At the age of 22 Campbell Flakemore has a rainbow jersey packed in the cabinet. He won’t get to wear it in competition because he’s off to the WorldTour. The young Tasmanian is the latest graduate from the Australian NRS and the national team to make it to cycling’s big league. He joins BMC in 2015 and is ready for the ride of his life. Only five years ago a future like this wasn’t in his sights but now he’s a proven world beater, and he’s looking forward to finding out what comes next.
RIDE caught up with Flakemore recently and talked about his win in Ponferrada, his experience with the team(s) managed by Andrew Christie-Johnson, his stint with the AIS program and what he expects from the future.
Click the link below to listen to the interview – and/or read the transcript of the exchange with Rob Arnold…
RIDE: I’m [talking to] Campbell Flakemore and we’re going to have a little bit of a chat and try and find out what makes him tick. He’s the under-23 world time trial champion from Ponferrada in Spain, so let’s start the conversation with a chat about your 0.48 of second win over an Irishman. How did that all pan out? Did you feel like you had it all along or not?
Campbell Flakemore: “No, not really. [For] the two time checks that I got, I was told I was 15 seconds down on both but I was actually 20 when the results came out. And, to be honest, I thought after the last time check – with 15km to go – I was racing for the silver, but I just kept pushing all the way to the line. And I ended up winning by under half a second, so that was pretty cool.”
And then you find yourself on the podium chewing a gold medal. It’s the obligatory pose isn’t it?
“Yeah, well one of the photographers in the photography posse were telling me to do it – it wouldn’t be something that I’d normally do but I guess when you’re winning a world championship you’re probably… you do that.”
So, you’re 22 years of age and the world ahead of you: you’ve got a contract with BMC Racing for 2015 [and 2016]. Tell us how that came about…
“Well, I didn’t really have that many results this year until August when I won the prologue of the Tour de l’Avenir. Then, after that, I think my manager started talking to a few teams and it was the Saturday before the time trial, [that] he rang me up and said that BMC had a contract for me. And I just said, ‘Yep, I’ll take that.’
“The pressure was kind of off for the TT but I still was super motivated and really wanted to win it.
“It was a bit of a crazy week really.”
It’s wild. You’re really putting your future in one team’s hands. Did you feel like there was a ‘bidding war’? Did your manager explain that there were other teams having a look at you?
“He said there were one or two teams that were interested. He didn’t say who but I think if I could chose one team, BMC would definitely be in the top one or two that I would like to go to. So it worked out really well.”
Who is your manager?
He looks after Richie and quite a few others…
“Yeah, he has Richie [Porte] and other guys but he’s always available to chat and he’s really good.”
He did the deal with Rohan [Dennis] as well, so he seems to have a good contact with Jim Ochowicz or Allan Peiper…
“Yeah, I think so.”
What are you expecting from your first year with that team?
“Ah, it’s going to be a big learning curve, that’s for sure. Everyone always says that the WorldTour is just a massive step up and I’m just looking forward to it really.
“Hopefully I’ll get to do some big races and just learn from guys [Philippe] Gilbert and [Tejay] van Garderen that I’ll be team-mates with. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from those guys.”
It’s worth talking about but you’re likely to do two races with Cadel Evans…
“Yeah, I think I’m pencilled in for Down Under and his race [the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race], so it’ll be pretty cool to race alongside a champion like Cadel and learn as much off him as I can in two races.”
Campbell Flakemore is a name that we’re going to start hearing a bit more of. So tell us about what brought you to cycling in the first place. Is it in your family?
“No, not really. I sort of got tied up with the NTID (National Talent ID) program which was the program that went around [to] schools and did a few tests and things and suggested this sport or that. But I didn’t go through it that way, I went just pretty much straight to the bike tests.
“So I did a four-minute max power and a few sprints. And I got into it just through that.
“I did a bit of cycling before that but I never raced or anything. I thought this was a good opportunity to get some more structure and maybe get some more racing. From there, I did the under-19 nationals, the under-19 Canberra Tour, and then did the Tour of Tasmania at the end of the 2010. I managed to have a few good rides there – nothing special really, no results to speak of but I think Andrew Christie-Johnson must’ve seen something in me. Being from Hobart as well helped.
“I just got tied up with Andrew with Genesys Wealth Advisers (what is now the Avanti Racing Team) and it just went from there really.”
So, two years with him and then two years with Jayco-AIS…
“Yeah, two years with Andrew and even the last two years I’ve been signed with Avanti but have just done the nationals with them and the Sun Tour – and then headed off to Europe in March. So I’ve been combined with Avanti and Jayco-AIS.”
Let’s compare the two teams. Andrew seems to [have] a feeding ground to the pro peloton – or that team… and then you go to the AIS; who looked after you there?
“It was James Victor who was in charge there.
“Both teams have a history of sending guys to the WorldTour and I think it’s probably the same strike rate: at least one a year from each team has gone to the WorldTour.
“I had pretty good chances of statistically going to the WorldTour.
“I got on well with both coaches and that’s quite important, to get on with the management.”
How old were you when you did the national talent ID?
“I must have been 17… the end of 2009.”
Up until that point what did you imagine life would deliver for you?
“I’m not sure. I wasn’t even racing at the time and I didn’t even think it would lead to being professional one day. But I guess when I signed with Andrew that sort of became what I wanted to do. I hadn’t been to uni yet so I’ve just been riding and focussing towards getting a pro contract.
“It’s worked out so far but it’s only going to get harder from here really.”
The Tour de l’Avenir is one that we should have a little chat about. You got things off pretty well and then Robbie Power finished things off well and, in the meantime there was a good Australian presence in that race. It seems to be a bit of a stomping ground for future champions. How did that all pan out for you?
“Yeah, I won the prologue on the first day which was a big focus really. It was quite a difficult course; it wasn’t a sprinter/powerful TT prologue course, it was a strongman’s course so I thought I was half a chance in that. I managed to win it by a second, and then Caleb Ewan won a stage, and then Rob Power came second overall. So it was a crazy week for us.
“If you look at the past winners there are guys like [Nairo] Quintana and [Estaban] Chaves – a lot of good guys have won it so if you can show yourself at the Tour de l’Avenir, I think you’re probably ready for The Next Step.”
Is it the efforts there – winning the prologue – that got you in the link up with Andrew McQuaid?
“No. I was with Andrew midway through last year after I won a couple of time trials – at the Olympia’s Tour and Thuringen Rundfahrt – I got in touch with Andrew and I’ve been working with him since June or July of last year.”
It makes life a lot easier than back in the day of Allan Peiper who is going to be looking after you at BMC as high performance manager. Do you feel like you’ll be all right dealing with the European lifestyle?
“Yeah, I mean I’ve lived there for six months last year and six months this year in probably a quite protected environment. With the AIS they sort out your apartment, they sort out all the paperwork – you just literally have to go there. But next year I’ll have to sort out my own apartment and pay the bills and do everything like that. But the actual living in Europe, I’ve sort of become quite adapted to it and it’s more-or-less like home now really.”
At the worlds did you get a chance to introduce yourself to Tejay or anyone else [from BMC]?
“No, I didn’t get a chance to talk to any of the riders except for Rohan who was with us in the Australian camp. But I managed to catch up with Jim [Ochowicz] and Allan from BMC and they seem like really good guys. It was only a brief conversation but, from what I can gather, they seem really focussed on development and in helping young riders.”
We started out the conversation talking about the worlds. I wonder if we can end it by just giving a couple of details about that ride. You won it by less than half a second. What were you focussing on? I’ve spoken with Luke Durbridge (the under-23 TT world champion from 2011) and he gives a good synopsis of how he rides a time trial – how he looks for the next corner and that’s pretty much all that’s on his mind. How did you ride it? Do you look at your power meter?
“Yeah, I focus quite a fair bit on the power.
“[On] the course in Ponferrada there was a kilometre climb with four kilometres to go so I left a fair bit in the tank for that. And I think I must’ve got most of the 15 seconds that I was down – or 20 seconds – on that climb.
“I rode a little bit underneath what I thought I could hold, power-wise, until the climb and then on the climb I just [went] full gas. It was quite a controlled effort and that’s normally how I ride a time trial.
“I don’t go out full gas – like some guys do – and try and hold on and possibly blow to pieces. I try and keep it consistent and that’s just the way I do it really.”
What sort of numbers were you putting out and then, when you did hit out on that last climb, what did you get to?
“Most of the TT was between 380 and 400 and then on the climb I think it was about 450 watts for a couple of minutes. I managed to keep a fair bit in reserve for that. I think that was the difference in the end.”
And did you want to have a… ah, a spew at the finish?
“Yeah. I was in a fair bit of trouble at the finish. If you look at the photos or the footage of me at the finish, I’m a bit of a mess. But I prefer not to look at that.”
Where were you in the sequence? Did you have to sit in the hot seat for long?
“I was the third-last rider off so I had to sit in the hot seat for only four minutes. It wasn’t too bad. The first couple, I was still recovering. And then the last two were quite stressful because Stefan Küng, who was the last rider, he only finished nine seconds behind me in third. I had to wait right down to the wire but it was a pretty cool day.”
Time trials are different races to watch aren’t they…?
“Yeah. A lot of people say they are quite boring but I imagine that this one would have been quite exciting to watch because we were so close. There were four guys within 20 seconds…”
What about road racing? Caleb has sung your praises and a couple of people have told me that I’ve got to talk to you because you’re totally reliable when it comes to working The Others. You’re a world champion already in the TT but you don’t mind doing the work… is that how it works?
“Yeah. I don’t have a whole lot of results in road races but I know if I focus on them I probably could be around the mark. At the Tour de l’Avenir, on the last couple of days, there was 10 guys left going over the mountains and I was still there. When I’m just sitting in and just trying to get to the final, I know I can do that but I’m more than happy to help my team-mates – guys like Caleb and Rob Power. When they’re that good, you’re happy to commit yourself and not finish races because you know that they’re probably going to win at the end of the day. That’s what cycling is all about really, it’s quite a team sport so I’m happy to do the job whenever it’s required.”
It’s good to have a couple of guys coming through. Caleb has had plenty of hype for a few years and he’s been delivering consistently. And then Rob Power has come out of nowhere and people are talking about him as being The Next Big Thing. And then there’s you. How is it with the three of you? Is there a bit of competition? A bit of inspiration? How does this trio get on?
“Yeah, really well. Everyone in the Jayco-AIS team got on like best friends really.
“I guess where all different riders. I’m a TT’er. Caleb is good for the sprints. And Rob is a super climber. We never really clash on that front. But it’s good for Australia having such good riders coming through in the mountains like Rob Power – I’ve never seen someone like him, to be honest: he’s the next level. I don’t want to talk him up and put pressure on him but he’s just super.”
Before this Skype call we had a bit of a chat about Mount Wellington and what effect that had. You’ve ridden that, I’m sure, hundreds of times: a 20km mountain straight out of Hobart, so you understand about suffering on a climb. Have you ridden that one with Robert?
“No I haven’t. I wouldn’t really like to either.
“At the Tour de l’Avenir, he was a first-year and he was second in the GC so hopefully next year he can go back there and really target that and give it a good nudge. I’m sure we’ll see him in the WorldTour in 2016.”
What would you say to other 17-year-olds who have just been picked up by a talent ID about the next five years and how to manage that?
“Definitely, for the first couple [of years]: don’t take it so seriously. Don’t train too much because you see, these days, young guys when they are under-17 national champions, under-19 national champs and they get to the under-23s and they’re just burnt out, they’ve trained too much or they haven’t really done other things outside of cycling – so when they turn 18 it all becomes available and then they sort of lose the plot a little bit.
“That’s pretty much what I’d say: don’t take it so seriously and just enjoy it a little bit really.”
It’s bike riding. It’s a privilege. It should be fun. It should be an awesome job. Everyone sort of thinks that if you get offered the pro contract, you’ve got to jump at it but was there ever a moment when you hesitated and thought, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll go and become a doctor or something else…’?
“Yeah, there were times this year where I didn’t have many results and, for some reason, I just wasn’t in good shape from April through to July. I was just struggling a lot and those sort of thoughts were going through my mind a fair bit. ‘I can’t compete with these guys, and I’m just suffering, and I’m getting beaten, and I’m away from home, and it’s too hard…’ all those thoughts go through your mind but it’s like anything really, it just takes one or two good things and then you’re back. Then I was lucky with l’Avenir and worlds. And I think I made the right decision, that’s for sure.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold