Jack Bobridge pondering retirement as his season comes to an early close
Reigning Australian road race champion Jack Bobridge is weighing up his future in the sport after bringing his 2016 season to a close ahead of schedule.
Bobridge was set to line-up at the Tour of Britain with his Trek-Segafredo team last week, but withdrew from the race at the 11th hour, instead deciding to return to his home in Perth. The 27-year-old told CyclingTips this week that mounting fatigue from a long season had left him unwell and unable to race in Britain as planned.
“I started way back in October  obviously getting ready for the Road Nationals, knowing I was going to have a massive year with the [Olympic] Games and everything,” Bobridge said. “When you keep asking the system to take, take, you don’t have much time to put back in. You’ve got to have a rest sooner or later, to bring the body back up to scratch. It was a massive season.”
Bobridge got sick after last month’s Rio Olympics, spending five days in bed as a result. He started but didn’t finish the GP de Plouay a week after leaving Rio, and then found he simply didn’t have it in him to race the Tour of Britain. And with the Road World Championships team time trial the only other race on his schedule for the year — a race that Trek-Segafredo now isn’t racing — Bobridge decided to call an end to his 2016 season.
“I had to tell them [Trek-Segafredo] that I was unwell and the body was just too tired to race,” he said. “So [I decided] to come home and rest a bit and just train at a bit of a lower intensity to try and rebuild the body and let it catch up on everything.”
After a year away from the WorldTour in 2015, Bobridge returned to the highest level of the sport in 2016 with Trek-Segafredo. He began the year in tremendous form, taking one of the most impressive victories ever seen at the Australian Road National Championships. But with 2016 being an Olympic year, and Bobridge a key member of the Australian Olympic team pursuit squad, the Adelaide-born rider would have to split his time between the track and the road. He found it more challenging to balance the two than he has in years gone by.
“When I first started WorldTour [in 2010], you used to be able to do the track and the road combined a lot easier than what you can now,” he said. “The way team pursuit’s going it’s very different in terms of training and build-up. Definitely over the past year or so I’ve really seen that it’s impossible now to do a WorldTour race and then step onto the track, with the track based a lot more around power and speed now.”
Bobridge found himself bouncing between disciplines throughout the year, often with little respite in between.
“I obviously started the year really good for Trek with the national title and Down Under and the Sun Tour,” Bobridge said. “I went straight from there to a four-week track camp and then it was only a week or a couple days later I had to fly to Europe straight away and got put straight into Liege[-Bastogne-Liege], which was a bit different. Straight from the summer into snowy Liege!
“[I] didn’t go home — [I went] straight from there to Tour of Romandie where it was raining and snowing again, and then from there straight into the Giro. The first few months were pretty hectic.”
Bobridge believes that balancing his track and road schedules, with a focus on his Rio build-up, came at the expense of his form on the road. His win at the Australian Road Nationals, while spectacular, was his only victory on the road for 2016. And while he rode strongly at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour for fourth overall, Bobridge wasn’t able to get the results this year he might have been after.
“I think in general what I did on the road this year and the races I did was great, but definitely juggling it with the track this year and the big track camps we had definitely took away a bit from my road legs,” he said. “I still believe I was there for the team; I did what I had to do in terms of looking after them and feeding them.
“You don’t see a lot of that stuff on TV because when the TV kicks in, definitely the Giro and stuff, it’s come down to the crunch time …”
While Bobridge cites growing fatigue and illness as his main reasons for coming home early, there was another important factor. With a combination of track and road commitments, and the build-up to Rio in particular, Bobridge went four months without seeing his wife and daughter face-to-face — placing considerable strain on the family unit.
“Ah, it’s super hard you know,” Bobridge said of trying to balance his family and professional commitments. “Your daughter starts knowing her father through FaceTime and Skype — it’s not the best feeling in the world. But at the same time you’re trying to run a household for your wife and daughter, you’re trying to keep your WorldTour team happy and race well for them.
“You’ve also got that other massive pressure of having to perform at the Olympics and do what you’ve got to do on the track. It’s a lot of different things you’re trying to keep up and going throughout that year and it was definitely a hard juggle. But the biggest toll was not being able to see the little one and the wife.”
Bobridge believes he handled things well until the Olympics. But once the dust had settled on the Games — where he and teammates rode to silver in the team pursuit — he experienced a typical post-Olympic slump, ultimately leading to his return to Australia.
“After that massive build-up I think everyone after the Games has a bit of a low as well — you’ve had that big hype and pressure and then all of a sudden it’s finished,” Bobridge explained. “It was definitely time to come home and see the family and rebuild.”
So what now for the two-time Australian road champion? He’s raced with Trek-Segafredo for the last time, his one-year contract with the American-registered squad now complete. And with the Rio Olympics now over, it’s another four years until his next potential Olympic track appearance, in Tokyo in 2020.
There have been thoughts of retirement, of settling into life in Perth with his young family (his daughter Amelie recently turned two). There have been thoughts of continuing to race at a high level on the road. And there have been thoughts basing himself in Australia again, as he did last year.
In 2015, after two years with the Dutch Blanco/Belkin setup, Bobridge left the WorldTour and returned to Australia, racing on the road with Continental team Budget Forklifts. That squad had strong ties with the Australian track endurance program, and the plan was to ride with that setup through to Rio. That didn’t quite end up happening — Budget Forklifts folded at the end of 2015 while Bobridge was given what Trek-Segafredo described as “a lifeline”.
Bobridge hasn’t ruled out chasing a new WorldTour contract for 2017 nor racing at a lower level overseas. But at the moment the two-time Olympic silver medallist appears to be leaning towards scaling down his professional road commitments once more.
“At this point in time, next year I’ll probably be more focused on probably [coming] back and try and race within Australia and probably put my sights more towards the track,” Bobridge said. “That’s where I probably am at the moment.”
If Bobridge does continue his focus on the track, it will likely be with the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in mind.
“I think these days if you’re 100% … you can definitely ride the track into [your] early 30s,” the four-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist said. “So I think I’m capable of, and I definitely back myself if I did commit myself 100% to the track to get to the Goldy and if not Tokyo.”
But nothing is decided as yet.
“Obviously I’ve just got to weigh it up and see what’s best for myself and the family and then make a decision,” he said. “We’ve got a little bit of time. Obviously [I’ll be] keeping training and then make that decision which pathway we’ll go come next year.”
Should retirement be the pathway Bobridge ends up choosing, he already has a plan lined up.
“I’m also starting, hopefully opening at the end of the year/early next year, a cycle studio within Perth with a coaching base as well,” Bobridge explained. “We’ve got the name for it. It will be Bobridge Cycle and Fitness Studio.
“There’s already a personal trainer there, a couple of them working in the gym weights side of it, and I’ll run the cycle side of it. Hopefully I can get it going and get some people through and start that side of it as well for when I do finally retire from the bike 100% I’ve got something to fall back into.”
The next couple months will be pivotal in the life and career of Jack Bobridge. There’s much to consider and much to balance: road cycling ambitions, track cycling ambitions, the prospect of retirement and, perhaps above all else, his responsibilities as a father and husband.
It remains to be seen just what 2017 will bring.