The last time we spoke to ex-pro Tom Southam he was Rapha Condor’s press officer – but he’s moved on again and is now the man behind the steering wheel in the Drapac team car.
We recently interviewed the Pro Continental squad’s Sam Spokes after his excellent top five placing in the Australian Road race Championship behind IAM’s Heinrich Haussler; since then the team have been rampant with stage wins in the Tour Down Under and most recently the Jayco Herald Sun Tour courtesy of Wouter Wippert and Will Clarke, respectively.
Tom took time recently to chat to VeloVeritas about his move from word processor to team car.
Are you a full time Honorary Aussie these days?
“I’m a resident, I’ve been a resident for a number of years but obviously I’ve been going backwards and forwards for a lot of that time, my passport is British still, however I wouldn’t mind getting one of those new Norwegian passports, they look pretty cool.”
When was your last race – do you miss competing?
“I’m not sure what my last race as an actual bike rider was.
“The last time I really tried in a bike race was the 2011 Tour of Lorraine, the last time I did a bike race as a full time rider was the 2011 Preston GP, but the last actual bike race I did was a four-hour MTB race in Bristol in October.
“I’ve done a few running races, some cyclo-cross and some rowing since retiring from racing, so I clearly still enjoy competing.”
When did you first start thinking about DS-ing?
“I only really considered it seriously this year when I thought about the opportunity to come to Drapac.
“Previously I had done it as a sideline along with the work as a press officer, but when the opportunity came up and I thought about the job I was really motivated to do it full time.”
How did the job come about?
“I’ve obviously known the Drapac set-up for a number of years, and I’ve seen them at races in Asia and the US over the years.
“In that time I’d been really impressed with how they’d developed.
“At the same time my girlfriend is from Melbourne and she fancied spending a bit of time closer to her family so it all came about really quite organically in the end.”
Tell us about Drapac, please – a real estate company, I believe?
“The Drapac Group is a boutique specialist property investment and development company.”
It must be a wrench to leave Rapha Condor?
“It’s always tough to leave somewhere when there are no issues, I still feel quite attached to the team in a way.
“I’ve worked with John Herety as a rider and then in team staff on and off since I was eighteen, and in the six years that I was at the Rapha Condor set up I really enjoyed the experience.
“In particular the last year where we had a really great group of riders, plus staff who all worked well and got along and three great sponsors – who were all passionate about the sport and strong supporters of the team, the environment was really great there, and I think that showed in the results that we got through the year.”
And you must be proud of Hugh Carthy’s move to Caja Rural?
“I’m really pleased for Hugh, obviously.
“He’s a huge talent and I am really glad that we could give him the opportunities that he needed to step up to the next level.
“One of the real pleasures of the year for me was seeing him find the confidence that he needed to take the next step.
“He started going well early on but it wasn’t until Japan where it suddenly clicked for him, and you could see the change almost overnight.
“When he got to Korea he was a confident decisive bike racer, and he didn’t put a foot wrong in that race.”
Back to Drapac; why Pro Continental when much of the racing is UCI Asia Tour – Continental would be less hassle?
“The team has ambitions to develop so in 2015 there will be much less of the Asian calendar, as the team pushes into the bigger international events.
“It is also important for the team to be eligible to get a start at the Tour Down Under, which is a huge thing for the team, for obvious reasons.
[Wippert’s stage win against strong World Tour opposition was a huge home result for Drapac, ed.]
And is it correct the team has World Tour ambitions, eventually?
“Michael Drapac has stated that is where he wants to take the team, and I believe that the organization and the program that they are putting in place will be capable of doing this if they continue to evolve and develop as they have been.”
Tell us about the team for 2015, please.
“It’s an 18-man squad with 14 Australian’s and 4 international riders.
“The team won 17 races last year and had over 30 podiums.
“But next year’s squad is a distinctly stronger team than in previous seasons, with a few key signings.
“Our main ambition has been to build a strong sprint team around Wouter Wippert, but we have also taken on a number of strong climbers such as Tim Roe, and Sam Spokes who both have massive stage race potential.”
How’s the race programme looking ?
“We’ve cut down on a number of the smaller races next year and are looking instead at the bigger races in the US, Asia and Europe.”
What’s the hardware – still Swift frames with SRAM components ?
“Yes, we have the same equipment suppliers for the bikes.”
And still lots of red on the jersey ?
“Yes, but no red shorts, which personally I’m quite pleased about.”
How big is cycle sport in Australia?
“Cycling is in a growth phase much like the one that is being experienced in the UK.”
What are you looking for from season 2015?
“As a team we have certain goals that we have laid out, but my personal ambition is to be a sports director who makes a positive difference to my team through creative thought and a conscientious approach to the tasks that the job entails …”