On the eve of his debut as a pro cyclist with Team Ineos, Cameron Wurf spoke to RIDE Media to explain how the deal to race with the team came about.
Cameron Wurf is the kind of pro athlete who will take time to check in with people he’s met through sport. He does so with surprising regularity. And it’s not always about sharing news or suggesting an interview or even offering any gossip. He just does it because… well, that’s the kind of bloke he is.
When he first made the switch from rowing to cycling, he was already a fascinating character. After he raced the world championship time trial in 2007 as a relative unknown, we did our first interview together. He explained the adaptation required to go from one sport to another.
He spoke with ease and provided interesting insight. It was refreshing and that initial interview later prompted a request for columns written by a guy who was clearly more than “just a bike rider”.
When one of his original cycling advisors, Aldo Sassi, passed away late in 2010, it was Wurf who contacted RIDE Media and asked, “Would you mind if I wrote a tribute to him?”
Within a few hours, the article arrived. (You can read ‘Vale, Aldo Sassi’ here.) It explained the enormous influence that the Italian had on a young Australian starting out in a complicated sport that has many (curious) old-school traditions.
And although Wurf drifted away from pro cycling, he continues to check in sporadically to ask how things are going and provide updates on his meandering, sporting vagabond life.
He took to triathlon, almost as a hobby but quickly found that he could excel. He set the bike record at Kona in 2017, eclipsed that time the next time he raced the Ironman world championships… and he, quite clearly, finds it difficult to sit still.
He married last year. He finished fifth in the Kona Ironman. He has become a fully-fledged member of the triathlon elite. And, as of yesterday, he is also on the roster of Team Ineos’ pro cycling team.
Below is a Q&A with Cameron Wurf as he prepares to make his return to cycling’s WorldTour peloton.
– Click the SoundCloud link to listen to the Q&A and/or read the transcript (below) –
RIDE Media: Cam Wurf, you experienced a bit of an announcement that generated a bit of talk in the cycling and triathlon communities last night (Australian time). Do you want to tell me about this very rapid initiative for you to start racing as a pro bike rider again, but this time with Team Ineos?
Cameron Wurf: “Yeah, well it obviously has all come thick and fast. I was in LA training with Geraint Thomas last week – and Ben Swift – and my coach, Tim Kerrison, rocked up on Tuesday and said that Vasil Kiryienka was thinking about retiring… his heart condition from last year hadn’t really improved and that, if he was to [retire], would I be interested in replacing him?
“I said, ‘Well, firstly, no one can ever replace that guy!’
“I have followed Kiri’s career very closely because in 2007 when I did my first [cycling] world championships [in the TT], I started 10th from the end. And I remember having David Millar and [Dave] Zabriskie and whoever else all the way back to [Fabian] Cancellara [starting after me].
“It was always a joke: how many people would catch me?
“But I’d say, ‘You know, it’s okay because there’s this guy from Belarus who I’d never heard of…’
“Anyway, it was Kiryienka – and that day he came fifth! And I came 30th.
“Obviously, since then, I’ve known exactly who he is and followed him very closely. So, it was quite an honour that Tim even used my name in the same sentence as Kiri’s.
“Of course, it was a privilege to be able to say ‘Yes’ and offer my services, to step up and at least try and fill some of the void that [Kiri] has left on the team for the season.
“It’s really, really exciting.”
RIDE Media: It is [and] the good thing is that we’ve covered off a lot of the territory on how you came to be in a position where you were basically the regular training partner of Chris Froome and Pavel Sivakov and Geraint Thomas and now Ben Swift is in the fold… so you know everyone. You didn’t have to be bike fitted, you have everything that you require. But the news? It wasn’t like a pre-considered concept and it just literally came up last week?
Cameron Wurf: “Well, I’d be lying if I said that.
“Dave Brailsford actually asked me to come to the team camp at the end of  in Mallorca. And that’s generally for the whole team… all the riders. And obviously I wasn’t their rider but I’ve been around enough…
“I hadn’t been to that camp, with everyone, and he said: ‘Come along…’ and they just slotted me in with the group and I just did my thing.
“I did some hard TT efforts with Rohan [Dennis] and we did team workouts.
“One day, we decided to do a lap of the island. Well, four of us did: Dylan van Baarle and ‘G’ – Geraint – and Ian Stannard… we did a full lap of Mallorca, 312 kilometres.
“I think Dave certainly noticed that I seemed to fit in with the group really well and he made a comment that it was a shame that they had 30 riders on the roster, because jumping in for the odd race with the team could actually be really good for them, and for me, as I continue to progress my triathlon career.
“That was sort of where that was at… and they’ve obviously got a situation, as everyone knows, with Andrey Amador (who is involved in a dispute with his 2019 team, Movistar, about his hopes of moving to Team Ineos) – he’s actually not there yet – so we’re kind of waiting on that. That is yet to be resolved.
“And then this just popped up… with Kiryienka and when ‘Kiri’ decided that [retirement] was what he wanted to do, Dave was adamant to act extremely decisively and swiftly to bring me in, put me on team, and get me racing ASAP.
“It was something we talked about for a long time and it was a case of, ‘We’ve finally got the window – let’s make it happen…’ and on Wednesday last week, I was sitting in LA – Thursday actually – and here we are a week later and I’m sitting in Geelong, about to do my first race in five years.
“So, it just goes to show, you’ve just got to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. [Laughs] That’s what I intend to do with this.”
RIDE Media: When people talk about Team Ineos, there’s a particular race that’s on in July every year; this year it starts in June… but the Tour de France is a big part of their annual program. Could we be bold enough to suggest you might get in the line-up of eight for that race?
Cameron Wurf: “Ah well, I’m part of the roster now, so there’s a chance. At the moment, it’s certainly not a consideration.
“At the moment the plan is that I’ll race up until around May when the team does the Giro and, of course, you’ve got the rest of the guys getting ready for the Tour.
“And over the (northern) summer, I’ll do my usual couple of Ironmans – I’ll do Nice and probably Roth – and maybe do my TV stuff [at the Tour] with SBS. And then start to get ready for Kona.
“But, who knows?
“The reality is, it’s the best team in the world and I haven’t raced for five years. I think I’ve improved as an athlete. Certainly, my mentality towards what I do is very different. And they are certainly intrigued as to what’s going to happen. I mean, [the team] is interested to see what I can do.
“I mean, I wasn’t that bad a bike rider when I did ride, I just wan’t as good as I felt that I could be and I kind of felt that I was wasting my time…
“Obviously, I’d love to ride the Tour de France one day, that’s always been an absolute dream of mine.
“I’ve done Kona. I’ve been to the Olympics [for rowing]. And, obviously, to do the Tour would complete the set. But on this team, you’re not just going to ‘do the Tour’, you’re going to be part of the winning team… and that is even more inspiring to potentially, maybe, put my hand up.
“I’d love to do that, but at the moment, it’s not a focus. It’s not a target.
“I’m just focussed on doing what’s asked of me in every race.
“I’ve certainly got a bit more of a winner’s mentality now. In the sport of cycling, a ‘win’ comes in many different forms: as a team-mate, as a winner yourself, as a support rider fulfilling your role.
“I want to take the mentality I’ve got every time I line up in a triathlon and take that into every race I do with the team. And what will be, will be.”
RIDE Media: It’s certainly an exciting time. I remember your arrival in the pro peloton. Let’s just say it was fairly tentative. You got a chance to race the TT that you explained earlier, in 2007, as part of the [Australian] team when you were essentially an unknown. [Back then] I was curious as to why Shayne Bannon put so much faith in you. But I’ve learned a lot about you since. One of the key things that brought us together is when you wrote a beautiful piece once Aldo Sassi passed away. He was one you early cycling coaches. I’m sure he would be particularly proud of what’s happened overnight… the prospect of being able to race alongside the calibre of riders that you have in 2020 would make him very pleased, I’m certain.
Do you want to try and relate your experience with Aldo and your other key coach, Tim Kerrison; is there any way that you can compare those two?
Cameron Wurf: “Obviously Aldo was the pivotal point in me getting the opportunities I got in the sport. I’ve just been around the greatest people that have always believed in me, people with incredible reputations… you know: Shayne Bannon and Aldo, two right there.
“Aldo obviously believed I could do a lot and I certainly made a bit of a tough pill for me to swallow – I never believed that I could live up to that.
“Cadel was the one who introduced me to him and it’s pretty cool that I’m here – that this race [the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race] as my first race back, and an opportunity to come back and maybe show everyone what [Aldo] saw in me all those years ago. Cadel’s race didn’t even exist back then, so this is the first chance I’ve got.
“But when I look at Tim and Aldo, [I see] two coaches which I’ve developed the most under, throughout all my sports.
“The big thing about them is their personal relationship – the whole thing is built on a personal relationship, an understanding of [me]. They are just as interested in everything else that goes on [my] life as when I go out and do my work.
“That seems to be where I respond best.
“The difference with Aldo, I guess, is that – at the time – it was about proving myself to him, so I was very focussed on training. And I used to be able to do that very well, but not race so well.
“Whereas with Tim, he’s been able to bring in that other balance, which made it very clear to me that the racing is what’s most important – that’s when you need to perform.
“So, you need to work hard but you also need to make damn sure that you’re ready to race.
“That’s probably the small change that I’ve made under Tim as opposed to under Aldo. And it has led me back here.
“If you could name two coaches you’d dream of working with as a cyclist, those two names they’ll be forever etched in the history of cycling coaches. I’m very lucky, there’s no doubt about that.”
RIDE Media: And you recognise it.
Let’s just wind up what was meant to be a 10-minute interview – and we’ve gone a little bit long – with a response from you to what will be a fairly typical reaction of a triathlete, which you call yourself now, turning up in the pro peloton. There seems to be this love/hate relationship between the two sports. People like to deride triathletes a bit, suggesting that they can’t handle themselves in a bunch. And I know there are a few pro triathletes who will willingly admit to that. Talk to me about your bike handling skills and I wonder if you can just offer a retort before those accusations start to arrive…
Cameron Wurf: [Laughs] “Yeah, well, obviously I’ve raced before so it is a bit of an unfair advantage, but during my time away [from the pro peloton] I’ve done a lot more mountain biking and even ridden some gravel and different things. So, I think my skills have potentially improved somewhat.
“But the thing is, when I’m racing, if it’s ever a technical course… yeah, there’s some that, as you say, will admit that they’re not very good at riding their bike. But there are other [triathletes] who are damn good! Not only at riding their bike but also putting out power.
“Even in a technical section, I don’t get away… Sebastian Kienle comes to mind.
“I’m really excited to get back in the peloton. I feel a responsibility to ‘my’ sport, as a triathlete because, of course, I can’t hide from that tag.
“I was fifth in Hawaii last year, and the other things that I’ve done along the way in the last few years.
“I really want to go out there and show people what a triathlete can do. You know, these guys are… to me, they are incredible athletes and even to Tim, my coach, they’re incredible athletes and that’s why we’re taking measures like we’re taking here: we respect them to absolute nth degree.
“As far as how good I need to be to be competitive – and obviously I want to win Kona and get to the top – then this is an evolution of that.
“I definitely want to do a good job. And, ideally, shine a positive light on a sport that often cops a bit of flack when it comes to the bike side of things. So, that’d be great.”
RIDE Media: There are a lot of traditions in the cycling world and a lot of teams are out there touting the word ‘disruptive’ in 2020 and it certainly seems that’s what’s come as a result of Ineos’ association with you. So, I look forward to seeing how you disrupt the peloton this year and beyond.
Cameron Wurf: “Yeah, thanks. I’m excited as well.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold