Earlier this year the Australian road race champion from 2019, Michael Freiberg, won another national title. The victory in 2023 was achieved with a sprint finish at over 80km/h… but Freiberg didn’t win this race on his own. On the rear of his tandem bike was his current team-mate, Kieran Murphy.
RIDE Media caught with Freiberg and Murphy before for the start of stage three of the Tour Down Under. Click the link below to find out more about what it’s like to race a tandem.
– An interview and video by Rob Arnold
Transcript of the (impromptu) interview
RIDE Media: I heard a rumour that when you were sprinting for the national title you were going over 80km/h. Could that be right?
Michael Freiberg: “Oh yeah, that was pretty cool. The nationals was great. The speed these tandems get up to when you’ve got someone good on the back is unbelieveable.”
RIDE Media: Talk to me about the dynamic on the frame. Are you pedalling at the same cadence? I don’t really understand tandems…
Michael Freiberg: “Yeah. So, our pedals are both connected… we’ve got a chain that connects us, and then we’ve got a full 22-speed gears at the back. So, we’ve got a big and small chainring and then an 11-speed on the back.”
RIDE Media: How does the frame cope? It must be under a lot of pressure. Can you give us a quick overview of the bike? What it weighs, etc…
Michael Freiberg: “Yeah, sure. So the bike is about 15kg, but that weight is all about reinforcing it, and keeping it stable because when we sprint we’re doing two to 2,000 to 2,500 Watts because we’ve got two big boys sprinting full-gas. So, that’s how we achieve 80kmh in the sprint.
“When we’re looking at time trialling, the national team set the qualification for world champs at 50km/h for 20km – that’s just to make the team. Then, if we want to medal at the world championships, we’ve got to be going above that. So, tandems are fast things on the road.”
RIDE Media: There used to be a tandem world championship on the track [and there still is, but now it’s only part of the para worlds program – and Michael and Kieran, who is a visually impaired cyclist, have teamed up in recent months to race together]… are you doing that as well?
Michael Freiberg: “The tandem world champs are on the track… [but] we’re going to focus on the road this year because the competition on the track is super, super fast!
“As a tandem the Dutch are the best in the world; they go sub-four minutes for the four kilomemtre [individual pursuit] and sub-one minute for the ‘kilo’. So, when you go on that quick you need a full aerodynamics package and everything.
“We’re going to work on our fitness on the road and then, next year, when it’s an Olympic year, we’re going to start looking towards the aerodynamics and nailing down the track work.”
RIDE Media: It’s really good to see you… [but] I’m pretty sure you’ve said you’ve retired [from racing] three or four times…
Michael Freiberg: “Yeah, like… multiple times. But that’s it: I love the sport. We’ve got a great group of guys here with ‘The Unicorns’. They’re legends! So, ah… yeah I’ll keep it going while we can.”
RIDE Media: Should I guess the Unicorn is a WA company…? [Freiberg is one of many successful racers from Western Australia.]
Michael Freiberg: “Yeah, it is a WA company but they operate globally. We’ve got the big bosses here, Eddie [Pope] and JC [van der Walt], from Unicorn Risk Solutions.
“[Unicorn is] a specialist insurance company and we’ve got a great group of guys [in our group that was in attendance at the TDU], and we’ve even got a few young guys who travel the world that these guys – and the functions they put on – sponsor.
“[Another sponsored rider] Tristan Nash is over at the world champs for cyclocross and there are a few other young boys who [Unicorn] sponsor to go to Europe and race on the road in Italy and Spain… and things like that. So, there’s a really cool development squad coming out of WA.”
RIDE Media: So, you’ve got the Cam Meyer special-edition handlebars…
Michael Freiberg: “Yeah, they give Kieran a bit of extra reach. He can tuck down nice and aerodynamically on the back.”
RIDE Media [to Kieran]: And are you sick of… um, having to smell Michael arse?
Kieran Murphy: “Yeah… it’s like, you need a good washing powder [laughs]. It’s like Omo this week, Cold Power the next week…
“Nah, it’s good. Good team. Good pair on the bike.”
RIDE Media: How long have you two been riding together?
Michael Freiberg: “Around two years now.”
RIDE Media: And he’s a good leader?
Kieran Murphy: “Yeah. He’s a good pilot.”
RIDE Media: Because you’ve sprinted with some of the best, haven’t you?
Kieran Murphy: “Yeah. I raced overseas, in Europe… I am a silver medallist from the world championships [2017 in the individual pursuit].”
RIDE Media: And who did you do that with?
Kieran Murphy: “Lachlan Glasspool.”
RIDE Media: What other pilots have you had?
Kieran Murphy: “[Lachlan] is the main one. I rode with him overseas.
“I took some time off in 2020. My good mate, Kieran Modra was killed in 2019 [while riding his bike north of Adelaide]. He went triple – back-to-back – wins in the IP on the tandem (at the Paralympics in 2004, 2008 and 2012) and that hurt me [when he died].
“I took the time off in 2020 then got back on the bike with Michael after that. And we’re heading to Paris next year, hopefully.”
Interview by Rob Arnold
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