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Multiple British Champion Shaun Wallace Gets PEZ’d!

Ex-Rider Interview: Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree may have grabbed the headlines in the pursuit world during the 90s, but Shaun Wallace was at the cutting edge from the early 80s and through the 90s, taking medals at National, Commonwealth and World level. Ed Hood caught up with Shaun to hear his story.

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National champion

Great Britain has always had a fine tradition in the UCi Men’s Individual Pursuit World Championships with the late Norman Sheil twice world amateur champion; then the legend that is Hugh Porter picking up the baton in the professional event followed by names like Tony Doyle, Colin Sturgess, Chris Boardman, Graeme Obree and Bradley Wiggins. But a man who twice stood on the world professional pursuit and Commonwealth Games pursuit podiums as a silver medallist has largely been forgotten; perhaps because he plied most of his trade across the Atlantic in the USA?

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GB team pursuit

Shaun Wallace was a multiple British champion, twice Worlds silver medallist and three times a Commonwealth Games silver medallist as well as a world record holder on two occasions. High times we caught up with the man; he was at home in San Diego where he settled 22 years ago to, ‘escape the winters.’

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Amateur national championships

PEZ: Your first British title was the junior kilometre in 1979, Shaun – how many more since?
Shaun Wallace:
I’d need to count the jerseys but not a huge number, the last Nationals I rode for a long time were in 1984, I was in the States after that until and didn’t ride them again until ‘95/’96. I’m always humble by people remembering my performance from way back then. [PEZ checked Shaun’s National Championship palmarès from that era: ’79: junior kilometre 1st, junior pursuit 3rd; ’80: senior pursuit 3rd; ’81: kilometre and pursuit 2nd; ’82: pursuit 1st; ’83: pursuit, kilometre and 20 kilometre 1st; ’84: pursuit 2nd, kilometre and 20 kilometre 1st. ed].

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With the Lotus bike in 1992

PEZ: Kilometre and pursuit champion in the same year, not the norm back then?
I remember the championship organisers ribbing me a little because they had to re-schedule things to allow me to ride both, now it’s much more common but back then the kilometre was the province of the ‘pure’ sprinters.

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Olympics’96

PEZ: Your first big international result, silver in the Brisbane, Commonwealth Games pursuit in 1982 behind Aussie ‘home boy’ Mike Turtur.
That was a very important result for me; after the Worlds at Leicester where I felt I failed I got my physical and mental act together and was actually leading at the bell in the final at Brisbane – but that was the biggest crowd I’d ever ridden in front of and there was a huge roar following him round the track. Some might say that the crowd lifted him to victory but I just think he was a better man on the day. [Turtur was in the victorious Australian team pursuit team at those games and took bronze in the 10 mile; he was also in the victorious Aussie team pursuit squad at the 1984 LA Olympics, ed].

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Individual pursuit action

PEZ: Tell us about your world flying kilometre records.
If you think about it the flying kilometre is maybe a little harder for the explosive pure sprinters – you have to be going at a fair lick on those wind-up laps so it’s more than a one minute effort. They were having a meeting at the Colorado Springs velodrome – a big outdoor 333 metre concrete bowl – in ‘85 and I asked if they’d organise an attempt for me, they agreed and I took the world amateur flying start one kilometre record with 59.5 seconds. A year later in ’86 they were having a ‘records night’ and by then I was professional – the year before when I got the record folks were saying that maybe it was a ‘float’ night when I got the record? But at the ‘records night’ there were a lot of ‘names’ going for the pro record, I was seeded last, beat them all and took the record with 58.85 seconds – very satisfying.

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Worlds’93 in Hamar

PEZ: The Worlds 1991, pro pursuit silver.
I’d been racing pro in the US for several years and that was in the days when you had the amateur pursuit over four kilometres and the pros over five kilometres. There were fewer events back then, no team sprint or madison so the events that there were carried more prestige – everyone knew who the World Pro Sprint and Pursuit Champions were. I was in a good mental state for those Worlds, I had confidence and knew what I had to do – but Moreau the Frenchman was just better on the day.

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Worlds’95 in Cali

PEZ: And another silver in 1992 this time behind McCarthy.
I was team mates with Mike on the Sunkyong team in ’87 and ’88, we used to travel round the country together to races so I knew his capabilities as an athlete. And whilst I’m not making excuses or expressing regret, if I had my time over I wouldn’t have ridden the Lotus bike. When I chose to ride it I began to understand Chris Boardman’s frustrations when he won in Barcelona, the emphasis was on the bike and not the man riding it. I believe Chris would still have won in Barcelona without the Lotus. I found it just too rigid, especially on narrow section tubulars at 220 psi, it bounced all over the place and I struggled to hold my position. The bike I rode the year before was a carbon Kestrel which had a bit of flex to it. It was comfortable and easy to hold your position on. If you look at videos of me riding the Worlds in ’91 I was very smooth at my preferred cadence of 126/128 rpm. But as I said given the information I had at the time I would still ride the Lotus.

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Mixing it with Pro World champ Tony Doyle, and others

PEZ: The 1993 Worlds saw you qualify fourth fastest but not get to ride for bronze?
That was the first year of the ‘open’ Worlds with no distinction between amateurs and professionals with the pursuit distance cut back to four kilometres. Frenchman Ermenault qualified fastest from Graeme Obree, Chris Boardman and me. The UCi was experimenting with formats for the race; the 16 qualifiers were split into four groups. The top four from qualifying contested the semi-finals with the two winners riding for gold and silver. But bronze went to the fastest semi loser or one of the other 12 from qualifying who rode in six heats, against each other. I’d been sick coming in to the Worlds and whilst I managed a good qualifying round my recovery wasn’t there and I lost to Ermenault in the semis but somehow ended up ninth in the official result – but I still consider myself fourth in that competition. I was disappointed not to be on the podium but it was an honour to be part of a pursuit series where three of the four qualifiers were British. You could say it was a great success for the British ‘system’ but Graeme was his own man and I was racing in the USA, Chris was the only one you could say owed it to the British system – but even he was his own man with Peter Keen.


Gent ‘6 Days’

PEZ: Did your pursuit performances get you any six day contracts?
I’d actually ridden six days before my medals in ’91 and ’92 but found them hard work – and of course you had to be in Europe to ride them so there was the cost of accommodation to consider. My best ride was the Moscow Six where until the last day I was lying fourth with Tom Armstrong but the ‘Heads’ must have decided that they couldn’t have two upstarts from the States in the top five so we ended-up seventh. I also participated in the Japanese Keirins – that was more fun.

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Behind the derny in Gent

PEZ: Back on the podium at the Commonwealth Games, 12 years later; silver to Brad McGee in 1994.
That was a complicated one; I’d decided to go down the ‘Obree position route’ but at the Colorado Springs World Cup prior to the Games they wouldn’t let me ride. I took the UCi rule book to the chief commissar and asked him to show me the rule which forbade me riding in that position. He wouldn’t even look at the book. I went to the line and the starting judge wouldn’t let me start, I asked him the same thing; ‘show me the rule that says I can’t ride in this position.’ He couldn’t but refused to allow me to start. I phoned back to the UK to warn Graeme what was going on and I had to scrap my Worlds plans which were all centred on riding in that position. I had to organise another bike and it obviously wasn’t the best preparation for the Games. But McGee was a top pursuiter and it was another Commonwealth Games silver for me.

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PEZ: The Commonwealth Games 1998 and another silver medal but not in the pursuit?
I said to the selectors that I thought I could make the podium in the pursuit but didn’t think I could win it. [Australia’s Brad McGee defended his pursuit title from compatriot Luke Roberts with England’s Matt Illingworth taking bronze, ed.] I decided to put all my eggs in one basket and ride the 20 kilometres, it was a risk – I could have ended up winning or ended up nowhere. But if the finish line had been one metre further away I’d have won it; however in the event Michael Rogers [who went on to be World Elite Time Trial Champion, ed.] just pipped me in a photo finish.

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With Wheaties Schwinn

PEZ: Did you have a mentor or coach during your career?
Not really but when I was at university up in Nottingham Geoff Cooke was really helpful, he used to motor pace Mark Barry the sprinter and me on the Harvey Hadden track. [Cooke was a multiple British tandem sprint champion and was 1974 Commonwealth Games tandem sprint champion in Christchurch, New Zealand with Ernie Crutchlow. Racing as a ‘master’ on the track Cooke has accumulated a vast number of Worlds medals in recent years. Cooke now advises Scottish international track rider, Kyle Gordon, ed.] I remain very grateful to Geoff for all the help and advice he gave me back then. But when I went to the States I became largely my own man, self-coached. I think that in ’81 and ’82 when I ‘failed’ at the Worlds I could really have done with someone there to put things in perspective for me, I used to beat myself up so badly – but I was only 19 and 20 years-old at those times.

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More ‘6 Day’ action

PEZ: Why go to the USA?
I first went over in 1980, they were having an international meeting at Trexlertown, Pennsylvania velodrome and invited the British Madison Champions over. That team was Hugh Cameron and Paul Curran but for some reason, Paul couldn’t make it so I went over with Hugh. I loved it but had to go home after to attend university; however, after the LA Olympics in ’84 I decided that was where I wanted to be – within 10 days of graduating from university I’d moved to Trexlertown where I stayed until 1998.

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On the road with Alfa Romeo

PEZ: What was it like racing as a pro in the US in the 80’s?
It suited me, there was a good track scene and a good criterium scene. Initially I sucked in the crits but learned how to ride them. That was a good time in the US, the mid to late 80’s, driving from race to race, initially unsponsored but winning a lot of primes. My first contract was with Alfa Romeo, just a small team but we got Alfa Romeo cars to drive around in with trailers for the bikes. After Alfa I rode for Sunkyong, as the New York Times said; ‘a South Korea-based multinational company called Sunkyong-SKC was looking for a way to spread a little good will in the United States. The idea, company executive officials thought, was to give something back to a country that had become the most lucrative market outside of South Korea for many of the 2,000 products Sunkyong-SKC makes or markets.’ Then it was Wheaties-Schwinn; ‘Wheaties’ are a breakfast cereal and Schwinn the famous US bike manufacturers. Riding with Schwinn was cool, it’s always better to be part of a team when the wins come – your team mates are happy, the company and its staff are happy and in the case of Schwinn, the local dealership is happy too.

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Sunkyong and Wheaties

PEZ: Tell us about your pioneering work on altitude training.
Every year at the Worlds there would be something new and everyone else would be playing ‘catch up.’ I wondered how I could get an ‘edge.’ I began to read about research that was being published by physiologists about the benefits of, ‘living high and training low’ – no one seemed to be doing it but the results they printed were undeniable. The method I adopted was to rent a motel cabin to sleep at Woodland Park Colorado (8465′), driving down to train on the Colorado Springs Velodrome (6035′) then driving up Pikes Peak (14,114′) for an afternoon rest, napping in the car then I’d train again at night on the turbo with an oxygen mask. Gene Samuel, the Trinidadian kilometre rider shared the regime with me and that year he won the Pan Am Games Kilometre whilst I was second in the Worlds Pro Pursuit. But it wasn’t a convenient or economically viable way of doing things. I obtained a hypobaric chamber – which simulates altitude – to sleep in but it’s a heck of a thing to lug around so that’s when I developed the altitude tent, which I used myself. Friends saw it and asked if I could make one for them and before I knew it I was spending more time making altitude tents than I was training – and 23 years later I’m still making them.

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US crit start

PEZ: And are altitude still your primary product?
They’re one of a number of applications we’re involved with. We do work for the aviation industry to simulate altitude and also work for the military. We also do work where you may have an older client who lives at altitude, somewhere like Breckenridge, Colorado which is at about 9,000’ above sea level. Their doctor is telling them their sleep quality is poor because of the thin air so they need to move down to the coast – but the client doesn’t want to move so we’ll configure their bedroom to a pressure equivalent to 2,000’ altitude so they have good sleep quality. And we do altitude tents for huskies.

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BC Superweek in 1989

PEZ: Husky dogs?
Yes, dog sled racing is a competitive sport, events like the Iditarod are a big deal.

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Wheaties Schwinn team

PEZ: Regrets?
I’m not one to look back and worry about it if I made the wrong decision; as I said about choosing to ride the Lotus bike, I’d probably do the same again given the information I had at the time. But there’s one thing; I wish I hadn’t beaten up on myself when I was younger, at the Worlds in ’81 and ‘82’ that misplaced self-criticism was not a good thing and a mentor at those times would have been good for me.

# With thanks to Shaun for his time and insights and a big thank you to all the photographers, known and unknown. #

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Still on the track, but with the chainset on the wrong side

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