Ex-British Criterium Champion and Commonwealth Games track medalist James McCallum has recently returned from a few months racing and resting in the antipodes, and is looking forward to getting stuck into the new season with his re-vamped Endura Racing team.
We met James for a good old chinwag: this week over lunch, he turned up at the restaurant looking hungry, and with a huge Endura team bag over his shoulder…
You’ve been out at the Endura factory this morning?
“Yes, I came straight from there. I was doing some PR stuff — head-shots and so on – catching up with Jim McFarlane (Endura Managing Director and team owner), and hearing all the latest about the team’s plans: things have grown a lot in the three months I’ve been away!
“I’m blown away by the amount of work that has gone into the team’s plans, and the passion that everyone in the team, and at the factory, has.”
What’s in the bag?
“Ah well, I can’t tell you much — it’s under wraps until the team presentation.
“What I can say is that the kit that we’ve been given this year is different from last year, in design, colours, everything. It’s world class quality, stunning.
“It’s made personally for us, we’ve all been measured up: chest, waist, arm length, etc., and as a result the kit fits like a glove — even the gloves!”
So, a very different team from last year?
“Absolutely, everything has gone up another rung or ten!
“We struggled with a few things last season, which I think you captured when you spoke to Jim before: things like budget, and planning, we know where we went wrong. Even so, a small team can’t function properly when it’s got three riders out with broken collarbones at the same time…
“However, I think that the first event in the Tour Series last year was a bit of a wake-up call to the team, and to the sponsors, of just where we were relative to the others, and what work we needed to put in to lift ourselves up to the level we wanted to be at.
“I remember last year telling some of the younger lads in the team about targets, reminding of them of the team’s mission statement — sometimes heads went down when they realised that their own personal targets needed to put aside for the benefit of the team’s goals.
“But this year it’s a different game altogether, we’re all committed to working as a unit, as professionals, to doing it properly. After all, we’re all getting paid to do this.
“If you don’t do something right, there’s always a consequence, and the end result of not approaching the racing correctly will be to not reach the success we can.
“But, if we do everything we think we can, the result will be a happy Jim, and a happy Jim will keep investing in the sport.”
The additions to the team?
“We have a fantastic roster now, with some great riders added — for example, ex-World Champion Rob Hayles will be rider/manager.
“Other riders like Ian Wilkinson and Welsh Champion Rob Partridge bring a lot of experience and firepower to the lineup too, so with Scottish Champion Ross Creber, and Jack Bauer winning the New Zealand Champs, we have three National Champions in the squad!
“My old chum Garry Beckett has joined the team as DS – I last worked with him at Plowman Craven. He’s very experienced, and has lots of contacts. He’ll be great for the team, and will keep us on our toes – he doesn’t like laziness or unprofessional behaviour.”
You did: well at the Track Nationals last year.
“Yes, Evan Oliphant and I went to the Nationals needing to place top eight in a final, as a part of the Scottish Commonwealth Games Team selection criteria.
“When we got to Manchester though, we were both ill, and weren’t really looking to achieve anything.
“In the end though, we both got top eight in the Scratch Race, which was one objective ticked off the list.”
Then you got some international racing in: too?
“Yeah, after the Nationals I raced in Barcelona, then Holland, then Evan and I went over to Columbia with Craig MacLean and Kate Cullen.
“The racing was at the track in Medellin, and boy it was hard — the likes of Escobar and Godfrey were all there, going well. Awang too — he was impressive, won a lot and made some pretty serious money.”
Did you get a chance to look around the place?
“Yes, a little. We went to see Escobar’s place, which was amazing.
“Generally, moving about the country was a weird experience – we were escorted around Bogota by armed guards! When we drove down the slip road to get onto the motorway, these guys would go ahead of us and stop the traffic to let us onto the road!”
And then you were off to Oz?
“Yes, we went to Perth first of all, Evan and I.
“We rode the Perth International, which had some good young Aussies competing, and then we did the Tour of Perth, more hard racing — Graeme Brown, the Meier brothers… I did my usual working like stink for Evan, who managed to make top ten, so it was worth it.
“Around now though, I was thinking ‘I’ve been racing since March, it’s November now, what am I doing?!’ — I’d kinda had enough.
“I went to Melbourne to see some pals, and had a great time, just chilling out and riding – there are tons of decent riders there, and I rode a lot, coffee runs, just to tick over.”
But you were seen at the ‘Tuesday Worlds’ in New Zealand?
“Ah yes, the famous ‘Tuesday Worlds’ in Christchurch! I went over to NZ for Christmas and New Year to see my pal Jason Allen (we were teammates at Plowman Craven), and went out on these rides — awesome… the likes of Hayden Roulston out on these rides ripping it up, in the middle of his training for the NZ Road Nats.
“My fiancee came over for Christmas and New Year, so that was lovely to see her, and we had a really chilled time, I was still riding my bike but trying to ride easy; I somehow managed to get in 100 hours on the bike in five weeks!”
You left your post with Scottish Cycling?
“Yes I did. I just want to give Endura Racing a really good shot, and with the level of training I need to do, I don’t have time to do another job.
“I have a one year contract with Endura Racing (I think we’re all the same), so it’s up to us to prove ourselves and make of it what we can. Everything in the team, the UCI Licence and so on, is in place now, nice and early, so it’s ‘forward, with the team!'”
What’s the early season shaping up like?
“It’s looking good, we have some fantastic races in France to get our teeth into, and a training camp in Nice too.
“We’ll be staying at Stephen Roche’s hotel, and I hear Stephen himself will be on hand to help us with our training, the routes, and the details.”
And those early races?
“Well, first up is Le Tour Méditerranéen, five stages, starting on the 10th of February. This will be amazing, and brutal. There’s a bunch of ProTour teams on the start list, Astana, Rabobank, Garmin, FDJ…
“After that, we’re doing Haut Var on the 20th… with an even longer list of top teams! There’s us, two top French Continental squads, Roubaix Lille Metropole and Saur – Sojasun, and the rest of the field is ProTour. It’ll be interesting to ride in the same race as Sky.
“Some of the guys come home after Haut Var, but the rest of us: move to Spain for the five-day Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia, that starts on the 3rd of March. Last year, apart from a Spanish national team and a regional select, this was all ProTour as well…”
Will you be keeping us up-to-date?
“Endura will have a section on their web site for: rider blogs, so I’ll be blogging as much as I can, and Evan and I are lucky enough to be getting Braveheart funding: this season so we’ll be keeping a blog on the go on their site as well.”
How do you prepare for races like Haut Var and Murcia here in snowy Scotland?
“Ha, it’s hard, but we manage – I hope!
“For example, yesterday Evan and I did our now regular brutal session turbo for an hour, with intervals, 3 minutes on — seven of them, then two hours at threshold or just above, followed by an hour behind the motorbike, which Graeme Herd rides for us.
“I did some physiological testing recently, and that was hard going — Evan and I were at the lab for over seven hours, doing all sorts of tests! Still, at least I know that my five minute power is now over 400 watts, so I’m feeling pretty good right now.
“In the past we’ve popped over to the Alkmaar velodrome in the Netherlands for training and testing — it’s much easier to get track time there than Manchester — and we’ll do that again this year. In lieu of access to an aerospace wind-tunnel, it’s a great way to get your TT bike setup properly, and fine-tune your position under reproduceable conditions using the power meter as a guide to how well you’re dialing things in.”
How do you imagine you’ll do at the Tour of the Med?
“Oh, we’re under no illusions — we’re going to get clobbered! These races are a new level for most of us — we’ve no idea at this point what to expect, but we do know that we’ll get a kicking.
“These races will be savage, but each kicking against ProTour riders will help us raise our level, plus, it’s so exciting to be there, racing up the legendary Mont Faron on the last stage. I know the climb’s history, and have watched videos of the racing to try to get a better idea. Of course, Rob will be a huge help here, as he has tons of experience from his time with Cofidis.
“At the same time though, the camp and those brutal races will be a great team building period.”
What about internal controls in the team?
“As UCI Continental team we don’t have to take part in the Whereabouts System or the Biological Passport, but we’re keen to do as much as we can off our own backs.
“For example, we’ve approached the Scottish Institute of sport to see if there’s the possibility of conducting internal tests.
“Transparency within our team is so important, and Jim McFarlane has left everyone in no doubt about his zero tolerance approach to conducting ourselves correctly at all times; if anyone is found to be ‘kitting up’ or behaving inappropriately for any reason, they’re out – simple as that.”
Last year the idea was that the riders would feedback to Endura about the clothing…
“Yes, and we did — lots of it! I’m not saying that the kit was lacking in any way, but our remit was to make it better, so we were encouraged to be really nit-picky.”
Is anything you fedback on now part of the new designs?
“Oh yes, for sure. Things like having longer arms on the jersey — I’ve got quite large shoulders, and the jersey sleeves used to ride up a bit when I was on the drops — what jerseys don’t? The new kit addresses that, the sleeves are longer, and stay in place thanks to grippers — really smart.
“I felt that the kit needed to be more aero — like Cervelo’s, almost like skinsuit material, and that’s been taken on board too.
“The new range of clothing is called “Equipe” — it’ll be higher end product, available in standard colourways off-the-peg or to custom order as well. Endura are still going to provide the products they do now, and will offer Equipe as the high end choice — to go against some of the very expensive, and yet popular (or in vogue) brands that are around at the moment.
“Jim was telling me this morning that he has lots of retailers taking the range on, so it’s looking good — this kit is the future!
“This year, it’s the same idea, only even more organised we all have a log book, in which we are required to record our training hours in which particular kit, what we wear and when, how and how often we wash it, etc. It all goes back to Endura to help them develop the product.”
What bikes are the team going to be on?
“We’re riding top of the range Looks, really nice 595 and 585 frames, with SRAM equipment — Red for the race bikes, and Force for the training bikes.
“The time trial bikes will be 596’s with Red.”
The Team Presentation tomorrow — you excited?
“Yes, I’m looking forward to it, it should be a great buzz. It’s down at Silverstone, and apparently there are going to be over a hundred journalists there.
“There’s real excitement about the team – even Bradley Wiggins has tweeted about us, and Rob joining as captain.
“There’s still one more rider to be announced , but I’m not allowed to say any more than that…”
James, whats your view on Team Sky’s presentation and approach?
“I think there are lots of good ideas in that team, but maybe some spin in there too?
“Dave Brailsford makes it his mission to obtain all the relevant information he needs, which then gives him the power to make the correct decisions. He’s certainly doing it the right way, using top guys on the staff, and leaving no margin for guessing.
“For example, say I think I need to lose a bit of weight — what’s the use of me just guessing that 3 kilos should be about right? Instead, how it should be done is to engage with a physiologist and a dietitian, do the job properly and professionally be immersed in a pod to figure out exactly how much weight is fat, how much is muscle, and work out the dietary plans from there. No guesswork.
“We have to take things seriously now — this is our job! Jim has put so much into this team, financially and emotionally, everything, we all have to treat it with the respect and seriousness it deserves.”
Do you reckon you haven’t taken it seriously before now?
“Well, until recently I was working for Scottish Cycling as well as riding for Endura and before that Plowman Craven. I was probably operating at 80% of my potential, for various reasons.
“I think that maybe I just wasn’t ready to go full-time before now, mentally or physically. I’ve a good understanding of my body these days, I know when I’m tired and how hard I can train without wrecking things — I know I can push myself pretty hard these days.
“Also, I’m getting married at the end of the year, and I guess something has just clicked with me — it’s time to grow up and knuckle down!”
So, have your goals changed?
No, not really, same as before; crits.
“That said, I want to do a ride at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and my other objectives are the Tour Series again, the British Championships, and the team are aiming at securing an invitation to the Tour of Britain , so getting into that race, and showing ourselves with a stage win would make it a great season.”
With thanks to James for making time to meet up with us, and wishing him and the team all the very best for those races on the Med! Despite being hungry, James only had a bowl of soup and some herbal tea, what a pro.