Brad Linfield… “Remember that name”
Talkin’ about the next generation
– Interview by Rob Arnold (Photos by Jarrod Partridge, JXP Photography)
The list of successful graduates from the ‘Sanders school of cycling’ is a long one. Watson, the final lead-out man for Jay McCarthy at the junior worlds road race in 2011 (when the future Saxo-Tinkoff recruit finished second), looks destined to continue his evolution. He is part of a new crop of young Australians who are giving the national selectors plenty of options for all manner of racing.
“The first time I ever laid eyes on Calvin was the under-13s schools championship,” recalled Sanders. “There were two little chubby kids left out the front and it was Calvin and my young bloke Ricky.”
Rick Sanders was a triple national champion on the track in 2011, winning the scratch race, ‘kilo’ and teaming up with Jack Cummings, Evan Hull and Alex Morgan to claim the team pursuit. He’s 19 and discovering the responsibilities of getting older and cycling is very much part of his life just like it is for many of his peers.
The hope is that this is The Lucky Generation. They are racing at a time when there’s more knowledge on the sordid culture of doping that has permeated cycling for years. They are being raised in an environment where succumbing to the temptation to cheat is seen as weak, not accepted. They race for a range of reasons and a brief discussion is all it takes to realise that one of the key motivations is that they truly enjoy riding a bike. The lure of a pro career is another thing that keeps their spirits high and not even the glut of talent that’s emerging from Australia can abate their ambitions… the competition from compatriots pushes them hard and provides great experience before they enter the next level. Furthermore, the regularity of recruitment from teams around the world – plus the existence of the Orica-GreenEdge team and the Gerry Ryan-backed Jayco-AIS World Tour Academy – is enough to remind them that plenty of opportunity exists for those with the right physiology and attitude.
“They’ve certainly got the physiological goods,” said Sanders about the likes of Watson, McCarthy, Damien Howson, Lachlan Norris, Nathan Earle, Aaron Donnelly, Pat Lane and a list of others who are building stronger reputations with every race they contest. “But when you’re talking about matching the achievements of riders like [Simon] Gerrans or [Simon] Clarke, it’s their heart and soul and commitment and character that’s got them to where they have in their careers. And only time will tell when it comes to this new lot.”
Sanders sees things that the casual observer could never possibly glean from a glance of a bike rider. He is the ideal talent spotter and his relentless enthusiasm means that he never gets bored or complacent about his job of developing young riders into world-class racers. So the logical questions are: who is the Next Big Thing? Is there a freak in the next generation who stands out above all others?
“The one that we’re all talking about if you want to use that word is Caleb Ewan,” said Sanders without a moment of hesitation.
“There’s no doubt about it: Caleb is something really special. We just can’t say where within the sport he ends up. Even what he did at the Bay Series criteriums early in the year was just phenomenal. That might have only been one-hour crits but he can do what he did there in road races as well. At the moment, he is The Special Talent, that’s for sure.
“There are others like Jay McCarthy who is coming through… there are a lot of exciting young kids there who are pretty special. They’re turning pro at 20 years of age and I don’t know if that’s the ideal thing to be happening for them but that’s what the pro teams are looking for: young Aussies who they know have a good background, they’re exciting, they’ve come from good programs…”
We discussed other names and how Sanders expects a range of riders will fare in the years to come and, at the end of the conversation, the coach singled out another young man as The Freak of his generation. “I’ll tell you another name to look out for: Bradley Linfield – he is superb!
“He ran fourth on GC at the Herald Sun Tour, he’s only a first-year senior and I took him to the junior worlds for the last two years.
“He’s only a little guy. He’s from Bunbury in West Australia and he is going to be big. He was fourth in one of his first senior races.
“Linfield is just a superb little bike rider. He can time trial, he can climb… he’s only a little guy but he’s got some stuff, I’m telling you. Remember that name. He’s a great character, he’s as tough as nails, he’s a good guy.”
And thus, with that tip, another call was made. Here are a few grabs from our first interview with Brad Linfield… he’s a switched on young man who speaks like a typical teenager but he’s interesting for several reasons: he is touted as a big star, he’s already excelling at a sport he’d like to do as a professional, he understands the need to learn and serve some form of apprenticeship… oh yeah, and this bright young Aussie hope was born in Zimbabwe.
(More from this series of interviews will feature in RIDE #59, due out in late-February 2013.)
“I’m not sure exactly why he’s singled me out,” said Linfield of Sanders’ appraisal. “I’ve been away racing with Davo for a couple of seasons now; he takes the under-19 Australian team over to Italy before the world championships. The more I go over there the more I like it. I really enjoy the experience and I love the Italian racing compared to the Australian style. There are some hilltop finishes over there and the nature of the competition is a lot different.
“The whole environment is different to here. That is where Australian cycling is going but it’s a bit more normal for them to have a more professional environment. When you race over there, it’s common for all the teams to stay in the same ‘race hotel’. It’s a bit more like what the ‘Sun Tour’ was this year. Compared to junior racing here [in Australia] it’s a lot more organised and professional. It’s awesome to be part of.
“As a first-year under-19, I got to go over [to Italy] for a couple of months and then, last year, I also went over to Holland for a couple of months with Caleb Ewan. He and I raced there to try and get a bit more of an experience and get a feel for what it’s like to be living over there without the whole national team environment and without being well looked after. And then we went over to Italy and met up with Dave Sanders and the rest of the team before the world championships.”
RIDE: Obviously, you get along with Caleb. Is that because the pair of you have similar ambitions?
Linfield: “Yeah, Caleb and I get along really well. We got to race a lot together and we also lived together for a fair while and we never had any problems with each other which was good. I’m planning on going to his place [in the NSW Southern Highland] just to chill and stuff.”
RIDE: Can you give us a bit of basic background? You’re from Bunbury… have you always lived there?
Linfield: “I live there but I’m not originally from Bunbury. I was born in Zimbabwe and then, when a few things happened, we moved over to Australia and I’ve been living in Bunbury for a few years now. I was about nine when I left and I’m 18 now, so it’s been pretty much half my life there, half my life here.”
RIDE: My knowledge of Zimbabwe is essentially where it is on the map. What can you tell me about it?
Linfield: “Ah. It’s just in Africa. Um, I don’t know what more to say. English is the main language. There is another language but we never spoke it.
“My mum is English but my dad is Zimbabwean. I’m an Aussie!”
RIDE: Why the bike? When did you pick up cycling?
Linfield: “I’ve always ridden a bike, ever since I was really young on the farm in Zimbabwe and stuff. I then did a few triathlons with school and my sister did them too.
“When we came to Australia, I didn’t really do anything for a couple of years because I was still really young. Then, again through school – and with some family friends – we did a few more triathlons. I just really liked riding and went to the South West Cycle Club and took up racing from then.
“Every year I just sort of did a bit more. I went to the nationals and really enjoyed that. I went back and tried to get some results and it’s just taken off from there.”
RIDE: Can you talk us through the highlights of your Sun Tour experience?
Linfield: “Going into that it was hard to know what to expect. Obviously, it was the first race of the season and I’d had a good break so I was really keen to get racing again.
“There were some of the longest stages that I’ve ever done as I’m coming out of the under-19s this year.
“I wanted to be a bit aggressive and not just follow the guys. I wanted to make my own race and we did that on the first stage. The heat and distance got to me a little bit.
“At the start of the season it always takes a couple of races to get used to it. I was cramping and a few things like that. After the second stage I was a bit happier with my form. I came into the finish with the front group and it was awesome to be racing guys like Simon Gerrans.
“In the last stage, I thought I’d really give that hill a crack and maybe try and get on the podium of the final GC. Coming into the Arthurs Seat stage, I knew the VIS was going to try and split it because Aaron Donnelly was in front of Cal Watson so I was aware of the kind of tactics that were going to be used. In the end it worked well for me.
“Josh Atkins and Aaron Donnelly missed the front move up the climb [the first time] so we tried to get team-mates to drive it around the loop and they did that really well. Calvin also had a few guys up there.
“Coming into Arthurs Seat the last time it was on again and the Aussie elite team drove it and there were a few other attacks. Me? I wasn’t really thinking of the stage win so when the attacks went, I rode my own pace and they got a bit of a gap. I just kept thinking of GC and tried to take as much time as I could. I kept going and by the time I got to the top, I just hoped that Aaron and Josh would lose enough time so that I could be on the podium. I missed out on third by about 10 seconds but I was really happy with how my first race of the season went.”
RIDE: To see a 20-year-old win the title and an 18-year-old in fourth place is outstanding. That’s what this race is all about: it’s a great way of exposing young talent.
Linfield: “Yeah, it’s awesome. It was a really good race.”
[The Australian national championships began today, 9 January 2013. Click the link for the schedule as well as live tracking of the races as they happen.]
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