Lancaster Q&A: Back to steel, wool, and the Giro d’Italia

Aussie veteran is rolling into 2014 excited for what the Giro and Tour de France hold, and a return to the L'Eroica gran fondo in Tuscany

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DOHA (VN) — Brett Lancaster sat alone on the hood of a car under the bright Middle Eastern sun last week, slowly pinning his number on. He’s done a lot of that since 2003, when his professional career began. He’s one of the peloton’s stalwart pros who rides with a knowing charm, one of the guys who may lack a long list of huge wins, but a man who has gone about this cycling business with grace. He’s a quick smile, and always has the time to break down a stage for unknowing reporters. A few years ago he sat down for dinner with a herd of Tour de France journalists and may have stayed through dinner; the details are as hazy as the rosé was wet. More recently, Lancaster (Orica-GreenEdge) took the time, as always, to chat with VeloNews one morning at February’s Tour of Qatar.

VeloNews: What are you upcoming plans?
Brett Lancaster: I’m just concentrating on the Giro (d’Italia) and the Tour (de France) again. So no classics. I don’t think you can do them if you’re going to double up like that. No one-day races. Just all tours.

VN: Do you miss the one-day races, though?
BL: I like them, but it depends what your goals are now. I said the Giro and the Tour, and it’s not healthy to start with, to try and push your body to do all that. When you start getting a little bit older like myself, you’ve got to start thinking about life after cycling and your health.

VN: Well, you’re not that old.
BL: Oh, 34. So. I just signed another two years. I want to do ideally another three. Take it to 37. It just depends on my health. If I’m not healthy or it’s not doing me any good, I’ll stop.

VN: Is it still fun for you?
BL: Yeah. Yeah, it’s different now. My mindset’s a lot different than when I was younger. I love the lifestyle. I love what it brings to my family. Kids in Europe learning, you know, different languages. My wife is working now in Spain. She’s got a good job working as an exporter/manager and stuff. Yeah. Happy wife, happy life, you know? That’s what they say. Of course we’re in a good spot at the moment in our lives.

VN: Orica came onto the scene and it seemed like a really fun team to be a part of. Am I right in thinking that?
BL: It’s really good. Of course we get a little bit more serious every year. Higher goals. I think last year, 30-something wins, the same as the year before. There’s always pressure to try to get that number of wins up. But we’re off to a good start this year.

VN: You’ve been in the sport for a long time. How has your training changed?
BL: You can get a bit carried away with all that stuff still. I’ve gone back to basics a bit more in the last couple of years as well. Just listening to your body is the main thing, and recovery. Recovery days. There’s no point beating a dead horse sort of thing. I mean, even [in Qatar], I’ve done it. I’ve lots of work coming in here. I’m already at race weight. Very intense this week. I’m not riding home or riding to any of the stages. I just don’t need it, and the mental stress out there with the wind and everything, I think it’s better just to get this intensity and then you go home and work on other things. There’s a number of things. The traffic, it’s not safe, I personally think. It’s just, just little things like this you learn. And you’ve got to think, it’s so early in the season. And guys are so serious out there.

VN: Guys like Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
BL: Yeah, that’s fair enough. They’re going extremely strong. Full credit to them, you know? But their goals, those guys here, up until Roubaix. I don’t think any of those guys on that team will be competing at the Giro. So of course you’ve got to be going well here. But it depends what your goals are. Mine is more to help out the young guys in the team. Help with the leadout, just being up first to try and guide them where, usually the bigger races, I’ll be last man or second last man.

VN: Do you think the romance of the sport’s been lost a bit, what with all the numbers now and data?
BL: Yeah, yeah. I’ll be honest. I haven’t even got an SRM. I’m one of the only guys who haven’t even got a power meter.

VN: No way.
BL: No. At home, of course. I just like to feel the racing. Time trial’s a different thing. But racing, you know? Unless you’re the Chris Froomes and stuff who really crunch numbers, and concentrate on their watts up a climb, if not they’ll bonk, and stuff like that, but that’s not for sprinting guys — I think, yeah, it’s good to get feedback how many max watts you put out, but at the end of the day, you’re either there or you’re not. You know? When you’re at a race you just have to concentrate on that. That’s my personal view. Sport scientists don’t agree with me there.

VN: You’re probably looked at as old school now.
BL: [Smiles] You’ve got to — I love numbers, too, in training and everything like that. That’s great, great feedback, or whatever system you have. …

VN: You said you’ve got three years left. What do you want to do in those three years so you leave sport satisfied and happy?
BL: I want to — ha — I want to finish healthy, to be honest. I don’t want to be a pro that leaves, you know, all clapped out. Yeah, that’s my main thing. But goals-wise, I really targeted the Giro this year. To go in there a lot lighter than last year. Last year I still went very well. Matthew Goss isn’t going this year, so I’m not saying I’m going to be the sprinter, we’ve still got a couple options there, but those guys have to step up and come forward … and see who really wants to do it, who’s ready. If not, I’ll be taking my own opportunities.

VN: Absolutely.
BL: I’m pretty pumped for that, I should add. The team time trial. We went away a bit sour last year, beaten by this much. [Omega Pharma beat Orica by 0.81 seconds in the team time trial at the 2013 world championships. —Ed.]

VN: But you won at the Tour, didn’t you?
BL: I know, but world championships. We’re all hungry. The course looks pretty good in Spain for us guys. So we’ll be putting a lot of work into that again.

VN: If you hadn’t have been a pro cyclist, what do you think you’d have been?
BL: Good question. I have no idea. Professional fisherman [laughing]. I love fishing.

VN: I guess you don’t have to know, do you?
BL: No. You go down that path so early in life.

VN: Remember your first bike?
BL: Yeah, I do. It was a powder-coated steel frame that I don’t even know what brand. I’ve still got it at home, actually.

VN: What color was it?
BL: White.

VN: Beautiful steel bikes. …
BL: Yeah, I’ve still got that. I’ve kept a lot of my old bikes. Track frames, and some of them are quite rare now.

VN: Why do you keep them?
BL: I like it. It’s a hobby. And it’s nice to — well, when I eventually move back to Australia and build a house, I’ll have them all in a room or in a shed out the back. Yeah, so I can show people I actually did race. Tell my kids that I went OK on the bike.

VN: Do you miss the way steel rides at all?
BL: I love getting on an old track frame. It’s something different. And also, to add in there, we went two years ago. We’re doing L’Eroica. The old school one with my father-in-law, and two brothers-in-law. And we’ve booked a villa there and everything. And we’re going to go the old school kit and hit it again. Because it was one of the most amazing events I’ve ever seen.

VN: Mmm. Sweaty wool.
BL: Yeah! Chianti wine. I’m going to stop at all those. I look forward to that again.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.