“For all you cycling fans – remember the name Jack Bobridge. His future’s bright.”
This was the famous tweet from Lance Armstrong two years ago, when the Texan made his comeback at the 2009 Tour Down Under.
Armstrong went on to say, “I had heard how good he was, but I didn’t know how aggressive he was. And, you know, he’s 19 years old, racing against older guys. And he doesn’t care. He lets it fly whenever he feels good, which is very impressive. He’s got a lot of talent, and we’ll see.”
On January 9 this year at the Australian road championships, Bobridge, now 21, combined his seemingly limitless talent with trademark aggression to upstage his older, more fancied rivals en route to becoming the nation’s latest national champion. “I had one of those days today where everything falls into place and you feel well. It’s awesome,” said the latest South Australian scion in the Bobridge cycling dynasty.
Even before he donned the green and gold jersey that he’ll soon take to Europe with him, the owner of his Garmin-Cervélo team, Jonathan Vaughters, said of Bobridge: “Jack is a phenomenal talent – possibly the most talented rider of his generation. He excels on the road and on the track and makes an outstanding addition to our roster.”
Speaking of the velodrome, it’s one area that remains unfulfilled before this precocious cycling talent turns his full attention to the road, and his burning ambition to become one of the best riders of his generation. That date with destiny will come 18 months from now at the Olympic Games in London, where, in the team pursuit, he’s determined to bring Australia back from their embarrassing defeat on the boards in Beijing.
VeloNews caught up with Bobridge midway through the Santos Tour Down Under to discuss his gobsmacking victory and the genesis of his aggression that has already made him a household name, among other things.
Q: It’s been all of a week since you won the Australian road race championship… Have you come to terms with the significance of your achievement?
A: Slowly but surely. Over the last couple of days (at the Tour Down Under), being able to put that Australian championship jersey on, representing Garmin-Cérvelo with the green and gold stripes … it’s being pretty nice to have the colors on my back, for sure.
Q: You won the national title by bridging across to an early break, then three laps from the finish, attacking what remained of the lead group. You’re known as an aggressive rider, but why did you decide to make a move so early on without any of your Garmin-Cervélo team-mates?
A: It’s quite a hard race, with 16 laps up the climb (of Mount Buninyong). When a group moves off the front with six, seven riders it’s not a small group; there were a few good riders in there and by me heading off early, it takes the pressure off the rest of the team and puts the pressure on all the other teams and riders. So I think it was an advantage to me and my teammates.
Q: Last August you took your first pro career victory on the fifth stage of the Eneco Tour, where once again you chose to go in the early move then attacked your companions two kilometers from the finish. Did that stage victory in Holland influence your decision to throw caution to the wind?
A: You know, I see myself as an aggressive rider; I’ve always been like that – and always will be like that! (laughs) But the stage (win) in Eneco was quite similar; I ended up in the break and headed home solo with two k to go … that’s just the style of rider I am and I’ll probably continue throughout my career to be that aggressive, taking that style (of riding) with me.
Q: Has it always been that way to be so animated, even when you were a junior and amateur rider?
A: Yeah, definitely – I’ve always had that aggression and (have) always been taught to have that aggression right through (my career). I think that’s just how I am, as well.
Q: You’re from South Australia and came up through Stuart O’Grady’s development team he set up here. How much did that team help your progress, and how influential has O’Grady been throughout your career?
A: Stuart O’Grady has always been an idol for me and I’ve always looked up to him and still do. (He’s) a world class bike rider and has won some awesome stuff, and being able to spend a year with his development program definitely helped me; financially as well. Also, (it was) a bit of encouragement, to have his name on my back.
Q: Your dad Kahl, a national track champion himself, didn’t let you start racing till you were 15. Many European pros start racing at 12. Do you remember what your attitude was like then, when you were itching to race but weren’t allowed?
A: As you said, Dad’s come through bike riding when he was my age and he knows what it’s all about. To start a bit later, it was hard and I was itching (to race), watching the Tour Down Under and things like that, but Dad always kept me in other sports and always kept me active. Once I did get to do it, though, I never looked back.
Q: Your grandfather and uncles also raced bikes and were very good at it. Besides your father, who helped you most in your formative years? Was it your coach, Ian McKenzie at the Australian Institute of Sport?
A: Early in my development as an under-17, Dad was a massive help, having the experience within the family and knowing the ropes – he gave me my aggressive attitude (in racing). But (Australian Institute of Sport track endurance coach) Ian McKenzie has definitely been a huge help in my early years; I’ve been working with him for four or five years now and will continue to do so. Between my father and Ian McKenzie, those two have made me who I am today.
Q: You’re also a world-class rider in both the individual and team pursuit on the track. After finishing fourth in the team pursuit at the Beijing Games, you’re no doubt aiming to be part of the squad at the London Games. Over the next 18 months, how much time will you spend preparing for this event?
A: Running fourth at the Beijing Olympics was very disappointing for the work and effort we put in; to come away with nothing … It’s a massive goal of mine to go to London and ride the team pursuit and get us back on top of the podium, where we were in Athens. We’ve got a very strong group coming through and we’re all got the same target, so we’ll be fighting (for the win) and training hard before that.
Q: You say on your web site you love racing the pursuit “but definitely in the back of my head is knowing that you can’t make a living riding the track.” Has your national championship win made you think twice about committing yourself so heavily towards the track?
A: Not at all. I trained hard for the national (championship) and it’ll be great wearing the (Australian national) colors for Garmin-Cervélo over in the Europe – but it definitely hasn’t changed my attitude whatsoever. I’m still one hundred percent committed for London and getting our boys back on top.
Q: You must surely see yourself committing full-time to the road after the London Olympics and not racing the track at all ….
A: (After London) it will definitely be the road and seeing what I can do, and a transformation into whatever path I choose, be it Classics, small tours or Grand Tours. Time will tell.
Q: You also said: “there will come a day when I’ve got to ride a little bit smarter as I’m getting older and I am in contention for GC, where I’ve actually got to say, “Well hang on, I can actually be in the mix.” How far is that day away, do you think – that is, challenging for GC in Grand Tours?
A: Like I said, time will tell, and until I commit myself 100 percent on the road I won’t know. But I really enjoy being able to tear myself apart in one-day races (laughs) … I can really hurt myself.
Q: Some might say based on what they’ve seen of you so far, you’re more suited to hard one-day races like the Tour of Flanders or Liège-Bastogne-Liège. What’s your opinion?
A: If I can become world-class and get myself up there like Stuart O’Grady, people like that, that’d be fantastic; that’d be a dream come true. But whether I go down that path or a Grand Tour path or smaller tours, we’ll just have to wait and see, I guess.