mario Cipollini beat me. It came down to deciding which prize I wanted to chase – you have to race differently for each. I had the lead in both but would lose one if I didn’t surrender my chances in the other. That’s fine by me, to be beaten by Cipollini is not too bad.”

It’s a familiar question for gifted cyclists, but what did Anderson call himself? A ‘GC guy’, an ‘opportunist’, a ‘veteran’ or ‘team captain’..?

“I had been signed up to be the team leader at TVM and, just like anybody in that position, I just liked winning. The idea was for the team to use me, and my reputation, to help make it attractive to the promoters of the big events. Hopefully results would follow and that would validate the invitations. We wanted to show that we had earned our place in the race. We got the momentum of the formation going and it was great to see where it got to: it started out basically as a club team and progressed well during my time there.”

In 1989 he went back to Italy and did the Giro before the Tour. Given his history with LeMond, I thought the mention of this race would ignite him with anecdotes. Anderson doesn’t mind telling a few stories about his time as a pro; he likes sharing details of a moment you may recall and does so often with fans when given the opportunity, like on that wet Shepparton ride. Alas, the Tour of 1989 doesn’t rate highly in the archives of his mind. When asked for his impressions of that race, arguably one of the best ever, he got bogged in detail most would have forgotten and then couldn’t recall the punchline. “I wasn’t there when Pedro Delgado won; and in 1989 he missed the prologue.

“It was an outstanding race but after this amount of time they tend to blend into one another. There were some stand-out Tours for me like my first one when I got to wear the yellow jersey but for me there was nothing exceptional about 1989.

“You ride around France and get to the end with a sense of relief. I can’t remember where I finished and I didn’t think LeMond would have a shot at the win. I was back at the hotel when I found out he had done it. He was out of the picture as far as most people were concerned. It was only a 24.5km time trial. When you have two top riders still in contention, you believe that the one in the yellow jersey should be able to maintain his advantage over second place. I didn’t think that Greg would pull that much time out of Laurent Fignon.”

After three years at TVM came the Motorola team’s arrival. By then 7-Eleven had existed for some time but the new US squad would become a real example of global cycling. Phil had competed in North America and he fondly remembers encounters in races like the Tour of New York, a World Cup in Montreal and the Coors Classic which he did once. He was friends with LeMond and they often spoke about being on a team together “but we could never really get it to work”.

“I still wanted to race in Europe so the fledgling US teams didn’t appeal to me. But Jim Ochowicz approached me at the race in Montreal when we bumped into each other in the lift of a hotel. He asked if I would consider discussing a future with him at his new team. He said there were plans to introduce a new sponsor and turn what had been an American-based squad into a European one. We had another meeting – it was late in the season, I hadn’t yet signed any agreement with TVM and I was certainly considering moving on.

“I had spoken with some Italian teams but was excited about the possibility of being on an American team.”

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Anderson saw out his racing days at Motorola but even though he had been one of the team’s biggest stars, he was asked to pay for his team bike if he wanted to keep it at the conclusion of his farewell season. It was a strange end to what had otherwise been a very fruitful collaboration. Although he would never remind people of the matter of the money for the Merckx these days,  I remember it well. I was an impressionable teenager during Phil’s prime years and a young cycling journalist at the end of his career.

I recall being horrified to think that this rider who had been spoiled for equipment choice, someone who had such a reputation that he would be called upon by the likes of Shimano to test their ground-breaking innovations, would have to pay for the bike he had used all season. That was at the end of 1994 but before this he would be employed as one of the original big attractions at Motorola.

“I loved racing in America and this was well before the Lance Effect had taken hold. He was coming in as a junior with the US national team at the start of the Motorola team, but there was also Greg leading the way. Along with him there was Steve Bauer from Canada and a few other English-speaking riders who had a strong following in the States. Americans were starting to understand the sport and I revelled in that environment. I was popular there and my name was one that helped to enhance the start list.”

This was BLA – Before Lance Armstrong. Mention cycling to an American now and they tell you about the Texan cancer survivor who won the Tour de France seven times. And hopes to win again this year. Before he came along, it was Greg.

What a great time for cycling. A new generation filled with the hope of a comeback story for the ages. Surely, after being shot and then winning the Tour again – beating a Frenchman by eight seconds – and then taking a third title in 1990, LeMond had a story that would never be eclipsed. D’oh. You’d think so! Then comes Lance. But Phil was, and is, a friend of both.

Did he feel like a rock star? An Australian on the same team as the Bright Young Hope of American cycling?

“The crowds over there are a lot different to Europe and it’s still very much like that today. They don’t understand the sport the way that Europeans do and I remember when I first went there on my way to the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton in 1978 and the crowds were so enthusiastic. They didn’t really know what was really going on but they got caught up in the excitement of it all. They’d be yelling and screaming and giving it from the heart. Whereas in Europe if you were two minutes off the back of the peloton for some reason – you could have just been having a bad day – everyone would be yelling out ‘Loser!’ or ‘Get another job!’

“In America there was a different atmosphere. They’d be telling you, ‘Come on, you can do it!’ It was such a pleasant change and I loved it. The vibe was positive and, without talking up US culture too much, I had a great time when I went there and I really looked forward to going to Motorola, having my contact with Europe but also racing the young American events. I’d go to the Tour DuPont or the Philadelphia races and people would be going nuts about the sport. There were deafening crowds that were so enthusiastic. I still love going back to the States if I’ve got the time.”

He was a headline act at the time LeMond was bringing the culture of cycling to the forefront in the US. He did great things for cycling there and that’s why people were screaming so loudly. But he was also there for the arrival of the next big superstar. He reminded me of the lull between Greg and Lance. “In his last Tour, LeMond fizzed out a little. People were saying he shouldn’t be there, that he was overweight… this and that. He slunk out of the scene in a way we didn’t expect from someone who had achieved so much. The sport was at a loss and events started closing down. Then Lance came along.

“He was a good rider before cancer but he totally changed afterwards. He won a stage very deservedly in the Tour in his debut when he beat Raul Alcala and then in 1995 there was the death of Fabio Casartelli and he won another stage. I don’t know if that was a gift but he did some amazing things and put on some impressive displays. He came back after his cancer as a different rider. I can only comment as an outsider on what he achieved after my retirement. It wasn’t until after I stopped that he went on to become the superstar he is today.”

If they were pushing Greg LeMond out, surely that made Anderson think about moving on. He insists that it was obvious when he had to stop. “I knew my results were starting to fade. In 1992 they were good, 1993 there were fewer wins… and I just noticed that I was becoming the last person to arrive at the breakfast table every morning.

“At the start of the 1994 season, I was finding that it took more effort to keep up the pace at the start of the season. It was a lot harder than what it had been a few years before.

“That was the time there were whispers of EPO coming into the peloton and whether that was the reason the pace was going up, I don’t know, but it was a sign that it was time for me to consider something else. I thought it had to be my age. It was a warning sign and I’d spoken with the team’s management during the Tour in 1994 and told them that it would be my last season. They did offer me another contract but it wasn’t as much as what I’d hoped and so I decided that would be it.

“I rode out the Tour of Britain, then went to Canada again to be part of the national team. It ended as it began. My last race was the 100km team time trial at the Commonwealth Games, the first time it was open to professionals.”

By Rob Arnold (rob@ridemedia.com.au)

For the rest of the issue of RIDE #48, including all the product coverage and insight you expect from RIDE Cycling Review, get your copy from Zinio now!

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