After spending a stint in Europe last season as a stagiaire with Cannondale-Drapac, known now as EF Education First p/b Drapac, there were lofty expectations placed on the shoulders of Cyrus Monk, a final year U23 on the WorldTour team’s Australian development team, known as Drapac-EF.
But the Australian did not disappoint in the slightest. Fourth in the national U23 TT showcased his form, before a stunning performance in the road race handed him the right to wear the national champions jersey in both Australia and Europe for the next 12 months.
After heading back to Australia for some races, Cyrus was gracious enough to give up some time so readers can get to know the likeable leader of the Drapac-EF team via an exclusive interview with U23 Cycling Zone. Cyrus said he has been really pleased with his season so far, as a lot of his hard work both in the offseason and during the year has allowed him to gather results in new ways.
“I’m really happy with the development of my climbing and time trialling ability which has allowed me to use new methods of getting results rather than just hoping for a reduced bunch sprint as was my usual tactic in previous years.”
Without wasting time, we got straight to business, discussing the race which gave Cyrus the right to earn the famous Aussie national champions jersey for the 2018 season. Cyrus talked us through what was a very tough day with high winds and searing heat.
“I made the solo attack with around 25km to go, which would usually be a suicide mission, but in recent times seems to have become an effective method of winning the tougher one day races, with Terpstra, Jungels, Benoot all being prime examples. I benefited from teammates always being represented in the early moves so that I could sit on Mitchelton-Bike Exchange, who had the strongest team in the race but missed almost every move so had to ride most of them back. Initially, the solo move was just to get a head start for the penultimate climb but due to the stop-start nature of the small group left behind, I was surprisingly able to increase my lead on the climbs and hold off to the finish.”
As we briefly touched on in the intro to the article, this is Monk’s last season at this age group. In a recent interview, Trevigiani Phonix-Hemus 1896 rider Alessandro Fedeli, who finds himself in the same position as Cyrus does, told us that he was feeling immense pressure to secure a pro deal. Is Cyrus feeling the same heat?
“There is more pressure now than in previous years because I’ll have finished my Bachelor of Science degree in June and I’m planning on having a real crack at riding overseas before going on to further studies. I’m confident I’ve got enough improvement left in me to get to the, top level but it would definitely be nice to get a few more results while racing in Europe this year to accelerate that process and secure a WorldTour contract for next year.”
A big part of non-European riders making it to the WorldTour is experience racing in the continent. Cyrus received his biggest lesson yet when he was a stagiaire at WorldTour level last year. from August onwards, the bronze medallist from this year’s U23 Oceania ITT championships raced eight days as part of Cannondale-Drapac last autumn, an experience he recounted for us.
“Having raced a lot of amateur kermesses, pro kermesses and UCI races in Belgium with the Pats Veg team, I had a fair amount of race miles in the legs before the stagiaire role. The most valuable experience from the stagiaire role was learning from experienced WorldTour riders like Sep (Vanmarcke), Sebastian (Langeveld), Alex (Howes) and Rigo (Uran) and taking the knowledge they shared with me back to domestic and U23 racing. It was also a great experience racing and training in a professional environment and ideal preparation for moving into that kind of environment myself.”
Their advice was clearly very good, as Monk has been great this year. as well as the results already mentioned, he was fifth in a Sun Tour stage and 25th on GC, 3rd in the Elite RR at the Oceania Championships and, most importantly, 10th in the U23 Tour of Flanders, as teammate James Whelan took a memorable win and compatriot Rob Stannard 3rd. Monk’s role that day was critical, and you can read more about his performance here.
What makes Monk and the rest of his Drapac-EF teammates so unique is that they are all attending university while they race, meaning they don’t have as much time for training as other U23s do, but they have amore than stable back up plan if they do not go pro. hardcore U23 Cycling Zone fans will remember an interview about this with Cyrus’ former teammate Mat Ross, but Cyrus too explained how he combines racing with his studies.
“I’ve been really lucky that both my university (University of Melbourne) and the team are super supportive of me doing both to the best of my ability. Uni has allowed me to reschedule assessments so that I can race overseas or interstate and the team understands that sometimes I have to miss races during exam periods. Despite this there’s been a lot of flights spent watching lectures and rides spent listening to recaps to make sure the grades aren’t negatively affected by the thousands of hours spent training and racing each year. I’m happy I stayed a full-time student throughout the first 2.5 years of my degree so that I’ll have it all finished as a 21-year-old rather than dragging it out into my mid to late 20s as many cyclists seem to get stuck doing.”
Cyrus has a slightly different opinion now of the type of rider he is than he had a season ago, which showcases just how much hard work he has put into improving both his weaknesses and original strengths. Righty so, he now believes he is an all-rounder, rather than someone pigeonholed into one specific set of races. If he could aspire to be like a current pro, a former World Champion springs to his mind.
“This time last year I would’ve said my sprint would win me more races than anything else, but I think now that my climbing and time trialling has improved it’s opened up plenty of other ways of winning races for me. Ideally, I’d like to emulate a rider like Kwiatkowski, capable of playing a valuable support roll in grand tours but mostly excelling in the lumpy one-day races and week-long tours.”
Turning to the future, Cyrus was able to divulge his next few races, as well as some races he really hopes to be selected for. A big dream is to be picked for his first Worlds and Tour de l’Avenir. After the job he has done for his nation in the two races (Flanders and ZLM Tour) he raced for Australia this year, he really has earned his selection for the bigger races.
“I’ll be racing Tour of Korea before heading to Europe and doing 6 weeks of Belgian 1-day races with Drapac-EF. Then, the plan is to go to the World University Championships in Portugal and defend my title from 2016. After that, it’s open-ended at this stage. I’d love to race l’Avenir and U23 worlds for the first time with the Aussie team, but this is dependent on selection. Fingers crossed the nationals win and Flanders top 10 grants selection for these. I’m also keen to do another stagiaire stint to notch up as much racing overseas as I can to prepare for racing at the next level.”
The confidence Monk has gained from his season so far is clear to see, and he has really high hopes for his upcoming races, as he seeks to go out in a blaze of glory from the U23 ranks.
“The aim is for a podium in one of the bigger one-day races we’ll do in Belgium or at U23 worlds and a stage win at l’Avenir. Obviously, a lot has to go right for these results but if I can achieve this, it’ll prove to teams I’m ready to step up to the world tour in 2019.”
After his amazing performance in Flanders this season, it is not a shock that Cyrus desires to win this race as a pro more than any other in the world. His skillset seems perfectly suited to the race and, like many others before him, he is lured in by the immense atmosphere the race creates.
“Tour of Flanders. After being in Flanders for De Ronde for the first time this year I was amazed just how much the race captures the whole nation. It’s the pinnacle of cycling in Belgium and all the winners have their name cemented in cycling history, literally!”
A lot can happen in six months, but Cyrus Monk is well on his way to the WorldTour. He has done his national jersey proud so far and will want to keep wearing it in some more big races in Europe before he is forced to surrender it. Whether he goes on to have a successful pro career remains to be seen, but his commitment to both his cycling and his studies are prof enough already that regardless of what happens, Monk is one of the rare few who can call themselves a champion of life.
U23 Cycling Zone wishes to thank Cyrus for taking part in the interview, as well as wishing him many congratulations upon his graduation from the University of Melbourne next month. Drapac-EF must also be thanked for helping set up the interview. If you wish to follow Cyrus, his Twitter handle is @Cyrus_Monk. The team, who produce some great content, can be located at @drapac_cycling.