We recently spoke to former Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke about his move into cycling agency work – and Simon Gerrans has already been busy winning the Aussie Elite Championship and Tour Down Under. But who helped these Aussie stars on their way to the top of international cycling? One of the men who did was a certain Dave Sanders – but Mr. Sanders isn’t just a man who has read a lot of books and can work a laptop.
He was a hard riding man in his day – back in the 70’s he raced in the UK in the Archer Road Club’s famous ‘Aussie Squad’ with Bradley’s dad, Gary Wiggins and recent VeloVeritas interview subject Murray Hall.
Here’s his tale:
Tell us about the 70’s Archer RC connection, please Dave.
“I was in the next wave of Ozzy riders after Murray Hall had made a good relationship with Stuart Benstead, the head man at the Archer in previous years.
“My Brother John, Gary Wiggins, Malcolm Hill Robin Croker amongst some others all arrived there in ‘74.
“Stu B. looked after us until we found our feet.”
What was it like arriving in London with a suitcase and a bike in the 70’s?
“It was pretty daunting really; I arrived with two bikes a back pack and £60 total.
“We walked out of Heathrow and thought; “what now?”
“Luckily we had the Benstead connection to give us some guidance.”
What was the dream?
“To be honest the dream was just adventure and to try and survive from racing a bike.
“See the World and maybe try to step up the ranks. I was still recovering from a fractured vertebra the year before so it took me a while to really get going.”
Where did you stay in London?
“Gary Wiggins, Malcolm Hill and I initially shared a flat that we saw advertised on a board in Earls Court.
“Then we met some people and stayed a various places. In 75/76 I was in Europe more but stayed with Pete (Lou) Wilson out in Cuffley in Hertfordshire when I was in GB.
“He was a great guy and was good to me and my brother John during those years.”
It must have been tight for money; did you have to live off prize money?
“Yes I had almost no backup funds so we just had to race for meagre prize money and primes to survive. I once ended up in hospital with stomach cramps and they told me I was malnourished.
“But we survived somehow. Gary Wiggins and I once applied for a job driving taxi cabs somewhere in London. When we walked in for the interview it was an Ozzy guy that we knew from a cycling family back home.
“We did that for a while but it got in the way of training and racing so we went back on the bike. I also worked one winter for Watkins electrical company owned by the Munns family who were also connected to cycling.”
What were your best results in the UK?
“I was a member of the Archer Cutty Sark team that won the GB National Team Pursuit title in ‘74. There’s also a great story where we were asked if any of us wanted to ride the GB Tandem Sprint Championship at Paddington track.
“Gary Wiggins had done a bit of tandem racing so he said; “yeah, we will have a go at it”. Unfortunately the “we” included me. Well, we won our way through to the final against Dave Le Grys and not sure of his partner that day; maybe Geoff Cooke?
“Anyway they jumped us early but we were coming around them in the bend after the bell when Dave turned right into us. I’ll give him the benefit of saying he lost control; but whatever, we ended up into and over the fence.
“We were both out cold and woke up in hospital to be told that we had been awarded the All England Tandem Championship. That was the end of my tandem career – I still have the scars to remember it by.”
Tell us about Gary Wiggins…
“Gary was a very complex character. We were pretty close mates when we were young. When I first met him he was just knocking about in a rough country town hanging around pubs playing pool etc.
“I quite enjoyed his rough side as I was a bit of a rebel as well at the time. Then he got back into racing but wasn’t all that flash at first.
“We travelled to England together in ‘74 and he started to improve dramatically. I believe that he had a huge natural motor but had never trained or lived properly back home so we had not seen his potential. With the regular racing and nothing else to do but train all day he really stepped up.
“He continued improving and made it into the big league in the Six Days. Gary could be a great guy. There were times when I was struggling for money or whatever and he would not hesitate to step in and shout a meal or lend a hand.
“But he also had a very dark side that eventually led to his self-destruction – I see a lot of him in Bradley. The huge athletic motor and the single minded approach to his sporting achievements. But Bradley is devoted to his family whereas Gary lost his way there at times.”
You had some nice results in GB and Europe but chose to go back to Australia – why?
“Yes, well, there seemed to be pretty limited opportunities in those days. We were struggling over there on our own with almost zero assistance from anyone.
“I had thought that I would stay on for many years and make my home in Europe, but one day I just thought; “what am I doing here?”
“Life is pretty comfortable in Oz with a good cycling scene and I just missed my family and friends. These days our guys just flit over and back and it’s all paid for and well resourced. They were different times and I do sometimes wonder what could have been.
“But I enjoyed the adventure of the time. And that was all it was.”
And you had Six Day wins of your own…
“Yes, Murray Hall and I became a successful madison combination. We won the Tasmanian Six Day twice; all the good guys down here rode it and it was televised live on TV.
“It was a pretty big deal at the time. We also won the Australian Madison championship.
“Murray was a great mate has been an inspiration to me as an athlete and in business etc. in our lives since.”
Did you never fancy the European Six Day circuit?
“Yes, for sure. Whereas many young guys dream of riding the Tour de France, I just idolised the Six Day boys.
“Don Allan and Danny Clarke were the big Ozzy team at the time and they were my heroes. I never really got the opportunities at the time and I came home before I got the chance.
“These days we would just go back and force our way in if we were good enough but it was challenging just to survive in those days.”
The records show you were 14 years a pro – that’s a long career…
“I don’t think it was quite that long but I still retired before I should have, really. I was still getting stronger every year after breaking my back twice and some serious crashes.
“But I had a business opportunity arise and the time had come. I came back at various times but never had the time to really get back to the top again.”
What was the Aussie home scene like back then?
“It was a good scene really; but very internal – we had our local heroes and a good racing scene. There were a lot of great track carnivals with various sports including sprint and distance running events.
“These were great times and there was plenty of money to be made around the country. I made a reasonable living from all these for several years. The big Tasmanian Carnivals still exist and the money is still there but support is dying and many of the regional events around the country have died away.
“The road scene was good but there was no, or very little money on offer so I many concentrated on the track in those days.”
What did you do after you stopped racing – and today?
“I first worked in construction before being a partner in a long haul transport business. Then I went into my own bike shop for a decade or so. But the last 20 years I have been a professional cycling coach; I’m head coach of cycling at the Victorian Institute of Sport.
“I’m in charge of all disciplines and we have some excellent coaches with us. I personally have drifted into predominantly road and track endurance coaching. Some of the guys that have come through my program over the years and I still work with today are;
– Cadel Evans (Tour de France & World Champion)
– Simon Gerrans (Milan San Remo win & TdF Yellow jersey holder)
– Simon Clarke (Tour of Spain Mountain Jersey winner)
– Baden Cooke (TdF Green jersey winner)
– Brett Lancaster (Tour of Italy prologue winner and Pink Jersey holder)
– Matt Lloyd (Mountain Jersey Tour of Italy)
“And there are many more.
“Plus about 30 junior World champions over the years.
“I am the DS/Manager of the National Senior teams when racing in Australia, (Tour Down Under etc.) I am also the Junior National Road coach and take our best young guys to Europe every year for their pre Worlds Campaign. I as yet haven’t won a Junior World road title but have been second twice in the last four years. I have won a couple of ITT World Championships though.
“This year I am starting a new position as a specialist coach for some of our Pro Tour guys. I will be running some altitude camps and pre Tour and pre Worlds prep camps in Europe. I also had the pleasure of having two sons who could pedal a bit as well.
“Number one son Ben was a triple Oceania (Southern Hemisphere) Champion in sprinting on the track. He won a silver medal at the Worlds and the Famous Austral Wheelrace here in Oz.
“Number two son, Rick won three National Junior championships and was second in two. He was the closest of fourth places in a World title.
“They have given me some great moments.”
Any ‘with hindsights’/regrets on your career?
“Yes, many thoughts about what could have been now I know a lot more about this caper than I/we did back then. To be honest I never really had the dream of being the best in the world, I just wanted to be a part of it all and see the world and try and make a living from cycling as long as I could.
“It has turned out that I have done that although not as I may have imagined in the first place.
“I certainly regret retiring before I should have as I was still improving and had a few really good years left in me at the time. I have been very fortunate to have been around to witness our sport blossom from predominantly a European stronghold to a truly global sport.
“It is now recognised and enjoyed by the general public as well as the purists like us. It has survived some tough challenges and is still growing in popularity.
“It has given me a great life and the adventure that I was seeking.”