Amore & Vita, the sunshine and glamour of the Italian pro scene; scorching Australian road race championships; Girvan on a cold April Monday afternoon — Tom Southam has seen it all.
We caught up with the man with esoteric musical taste on a cold February afternoon — after he’d just done three hours.
Winters are in Bendigo, Australia now I believe, Tom?
“Yeah, last year was great, I came back a month later; I had September until January in the sun. I was back earlier this year because we had the Rapha-Condor training camp in Malaga.”
Franco Marvulli and Leif Lampater are going out to ride the Bendigo Madison this year.
“Yeah, so are Rob Hayles and Pete Kennaugh, I think they’ll take a bit of beating, but the local guys Glenn O’Shea and Leigh Howard are flying just now. The Madison is a great occasion, practically the whole town attends, I was there in 2007 — it was a great day out.”
Where’s ‘home’ in the UK?
“Near Bristol, its great training country, you’re close to the Mendip Hills and the airport is only five minutes away.”
You were a precocious talent; second in the British elite road champs at just 20.
“Yeah, it was a good day, but it’s a long time ago now — put it down to the exuberance of youth! That was 2002; I was second again in 2004 and it’s a race I’d like a good result in, this year.”
Tell us about Amore & Vita.
“I got the ride through Jamie Burrow; he was on the team and put a word in for me. I was riding the Bayern Rundfahrt with GB; they saw the way I was riding and I went to them soon after that. It was a good year and the team was well organised; I was 23, having a great time, not making a fortune — but it didn’t matter.”
Barloworld was next.
“I got a much better offer from them and it was a proper big pro team.
“Since them Barloworld has grown, riding the Giro and Tour but Amore & Vita has stayed at ‘feeder team’ level — but that’s where they’re happy.
“Of the guys that were on Amore & Vita with me, two are with Liquigas and two are with Lotto.”
And then you were gone!
“I just got sick of cycling; the pro end of the sport anyway.
“From the outside looking in it’s glamorous and seems great. But if you’re embroiled it, there’s an awful lot of in-fighting and double dealing, especially in Italy.
“You fight to become a pro and race at the highest level, but you want to enjoy it once you get there; I just felt that it was time to re-assess.”
Then you re-appeared with the Aussie Drapac team.
“I’d been to Australia before and my girl friend was Australian; I had three months away from the bike and then I bumped into Scott McGrory at Bendigo and we talked about my getting a ride with them.
“It was just for fun, without riding as a full professional; but it ended up just being frustrating because I wasn’t approaching it properly. I’d have six days off the bike between races and I wasn’t looking after myself in terms of what I was eating and drinking.
“Mentally, I was still pro with Barloworld, but physically I didn’t have the condition, I’d think; ‘I’ll just bridge that gap,’ but of course, I didn’t have the condition to do what was in my mind — I had my ambitions and capabilities mixed up!”
It was a pretty cosmo programme with Drapac.
“I’d never been to Asia until I signed with them; we rode in Korea, Taiwan, Tasmania — we had a good, big block of solid stage race riding.”
Then last year was Halfords.
“Drapac offered me to go full time, but I decided to speak to John Herety; he had a word with David Brailsford and I signed for Halfords. The team was just me and Rob Hayles; we looked after ourselves all year – there was money, but no team car, our wives would do the feeds for us at races.
“It was a good year and fantastic when Rob won the elite road race; we both made the lead group and it was great to be part of that.”
Why go to Rapha-Condor?
“I know John Herety very well and I wanted to be part of his set up. I also wanted to be part of a team where the riders are friends as well as team mates — Darren Lapthorne, Kristian House and Simon Richardson are all guys I know and like.
“I originally spoke to John at the Tour of Britain last year – we didn’t know if Halfords were going to continue into 2009 and I wanted to go to Australia for the winter knowing what I was coming back to; ‘a bird in the hand…’”
You rode the Aussie road champs.
“Yes, the circuit isn’t far from Bendigo — I had a lot of local support, so did Evan Oliphant. It’s a tough circuit, very little flat and the temperature makes it even more difficult. It was a hard race, a lot of DNF and the winner was a bit of a surprise, Peter McDonald got the better of two Pro Tour guys — Mick Rogers and Adam Hansen from Columbia.”
Rapha-Condor is off to South Africa to start the season.
“Yes, we have another training camp in Malaga then we head to SA for the Giro del Cappo, I’ve been there before from my Barloworld days; I’m looking forward to the weather!”
What are the goals for ’09?
“The Tour of Britain is the high light, it’s an international stage race right here in Britain — a stage or wearing a jersey would be great. The National road champs is another one I’m looking forward to.
“We have a good programme of international stage racing — something that was missing last year. I prefer stage racing to single days; we have the Tour of Normandie, Tour of Japan and hopefully the Qinghai Lakes.”
Would you ‘go Euro’ again?
“I don’t know, it could happen; it’s hard for me to race without ambition – that was what made it difficult at Drapac. Here I have goals, one of which is to grow the sport in the UK.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to Italy; the double dealing and back stabbing is terrible. Where I am I have the best of both worlds; I’m UK based, racing with a good set up but have a solid international programme.”
I was looking at you website — you like your music.
“Yeah, I actually went to see Gaslight Anthem last week, they were even better live. Part of being a pro is that you are always travelling and I read a lot of music magazines when I’m on the move.
“I listen to music on the MP3 on the bike and there’s always music on in the house. I ask other folk what they are listening to — John Herety is really into his music, he has a great collection.”
Tom will be on Scottish roads in April, for Girvan — I’ll ask him then if he knows where I can get that Bay City Rollers compilation.
With thanks to Tom and wishing him and all at Rapha-Condor every success in 2009.