Cycling has perhaps more than it’s fair share of dreamers – take New Zealand’s Pure Black Continental team as a ‘for instance.’
After a solid 2011 season with much talk of moving up to the Pro Continental ranks in the near future came…nothing.
The team’s ambitions came to naught as the money ran out.
One of the riders left high and dry by the demise was Tim Gudsell – originally a track specialist, the Kiwi landed a contract with F des J for season 2007 after a 2006 stagiaire ride gained by winning the 2006 Tour du Haut Anjou – he stayed with the French equipe for four subsequent seasons.
But it’s fair to say that the French squad never saw the best of him during a career which was compromised by injury but still saw him ride two Giros and a Vuelta.
The 2011 season in the colours of Pure Black saw him back on the ‘up’ with a stage win and third on GC in New Zealand’s biggest race, the Tour of the Southland and a win in the prestigious US Tour of Somerville – but that was before the team collapsed.
Although still in good enough shape to post good results in his home land in 2012, Gudsell decided to call ‘time’ on his career as a pro and changed direction.
He recently took time to tell VeloVeritas his tale; it seems just like yesterday that Vik, Dave Meek and I were chatting to him the night before the 2009 Gent-Wevelgem…
Season 2011 was a good one for you with some nice results – the Tour of Somerville and third overall and a stage in the Southland for instance.
“Yes 2011 did have some really good points where at times I found the form which enabled me to pro back in 2006.
“The race programme didn’t have a lot of consistency throughout the season but I did build the foundation for the following season, and I sustained no injuries – which was a real bonus.”
What happened with Pure Black – they had big ambitions…
“Economic times weren’t great in New Zealand so sponsorship was thin; however there was a real lack of communication amongst the team’s management and all the riders – who were really left high and dry with no contracts in mid December.
“There was an attempt to continue the team, but there were no paid jobs for the guys who actually had careers as cyclists.”
You were still competitive in 2012, why quit?
“It was a really tough decision, and sure one I’ll look back on at some point and wonder why I made it so soon.
“I put all the factors together, where I was at physically, what I wanted out of the sport, how long it would take to get back to the top, where I was in my personal life, and what I wanted achieve outside of the sport.
“By late Feb I really handed it in, though I kept riding a little just in case a spot did arise on a team.
“My wife, family, long time coach/mentor Graham Bunn, and European based coach/mentor Leigh Bryan all helped me through it, but in the end I had to make a call.”
What made you decide to start up Ventouro – and where does the name come from?
“Ventouro came about after about six month’s worth of discussions with a couple of friends and family.
“It then took another six months to find creative director Sam Brodie who master minded the branding of Ventouro and the word itself.
“A made-up word which is an amalgamation of ‘adventure’ and ‘tour’ with a Italian accent placing it in the tradition of Colnago, Campagnolo, Passo etc.
“The ‘Ve’ is a familiar cycle sound with ‘Velo’ being used frequently. It already feels familiar for those reasons.
“Our aim is to offer a full range of cycling services, and also promote NZ at the same time.
“We want to educate the general rider to improve and enjoy riding bikes at whatever level they are aiming for.”
You do training camps and tours?
“Our training camps are modeled off your traditional ‘pro’ camp, which I spent a lot of time at during my years at FDJ.
“I know how beneficial they can be, with experienced staff like Cath Cheatley (ex pro and NZ champ) and Kris Withington (ex Garmin Sharp mechanic) and myself we aim to educate the riders in a short intensive weekend; but still enjoy a cold beer or wine at the end of the day.
“Our tours are based in New Zealand’s great wine regions from Hawkes Bay to Central Otago.
“We guide guests around a range of vineyards and local attractions while getting in some great riding on beautiful quite NZ roads.”
What can you expect from a Ventouro tour?
“You can expect to enjoy handpicked accommodation; experienced guides, a good helping of local cuisine, wine and culture, and riding that will blow you away.”
How did 2013 go for the business?
“We launched the website and our range of services in August, and so far have had a great reception from everyone who has seen it.
“We are treading a lot of new territory so teething problems are always going to happen, but so far so good.
“It is a huge challenge, and of course there is a lot of risk involved.
“However there is really very little security in professional cycling so I am used to it in a way.
“My wife and I have been putting in some long hours already so hopefully they will pay off in time.”
How’s 2014 looking?
“Our calendar has filled up fast and the demand for some of our services has been huge.
“For example we have sold out our first women’s camp so will be putting on more throughout the year, we have also sold out our first two Hawkes Bay Tours in April.
“We are also in discussions with a range of other businesses and brands about some other really exciting collaborations; so who knows what will come of those.”
Do you work the old ‘contacts book’ hard?
“Haha, well, it has come out a few times.
“We have a small group going to the Tour Down Under this month, and the guest will be treated to the most personal encounters with the riders that any tour will ever have.
“I spent a few long K’s in the wind during my time in the pro peloton, and those guys really appreciated it so they are happy to help out now with my new venture.”
Who’s your typical client?
“We cover the whole cycling spectrum, from beginners to the racers.
“The camps are great to help lift riders’ abilities quickly with the team car support, people really feel confident to push themselves.
“Currently I am coaching a 60 year old to beat his time in fun rides, a professional young woman aiming to take the national title this week, and a 12 year old up and coming triathlete.”
And you have your own clothing, now?
“Yes it just landed from Italy on Christmas Eve!
“We put a lot of thought into, and then had it designed by Sam Brodie as well.
“With the collaboration of Giordana we feel we have come up with a great fresh look and the right level of quality to perform at any level.”
Is the Sportiv/Fondo scene catching on big in New Zealand?
“The Sportiv/Fondo season is in full swing here.
“It has been a good level for a few years now but there now new events popping up all over the place.
“The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge is the biggest of them all and attracts around 10,000 cyclists every year.”
You must still be on the bike a lot – but do you get clients ‘having a go’ to sort you out as a former Giro and Vuelta rider?
“Ha ha, yeah, it happens now and again, mainly the young ones.
“I don’t ride too much now juggling the business and a young family, but I try to get out couple of times a week if possible.”
How big is cycling in New Zealand, would the general public know who Aaron Gate is?
“It will be very difficult to get over our mainstream sports like rugby, cricket and netball.
“But there are now people getting into the sport at all ages and that’s great.
“I would like to think they would know of Aaron and he’s recently been nominated for a Halberg award alongside Worlds and Olympic track medallist Simon van Velthooven – it’s New Zealand’s highest sporting awards and that’s awesome for them and the sport.”
Has the general downturn in cycling sponsorship reached New Zealand?
“Yo would have to say it has with Pure Black Racing and also the long standing Subway team disappearing; however some smaller teams are now appearing again.
“Like L&M Group Race (NZ Cycling Project) who are building slowly but setting the right foundations for a real team.”
What were the hi-lites of your pro career?
“Being in the team when Phil Gilbert won Paris Tours was a real buzz, and riding the like of the Giro and Paris-Roubaix were boyhood dreams.”
Regrets/with hindsights on your pro career?
“Yes, always easy in hindsight, I should have retired from the NZ track team earlier as I didn’t have the easiest time juggling the road and track, but an Olympic medal was such a big pull especially after sitting on the sidelines at Athens.
“I probably didn’t need to start a Grand Tour like the Giro as a neo Pro, and given my time again I would have moved my base down to the Cote d’Azur earlier as the advice and direction I got from guys and the support crew down there was invaluable.
“But hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?”