Yes, we know, it’s still Classics Season – albeit VeloVeritas’s resident soothsayer Viktor maintains the season finishes with Paris-Roubaix and everything thereafter is a ‘Glamour Race’ – but Rio will be upon us before we know it and we felt we had to record the retirement of a man who we’d expected to be a mainstay of the New Zealand team pursuit squad in Brazil but who has decided to bow out before the Olympics; Marc Ryan.
Not for Ryan the ‘stay at home’ mentality of the GB team pursuit riders; he based himself in Belgium and for a decade and more has been one of the World’s top team pursuiters as well as battling the ‘Kermis Kings’ in Flanders.
He’s been a multiple Kiwi champion, World Cup winner, Commonwealth and Olympic medallist and a World Champion – here’s what he had to say to us recently…
Why quit now – what about Rio?
“For myself and also the team now is a good time to stop.
“I know the progress the boys are making and that there’s a lot of depth in the team.
“I’m not getting any younger and this is a complete new generation of riders – power type sprint riders that can go the distance.
“Rio would have been nice way to go out, but I also have to think of the group of guys we have and the limit on the numbers we can take.”
How many seasons have you raced?
“At Elite Worlds I have ridden 14.
“I missed one Worlds in 2013, when we didn’t send a team pursuit (after the Olympics) plus I had already semi retired…ha! Well that’s what I thought…”
Who were your role models as a young rider?
“New Zealand track riders I had as close family were Glen Thomson (Commonwealth Games points race gold 1998) and also Tim Carswell (current national endurance coach).
“I was lucky enough as a young fellow to hang out with these guys and go away and ride road tours when I was a junior. I would finish miles out the back but they would always be there to get me ready for next stage.
“I learnt a lot from guys like that and they also motivated me to do what I have achieved.”
How did you get into team pursuiting – and on the national squad?
“Team pursuiting back then was only really at national championships, we didn’t even have an indoor velodrome.
“I got into the track squad in my second year senior and it was definitely a massive change compared to what I had come from; I was a young kid who loved to party and have a good time, I trained when I wanted to then I got by on natural talent.
“We had one of the hardest headed coaches you could come across in Charlie Walsh. I would get sent home early from training; but what I learnt from him over the space of 15 months was invaluable – I’ll never forget the knowledge he passed on, and it was his words which have always stuck with me throughout my career.”
What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed in the event?
“Gearing has changed a lot, but that’s progressed throughout my career so I haven’t come back and gone ‘Jeez !’ are they actually riding that big now?
“Biggest change would be the sport science side – every nation uses it now, some better than others and that shows in the results.
“It takes the guesswork out and of it when you’ve been collecting data on each individual rider over the years.
“There’s no hiding – not in one effort.”
As you say, the gear sizes have risen dramatically – meaning more gym work, how have you adapted to that?
“It hasn’t been a massive shift for me having adapted to it over time. The gym has been a big part though, yes – and that has been introduced to us over the last couple of years.
“There’s an art to riding a massive gear in team pursuit and that’s the mistake some teams make as once they drop pace in last 1500 metres of a ride they can’t come back.
“If you are going to go for big gearing you have to be precise with delivery and that’s one thing Great Britain as very good at.”
Can you remember your first team pursuit time for 4 K – and what’s your best?
“First team pursuit with seniors for NZ would have been at Oceania games in 2003; I’m pretty sure we won. I had come mid-year from my road season in France and had a point to prove to Charlie Walsh; initially it wasn’t the ‘A’ team I rode with but there was a training camp before the Games and I was flying.
“I rode second wheel and was pulling double lap turns, I probably wasn’t fast but it still felt good being able to do it.”
[We make Marc’s fastest a 3:54 in the 2015 Worlds, ed.]
Who would your three favourite team mates be?
“I can’t answer that one.
“Do you know how many riders have come and gone through the team pursuit during my career?
“NZ has a unique culture – I haven’t been in any of our teams where someone really dislikes another rider.
“Not just within each squad either, that’s throughout all squads.
“I have had so many great memories with so many different riders; I could tell you a great story about every single one of my team mates that have come, gone and are presently in the team.”
What was the best day of your career?
“There are a few that stand out – winning the Worlds is something I’ll never forget, getting that rainbow jersey that I have chased for so many years.
“Then the big one would be the first Olympic bronze medal we did that off a shoestring budget and were an outside chance. We didn’t win but that bronze medal felt like gold to us. Being able to do it with your best mates was unreal feeling, it was basically the foundation of what we have today.
“It got the money side rolling which in return meant more resources and Cycling NZ has gone from strength to strength and grown to what it is today.”
You never turned pro?
“No; it did interest me when I went to Europe and tried, but back in those days even in amateur level it wasn’t the cleanest, I was getting my head kicked-in at every race.
“I choose the track as it was something I loved, being with the boys and being able to compete.
“If I was younger or my career was later I would have definitely tried a lot harder to ride on the road; my last few seasons in Belgium I enjoyed it wasn’t always at the highest level but was nice to be able to control races or know you can show up with the possibility of winning.”
What will you miss most about your Belgian home?
“My Belgium family and the beer!
“You can buy some of the beer here in NZ but I’ll miss the tradition of sitting down in an old cafe with all the history around you.
“Or going to a kermis and having the depth of passion for the sport that only Belgium has and I’ll miss all the people I have met over the years, it’s like my second nation – I love the place.”
What’s your prediction for the team pursuit podium for Rio?
“Kiwis, Brits and the Aussies, ‘though I’m not sure what order! But I can’t see any other teams coming close.
“I’m not sure if the world record will go there – it’ll depend on the track and the conditions. Technology has really pushed to the limits already and with the current rules it’s hard to get the marginal gains.
“We will see though – it is the Olympics, after all.”
Regrets in your career?
“No, no real regrets.
“I’ve spoken to people about my career and the only ‘regret’ I would have would be the individual pursuit in Cali – I missed out on qualifying for the final by less than a second, I wasn’t super-motivated because I didn’t have a great team pursuit and was pretty relaxed, my bike wasn’t in the gate properly (like, it was loose).
“If I reset my bike and used the gate like I normally would I probably would have been in final, then who knows what would have happened.”
What’s the plan now?
“A bit of down time now… I’m still out on my bike when weather is good. I still love it, but it’s also nice to know that I don’t have to go to the track to suffer.
“I will be going through plans to see what I can give back to the sport that has given me so much.”