Shane Kelly Interview.
On the first day of track racing at the London Olympics, there was a hint of controversy. Several countries, including the highly favoured Brits, were disqualified from the team sprint for messing up the changeover. And, in the qualifying ride, Philip Hindes crashed soon after the start before he – along with Jason Kenny and Chris Hoy – went on to win the gold medal. RIDE Cycling Review‘s Rob Arnold spoke with Shane Kelly about the racing the next day. Here is a transcript of that discussion…
RIDE: The Olympics provides us with an opportunity to educate people who are new to the sport about the finer details of track racing. We should receive the couple of bits of controversy as a blessing. The rules of the team sprint – with the 15 metres of space in which to conduct the changeover – seem to have been devised for a race that the commissaires may never have actually done. How easy is it to judge when you come into the lead and make sure you don’t overshoot the allotted space?
Shane Kelly: “At that level, world championships or the Olympic Games, the riders should be able to judge exactly where they are at and get the run at the rider in front of them. But, in saying that, I can still see how easy it is to be caught up in the moment. Adrenaline is pumping and if the rider in front of you is starting to slow, you want to get the pace up and going. And that’s where I could see it happening with Victoria Pendleton. I think she just wanted to get on with it and get the speed up and running again.
“You should be able to judge that line and get the change over spot-on but it is also easy to get caught up in it a bit, I think.”
RIDE: I don’t remember a ruling being enforced like it has been until 2012. This year we’ve seen it policed at the world championships and the Olympics. Do you know other examples?
Shane Kelly: “Um… no. I can recall a few very close calls outside of the changeover area at the world championships but I don’t remember a disqualification. Definitely there was nothing like what we saw last night [on the opening night of the Olympic competition in London] when there were three teams pulled up.”
RIDE: What it boils down to is that it’s a great shame for track cycling because it makes it seem like some highly policed discipline when it should be a bit more free flowing. Obviously rules are needed but is there a solution? How do you see something like this team sprint rule being managed a little better so that it doesn’t spoil the contest at its pinnacle?
Shane Kelly: “That’s a tough one. Of course, the rules are put in place so that there’s something to run by. It’s not just the team sprint but if we look the world championships just gone, the keirin and even the sprint have been spoiled a little by technicalities. I think the rulings have been a little too severe. We’re probably losing a bit of that real race feel and putting too much responsibility in the commissaire’s hands. It could lighten off a bit… but that might just be me, maybe I’m old-school.
“When I raced, I loved contact. I loved pushing the limits. And I think the could back off a little bit.
“The last thing we want is running lanes on the track for the keirin. That’s been the joke for a while and that’s the way it looks like it’s going but we’ve got to avoid that.”
RIDE: It takes the spectacle away. At the world championships, for example, we saw the men’s and women’s sprint decided by a commissaire. We saw a team sprint decided by commissaires. And it takes the edge off the spectacle.
Shane Kelly: “Definitely and they’re perfect examples: Baugé and Kenny in the final [in Melbourne]… Okay, Kenny gave him a little bit of a flick, but Baugé had blown a gasket – he wasn’t going to get around Kenny. And that was a case of the judges taking things a little too far. It is a shame that the decision goes the way that it does at time.
“I know that a lot of people who I was sitting near in the crowd at the world championships, they couldn’t believe that the men’s sprint ended the way it did. That’s only one example but I think there are a lot of others as well. I don’t think it’s necessary.”
RIDE: It’s a bit more ironic to see the DQ of Victoria on the same night that we see a little bit of shenanigans from the Brits. By that I mean what Philip Hindes did in the qualifying ride for the team sprint. Can you give us your appraisal of that manoeuvre?
Have you read what he’s said about it?
Shane Kelly: “No, I haven’t.”
RIDE: So, could you give us your appraisal and I’ll tell you what he’s come out and said…
Shane Kelly: “He certainly looked like he wasn’t in full control but ah… then, going in to turn one I think he played on it a bit. Obviously he’d lost time, he lost speed and he’s done a good job… if he touched down on purpose, he’s done a bloody good job of it – without doing any damage. But I suppose that, to me, that’s what looked like had happened.
“Chatting to a few others [about it] and they thought the same. If that’s what he’s done, then he’s thought very quickly and acted on it to earn another ride.”
RIDE: I guess it’s even more poignant to talk to you about this because you lost what we all believed was likely to be a gold medal in 1996. And you did that because of a mechanical failure. How do you feel when you see a guy go down in a manner that almost looks deliberate, and then he gets a chance to come back and do it again – and then he is actually part of the winning team. You had one chance and it was all over in a matter of seconds…
Shane Kelly: “Yeah. A lot of people have asked to me why I didn’t touch down – fall off – and that would have been the last thing going through my mind, to be honest.
“Now, I suppose, there is a second chance so it’s different but I’m not sure what [Hindes] has actually said, what the problem was, but obviously he’s got a restart, got back on the track, and won gold.
“If it was legitimate, then fantastic.
“If not… well still, it’s fast thinking and it’s given his team the best chance.”
RIDE: Let’s now go to the fact that the Brits did make it to the final and their ride against France was phenomenal! The times that we’re seeing are amazing. There was a time that anything under 45 seconds was considered quick, but now they’re all doing 17-point-something in the first lap and they’re riding 43 seconds for three laps. What was your fastest and can you imagine what it’s like going at the speed they’re going now?
Shane Kelly: “Oh, I couldn’t. I had trouble racing and staying with the start guys as it was! To be chasing a guy who can do a lap in 17 seconds from a standing start is incredible. The fastest first lap I remember doing was around 17.6 and that was off Dan Ellis in Beijing. But going another half-a-second quicker than that… that’s in territory that I thought would be unheard of. Being able to keep the pace going is hard! The guy who is doing the last lap is still going in the low-13 seconds and that’s amazing.
“In 1996 when we won the world championships we rode 44.8 and that was a world record. Okay, that’s 16 years ago but still we’ve come a long way.”
RIDE: In relative terms, it’s a big percentage of the overall time, really…
Shane Kelly: “Yeah, it is. As we all know, a lot of things have changed. The gearing that’s used, the training in general… I don’t think bikes have changed too much.
“I did notice that the Poms were riding bikes with front forks that were VERY different to what has been prevalent in recent years. Maybe they’re on to something there; maybe it’s less wind drag as the wheel is spinning around and there’s a bit more room for the wheel to move and the air to fit in that spot… but other things have also changed. Gearing is the biggest difference. But you’ve still got to push the bloody thing and I don’t know how they’re doing it.”
RIDE: You used to ride the team sprint in third position, didn’t you?
Shane Kelly: “Yep. Always in third.”
RIDE: And did you ride with aerobars?
Shane Kelly: “In 1996, when we won the world championships – that was the second year they had the event at that level – I rode with aerobars but that was the last time and then it became a standard position.
“If you consider that it makes what they’re doing now all the more incredible. To do those times in ‘standard’ position is quite something. I know they’ve narrowed the handlebar set-up and they are pretty aero – but it’s still difficult to go that fast.”
RIDE: Let me just read to you what Hindes said. ‘So I crashed. I did it on purpose just to get the restart, just to have the fastest ride. It was all planned, really.’ It’s not only that his crashed looked deliberate, but he’s come out and stated that it was part of the team policy that he should crash if he got a bad start.
How do you feel when you hear about that?
Shane Kelly: “Well, if that was the plan and that’s the way he’s done it, I reckon good on him. He’s reacted. And by that stage he could have been nearly going 50km an hour – and to react and do that, is pretty impressive. I don’t know if the fella beside him, Kenny, was telling him to lay it down but I think he’s done well to pull it off.”
RIDE: That’s interesting because, to me, it reeks of tanking. Did you see the badminton shenanigans a couple of days ago?
Shane Kelly: “Yeah. Yeah, I did.”
RIDE: How does this differ to that?
Shane Kelly: “Uhm.”
RIDE: And are they lucky to keep the medal given the obvious nature of it?
Shane Kelly: “Yeah, I suppose, when you look at it that way Rob – um, in the ruling if it states that it’s okay to do it, well, I can’t see a problem. But it is an interesting point.
“You got me there.
“I was going to say, intentionally hitting [a shuttlecock] into the net is one thing but [in the team sprint] he’s had one chance and he’s lost control, lost speed and the only chance was a restart to really get back in the race for gold… well, that’s what he’s done hasn’t he?”
RIDE: He said afterwards, ‘We were saying, if we have a bad start we need to crash to get a restart.’ That’s his quote.
Shane Kelly: “Well, you’re right there Rob. An intentional laydown… that is what you said, tanking.”
RIDE: It’s in the rules, sure. But let me read another thing – the Athlete’s Oath… do you take that thing seriously as an Olympian?
Shane Kelly: “The Athlete’s Oath? Oh, definitely. Everyone reads into it and I suppose a lot of people would go by it but I can’t speak for everyone.”
RIDE: The Oath says:
‘In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.’
It’s not the true ‘spirit of sportsmanship’ if you’re riding and you think, ‘Oh, I got a bad start, I better crash now’. Is it?
Shane Kelly: “No, not really. Not when you put it that way. Not at all.”
RIDE: What I’m trying to do is look at cycling from the point of view of an outsider. The beauty of the Olympics is that introduced young kids to sport, like my seven-year-old who loves it – he’s totally infatuated with all he’s seen from the cycling to gymnastics, sailing, rowing… anything he can see. He’s into it. And this is an opportunity for cycling to draw people in and this sort of behaviour that we have seen unfold turns people off and, to me, it’s a great shame. I know how great the sport is and I know how wonderful the concept of the Olympics spirit is but it seems to have fallen by the wayside.
Shane Kelly: “I suppose I originally didn’t look at it and take all those things into consideration. My first view was thinking about what a lot of people said to me, it’s what I should have done [in 1996, when he pulled his foot at the start of the ‘kilo’ and effectively ended his race as soon as it officially began]. That was in the back of my mind when I made my initial appraisal to your line of questioning.
“What actually happened to me, oddly, worked in my favour. Okay, I didn’t win but the way I handled the whole situation…
“If I look back at your question… well, it’s not like I’m going to backtrack and offer a different answer but I think – I’ve got to think how I can approach this, Rob.”
RIDE: I’m pleased with your honesty, Shane. It’s definitely going to be something that keeps conversations alive for a while. There are going to be debates about it from now until, probably, the next Olympics.
Shane Kelly: “Obviously. It’s going to be interesting now to see if they look at the ruling. I’m sure there are different teams that are going to put that to the commissaires. ‘What is the ruling? How can you define a mechanical versus an instance of human error?’ Stuff like that. I’m sure some of those discussions will take place and it needs to. I don’t know how they’re going police it but I would be interested to see what conversations the commissaires had around that. It’d be very interesting.
“Do you have any idea what the ruling is in writing when it comes to that situation?”
RIDE: I’m going through the UCI rules because, first of all, I wanted to reminded of what the passing space in the team sprint is. They make the rules pretty comprehensive and they don’t seem to skip much but they don’t seem to take into account that someone can decide, ‘Oh, I had a shit start, I’m going to fall off my bike’. My hope is that people would do the honest thing and just try and rescue a bad start and race on…
Shane Kelly: “You’d hope so.
“You train hours and hours to perfect the start.”
RIDE: And Hindes looks the villain but everyone is implicated. Poor old Kenny and Hoy are implicated because they’re the ones who raised their hands as well. I don’t have greater respect for any athlete than what I have for Sir Chris Hoy but all of a sudden that’s fallen over a little… I thought, ‘Hang on a tick, you could have brought it on home anyway…’
Shane Kelly: “Well that’s it. He might have lost one-tenth [of a second], he might have lost two-tenth… who knows. They might not have made the top ride-off.
“Mate, putting it to me that way has got me thinking. It’s good.”
– By Rob Arnold
RIDE Media publishes both the Official Tour de France Guide (Australian Edition) as well as RIDE Cycling Review, a quarterly magazine all about cycling.
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