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Paris-Brussels winner at 22, Giro d’Italia stage winner by 23 and Milan-San Remo champion at 24: Matt Goss was ahead of the curve early on in his cycling career, and also reached its ending sooner than many would have initially anticipated.
On Thursday, aged just 29, the Tasmanian and his One Pro Cycling team announced that he had taken the decision to retire.
Walking away at an age when many riders reach their physical peak seems unusual but, in Goss’ case, it is not completely unexpected. Over the past few years his results have petered out, with his most successful season occurring a full five years ago.
Since then he spent three years at Orica-GreenEdge, one year at MTN-Qhubeka and then, this season, a year with British Pro Continental squad One Pro Cycling.
While he was solid early on with ninth place on the final stage of the Tour de Langkawi, that was as good as things got; since then there have been a number of DNFs, with a case of knee tendonitis complicating things later on in the year.
Goss said earlier this year that he believed he could get back to something close to his best. It wasn’t to be and, in recent days, he told CyclingTips that he would soon be ready to talk about his future.
Speaking on the day that he announced his retirement, he was surprisingly frank about how things had gone, his waning motivation and his decision to stop.
Here’s Goss’ interview about the good times, the lean periods and what is coming next.
A flickering flame
CyclingTips: Matt, news has come through several minutes ago about your retirement. What are your thoughts at this moment?
Matt Goss: It’s something I have been thinking about for quite a while. It’s been on my mind. I had made my decision before now but it’s good to finally get it out there and make it public.
CT: Looking at your results in recent years, this seems to have been building up a while. Is it fair to say that you fell out of love with cycling?
MG: It is too hard of a sport and too competitive if you are not jumping out of your skin to do it. I guess the right way to put it is that I did fall out of love a little bit.
It is difficult to explain. I am still definitely passionate about the sport. I still watch everything on TV but the same love for racing…. Every time you put on your bike kit and sit on the start line, you don’t get the butterflies and stuff like you used to.
If I figure that is gone… As they say, you have to absolutely love what you do. In some ways I do love it, but it is different to what it was in the past.
CT: It takes huge amounts of dedication to be at the top. To win races like Milan-San Remo and to take second in the road world championships takes 100 percent commitment and focus. I’d imagine if you are not feeling the same about the sport, it is hard to batter yourself in training and racing like before.
MG: Yeah… Like I said, it is so competitive. If you are not 110 percent excited and super pumped to be on the start line, you are already behind everyone. The sport is too hard to not be that person who is jumping out of their skin, who wants to tear everyone apart and to win by a mile. It is too hard to just get by.
CT: You say this has been going on a while. Is there any particular moment where this change happened, where things became different for you?
MG: I don’t think there is any one point per se…it is not like that on a specific day that happened, that something changed my mind. I guess this is something that has happened over however many last number of years.
There are certain times when [it feels like] nothing is going to change, when you want to rule the world with cycling. But for me it was just something that happened over a period of time. I was always looking for something that was going to respark it.
I think at the end I realised that it was just me that has changed and that I want to look forward to different challenges in my life.
Early momentum and coping with expectation
Early on, Goss’s career was meteoric. In 2004 he was UCI junior world champion in both the team pursuit and the madison and, two years later, he was part of the gold medal-winning team pursuit squad at the senior worlds. He was 19 at the time. Over the next three years he won two stages of the Tour of Britain, one in the Herald Sun Tour, picked up Paris-Brussels and two stages in the Tour de Wallonie.
His two years with HTC Highroad, 2010 and 2011, would be the most successful of his career. In the first of those he took stage nine of the Giro d’Italia and then went on to win the Philadelphia International Championship and the GP Ouest France. The following season was even more successful, with Goss beating the world’s best Classic riders to win Milan-San Remo, and also picking up stages in the Tour Down Under [where he was second overall], Paris-Nice, the Tour of Oman and the Tour of California. His momentum continued until the end of the year, when he finished a close second to Mark Cavendish at the world road race championships.
It seemed that his career would continue to pick up pace, but those months ended up being the high point. Looking back now, he weighs up whether or not it was too much too soon.
CT: You achieved such a lot when you were a young rider, winning Milan-San Remo young and taking other big results. In retrospect do you think that brought pressure that maybe you weren’t ready for at the time?
MG: That is a tricky question. I don’t think anybody in their right mind would give up the chance to win Milan-San Remo at any age. I wouldn’t say that was the be all and end all.
I think for sure there was a lot more pressure and expectation. I had won a few nice races before San Remo so I had kind of built up to that expectation and pressure. I had won Plouay and stages of the Giro and a few different bits of pieces like that.
But obviously Milan-San Remo is a step above most races on the calendar.
There was definitely a lot more pressure and expectation. That was partly, I think, from Milan-San Remo but also from me going to an Australian team [Orica-GreenEdge] as an Australian rider who had just won Milan-San Remo.
I think that put just as much pressure on. But it doesn’t necessarily come from the team or anywhere else. You put the pressure on yourself…no matter who you ask, I think there is more pressure from within that there is from external sources.
But I think I maybe amplified it a bit in going to an Australian team with Australian sponsors as an Australian rider having won these races.
At the same time, I wouldn’t change what I have done. Hindsight is always something…you can always look back and say, wow, I shouldn’t have done that, I should have done this.
But I don’t think so. 2012 still wasn’t a bad year. I didn’t win the races I wanted to win, but it still wasn’t a bad year with that pressure. It is something that has just come on over time, I think.
I wouldn’t change the results and I wouldn’t rather have them at 27 rather than at 24 or 25. But that is something I’ll never know…you can’t go back and change what happened.
CT: You say that you can’t change things but is there something that you would have done differently in retrospect if, say, you had that luxury of time travel or hindsight?
MG: Yeah, if time travel comes around there would be a few things you could change, I reckon [laughs]. But I don’t know that I would change a whole lot. There are always going to be things that you say you could change.
You should have gone left but instead you went right, opening the door for someone else to win a race. Or you should have went to this team instead of that team.
But I have been pretty happy in general with the teams I have chosen to race for. Okay, if you go back and change something, they say that is like a butterfly effect. You change one tiny thing and it could mean a completely different story for the whole rest of your career.
I am really happy with my career. If I went to a different team or didn’t win Milan-San Remo, maybe things would be completely different sitting here now. It might be a different conversation, for better or for worse.
But look, I am happy. I wouldn’t change what happened and the teams I have raced for and the results I have had. For sure, no.
CT: When you look back at things in the years ahead, what for you will be the highlights and the things that you will most cherish about your time as a pro?
MG: I guess there are a few. Milan-San Remo is always going to be a pretty special one and one that is hard to beat. But I have got a lot of great memories. Like I said in the release, standing on the top step in the [2013 Tour de France] team time trial. For me that was fantastic; with a bunch of friends, teammates, and so close to my home here in Monaco. It was almost like a home race and to win that team time trial stage and be up there with a bunch of friends is a really cool memory.
But they are not always the big races too. I remember 11 years ago now as an under 23, wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour of Britain that is happening now. I have got some good memories across all my career, on the road and on the track as well.
There are definitely some nice things to take out of it. It is an honour to be able to represent your country at Olympic, Commonwealths and world championship level and to have results in most of them.
CT: Aside from those results, what else would you say the sport has given you?
MG: Well, it gives you a lot of life skills. I have been basically pro since 2006, 2007. Living away from Tasmania, Australia, for that long. You learn…it is hard to put an actual dot on what skills, but life skills. How to organise yourself, how to look after yourself, how to be a leader in a team environment.
As you get older, that is something that for me has become more so…how to be a leader around the other guys.
That is something that no matter what industry or what you do in your life after, I think it is a good quality to have. To be somebody that people come and talk to, or come and ask for advice. I think that is something that will help me throughout my career. How to work as a team for one individual goal, which might be a team goal, not yours, and how to get everybody to work together as a team.
It is a lot like any business. You have got to learn to work with people, you have got to learn to take on leadership and you have got to learn to follow leadership at the same time. There are a lot of skills that you can take out of being a professional athlete, I think.
One Pro Cycling and retirement
Goss’ final year of his career was spent with One Pro Cycling. The British team is ambitious and wants to keep building momentum as the years pass. When it announced his signing it said that it believed he could get back to his best, as did Goss.
That didn’t pan out but when asked last week about his time with the squad, directeur sportif Matt Winston said that One Pro Cycling was happy regardless. He said that Goss had been a good road captain for the young riders, guiding them and helping them gain experience.
CT: Looking back, how would you say your season was with One Pro Cycling?
MG: It definitely wasn’t what I wanted, for sure. I wanted to come into this season and have some great results. It has been a bit up and down with a few different injuries and illnesses. But that is professional sport at the same time. I have really enjoyed it. I think it is a fantastic team. It is really well set up. It is a team which has got a sustainable vision.
It has been great to work with those guys. Last year I obviously worked with MTN, which is Dimension Data now. They had taken that step a few years ago, starting to iron out some of the problems coming from Continental to Pro Continental.
But going to these guys as a first year Pro Continental team, the way it was run you would think that it had already been a team that was up and running for quite a long time.
So I have really enjoyed it. There are some fantastic people I have met there and there are some great riders, some great up and coming riders. I think we will definitely see a lot more of them on the world stage.
CT: Are you completely done now, is your retirement as of today, or do you have any more races?
MG: At the moment it is because of now. I was supposed to be doing a couple of more races but I have had tendonitis in my right knee for the last month or two. I have been trying to get rid of that. It has been a bit of a problem to fix as I already knew it was going to be the last year.
So it was either take a month off, a few weeks off to really let it recover and try to build up for a few races at the end of the year, or try to nurse it through as best as I could and keep racing. So it has been a bit of a fight. I tried to keep racing but it is still playing up.
At the moment I won’t be racing any more this year.
CT: Was that injury holding you back in the races you have done in the past while?
MG: Yeah, absolutely. It has been a headache, to say the least. It had been pretty bad…tendonitis in the knee, it is the thing you are almost using most on the bike. So it has been a bit of a killer. But it is what it is, you can’t change the way things happen.
I’ll probably do another race, a criterium race in Tasmania in the end of November.
CT: So will that be a farewell race?
MG: Pretty much. It is a kermesse in Tasmania. It is a race where probably 14 years ago…they used to bring the pros over and I beat a couple of the pros at the time. That is where people started to notice me, I guess. So it is nice to go back, I am going to do my last criterium there.
CT: Obviously this is a big step into the unknown, ending a long period of your life. Is it a scary time, is it an exciting time? How would you characterise your thoughts now?
MG: I think it is all of them, isn’t it. I have lived away from most family and friends, except for my wife and daughter, who have been awesome. I have lived away from everyone in Australia since I was 17 or 18, when I was going away as an under 23. And I have been living in Europe as a professional cyclist basically my entire adult life.
So at first it is a bit scary, you don’t know what to expect. But I’m excited by what can lie ahead and what opportunities and what I can do moving forward.
I think I am getting past the scary part and am more looking forward to and excited about the choices that might be in front.
CT: Is there a sense of a weight being off your mind? You say you have been thinking about this for quite some time and maybe feeling like you were doing something that you weren’t quite willing to do. So is there a sense of relief when you make the announcement and take this step?
MG: Em…I guess there is. It is only a thought until you make it official. So it is something that is… I wouldn’t say a weight off, because I still enjoy going to races. I enjoy the people. It is more that you go through that scary period of not knowing what is next and what to do and what you can do and you can’t do.
It is more excitement about what the future holds, I think.