US Postal’s Michael Barry: Exclusive Interview
Michael Barry, could boast a career to date rich with successes like riding the Olympics in Atlanta, being Canadian National Champion in 1997, a pro contract with US Postal, and a true trial by fire (and asphalt) in his first Grand Tour. But he’s not a boastful guy, maybe it’s his “Canadianism”, maybe he’s got a lot more to acheive, or maybe a bit of both. We talked with Michael this past weekend and learned a lot about his life inside US Postal, his first Vuelta, and himself…
A RARE CANADIAN
1. You’ve come farther as a pro than most Canadian racers since Steve Bauer. What were the key events that led your racing career to develop this far?
MB – My father taught me to ride a bike and from there I developed an intense passion for cycling. The first big step I took was going over and racing in Annemasse, France. I spent 2.5 years as an amateur over there and was able to do longer, more challenging and competitive races. I made the Olympic team in 96, my first year in Annemasse, and also did well (8th) at the U23 Worlds in Lugano. Steve Bauer also gave me a lot of confidence that year as we were together on the Olympic team. He made me beleive I could do it. Having your hero tell you that you are capable is a confidence booster.
Racing with Saturn was also a good experience through which I was able to test my legs at a higher level in Europe while still progressing at my own speed in America and learning along the way.
Without the tremendous support of my parents, my wife and family I would never have been able to continue climbing towards my dreams.
2. There are few Canadians in the pro peloton right now, and even fewer riding at your level in Europe. Although cycling is relatively popular in Canada at a club level, why do we see so few Canadian riders moving into the Elite pro ranks, and even fewer in Europe?
MB – I actually think the Canadians are doing very well internationally considering how small the sport is, how small the Canadian population is and how cold the winters are. We have some of the best women in the World and many of the top American professionals. Mountain biking has certainly taken a lot of riders away from the road but as the sport of mountain biking declines in popularity I think we will see a few more riders at the top level on the road. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a few of our top mountain bikers on the road in the next few years. And they will be very good.
3. At 6’2″ you’re a pretty big guy. What type of rider are you what are your strengths on the bike, and what types of course do you like the most?
MB – Honestly, I am still trying to figure that out. I seem to do well in hilly and long races. I tend to also do fairly well in circuit races with a few good hills. I am pretty skinny so I can usually get over the hills fairly well.
LIFE IN US POSTAL
4. Tell us about life inside US Postal. How has riding for one of the world’s top teams differed from other teams you’ve ridden for?
MB – The team is well organized and all the staff is there for the riders and we are all working together towards the victory. And everybody takes pleasure in the victory. The guys are all nice and generally pretty mellow. All really easy to get alone with. I have learned a lot in the first season and look forward to applying what I have learned next year and in the future. It is great being a part of a team that is making history.
5. Teams like Mapei have been built to field several squads to compete in many different types of races – one day Classics, major Tours, etc, while it’s no secret that US Postal’s main – almost singular focus – is supporting Lance at the Tour de France. What are the opportunities in the team for other riders whose strengths may be different from a supporting role in a major Tour?
MB – I think it is possible for riders to develop on the team. I think it is a great team for devlepment. We do well in many races- the Classics, the Vuelta and all the stage races the team will do in leading up to the Tour. Yes, the Tour is the big one and the focus but I can’t say I went to any events this year in which the team wasn’t trying to place someone on the top step. We were always racing to win. When a rider is around champions he will learn and progress and when you know your leader can win you will lay it on the line for them, give it everything you have and then try for a little more – this will only make you stronger and more confident.
6. How are the Tour teams selected at US Postal? Is there competition within the team to be selected to support Lance at the Tour or Roberto at the Vuelta? (explain?)
MB – The strongest riders at that time are the ones that are chosen. Everybody has different objectives going into the season and we will try to be in top condition for them. Generally it is pretty straight forward which guys are ready to go and which guys aren’t. There may be one or two that are on the same level but there aren’t any hard feelings when one is picked over the other. We do our jobs to the best of our abilities and leave the rest to the directeurs.
7. One thing that US Postal has done very well is build the team and season around winning the Tour.
– Is a rider’s potential to contribute to winning the Yellow jersey a hiring criteria for US Postal?
MB – I would say the first priority is to make a strong team. With a strong team you can win races everywhere and can also have the best Tour team.
– Is there an eye to find riders who can win different types of races?
MB – Yes, the team is built with riders of all sorts of ability – pure climbers, classics guys, time trialists, sprinters and then all rounders. I think our team can win almost any race we enter.
8. It can be said that each team develops it’s own personality as a group, being shaped by the influences of different cultures, languages, leadership and more.
– What type of personality does US Postal have, and how is it viewed by the other teams?
MB – I think the team is extremely respected in the peloton-because of Lance Armstrong and also because the team has shown it is capable of being competitive in the classics or dominant in a Tour. I get the feeling many riders want to be on the team and they look up to the team and organization. It is a benchmark. The team is international but also very American. Everybody speaks English and I think there is naturally a strong American influence within the structure. As well as a Belgian/Spanish influence as much of the staff is native to those to countries. An atmosphere I think everybody is comfortable in-from Pavel to Floyd.
9. You rode your first major tour – the Vuelta – this year, but sadly had to exit “stage left” after a severe crash.
– How did you get selected for the Vuelta squad and what were your goals?
MB – I was riding well earlier in the year and was told I had a chance at doing the Vuelta. For the next few months the Vuelta was my focus and I aimed at being on form there. Going into the race my sole goal was to support Roberto in his bid for overall victory.
– Not every pro is chosen to ride a major tour, and your first selection must be very exciting…what was your attitude going into the race?
MB – I was a little apprehensive as I didn’t really know what to expect but the team had confidence in me and this reassured me that I would be all right. It is a pretty awesome feeling going into a big tour with a leader that can win. Everybody was motivated to get Roberto his second victory.
10. We picked up a photo of you after the crash from Spanish news. The photo was quite shocking – you look a lot like the “Mummy” out for a bike ride, or at least a guy who was trying to shave while on his bike and things got horribly out-of-hand…
– How did the crash happen, what kind of injuries did you sustain?
MB – Four of us crashed going downhill at about 70 km/h. We went off the road on a corner and we were all on the ground. I hit the ground pretty hard but the worst of the injuries occured when I was hit by a motorcycle that couldn’t stop in time. The front wheel was on my stomach while the bike was coming to a stop so I was completely scaped from behind as well as being pretty severelly bruised from the moto on my chest. My wife counted the cuts and I had 30 as well as two broken ribs.
– How did you feel having to leave the race early?
MB – I finished the stage and figured I would see how I felt in the morning. In the morning I couldn’t really get out of bed so I knew riding was out of the question. I wasn’t able to do much for about 3 weeks other than make skin and heal. I was missed by the team in the race, especially when they lost two more riders and needed to help Roberto stay in the jersey. It was tough leaving the race but I am really glad, and fortunate, I wasn’t worse off. It helped I had the support of the team and tried to go as far as I could.
11. At 27, you’re entering your peak years as an athlete. Most pros retire in their early thirties, what would you like to see in the crystal ball for the next 5 years?
MB – I hope to have a family soon. My wife, Dede, is racing as well as going to school and I would love to see her do well next year, on the bike and at university. In the sport I just want to keep progressing and taking a step at a time. Next year I hope to step up a level and help the team in some of the classics as well as in a three week Tour. We never know what tomorrow shall bring…
12. Like so many other “marketing” expenditures around the world, budgets for sponsoring cycling teams are being cut everywhere. Do you have a contract for next year? What will your role be within the team?
MB – Yes, I have a contract with USPS. I think my role will be very similar to my role this season-supporting our leaders.
13. What are your main objectives for next season… and what type of preparation will you do?
MB – I would like to do a few of the big classics, Liege, Amstel, Fleche, as well as another three week Tour. The Nationals and also the Worlds will be big priorities as they are both on a great circuit close to my hometown. Right now I am doing all sorts of sports for training-lifting weights, running, hiking, mountainbiking and riding. I will then start specifying a little more in the Dec. and then we go to training camp in January and the season begins.
ON BEING A BIKE RACER
15. What do you like most about being a bike racer?
MB – Riding my bike and doing long epic races or rides.
16. What have you learned as a professional racer that is valuable in other areas of your life?
MB – To be patient and work hard.
17. If you were not a professional racer, what do you think you would be doing?
MB – Anything from art to law to cooking.
18. What advice would you give to a young rider looking to to be successful in the pro peloton?
MB – Be patient, watch and learn, work hard, keep your head up, and learn to love your bike.
19. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
MB – Thanks to all the commisaires, race directors and all the people that have supported me in Canada since I started cycling.
Thanks for talking with us Michael – best of luck next season!
You can visit Michael’s website at Michael Barry.ca
Or check out the US Postal site at USPS Pro Cycling.com