Defying Murphy’s Law: A conversation with BMC’s John Murphy at the Tour Down Under

Murphy’s Law can be typically stated as: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." So far, BMC Racing’s new recruit who shares the same surname has been defying the pessimist adage, slowly but assiduously working his way to the top level of the sport.

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2010 Tour de Beauce. John Murphy
Murphy digs in at last year's Tour de Beauce

Murphy’s Law can be typically stated as: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

So far, BMC Racing’s new recruit who shares the same surname has been defying the pessimist adage, slowly but assiduously working his way to the top level of the sport.

In 2010 the resident of Athens, Georgia, joined BMC and at the eleventh hour, found himself thrown into one of the hardest Giri d’Italia in years – just a few weeks after copping a whupping at Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix. Over-raced and under form, it made him realize at this level, he can’t be doing things like that, and he lasted eight stages.

His season ending a few months short with a separated left shoulder, Murphy decided the best option would be to start afresh, rather than reclaim any form he might still have or prolong the healing process.

In fact, so well rested and trained is he, the 2009 U.S. criterium champ believes that at his first WorldTour race of 2011, the Santos Tour Down Under, he may just surprise a few people. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 178 pounds, who are we to disagree with him?
VeloNews caught up with the 26-year-old at the race to discover his story so far, and where that story might take him.

Q. I’ll have to confess I don’t know a lot about you and your progression to this level — can you tell me how you got to where you are today?
A. I started racing mountain bikes when I was 11 or 12 years old, so I was racing mountain bikes most of my junior cycling career. I started racing road bikes with the Krystal cycling team (based in Chattanooga, Tennessee), and from there, I raced on the U-23 national team with (former U-23 development program director) Noel Dejonckheere in Belgium and raced for him for almost three years. I then moved back to the U.S. and raced with the HealthNet-Maxxis team for three more years before moving to BMC (in 2010).

Q. Was there a result of yours that clinched the deal with BMC?
A. I don’t think there was any particular result; I think they looked more at my skill set: a big engine, sprinter-type (rider). I can also do a decent time trial if it’s not too hilly, so I think they looked at my range of abilities rather than any one result.

Q. Who was it at BMC who courted you?
A. Well at first I was talking to (sport director Mike) Sayers – he was working with the team, he was the one that approached me (and said) they’re interested. And then I obviously talked to Jim Ochowicz; he basically runs the show.

Q. Did your contact with Sayers happen as a result of your association with each other at HealthNet?
A. We were actually never on the same team; he left the year I joined. (But) through racing, me and Mike knew each other and (he) said, ‘We’re looking at you, you need to pursue this’… and I did just that.

Q. Last year you raced some the world’s biggest events for the first time, including Ghent-Wevelgem and the Giro d’Italia. No doubt they’re more difficult, but just how much more difficult was it for you?
A. Well, taking a start at any ProTour race, it can be … it’s a little bit daunting. You’re racing the biggest races with the best riders in the hardest races in the world. Last year was my first year (racing) Ghent Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix, the Giro … things like that, it was my first year experiencing that level. It really opened my eyes to what it takes to be here and to make it and really be successful.

Q. When you raced those events did you think, ‘I’ve got another two or three years to get to that level’ – or do you want it to happen sooner than that?
A. I want it to happen sooner! (laughs) But pro cycling is all about patience and working hard and just making sure you take your lessons learned every race. And whether you win or lose, you always learn something and always have to carry that with you. And I hope to make that jump to be competitive and racing for the win as soon as possible.

Q. Last year’s Giro was considered one of the toughest in years. How did you find it – was it three weeks of absolute groveling for you, at the service of Cadel Evans?
A. I was a late addition to the team, and my preparation before the race was not perfect. I began racing in Qatar, all through the spring, Roubaix, and more races before the Giro. And I had OK fitness but my form was a little bit lacking — so I was able to be in the race and try to help, but really my top shape wasn’t there. I abandoned on the eighth stage … the first week was pretty ridiculous, and from my understanding, it continued that way throughout the entire three weeks.

Q. Do you accept Cadel was isolated at times he probably shouldn’t have been? I saw him a lot on his own without the support of his teammates around him … Do you put that down to bad luck, bad timing — or was it a team lacking a little in depth?
A. I think we have room to improve in supporting Cadel. I think the boys did a really good job in taking care of him; I don’t think there were too many moments where he was necessarily without our help – but our team is stronger in 2011 and we will continue to try to put him in the best position possible.

Q. What are your impressions of Cadel – how well do you get along with him?
A. We raced at the Giro — that was the first race we did together — and he was just a class act. He’s a really nice guy and fun to be around.

Q. As you mentioned, your team’s been beefed up considerably this year with a view to Evans going all-out at the Tour de France. How much do you think that will help?
A. I think we’ve got more guys who are more seasoned professionals with (races like) the Tour de France, and we’ve got some young guys coming in that are also going to prove to be a big help down the road. So the team’s done a good job in investing in this year, 2011, and also our future.

Q. What about your future – how much investment have you made in the off-season?
A. My 2010 season ended a little bit short in August — I crashed and dislocated my left shoulder. And it was kind of (at a time of) year where, if I tried to come back before the season was over, I would have risked my recovery; with the shoulder injury, you don’t want to rush it — you want to make sure the tendon and the joint heals 100 percent before you put it at risk again.
So, with that being said, I started training quite early this year and with Tour Down Under in mind – and also the spring. I’ve got a lot more solid approach to my season this year. And I can look back at it and actually say the work has been done – now I just have to prove it.

Q. Given the training you’ve done, you might actually surprise a few of the sprinters who don’t know you …
A. That would be my goal. I definitely want to surprise a few people here. We have a strong team with (Alessandro) Ballan, past world champion; we have Alexander Kristoff, who’s as fast as any sprinter on his day; and we have a lot of guys who can be in the breaks and survive the harder circuits that we have here too. We have a lot of cards to play with the BMC team and we aim to show that.

Q. Your win at the 2009 U.S. Crit champs is obviously indicative of your qualities as a sprinter. But do you regard yourself as a pure sprinter?
A. I wouldn’t necessarily put myself in the pure sprinter category. I think a harder race suits me better than the flat race that comes (down) to a bunch kick. I think it takes a little bit more attrition for me to really shine, and I’m also not a bad time trialist, so I have a little bit of versatility there. I like the sprint but it’s best if it’s out of a slightly smaller group — but I also don’t mind my chances in the field sprint.

Q. I’ve just come from a press conference with Mark Cavendish who says he’s already scouted out all the stage finishes – what have you done?
A. We’ve looked at stage 4 and stage 5 the last few days. (Stage) 5’s tough – Willunga’s going to be an interesting run to the finish. I think they both suit me OK because if I can make it over the climbs and over the hills, it may be (that) some of those other sprinters might not be able to … so that’s my goal.

Q. There’s also that stage to Stirling that Manuel Cardoso won last year, stage 3…
A. I’ve not seen it but I’ve heard (stage) 3 is going to be a good one as well … I look forward to all of them.

Q. Experiencing the races you did last year, what areas do you feel like you need to improve to post some results of your own in years to come, because as you said, you’re champing at the bit to be competitive in these events?
A. The volume of my training has changed a lot. Before the 2010 season I did a lot of four- and five-hour rides but I wasn’t really training more than five hours. This past year I’ve done a lot of rides over five hours, six hours … just really maintained the volume and consistent, steady training. My training’s fallen into place much better this year than last year.

Q. What about your race schedule post the Tour Down Under – have you got one mapped out?
A. Yeah. My next races after Down Under should be Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Het Volk. There’s a possibility of Qatar and Oman, but that’s still to be determined.

VeloNews_Anthony_Tan_96pxEditor’s note: Realizing life in advertising was nothing like Mad Men and buoyed by the Olympic Games in his Australian hometown of Sydney, Anthony Tan turned his back on a lucrative copywriting career in 2000 to pursue something more cerebral. Combining wordsmithing with his experiences as an A-Grade club racer and a season racing in Europe, a career as a cycling scribe beckoned. … More than 10 Grand Tours and countless classics later, it’s where he still is today. He has been a contributor to VeloNews since 2006.

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