Will Routley interview: “We are all part of this sport and we need people to believe in it again”

Will Routley, cracking fella, was fortunate enough to entice him over to Taiwan for the KOM Challenge just recently.

Will has been a pro since 2008 and just enjoyed his best year with Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies with a win on Stage 4 and the overall KOM in the 2014 Tour of Califiornia.

I caught up with him for a chat.

______________________

Will takes Stage 4 at the ToC
Will takes Stage 4 at the ToC

crankpunk: You’ve been in Asia before, racing, how does Taiwan compare to other areas you’ve been?

Will Routley: I’ve race in Malaysia, Thailand, Korea and also China. Taiwan seems to be more affluent, it’s clean, there’s no glass or junk on the road, I feel at ease and comfortable here. Even in Taipei, I don’t fee the hustle and bustle of other places I’ve been in Asia. The overwhelming chaos is missing!

cp: You had a good 2014, now you’re 31, any longer term plans?

WR: Yeah I had such a great season than now I’m kinda torn, it pulls you back in. I started thinking maybe I’ll become a lifer, still doing this when I’m 40. But the goals outside of cycling are still there. I have a bit of an entrepreneurial mind so I’m always drawn to new opportunities, but they take time so they’re on the back burner.

I’m doing some coaching and I’m getting into agriculture too. I’ve always been into the nutritional side of things and this fall my wife and I bought a house with a piece of land and we’ve been planting garlic there, that’s out main specialty crop!

cp: You said it’s been the most successful year of your career. Tell me about the Tour of California, how was the reaction to all that?

WR: To win a stage was a goal but I was never going to win on a mountain top or a bunch finish, so I looked at it and, well I’ve always been Mr. Breakaway! My whole spring was really good, I had good form from training camp on. I hade a couple of podiums but also helped teammates in a few races, like at the Tour of Gila where I helped Carter [Jones] take the win.

Honestly that was one of the best rides of my entire life, I was third on the last day and he won. But that was in a support role so as usual, nobody ever hears it it.

cp: It’s funny how the cycling fans very seldom see what is often the real story of the race, either the early kilometers where guys are killing each other to break free, or the work done by a teammate to secure a win for a leader. The real story of the race isn’t always on the result sheet.

WR: Definitely. This spring there was always a pressure on me as a potential leader but it was really nice to be able to give support. It built the team camaraderie a lot, so that when we got o California, everyone was ready to work together. Getting in those breaks is really hard because everyone wants TV time.

The guys helped launch me across wherever they could and then after that, the stars aligned!

The reaction after was amazing, and I think winning the KOM and the stage just made it all more real for people. Often they look at the results sheet and see you there in 127th place and they don;t know what you’ve done [for the team]. But then they see it on TV and it becomes real.

cp: I remember racing in Belgium and Holland in the kermesse where just finishing the race was an accomplishment.

WR: Yes! You get these races there with 225 starters and just 100 guys finish, so think of the attrition rate! If you’re not on top form you won’t even get to the end.

cp: And you get guys whose sole enjoyment in life is going into corners slow and then speeding out just to string the pack out, and they never finish a race! [We’re both getting a little excited/annoyed by the memory of these races at this point! – cp.] They’re in the pub whilst you’re still out there!

WR: Yes! They know they’re only doing three hours so they do those accelerations!

cp: The bastards…! You did an article in the Vancouver Sun newspaper in which you had a bit of a go at dopers. What was the spur to do that? Did they contact you to write about something?

WR: Basically I was always an advocate for clean riding and then came a time when just about all the American road cycling stars and Canadian Michael Barry were discovered to have been doping for just about the entirety of my cycling career [if not theirs too – cp.].

At the time my wife and I were living with a roommate who is a retired MTB rider, a former Canadian champ who had retired because he just couldn’t make it financially in North America. So we’d sit around and listen to all these doping reports on the radio and my roommate would rant – he’s a little bitter cos his career ended early – and then I’d give him the current info and we’d go on and on and after about 2 weeks of this we said ‘All we do is complain. Let’s write something down.’

So I sat down and started writing, and we sent it to the Vancouver Sun to a journalist for some advice, and two days later I was getting texts congralating me on the article and I had no idea it had been published. No editing, nothing, there it was. The reaction was great.

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cp: Is it realistic to think that the real fundamental change that the sport needs in terms of stopping doping can come from within the pro peloton?Can we expect guys who are getting hundreds of thousands of euro per year to do something like that which you did? Or to start a crankpunk?!

WR: It’s a good question. I know riders who are definitely clean and who race at the top level. Some of them do things within the peloton to let the dopers know they aren’t happy, being pranksters, stepping in the way of the guy when his name is called up at the start of the race or whatever, but can they actually… I think they can make their opinion known now, yes, I think things have changed there.

It’s difficult for me to believe that you wouldn’t be hired now because of an anti-doping stance. But I guess I’m kinda torn on that one.

cp: I think the silver lining from the Armstrong thing is that now we can actually say ‘Is this guy doping?’ and I hope we get to the point where the onus is on the team to prove that a guy isn’t doping. We’ve seen way to many uncredible incredible things to not have a right to make a demand of that, I think. Top riders will say ‘Gimme a break, I’m just a rider’ but, if they love the sport and if they consider the era in which they are making their money and their names, they have to see that there is a need for this, because the sport needs that integrity.

WR: I think that much is true. We are all part of this sport and we need people to believe in it again. Anyone that is a real fan, none of them can have full trust, they know there is still doping. So yeah, I wish it wasn’t but it is part of our job to convince people that we are riding clean.

cp: I think we need to see the numbers.

WR: Yeah, pretty much everyone is training with numbers.

cp: It’s not like learning the secret formula for the special sauce [laughter on both sides] – ah, sauce, bad analogy! But it’s not as if you can just go copy the top guy’s numbers from just before the Tour, say, because you actually have to work to get there.

WR: That’t the thing, looking at someone’s numbers in the race, you can’t see the training at all. It’s just what they did on the day, you don’t see how they got there.

cp: Why do you care about doping?

WR: That is a good question. It is. After a while you get so overwhelmed that you do think that. I got into sport because I wanted to be healthy so, I wouldn’t want to take anything that risked that. I’m even minimal on supplements.

At 31 I’ve realised I just need quality sleep and quality training.

At the Taiwan KOM, post-race, image by Daniel Simms
At the Taiwan KOM, post-race, image by Daniel Simms

cp: Can we get our sport back through the UCI? Have they any legitimacy left?

WR: Many other sports have just given in, like ball sports, football, baseball, there’s no or little drug testing and yet look at the size increase in these players that are on multi-million dollar contracts! So why don’t we just let it go in cycling?

I think we are trying to be an exemplary sport and that in a lot of ways we are. The Biological Passport was an original concept at the time, whether or not it’s working I am not sure, but it is a push in the right direction. Also cycling fans are pretty well educated and they are also on board.

cp: For me it was and still is that idea that through sport we can become noble, become better versions of ourselves, become the finest versions of what we’d like human beings to be, however fleetingly.

WR: I think that is what sport is, and what it should be. You’re holding athletes to a higher than you hold yourself, as a fan, and as an athlete I think we have to try to set that example. It’s harder [without doping] but it can be done. You’re an athlete, you’re a role model and in the oublic eye, so you should try to set the best example possible.

cp: They say ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,’ questioning whether we’ve never done anything wrong in our personal lives, like cheating on a loved one or, whatever – what do you say to that?

WR: So yeah everyone has made mistakes or ‘sinned’ to a larger or lesser degree, but it’s greatly different. I mean if you do cheat on your girlfriend and it comes to light and you break up and you’re hurt, well that was between the two of you – or the three of you!

But this is more like going to work and stealing from the cash register. Or like a doctor and a malpractice. In most of these cases they don;’t to get to go back to work ever again. So why in cycling can people just turn up and say ‘I’m reformed’.

Often people ask me if I believe in forgiveness. Well I do, I don’t want to see anyone stoned to death but I also think they shouldn’t be allowed to go back to the exact same job with the same temptations. In some ways it’s unhealthy for them too because often they are addicts to the success and the fame and the money, an addict to feeling great, so it is very difficult to not continue and become a repeat offender.

cp: And then they come back in as managers and go to MPCC meetings and they are in there setting the rules which will govern riders who are just like they were when they were pros. How does that make any sense at all?

WR: It’s crazy. And they got to the top level by doping. Many former pros and guys who were great but never became pros are sat at home watching races on TV and would love to be there managing a team.

cp: What’s the solution Will?

WR: I haven’t thought it in specifics but I personally believe that a two year ban is insufficient. I think we can consider a tiered system. For starters, longer bans for sure. A tiered system where the ‘big stuff’ is given hefty bans – premeditated stuff like EPO, blood doping-

cp: You don’t hear of many people falling on srynges, it’s true. Or accidentally digesting bags of their own blood…

WR: Haha yes it’s sounds difficult for that to happen. So ultimately you have to invest a lot of money, seek the advice of experts on doping, go through a regimen of injections, so you’re at an advanced stage there, and I think that warrants a lifetime ban. That can’t be a mistake. You still had a good run, made a ton of money and there are plenty of other jobs out there.

cp: Finally, any advice for parents with kids interested in cycling?

WR: Yeah, a lot of it comes from your own family culture. I mean if you’re kid wants to be a lawyer you don’t necessarily steer them from that path, so yeah encourage them. You can be successful and clean and you will learn a lot, you learn a lot of life lessons which you can then take with you into other businesses.

So as a parent encourage your kid. I’m always hopeful for our sport because it’s a great sport, you can do it when you are 60 with someone who is 25, you don’t see that in many sports.

cp: Thank you Will.

WR: Pleasure.

WIll and myself recently in Taipei
WIll and myself recently in Taipei

3 thoughts on “Will Routley interview: “We are all part of this sport and we need people to believe in it again”

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