Wayne Hildred: Another Aussie cycling pioneer
Ride your bike in Bright, Victoria, and you’re likely to bump into one of the local legends. Wayne Hildred may not be a household name but he’s got a few good yarns to tell about his time as a racing cyclist.
– Story by Graham Springett
(originally published in #RIDE75, February 2017).
Mention Australian pioneers of European road cycling and you can take your pick of a variety of names. Hubert Opperman, Russell Mockridge, Phil Anderson, Allan Peiper, Shane Sutton or Michael Wilson. All have taken the plunge, beaten a path to the heartland of cycling, Europe, and come out on top. Here’s another you need to add to your list, Wayne Hildred – a man whose achievements are impressive even if his name isn’t usually in the mix of others who have, as they say, “been there and done that”.
– Read about the bike Wayne rides in his local bunch. –
Hildred went out to Europe alone and did it bloody tough but he made his mark in the early 1980s when men were men and rewards for foreign cyclists were scant.
He is the national champion from 1982 and 1986 and was second in 1987 (after a puncture where he lost out after a chase by 10 metres), his record is one to be envied.
“I wanted to be an Australian champion,” the now 61-year-old says of his early days.
“I probably could’ve set my sights higher. I started racing in New Zealand as a kid.
“When I turned 16 I got a car, I was working, and that was the end of riding a bike for about four years.”
He came over to Australia in 1978 at 22. “I was a bit of a novice really. I came here, just started racing and won the first club race at Mornington Peninsula with the Carnegie Club. That first year I won Melbourne to Bendigo, was second at Wangaratta Open, won Midlands Tour and I won a stage in the Sun Tour.
“I went from limit to scratch in one year. I didn’t have any confidence in how good I was, I had no idea. But I just had a desire to be something. I had no idea of the culture of European racing, but after I competed for two years people said, ‘Europe is where it is…’ and so I went.”
Hildred found living in Europe a bit of a culture shock; he had intended to stay there and was ready to ride hard. After his experience of riding off scratch in Australia, winning fastest time in Melbourne to Warrnambool and the Tasmanian Six-Day with fellow New Zealander Paul Medhurst, he felt he was reasonably ready for Europe.
“It took me a while to get my legs. I didn’t finish the first couple of races but then I found my legs. The next year I rode the Tour of Germany I had a third in a stage. I rode six Classics and finished four: I was in the first 40-odd in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the first 50 in the Tour of Flanders, 26th in Amstel Gold and 26th in Gent-Wevelgem.
“I was riding for an Australian team called Mavic-Clemenso put together by Noel Truyers, a journalist in Belgium who was a school teacher and he loved Australian riders. He saw me racing, he saw Shane Sutton racing, and decided he wanted to do something with us.”
And so Wayne found himself in a team with Sutton as well as Bob Shannon, Phil Sawyer, Tony Perri and Peter Besanko, some Germans and a Belgian. The team lasted a season. It was, as Wayne says, a very cheap team, but it gave them a chance to ride the Classics and the Tour of Germany.
The year prior Hildred had ridden for Freddy Maertens at Boule d’Or, where he had his first contract. “I went to the world championships with Freddy when he won it, 1981 in Prague. They took me to the Tour of Catalonia to push him up mountains, literally – I was his domestique. My job was to go to the car and come back to the peloton. That’s so hard – they’re moving at the speed of the peloton and you’ve got to get between the cars, use the cars, when it’s full-on. You do that 10 times and you’re spent. The bunch is doing 45km/h and it used to be hard yakka.
“They were going to take me to the Tour de France; I was all packed up ready to go but I didn’t have the appropriate visas. They got another rider. I was a little disappointed but also actually quite relieved. I knew how hard it was going to be, domestique work every day.”
He knew that it was a tough gig as one of the Australian and New Zealand riders; they had to train their hearts out just to ride for somebody else, be at the back of the peloton and not be given any opportunity to shine. It was, as Wayne found out, pretty disheartening. But it all soon changed…
“The day that I finished 26th at the Amstel Gold Race, Phil Anderson won (1983). He got the yellow jersey and had just one domestique. He was on a French team and they weren’t interested in supporting Phil. He finished 10th on GC in 1981, and fifth in 1982, but they just crucified him. Nowadays, they would’ve looked after him.
“After two years I came home and my girlfriend at the time had a child and she didn’t want to go back to Europe. I had a contract to go back to but when I got there the bloody contract fell through. I was there in the winter, stuck between a rock and a hard place. I couldn’t train and I didn’t know what to do. I was running out of money and in the end I couldn’t face it and thought, ‘Bugger it, I’ll go home.’
Hildred has been a regular of the Bright bunches (above) for several years…
Hildred later returned to New Zealand for 18 months, worked on an oil rig at his father’s behest and found it was like a jail sentence. Then he studied nutrition and iridology and decided to become a naturopath.
“While I was doing my studies it dawned on me: if I apply all this to my body, I wonder how I’d go as an athlete. So I left the oil rig and set myself a goal to win the title as a vegetarian… and I did, in 1986. Allan Peiper was doing the same. I didn’t race him, I was a little bit older.”
All good things come to an end and Wayne retired from racing in 1988 and moved to Wodonga for 13 years to raise his family. He and his wife later separated and he moved to Bright in 2004 – he loved the area, it reminded him of home and it wasn’t too far from his family in Wodonga.
He then spent a while with his brother farming in New Zealand, drove road trains in Western Australia for years, just to make some money in the mines.
But 19 years off the bike had seen him reach 91kg. He had raced at 73.
Another comeback to racing beckoned and he duly won the New Zealand masters after only five weeks of training. “I thought ‘Okay, still got it…’ but then I went to Port Headland for work which made it difficult to train.
“My partner, Susan, wanted a cafe and I thought I’d like to do bike tours. We were looking and this place came up,” he says, gesturing at the surrounds of Bright Velo, “and I thought I could do bike tours out of the hotel and Susan could run the cafe. After our barista, Mick Donges, left I became the barista – and I still haven’t done my bike tours because I’m too busy working here!”
* * * * *
Wayne is one of the focal points of cycling in Bright and his demeanour is such that you would have absolutely no idea of his pedigree. In Bright you can ride with an Australian cycling pioneer enjoying a jaunt through one of the country’s finest regions for cycling, and marvel at how a 61-year-old can climb like a man half his age, descend like a man a third his age and enjoy a joke like a man a quarter his age. Then he’ll make you a coffee and help you to recuperate so that you can try to test yourself against him again tomorrow.
Just take with a large pinch of salt that his functional threshold power is 270 watts…
The story about riding near Bright was the final instalment of RIDE’s popular ‘Caffeine Culture’ series.
Hildred still loves his cycling (and he talks about his bike with as much enthusiasm now as when he was racing, right) and when it comes to old-school or modern training there are lessons for everyone.
“I’ve done both sides of the coin,” he says. “When I was in Europe I did 40,000km a year. I would ride to the events, race 160-220km – three or four of those a week, sometimes four or five. I’d train on the other days, 100km twice a week.
“From 1981 to 1983 I did huge kilometres, lots of racing! I was strong as a Mallee bull.
“When I did Bordeaux-Paris, which is 586km, I rode it with Paul Sherwen.
“When I trained for that I did some huge miles. One week I did two days of 300km on my own, had a day off and then did another 300, and that was three weeks before the worlds. I had no problem finishing the worlds, I was just a little sluggish in the first half!
“I’m the same height as Bernard Hinault but he was four kilos lighter than me. I never got on with him. He belted me one day. Everyone had respect for him except the Australians – Phil Anderson and myself. To us, he was just another bike rider. There was one race Hinault was using for training; he had it in the 53x13 on the front for two hours.
“We were all sitting on him; I was on his wheel looking round thinking, ‘Well this is boring, I’ll do a turn…’
“The whole peloton wouldn’t go past him, they wouldn’t do a turn because they knew what he was doing, they knew he was training and they just sat there. So I pulled out, did a turn and he left me out there for a little bit and then he came past me and said something in French. I figured he wasn’t very happy so I stayed second wheel for a bit longer, but then I decided I’d do another turn.
“So I did another turn but he came straight back over me and smacked me in the ribs. He said something in French and I thought ‘Grumpy old man!’
“When I decided to become a vegetarian my diet meant I didn’t need to do as many kilometres, as I was carrying less weight and I didn’t get lactic acid. Meat took energy to digest. Steak takes 48 hours to digest, tofu takes two hours…
“I was a nutcase, in a sense. Nowadays it’s all about diet but I put myself on a strict regime and I was doing about 16 hours of training a week, and then race on the weekends.
“A power meter keeps me honest, and I do training that gives me confidence; I know I’ve done the work. I’m like a lot of people, I like to just go out and ride my bike, but I don’t like to hurt myself. The power meter keeps me honest, you have a program and a target. I have to do this, this and this, and you go out and do it.”
– By Graham Springett