We were to ride from the medieval village of Sorez with the chance to spend a few hours exploring the castle in Carcassonne before kitting up and heading off. But with the possibility of catching up with Australian cycling legend John Trevorrow we saw nothing of the scenery.
While John is modest about his achievements there’s no question how huge his influence has been on Australian cycling. John won the national road title three years in a row from 1978-1980 after representing Australia in the the Olympics earlier in that decade. He was also one of the first Australians to race professionally in Europe.
He is part of the beginnings of a tradition of Australian cycling and brought to it a true larrikin Australian spirit. That spirit still shines in his eyes, alive with the endless and astounding stories that he can tell about his experience with cycling on both sides of the world.
John rode in Europe when there were only a handful of English speakers in the peleton, he raced against Eddy Merckx, he rode the Giro with a few weeks’ notice after being off the bike for months. He drank, got caught smoking and brought a sense of humour to the pursuit that no doubt confronted the traditions of Europe.
It all earnt him the nickname ‘Iffy,’ as in ‘if only’ – hugely talented but, as is often the case with the young and talented, not fully aware of how far that talent could take him if it was focused and disciplined.
We had the great good fortune and honour to catch up him over a coffee in a French medieval castle – the slightly unreal nature of this trip true to form at every turn. The discussion was broad and open, touching on his past in cycling and the 18 Tours he’s visited.
Inevitably, while talking about the last 40 years of professional cycling, the discussion touched on drug use, the Armstrong era and the state of cycling today. His good friend Stuart O’Grady, who’d been travelling with him, was visiting the Tour for the first time as a spectator after 17 years and a career that has covered Olympic and Commonwealth gold, the yellow jersey and victory in Paris-Roubaix. Stuart had planned to be part of the peloton again this year but the admissions about a reportedly brief dabbling with EPO in 1998 had brought him to the decision that it was time to retire.
John is confident there’s been a cultural shift within professional cycling and that doping is far less common now – that the perceived change has not been more complex drug programs, one step ahead of the testing criteria, but something far more profound – an end to the omerta. If this is the case then it’s testament to how deep the impact of the final episodes of the Armstrong saga has been. Cultural shifts do not happen easily and very seldom quickly.
John explained that part of that shift was also Cadel Evans winning the Tour as he was seen by the press as the first clean champion for some time. He sees a positive future for a sport that has come through a dark decade which may well have been a necessary catharsis.
His long experience gives him the ability to shed light on whole range of issues both past and present so we also wanted to get his views on this year’s Tour. John’s take is that, while no one is unassailable, it will take a focused and co-ordinated war of attrition to break Nibali’s lead – the dramatic and brutal nature of the first week of the Tour partly a result of the high pressure and nervous nature of the peleton.
John contrasted this with his experience of racing the Giro over 30 years ago – far more relaxed with the pressure coming at the end of a stage rather than from kilometre zero each day. He was looking forward to the first Australian stage win.
Now in his 60s and having recently beaten a cancer diagnosis, John remains as energetic, genuine and animated as ever. The easy affability that he brought to his career as an athlete and sports journalist is also the reason why he’s so loved and respected by everyone who knows him. We could have happily spent all afternoon listening to stories about Le Mond and Indurain but the climb to Sorez was calling – so we left him to return to the hotel within the castle itself – the most expensive he’d ever stayed in.
It was enlightening – one of those chance meetings that give you a deeper understanding. John has lived and breathed professional cycling for decades and has been instrumental in the development of the sport in Australia – a true legend in every sense.
This afternoon we watched Micheal Rogers take the first Australian stage win this year. I’m sure John was celebrating with the knowledge that these roads were opened up for Australian cyclists by him and his peers over 40 years ago.
You can listen to the entire interview on Soundcloud below. It’s raw and unedited but that’s the way we like it.
More from Matt & Stefano
– Day 0: The Ultimate Job begins!
– Day 1: Conquering Alpe d’Huez
– Day 2: Having a moment on the Col du Glandon
– Day 3: An interview with pro photographer Mark Gunter
– Day 4: First contact with the race and climbing the Col d’Izoard
– Day 5: The madness of the publicity caravan