Rider Interview: Rory Sutherland is a ‘Resident of the World’ as he has raced and lived in most parts of the globe. His list of team’s has just got longer as Movistar has signed the roving Australian for 2015. We caught up with Rory at the Movistar’s pre-season get together in Pamplona to get the full story.
From Australia to Holland to the US and now Spain, Rory Sutherland is a well travelled professional over many years. He has a lot of experience and a lot to say on racing, training, teams, countries and… beards.
PEZ: How did the move to Movistar come about?
Business! It’s about business a lot of the time. I guess the older you get and I’m not old by any stretch of the imagination (32), however I am starting to get to the higher end, in the terms of age and you start to find your groove, I guess, of where you fit and where your talents lie and how best they can be utilized. I think I found some of those in the last two years. It’s kind of a weird one because I’ve spent a lot of time in different places; I’ve been in Europe, I’ve gone to the US, I’ve spent time there and I learnt a whole load of things I would never have learnt here. And then coming back you are like this experienced 31 year old neo-pro. It’s like a weird combination of; “yeah he needs to be racing, but he can do the big races, or he needs a couple of races but he can do them” it’s a weird thing.
All my teammates at Tinkoff-Saxo became great friends, I was very comfortable in the group, very happy with the situation, but then a few things happened this year in the terms of the race program, changes being made that I wasn’t necessarily on board with. I think at some point we didn’t share the same idea in that department, which is fine, everybody is entitled to their own opinions. Its not just about me, its about fitting a puzzle together. When you come towards the end of a contract you start looking around because you need a back up, at the end of the day Tinkoff-Saxo had 30 riders, there is no space. I had this conversation with Bjarne (Riis, Tinkoff-Saxo team manager) a few times. We didn’t have a bad relationship or anything, but he did say “we have 30 riders, so there is no space.”
This opportunity popped up, the conversations started earlier in the year, as they do, and as things progressed and I think Eusebio (Unzué, Movistar team manager), the sports directors and some of the riders saw what my job was and I think what I do and what I bring to a team would fit in here a little better because it’s a different structure of riders. There is no full Classics team, but there are a lot of climbers, whereas I’m not a full climber, I consider myself to be in that middle area and can look after people in a different way and I think and I hope and they hope as well that the place I will have here is going to be one that will be incredibly fruitful to the organization.
It’s funny in one sense because there might not have been the opportunity for me to stay where I was. Like a lot of riders you get concerned about the future, I have two kids; we live in Europe and if I don’t have a job we would have to go back to the States where my wife’s from, change everything again. So when you go down that path of thinking about it and the World No. 1 team wants to hire you all of a sudden, your like; “OK this works out really well!” So it’s not really a bad change, when you live in Spain and it’s a team you’ve respected and there’s something really cool about it, for me, because it’s a very difficult niche to break into. This is a very, very Spanish orientated team; the turn over of riders in the last 35 years is not great. Riders don’t seem to leave to go to bigger teams, they seem to stop or if they don’t fulfill the ideas or the requirements of the team they are obviously let go, but they are not going to a bigger team from here. Alex (Dowsett) sort of paved the way, broken it open a little bit more to make the step of a full English speaker coming into a team like this and by the time he finishes this contract he’s on that will be five years with this team, he’s obviously enjoying it.
PEZ: Well that’s the interview over with in just one question! No don’t worry I have more. Did the team approach you?
This is where the agent handles it all. I have a couple of guys working in Holland; they handle Dan Martin and some other guys. They are on the lookout and handle all the business and I can concentrate on riding my bike. By the time we get to the personal meeting it was the World championships, we sat down in Ponferrada and everything was sorted out they just wanted to know if I was going to be happy there and just have a conversation to see if our ideas align. It’s probably the first time in my career that there has been a mutual agreement of “no, no that’s what we want to do and that’s what we want from you.” And I say, “that’s what I want to do.” And as you keep talking about it you realize that you are both on the same page, so why are we discussing it? Let’s just shake hands and be done.
PEZ: Does living in Gerona help fitting in with a Spanish team?
Yeah it does. There are not many of us ex-pats who go full commitment in Europe; there are not a lot of us in the terms of Australians, Americans, South Africans and British. Although Sky have changed things a bit, but before you could be in North Holland and see the UK, but not be allowed to live in the UK because you cant train there, which is ridiculous. It definitely makes a difference because my language skills are a lot better and that makes integration a lot better. People ask me if I’m going back to Australia and I say, no I live in Spain, coz the Colombians go back to Colombia tomorrow and that’s their personal thing. But myself and my wife and our kids are more that happy to stay in Gerona. In terms of a Spanish team and in the terms of ease of travel and conversation. The mechanics love it, when they want to send me something they ask when will I be in Spain and I say I’ll be in Gerona and they ask when? And I can say “always”. So they can send stuff anytime.
PEZ: So far have you noticed any difference between Tinkoff-Saxo and Movistar?
Yeah, you notice it in the first couple of days, it’s a hard thing to put your finger on, it’s not saying its better to do things this way or that way. At Tinkoff we were really happy and we had a good fun group, but it was different from this group. I think one of the main parts of that is that at Tinkoff-Saxo we had twelve or thirteen nationalities run together. Whereas here there are six or seven foreigners out of twenty-eight, the rest are Spanish or Colombian. Three are Italians, which leaves three of us, me, Alex and the German guy Jasha Sütterlin, so there are three real ‘extranjeros’ yeah real ones. So it’s different, but I’ve found in the first couple of days here that there are no egos. I’m not saying that at Tinkoff-Saxo there was this big ego of he’s Alberto Contador, but there is a group that goes with him and it’s a different way and with Bjarne it’s a different way of management and here it just seems that you have this real family. You get that more when you hold a specific amount of rider together for a time. You can sit at the dinner table and Quintana is throwing food across and hitting people from a distance, you kind of forget he’s this 24 year old, he hasn’t had a childhood of having fun still and Valverde is the same. They want to joke around when it’s time to joke around, but you can see from history that when its time to be serious its serious. It’s a different way, both ways are fine for me, but its just how it works on the road I guess.
PEZ: How did you get on with Bjarne?
I had a good relationship with Bjarne, but when you don’t race so much in that program, he’s running an organization of, including staff, of 80 people. I had a good relationship with him but our personalities are definitely very different
PEZ: And Oleg (Tinkov, team owner)?
I didn’t see him that much. At the start I supported a lot of the things he was doing, the changes and the brazen, straightforward reaction to things of “why are we doing this” or “why are we not doing that.”
PEZ: I guess if you are a millionaire you can say what you like.
We had this discussion a few times with the boys; if I say something about something I am passionate about that’s not considered right, then I would get dragged through the press and get fired. Oleg doesn’t have to answer to anybody and if there is a bad image of his jersey it doesn’t reflect to the business as it’s in Russia and I don’t know how popular cycling is in Russia. I don’t think it would make a difference. With most teams I’ve gone to I have great friends, Rabobank from 2000 to 2006, the staff, we still talk to each other. You don’t see each other for maybe seven years and I came back to Europe and we give each other a hug and they are asking how you are.
PEZ: You’ve gone from Contador to Valverde, is it going to be Joaquim Rodriguez next?
No, I’m getting older I don’t particularly want to change and if a situation is a good situation which I feel this is, it a good choice and a good direction, then I’m more than content to stay here.
PEZ: I just though you might be going for the hat-trick of Spanish team leaders.
Go through all of them, yeah. Well maybe I bring something to this team that I learnt from last year and the year before.
PEZ: You’ve ridden for Rabobank, UnitedHealthcare and then Tinkoff-Saxo, in Europe and the US, plus Asia, have you noticed many changes?
Yeah, I’ve been around the block and different Continents. One of the benefits of that has been; growing up here (in Europe) at a younger age in the terms of 18 or 19 years old to 25, then to go away and returning you can see the changes, the teams have become more international. English is becoming more prominent and that comes from the huge investment from Orica and the Sky idea and international teams coming on. Professionalism is becoming bigger and bigger, but the interesting thing, which I was talking about with Matthew Hayman at the Worlds, is that in cycling, obviously in the last the last five to ten years things have changed, as we all know, in a good and positive manner. You can see these young guys getting opportunities and doing well at a younger age, which is fantastic, but the old guard, guy’s like Hayman know exactly what they are doing are dyeing off a bit, everyone is coming to the end of their career. I think the next five years will be interesting. If you take away these guys, like Lastras in this team, you take him away, take Matthew Hayman away and Niki Sorensen at Tinkoff-Saxo, your overall management of the riders on the road disappears. So cycling might change again.
You used to step across to the WorldTour and you were at the bottom at the bottom of the barrel, no matter how talented you were, it would take you years to build there. So you learn the tactics and to suffer and you learn all this stuff, now if you step across and you are an incredibly talented rider…you start winning and all of a sudden you are the guy for the finish. You just do it, but what happens when everyone has to think? There is going to be a time when you are going to have to think about what you are doing.
PEZ: The sports directors will be on the radios.
Yeah, but cycling has changed so much that the best directors now, to be honest, are the guys who have retired, up to a maximum of three years out of the sport, can still remember the pain, they still remember the issues. The longer you are out, the less you remember. So there can be a miss connection there.
PEZ: What about the change of bike?
I don’t know, I’ve not really had time to get on it. I’ve got it but haven’t got on it. I’ve got my Specialized at home and I’m under contract to ride it, so…
PEZ: The Giro you rode looked horrendous.
2013? Yes that was interesting, this years looked horrendous too. It was a tough old time to come back, I would say there were moments when you are sitting there going; I’ve just been in the US riding California and Colorado in the sunny states, still hard but nice races, but not that long stages some of them. And here I am slogging away in the Giro for 138th spot and I’m like: “What am I doing! Do I really need this money?”
PEZ: I read you said you needed 39 x 32 on one stage.
Oh yeah, I even used that in Pais Basque this year. I’ve worked with SRAM for quite a lot of years now and I ran the WiFli rear derailleur in every single race because it operates better and you could run 11-32 and it would all work well without changing cranks and messing around with anything. There were a few stages that year and this year I’ve ridden it three or four times.
PEZ: You never rode compact?
Nop. 32 is pretty small. That’s the Giro now though, but the Vuelta has stuff like that too now. The Vuelta will have it just at the end, whereas the Giro will have it tucked away in the middle somewhere and then at the end and somewhere else.
PEZ: What was your form like after the Giro?
It was pretty good, I did 8 years or something between Giro’s, but your body does change, I think with me if you haven’t done that many Grand Tours you see a difference. In 2014 I’ve seen a huge difference from 2013 in the terms of numbers in training and in terms of being able to make it to a point in a race to still be competitive or whatever. That’s something you don’t see in many 32 year olds because they have already gone through that step. That’s the discussion we had with Eusebio as well was like; OK I’m the fourth or fifth oldest guy on the team, however I’m still completely fresh in the mind and I’m still getting better. Who knows how long that will go for, but every year I seem to be progressing because I stepped out, I’ve been out of it for a while and now I’m back in. So motivationally and your body changing, it’s a pretty cool and exciting thing to see.
PEZ: Do you have a coach?
I’ve been with a guy in the states called Iñigo San Millán, for the last six years. He’s a Spanish guy and he’s the head exercise physiologist in the University of Colorado in Denver and we have a fantastic relationship. I’m a science person; I’m a facts and numbers guy.
PEZ: That was my next question; do you live by the numbers?
I do and I don’t. But there is this element of; if you go just by the numbers, which I believe in, you miss the human aspect of 20%. It’s like the old story that you can’t lift a car up, but if there is a baby trapped under it, someone will lift the car up. Your mind and your body can do some pretty incredible things. Science people are always saying “wow that shouldn’t happen” but it just did. So I follow it a lot and I train with science and research, I’ve had years when I’ve gone 100% in that direction and this year I’ve gone 93%, Iñigo and I have had a really good communication and I bring the human aspect instead of just being lab based – black/white, we are finding a bit more of a grey area and we are trying to do a bit more of a combination of that for next year. All the riders in the Movistar team work with a group with Miguel Zuballa, which is more in-house, so we are switching more to the organization to integrate yourself more and then you can be more aligned with the goals and the ideas of the team instead of being this separate outside.
PEZ: Thinking about what you said about the mother picking up the car because the baby is trapped, makes me think of the guys watching TV and working out the Watts riders are putting out on climbs. That doesn’t take the human aspect into consideration.
Yeah exactly, it’s so true though. I’m the perfect example of that because I’m between 75 and 77 kg’s racing and people say I shouldn’t be able to go up a hill, but I can. I’m not going to get dropped just because some guy out there says that’s not possible, he shouldn’t be able to produce 6 watts per kilo, but I can. All these guys doing these numbers and everything, I think its cool and I think its great for the sport and everything, to an extent. But the other side is that they all seem to forget what happened years ago, the technology has changed, you can go faster up a hill, you can pedal faster, training does make a huge difference.
PEZ: The guys 10 years ago weren’t at 3% body fat or whatever.
Na, like the Tour now with the numbers and everything it’s a different sport, it’s like taking the numbers on a wet day and a dry day, it’s different, it’s not comparable.
PEZ: Like Tour riders 20 years ago used to go into the Tour fat and would thin off in three weeks.
Miguel Indurain used to do it, Iñigo told me Indurain would go into it at 80 kilos or something and then he would be good for the flat and the climbers would get screwed, and then he’d lose 2 kilos by the end of the second week and he’d be good and they would all be screwed. Now if you turned up at 80 kilo’s you would be screwed. Yeah, I’ll lose it at the start…everyone is like a friggin’ stick figure at the start.
PEZ: Will you ride the Tour Down Under?
We have spoken about it, but it’s dependent on what the main goal is. I can go to Australia, but if my goal is in June or July they want me to take it easy in Australia. I said; firstly it’s not possible to take it easy there. That’s another big change in the last six or seven years, you can’t go to a race and take it easy. Every single race from the Tour Down Under to the Japan Cup is full gas. There is no; lets ease into things like there used to be. That’s the first part of it, the second part of it; if I go to Australia it’s my home race and I will want to perform. I’m not going to want to ride in the groupetto or the second group; I’m going to push myself too hard. So basically that’s a question for Eusebio and the management; lets just get the goal first and work back from it. My talents, I believe and they believe, and what our alignment of goals is not just in relevance to the calendar, but to help Alejandro and Nairo in whatever area. It’s the benefit of being able to climb pretty well for a big guy, is that I can get through Pais Basque and Catalonia, I don’t have any issues. And then you go to Holland and Belgium and do Harelbeke or Waregem with these guys to get ready for the Tour stages, I can do that. I speak the language there, I also grew up on those roads, I know the roads, it doesn’t mean I want to do them, but I can adapt to different things. My goal and my job is to support them in every race, If I finish 80th in every race I don’t give a crap, its not my job to win. If the opportunity arises, of course I will take it, however I’m old enough and smart enough to know where my talents lie and if I give 100% in that instead of 95% and thinking about another race or about myself then the team and myself will get more out of it. I’ll be happier too and I’ll feel I have given something to the team and made a difference to what we are trying to do.
PEZ: The way you said your goals could be in June or July, it sounds like you think you might ride the Tour?
Like every rider I want to, of course I would love to. It was one of the issues I had in 2014, I said to the team, you take the nine best riders for the race and everybody said that’s what would happen, but in the end that didn’t happen for personal or political reasons or whatever. I’m not happy with the way that works, I think in this team (Movistar) they take the best guys for a specific job and its not about who your mates are, its not about what’s good for a sponsor necessarily, but if you want to win a race you have to put a group together and do that. I was disappointed to not be in that team last year after riding all spring for that specific job and doing a good job for the guys who needed it, being in the Ardennes Classics with Kreuziger or Catalonia and Pais Basque and those races with Alberto. Of course that’s my goal, it’s going to be Alex’s goal, it’s going to be three quarters of the teams goal, but again I’m realistic enough to know that if I’m not good enough to do a job or if someone is better, I will be the first person to step back and say, take the guy who is good for it. I don’t need to do the Tour de France, a lot of people all they want to is just ride the Tour de France, say they finished it and done fuck all in it or it doesn’t fit in with who they are and their whole season is screwed.
PEZ: It’s like the Chinese guy who rides for Giant-Shimano (Cheng Ji), you would think before the Tour that the team had to put a Chinese guy in the Tour for the Sponsor, but he rode on the front all day.
Yeah, of course you take the best guys. That’s the thing with Grand Tours, not to get negative about it, but a lot of races these days and what you call the younger generation, there is this “you got to finish” because my results are up and my family are looking at it and you see the collection of older guys, this guy came 90th or 100th, you would say, “he’s creeping” but I don’t give a crap. He’s 30 minutes down because he rode on the front for three hours or 100 K’s on the front.
PEZ: It’s like not showing the start of a Tour stage on TV, some of the hardest racing is in the first hour and no one sees it.
You can’t show the whole stage, no one would watch. They should show the first bit then cut away or film it and save it and start the coverage an hour earlier. Anyway the Tour is on my dream list, but I wouldn’t want to go in there without someone like Valverde or Nairo because that’s where my strengths lie. I don’t want to just roll around France, I don’t necessarily like going to France, to be perfectly honest with you, and I need to have a reason to be there. That’s on the radar, but with changing teams you don’t know how it will go starting off with, it’s going to take a couple of months to get in with the group and for Alejandro to learn to be comfortable with going where I want to go on my wheel, to be comfortable to tell me what he wants and knowing what I can do and asking if I can do something really quick and I’ll do it and the same with Nairo. Like the old saying you can take a horse to water but you cant make him drink.
PEZ: What would be your ideal race?
I don’t know. There are race you love and there are races you like the idea of, it doesn’t mean reality. Like Pais Basque is a beautiful race, but it’s the most god-dam painful thing in the World its so hard. So you want to do it in November or December, but when you get to April your thinking this is really going to suck and then it rains and its really, really going to suck. I don’t really care as long as long as I have a purpose and there is a step purpose where you are getting ready for this and ready for that, to be good here to do this specific job. I want to simplify it as much as possible. Like going to the Tour of Turkey because they need eight rides, that doesn’t work for me. I don’t jive with that anymore. Those days are gone where; I want to go to Turkey, it’s really cool. OK it was a fun experience, however if there is not a purpose for it there is no point.
PEZ: Do you go back to Australia much?
No. The Tour Down Under this year was the first time in seven years I think. I’ve got a wife and two kids, our son is in school and we don’t like to take him out of it. I love Australia and I miss the friends I had growing up, but at the same time it’s a long arse way to go and I don’t have a home there, I’d be staying at mum and dad’s house, which is a little different. I’m 32, I’ve had my own house for the best part of 13 years, you go from making your own decisions and then you cant.
PEZ: What about changing from Europe to the US and then back again?
It’s been five year, six year blocks; I’m a resident of the World. I’ve got a British passport, my parents are both British, got Spanish residency, got an Australian passport, got a US green card, I speak fluent Dutch and I was on a Danish/Russian team, so I’m well travelled.
PEZ: How have your wife and kids handled it, where do the kids think they are from?
They love it. My daughter doesn’t know much because she is too young, but my son states that he is Catalan, because he speaks fluent Catalan, he goes to school and all his friends are Catalan and why wouldn’t he want to be Catalan, so he thinks that’s where he is from. He has memories of Boulder in Colorado where we have a house, but at that age he take the change. That is where we will end up, at the end of my career we will go back to Colorado. My wife is American, we have houses there, that’s where my investments are there, my possible future is there, job wise the opportunities are more in the States than in Australia to be honest.
PEZ: What is your favorite country?
All of them. My whole family is from Scotland, I love Scotland. My mum is from just north of Edinburgh and my dad is a hardcore Aberdeen boy, he will never lose his accent. I have Aunts and Uncles there, my parents and Brother and Sister are the only family I have in Australia. Scotland is a great place for holidays, holidays with a coat.
PEZ: Do you miss the Tinkoff-Saxo boot camp?
We didn’t have a boot camp, I had two years in Gran Canaria, that’s about the least of a boot camp as you can get. We tried to do some extreme stuff, like bungee jumping from a crane, but none of it was extreme. That’s the first thing I liked about this team, we got the contracts sorted and everything and they said we need you to keep some dates free. I thought here we go, I’ve just had a ten month season and I’ve already booked a family holiday, everything’s set. I’ve booked and paid for a holiday and he’s going to tell me I have to go to Africa or somewhere. He said “17th to the 21st in Pamplona,” and? No that’s it. Last year I spent nearly a month training in the Canary Isles and the year before that they went to Israel and the year before in Norway. Eusebio looked at me strange like and said, ”I’m not running concentration camps, this is a camp to get all this crap done, that we need to do and that’s it.” You go home and spend the winter with your family; it’s that Spanish family thing. I told my wife and she was very pleased that I was going to be at home. Kilimanjaro cost 20 grand, I would love to go, but not at the end of the season, there were guys at the Japan Cup who would go home for six days and then off to Kilimanjaro, coming home to go on the family vacation and then back for a training camp. Give me the team owners or managers credit card and get all the boys together and on a Saturday night we’ll go out in Pamplona and one night drinking and we’ll be bonded and it would be done. Guess what, were bonded.
PEZ: OK the big question. Beards in the peloton, what’s that all about?
I don’t know. It’s like tattoos, its something that comes in and out, have you not seen over the last couple of years there have been all these whole arm tattoos coming on. We’ve got one of then, John Gadret, but then it goes out again.
PEZ: But big beards?
Like Paolini, you mean like Dan Craven. They are different guys though. For me its too much, I think it would be a bit irritating and in summer. Like anything, its people trying to individualize themselves, Wiggins was doing it. It’s like any fashion trend or something that pops up; people jump on the bandwagon, its people individualizing themselves as well, a talking point or whatever. Go for it, I don’t give a shit!
Good luck to Rory for his future at Movistar from PEZ.