Q&A With Jesse Sergent and Hayden Roulston
By Rob Arnold
RIDE: It seems there’s this big crop of dudes trying to take Hayden’s place for the team pursuit line-up. Can you explain why there’s this glut of riders now emerging from New Zealand? You all seem like tall, strong guys…
Jesse Sergent: “Yeah, it’s true. Apart from Aaron Gates though, he’s not so big. Some of the younger guys – part of the new generation – are a bit smaller. They’re more like Jack Bobridge, that kind of size of rider. Whereas in Beijing [for the Olympics] we were all quite lanky. We’re a similar height on the bike as well.”
Hayden Roulston: “It makes a big difference.”
Jesse: “We’re all around the same head height so each rider is getting the same amount of draft. If there’s one short guy in there it does kind of change things a little bit but when a rider like Aaron Gates is going so well, you can’t just leave him out.”
I’m not telling Hayden anything he doesn’t know but to see the individual pursuit taken out of the Olympics is very upsetting for cycling purists. It’s like taking wheels off a bike…
Hayden: “It’s like taking one of the key events out of the track and field, isn’t it?
“Have a look at swimming – they’ve got about 30 events and they got an EXTRA one with open water swimming in Beijing… but no races were taken away to make room for it.
Jesse: “If Michael Phelps alone can get seven or eight medals, there’s something wrong. In cycling there’s no way that could happen.”
I love track cycling and I get carried away on the vibe on the Olympics when it’s done right but, watching from a distance, China seemed a little odd. London, however, should be outstanding. The teams pursuit this year is shaping up to be superb. It would be wrong to say that New Zealand is the sleeping force but most people have been paying attention to Australia and Britain. Now we’ve got Russia and you guys setting amazing times. What’s going to win the gold in August?
Jesse: “It’s hard to say. I think we’ll have to go faster than the current world record. People are talking about 3:50 but 3:53 is an incredible time as well.”
Hayden: “It depends on the track and the conditions a lot as well.”
Jesse: “There’s a World Cup in February and I’m not 100 per cent sure if I’ll be there or not but it would be a good chance to see the track, ride it and see what it’s like.
“There are a lot of teams going for the pursuit: Russia, New Zealand, Britain… and Australia. You never know who else might come into the equation. There’s the Dutch team, France, the Germans… you can look at a bunch of countries because it seems like everyone comes up in an Olympic year.”
Jesse, what’s your position in the line-up?
Jesse: “At the moment, I’m fourth wheel.”
Hayden: “I used to ride fourth as well.”
Who starts it?
Jesse: “At the moment, it’s Marc Ryan but the positions change around a little bit. Recently the order has been Marc, then Sam Bewley, then Aaron Gate and then me. Back a few years ago, it was Sam, Marc, me and then Hayden. It may change a little bit but we always have the same kind of guys doing position two because it suits a specific kind of rider. Really, it’s the same with three and four.”
Is it the starter who generally peels off towards the end? Or am I right with what I’ve been told that second wheel is generally the hardest?
Jesse: “Second wheel is very hard but it depends if you do a lap and a quarter start, or a lap and three-quarters. If the starter does a lap and a quarter, it’s made number-two’s job a bit easier.”
Hayden: “In Beijing, Wiggins pulled off. He’s number four. I pulled off; I’m number four. But we had done three individual pursuits before that so we’re already tired. It’s basically a case of, ‘Do your job and get out!'”
The team pursuit is such a great contest to watch. There’s so much to look at: the coach walking the line – or, as has been the case for you kiwis, having a bloke screaming at you as you go around the bend… It’s so compelling. And there are so many things happening yet it’s not possible to note it all. In Beijing, was there anyone from NZ who did two lap turns?
Hayden: “That’s how we beat the Aussies really. Me and Jesse both did one-and-a-half laps each, and we did it back to back.”
Jesse: “Doing that meant we took out two changes – and they cost time, you lose a bike length each time. So when you do a bigger turn and miss a change it makes the lap time faster so long as you can maintain the speed.”
When do you call that you’re going to do more or less?
Hayden: “Basically it’s the rider – not the coach – who decides it. If you feel you’re strong, you pull. But there’s a really fine line between a guy who doesn’t want his ego to be knocked around, and someone who knows the can maintain the pace. If ego tells someone to pull a full lap when he should have done half, it can drop the speed from 65km/h to 60 and then it puts pressure on the next guy to lift it back up. Before you know it, the rhythm of the team pursuit is gone! The whole idea of doing the perfect, fast team pursuit is to have ONE speed the whole way. Get up to pace, and hold it.”
When you do decide to do an extra, do you shout out? Or does the guy behind just know because… well, because you’re still in front of him.
Jesse: “Everyone just knows. And when it’s time to go, you swing up. It comes naturally. It’s not like you’re at the front going, ‘Fellas, I’m going to do another lap, okay!?’ Sometimes we know before the start, it’s part of the planning. It’s not exact but the coach might say, ‘Jesse and Hayden, if you’re feeling good, on your third turn pull a bigger lap.’ Then it’s not going to be a complete surprise.”
Who is the coach? And is he a master because there seem to be about eight guys going for four places…
Jesse: “We’ve had Tim Carswell. He’s been the coach since the year before Beijing. He took the team from doing 4:05 or 4:06 to doing four minutes at the worlds in Manchester  and then down to 3:57 at the Olympics.”
I know the Australians rode 93-inch gears at the Games in Sydney in 2000. That seems ridiculous compared to what guys are pushing now. I know some of our guys are as high as 106-inch… what did you push in Beijing?
Hayden: “I was on 106.”
Jesse: “I was 104.”
What length crank?
Hayden: “For me, and I think everyone else, it’s generally 175mm. Some guys like Michael Freiberg [reigning world omnium champion] really push the limit and he refuses to ride small cranks. It all depends on the rider. If you compare Jesse with me, it’s a different style. He can pedal smoothly and he’s got a good VO2. He can maintain a pace, whereas I’m more of a power rider – I use my strength. Even though we’re all doing high cadences, I prefer a bigger gear so that I can recover on the back. But Jesse can spin all day.”
And that’s good for the road time trial…
Your road wins in 2011, they were all because of time trials is that right?
Jesse: “Yep. I won time trials – including one at the Eneco Tour – and twice it was that stage that set me up for the overall win.”
Before we talk road, can I ask what we can expect from New Zealand come Melbourne: is it going to be a full-gas team for the world championships?
Jesse: “Well, at the moment, I’ve come to a bit of an agreement with the selectors to skip the worlds… um, it’s been a long process but for me it’s the best option. Come the Olympics, it’s going to help me because I’ll be able to come off a big road block. There are races in place to keep me active up until June.
“For cycling it’s good that the worlds are in Melbourne and it’s great for fans from New Zealand because it’s so close. But when you’re in Europe it’s a long way to come – and then there’s the return journey as well. It would take a pretty big chunk of the road racing out of my program and it just didn’t suit.”
What about you Hayden? You’re focussing on the road this year, is there a little bit of animosity or frustration?
Hayden: “There’s a little bit of frustration. But it’s just the fact that it didn’t matter if I was absolutely flying and the best guy in the team, the selection process simply didn’t suit. I couldn’t do the World Cups and so there is no way in. That’s a bit of a shame but at the end of the day, they’ve got a bloody good group to select from and they’ll be good. I’m not the guy who makes the difference I’m just another guy on the team. But I’m a little bit disappointed not to be there.
“Winning the silver medal in Beijing was massive. It signalled a big change for me, mainly in terms of profile. Obviously, New Zealand doesn’t win Olympic medals like Australia. We only get a handful and for New Zealand, the Olympics are the be-all and end-all and any medal is celebrated. Looking back at that, and seeing what it can do is probably where the disappointment comes from – not being able to ride in London.”
Then you look at the Olympics and it’s clear that the IOC keeps on debasing the value of track cycling by doing what it does to the program, eliminating the individual pursuit and the madison and, before that, the ‘kilo’ and 500m TT… and that makes the world championships far more attractive: it becomes the complete tournament for a cycling fan.
Hayden: “It’s disappointing that they’d take those events out. The madison, even for someone who doesn’t understand it, is amazing. It’s a spectator sport. People love to go and see the narrow misses, the intensity of racing… it puts everyone on the edge of their seats and that’s what sport is about. The madison alone, is a pretty awesome race to watch.”
So. Road. Are you going to win a Classic this year?
Hayden: “I’d love to.”
Hayden: “I don’t give a shit which one. I’d even win the women’s Tour of Flanders if I could somehow find a way to start it.
“I’d love to have a chance but obviously we’ve got Fabian [Cancellara] but riding under him will be something in itself, I think.
“I’ve always known him and I’ve said ‘Hi’ a few times over the years but I got to room with him in Calpe at a training camp up until he got ill and that was a great experience. He’s a great guy and, for what he’s achieved, he’s a very down-to-earth guy.
“I’d love to win a Classic, for sure but first and foremost my job will be to help Fabian in Flanders and Roubaix. There are more races than just those two. I’d target those two, given half a chance – there’s no point in hiding that – but there’s also Gent-Wevelgem, GP Harelbeke, and all those type of races in the build-up to The Big Week, so there should be some chances.”
Where do you two live when you’re in Europe?
Hayden: “We’re in Girona.”
There must be thousands of pro bike riders there…
Hayden: “It’s filling up, yeah.”
Jesse: “On the drug testing form, I’ve seen about 150 names of guys who are in town.”
Does anyone speak Spanish?
Jesse: “Ah… nah.”
Have you tried?
Jesse: “Ah, not really. Nah. Our girlfriends are coming over though. They’ll learn. And then they’ll teach us.”
Hayden: “The problem is, it’s a tourist town. So everything is in English – all the menus and things you have to read. And because all of the cyclists are there and most of them speak English you sort of don’t take yourself outside of the world you live in. It’s hard to learn but it’s still cool to think that, when you hang the bike up you’ve got another language in your repertoire. That’s something that is a real bonus for us – Australians and New Zealanders… on the whole, we’re pretty dumb when it comes to languages especially when compared to Europeans. In the peloton there are guys who speak five or six languages.
“I spent a few years with French teams so I can speak that, not fluently but I understand basically everything and can get my point across.”
Jesse: “Oh, I speak English. Well, English and maori…”
Hayden: “You should hear Sam Bewley do a haka. He goes pretty good.”
Jesse: “Yeah, he’s got the best haka. If he gets a few beers in, he doesn’t mind getting the shirt off and showing his tanlines and his tongue.”
You did the Tour a few years ago with Cervélo. Then you turn up at Bob’s squad – HTC-Highroad. And now you’re here at RadioShack-Nissan. Would you have stayed with Bob if you could have?
Hayden: “That was a great team. And a great set up. And, even without Cav, I’m sure it would have carried on and still been a great team. But I was with Johan [Bruyneel] back in 2004 and I really respect him. I think that goes a long way when you have the utmost respect for the head honcho of the team. That’s why this team is going to have a lot of success. I think every rider feels the same way as I do.”
You stopped cycling while you were with him originally though…
Hayden: “Yeah, I quit. I had a cyst taken out right on my sit-bone and it was a tough year. I had been flying but then I had the operation just before Flanders and so I missed that, and Roubaix, and all the races I’d been preparing for. And then I had so much trouble with it and it didn’t come right until September. It was about five-and-a-half months. In hindsight, I should have come home and had some time off in New Zealand but I just stayed in Belgium by myself and it was bloody tough. That didn’t help.
“Then I decided I’d had enough. It wasn’t easy to ring Johan and tell him that I wanted out of his team; it was the biggest team in the world, Lance was still on the top of his game and yada, yada, yada… but actually stayed in contact right the way through so it’s almost as though I’ve done a full-circle.”
You got in a few fights over the years didn’t you?
We had a joke going in the office that I may as well fill you in on. It relates to the South Park episode where there’s the line, ‘Fighting around the world with Russell Crowe.’ We’d read the headlines and say, ‘Ah, it’s fighting around the world with Roullie…’
Hayden: [Laughs.] “Yeah, well. You know… what can you do?”
Were you off the rails and then come good again? What actually happened?
Hayden: “There was one incident, yeah – it was me totally. It was me, being an idiot. Drunk in public. Yada, yada… in New Zealand.
“The other one was two assault charges where I honestly didn’t do them. A mate even went to court to explain that he did one of them. He was having a fight in a crowd. And another incident involved another mate, called Hayden – who had blond tips just like I had at the time. I was wearing a cap, he wasn’t. And then we came out of a bar, the staff pointed at the guy who was in the altercation, we looked the same and were both called Hayden and it happened like that. It became their word against mine and we went through the whole process to clear my name. Those who pressed charges couldn’t point me out in court, I was there sitting right in front of them and they couldn’t point me out. My lawyer and I thought that I was off, that the charges would be dropped. But then it got appealed and I got done.
“It was unbelievable that it could happen. Even the people who were accusing me, couldn’t point me out when I was sitting right in front of them.
“I honestly didn’t do it but it was more that the judge was trying to make an example of me. A lot of sports people these days get name suppression, they get let off, they get a slap on the wrist… but I got done big time.”
Did the result in Beijing help you clear your record a little in the eye of the public?
Hayden: “It was always a battle with the media for a few years but then I guess you grow up. You mature a bit more and have kids – I have a wee boy and that only happened the day after the Tour de France in 2009… even before then I’ve changed as a person and kept my nose clean ever since.
“Now the media is fine and I’ve lost the bad-boy tag which is quite good.
“At the end of the day, sports people aren’t any different to Joe Blogs. That’s the whole point that I try to get across. Just because we do what we do and we win a few races or get a medal here or there, whatever… it doesn’t make us any different. New Zealand is such a small country and if you do something good, you’re automatically in the news. If you do something bad you also turn up in the news.”
How is it riding on a team with these superstars? There were a lot of people dropped from the original Leopard-Trek roster and I guess you must have been a little nervous about your future. It was a bit of a messy situation.
Jesse: “Yeah, it was and a lot of guys lost jobs. From that team and RadioShack as well. Of course it was nice to be included in the new team and things have worked out pretty well in the end. I think I was getting kept up to date by the directors and staff. And, for me, it was all okay.”
You’re mainly dealing with Dirk De Wolf?
Jesse: “Yeah, pretty much. He told me everything he knew and kept me in the loop. I have Paul de Geyter managing me and he was pretty good. Having those people there gave me a bit of confidence, I suppose.”
Because you know you’re giving a big percentage of your salary to them…
Jesse: “I wouldn’t say that. For the work he does, it’s actually quite a small percentage of what I earn. When you’re young and don’t know all the intricacies of the business of cycling – especially when you’re from a little place in New Zealand. I don’t know a lot about that side of cycling so it’s worthwhile having a middle man.”
How much do you rely on guys like Hayden and the other riders to offer some advice about tax and health insurance and all the little details that also go with your job?
Jesse: “It is pretty serious stuff and I don’t think there’s a black and white answer to a lot of it. Tax has to be paid, that’s part of life. But it can get pretty confusing for someone like me who doesn’t really know about that stuff. I wish it was simple but living in more than one country and working with a big team is a complicated thing. Still, it’s okay and I’m managing.”
Where did you get to in school?
Jesse: “I went through to sixth form. You can do seventh, but I left. I got a scholarship at the UCI centre and that was the main reason for the early end to school. Even in sixth form I was travelling a lot and it took probably two months out of the year.
“When I got the opportunity to go to the UCI centre, it was clear that it was time to accept the offer.”
Hayden: “I got to the same level, sixth form. And then I became a pro bike rider.”
Is there ever a temptation, given what you do now – spend a lot of time sitting around in hotel rooms – to go on and try online university? What’s involved for you once a race is done?
Jesse: “I’m going to try and learn some Spanish but I’m not currently thinking about a degree. If I hadn’t done cycling, I probably would have done an apprenticeship or something like that. I wasn’t thinking about university or anything like that. Some people have suggested I do something like that but for now I’ll concentrate 100 per cent on what I do.”
If someone goes from Palmerston North to the Olympics, it’s quite a big thing. Do you ever feel a bit like a rockstar?
Jesse: “Ah… nah. I’m actually from Feilding which is a small town. It’s nice. You get quite a bit of support.”
Hayden: “There’s actually a small Jesse statue in the middle of town… ha! Nah!”
Do you feel like you’re settling into the rhythm of pro life? Or does it feel like things are getting bigger each year for you and that your ego might be inflating?
Jesse: “I feel like the same bloke I’ve always been. When I got back to Feilding reality kicks in a bit. Some of the guys on the track team call me a bogan. But I think coming from New Zealand makes us a bit different. When you go there, you realise that it’s a different world to what we experience for most of the year.”
In what way?
Jesse: “It’s a bit more simple. A few years ago I’d never have thought that I’d become a professional bike rider. So when I go back to New Zealand, I feel like I’m myself. Whereas when I’m away sometimes, I feel a bit of pressure.”
This is a key period for you. If you didn’t have a place like Girona, or you got an injury that interrupted your racing like Hayden did all those years ago, it could be a lot different…
Jesse: “It’s changed a bit as well. There are now six of us in the top teams and there are more people around in Europe now. The pathway is a bit easier for us to ride compared to when Hayden turned pro. It was all pretty much done the hard way and is different to nowadays. There are guys who have been there and done that and they’re happy to give advice.
“Even the little things like setting up a bank account or anything, there’s someone around to tell you where’s best to go and make life easier.”
Hayden: “Times have changed in professional cycling, that’s for sure. When you see Jesse in time trials and beating the top guys, it shows that age is actually irrelevant these days. Even a first-year pro can win. Look at Andy Schleck. He was on the podium of the Tour de France at 23. Now it’s almost expected that, at a younger age, you’ll be able to perform.
“All the training that we did when we were 26 or 27 is now being given to these guys when they’re 18.
“It’s like you’re ‘pro’ or ‘neo-pro’ but really everyone is on the same level. Look at Jens… he’s almost 40 and has six kids and he’s still smashing it.”
What about Jens? Everyone loves him. He is the cult figure of cycling these days, isn’t he?
Hayden: “He’s a great guy and a great advocate for cycling.”
You’ve never raced on his team until the Tour Down Under. What was that like? It must’ve been great…
Hayden: “There’s never a dull moment, is there? In that stage over Willunga Hill he called the shots. We got over the top and he was the one rallying the troops.
Jesse: “He was the one screaming. ‘Come on guys! This is what we’ve got to do! This is the plan. Let’s go!’ We’re just like… coughing up a lung after the effort of the climb, stretched to the limit but you see him at the front and you’re like, ‘Righto Jensie!'”
Hayden: “He’s a great guy who has got a lot of experience. He made a comment the other day when he and Stuey were on the front that there’s about 80 years between them. That’s pretty cool. But one thing we’ve noticed with Jens is that this is his job; cycling is what puts food on the table. He’s not here for superstar status or whatever. He’s here because he gets paid to do a job.
“There’s a real clear line for Jens. Some guys are here to enjoy the vibe. Look at him: imagine having to get six kids up in the morning and get them ready for school? And then go training and get home and they’re all there ready to play with dad. It’d be full-gas all day every day.”
What’s your little boys name?
Hayden: “Moses. He was born a day after the Tour de France. It’s a life-changer. You learn about responsibility.
“With cycling you can have a lot of interest and people do care but it can be quite a lonely sport too, especially when I turned pro. I lived in Belgium by myself and there was no one really advising me. That’s the big difference for Sam and Jesse and George Bennett – these young guys coming through. They can go in live in Girona, there’s always someone around. That’s going to help these young guys kick on and have a great career.”
And what about the scene in New Zealand. You’ve seen what cycling is like in Europe, you’ve experienced it here in Australia… what’s it like at home?
Hayden: “It’s getting bigger. I think Sara Ulmer kicked it off, then there’s Julian Dean and Greg Henderson and myself… now you’ve got Jesse and Sam and Jack Bauer. But there are so many talented riders, eh? Talent is there right throughout New Zealand. The pathway to get to the pro ranks is a lot harder than for Australians. Now you’ve got your own team but before that you had the AIS and different team directors were Aussies… and that makes it a lot easier. If you’re a talent in New Zealand, there’s no guarantee you’re going to make it as a pro. That’s one thing that everyone who rides well would have in the back of their mind: ‘Am I going to do it and not get noticed? Should I commit? Should I go and study?’ At the end of the day, you can study when you turn 40 but you can’t turn pro when you’re 40.”
Interview by Rob Arnold ()
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