For most U23 riders, they have made a full commitment to giving their all to making it as a professional. Some riders opt to continue with university while they try to pursue their career on wheels, but the riding does take priority. What makes Cannondale-Drapac’s feeder team, Drapac-Pat’s Veg, so special is that it is an obligation for all riders on the roster of the development team to be attending further education while riding their bikes. This brings obvious challenges and time constraints, but also secures a rider’s future once their time racing on two wheels comes to a close.
U23 Cycling Zone caught up with young Australian climber Mathew Ross to talk about balancing studying with riding, as well as recounting his most recent race, the Tour of Iran, where Ross’s climbing talent was finally put on display in Europe for the whole cycling world to see, while he contributed towards a brilliant team performance from Drapac-Pat’s Veg on the whole in the race.
“I am very happy with how 2017 has gone for me. I have been able to race at the top level in NRS (the Australian National Racing Series, ed.) and had exposure to several high quality international races. This year alone, I have had personal bests in all areas and my overall fitness is a lot higher than in previous years,” Ross exclusively tells U23 Cycling Zone.
The interview took place around a week or so after Ross finished fifth overall in the Tour of Iran, where teammate Jesse Featonby was also fourth on GC and sprinter Theo Yates grabbed a stage win. This was a really brilliant performance from the team, especially given they were racing against fully fledged professionals, that showcased their belief that results in pro races are achievable even if you are still studying.
“I had no idea what to expect going to Iran to race. Only having raced once in Asia and a few times in Belgium, I wasn’t sure how tough the competition or how hard racing at altitude would be. I was excited nonetheless, and began the tour (stage 1) in late breakaway of around 12 guys that lasted to the finish. Racing at altitude and the hard nature of the first stage, saw my teammate Liam White (who was also in the break) take 2nd in the stage. This was a great result and gave us confidence for the rest of the tour. Personally, my goal was to save my legs as much as I could for the queen stage; stage 4. I went into that stage with good legs and a goal of making it to the final climb to the finish with as fresh legs as possible. Succeeding in this, I found myself in a small bunch of 12, of the front including teammate Jesse Featonby. Sadly, I had a tire blowout with 2km to go, resulting me unable to contest the finish, luckily still receiving front bunch time. This put me in a good overall GC position and ended the tour 5th overall, behind teammate Jesse in 4th. Jumping to stage 6, our goal was to control the race in hopes for a bunch kick. After a hard day of following breaks and chasing attacks, we were able to keep it together and our sprinter, Theo Yates was able to take the stage win. Overall it was a great tour, crosswinds and mountains made it a hard but rewarding tour. Racing in Iran turned out to be a great experience, I would definitely go back and race it again.”
Ross spoke about the benefits of racing in Europe, and said that he was setting cautious goals for his European races at the start of the season, but was pleased to confirm he obliterated his targets in some big races.
“Being a part of Drapac Pats Veg for 2017 has allowed me to race professional races not only domestically, but also internationally. I was happy to be able to contest all of these races, finishing top 20 in most my European races. My original goal over there was to try finish every race I started, but that turned into a goal of a podium after a few races. It is a large step up from Australian domestic racing to European pro races, but our team performed well and we were able to land a podium in our last race over there.”
So now to the studying. Just how does Mat find the team to balance his studies with not just training, but having to race in foreign countries, as well as all over Australia?
“Balancing sport and study is one of the reasons I have had such a great year. I always recommend to other riders that they do something else, apart from riding. Even if you train 20-30 hours a week, there is still plenty of time to do something productive, whether its study or work. Living out of home, caring for my mum, studying full time and riding has been a challenge at times, but it allows me to focus on what I have to do, and make every day a productive day.”
Australia is a real hotbed for sports at the minute, with plenty of outdoor events beginning to flourish and produce results for the country at major championships. So, what drew Mat to cycling?
“I am originally from Townsville and I moved to Melbourne in 2011. I used to run and play rugby when I was younger in Townsville, but after going to the velodrome one day to watch my brother race, I quickly wanted to hop on a bike and start riding as well.”
And after smashing his goals for the 2017 season, both on home soil and halfway across the world in Europe, the 21-year-old admitted he has already begun to set himself goals for the 2018 season, which promises to be a great one for the Australian.
“My goals for 2018 include spending as much time internationally racing, I’ll continue to study and hopefully I have another successful year.”
Drapac-Pat’s Veg are doing a great job promoting the studying aspect of rider’s lives, and with riders like Ross, Featonby, Yates and Cyrus Monk performing so well off the bike, the team is only going to get better year upon year. As for Ross himself, expect more big things in Australia and in Europe. If he keeps smashing his goals as easily as he did in 2017, the sky really is the limit.
U23 Cycling Zone would like to thank Mat for taking part in the interview, and to Drapac-Pat’s Veg press officer Vas Iyer for helping set it up. You can follow Drapac-Pat’s Veg on Twitter at @DrapacPatsVeg and Mat can be followed at @MatdRoss.