Cam Wurf on his last-minute WorldTour return: ‘It’s happened within 6 days’

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On Friday, Team Ineos made the surprise announcement that it had recruited Cameron Wurf for the 2020 season. Not only had the team signed Wurf but the Olympic rower turned WorldTour racer turned Ironman triathlete would be competing at Cadel’s Race just two days later. The Tasmanian has trained and been associated with Ineos for a few years now, but in 2020 that partnership has been formalised significantly.

On the eve of Cadel’s Race — Wurf’s first WorldTour race in more than five years and his first bike-only race of any kind since the 2017 Aussie Nationals — CyclingTips chatted with the 36-year-old at the race hotel in Torquay. The following is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.

CyclingTips: How did the contract come about. Was it a last-minute kind of thing or had it been in the works for a while?

Cam Wurf: The team has been organising my contracts for the last three years but obviously it wasn’t part of the team per se. They got the money from Pinarello, Kask, and Castelli, Fizik — which are all their partners but they’d also provide support obviously with camps and coaching … everything. They’d always just call me whatever numbers of riders there were on the team I was “number: the next one”.

And we spoke in 2017 about racing on the road. Dave [Brailsford, team principal] sort of thought that might have been a good idea at that point, but it kind of just didn’t work out for whatever reason. The next year we didn’t even discuss it at all because I’d made quite a jump from entering the sport, qualifying to Kona to get to Kona and actually doing pretty well and showing that, well, maybe I can do well at this.

So last year was all about running and obviously that had to be the focus. And there was two or three months last year where I didn’t even ride my bike. I was so focused on running and building up that volume so that I could handle that volume of running required when you put the cycling back in. And then after Kona [in 2019], I guess Dave felt that it was a good time to maybe get that little extra bit out of me, you know, make me a bit more accountable, get me a bit more involved in the team.

And we started to talk about more of an official role within the structure, still more focused on triathlon but certainly under the Ineos banner, and sending staff to races with me and things like that. And that was what we were there to discuss. And of course, while we were there, the Amador thing was going on [ed. Andrey Amador is trying to join Ineos but is currently caught in a contract dispute with Movistar].

So our discussions kind of got put off. And then Dave mentioned “Actually at the moment we’ve got this situation — we’ve got 30 guys and we don’t know if this is going to happen. But if it doesn’t happen, you’d be potentially really useful to us as like a filler because you’re here anyway, you’re often with the guys at a camp, and then they go to a race and we’re short. You could easily just go with them.” And I said “Yeah, I’d be more than happy to do that.” Obviously. That would be great for me.

You know, it’s a lonely sport, what I do. And I train a lot. And so to break it up a bit … and I’d also be able to do something that is going to help me in my sport, but most importantly, in a team that appreciates what I’m trying to achieve and is 100% behind that. I think that’s the key message here. The team is 100% supportive of me getting the best possible result in Kona. Which of course, when you’ve been fifth … you have to think about finishing on the podium and trying to win it.

So being able to go to a race, with the team embracing that, that for me is really comforting and really exciting as opposed to going back on the roster and having some sort of a schedule, be it fixed or flexible, and making it somewhat difficult for me to continue progressing in triathlon. That’s still the primary focus.

And the races — they’ve said they’ll try and give me as much notice as possible. Ideally, we’ve kind of agreed that at least two days would be nice because it’d be good to just not run for a couple of days before the race. That’s the thing that takes the top end off you — the spark — which obviously I’m going to need with the races, with the surges and things.

But back to how the contract with racing came about: We had one in place to be part of the organisation and then we were waiting on the Amador outcome and then, of course “Kiry” [Vasil Kiryienka] decided that he wasn’t going to continue racing. And they rang me and asked me “If Kiry does make this decision, will you be happy to step in?” We’ve obviously got guys out at the moment, injuries, and then some younger guys and then you’ve got the guys with the Olympics. And so there’s probably going to be quite a demand on filling gaps here and there. And so I said “absolutely”. And the UCI were happy to accommodate that even at late notice.

So when we found out it was possible, Dave was very determined to act quite decisively and swiftly and get me signed up and racing. And this all happened from a week ago. It’s happened within six days. I was in L.A. traveling with G — with Geraint Thomas — and Ben Swift had just left, actually — he’d been with us for a few weeks — and Tim Kerrison [team coach] came over to supervise us for a block and see how everything was going. And he said “So this is the situation. What do you think?” And I was like, “Yeah, why not?” I mean, if I could dream of a situation to be able to come back … I couldn’t have even dreamed up this one.

I mean, this is just unbelievable. You spend your whole sporting career leaving Australia, to try and pursue the highest level and here I was getting to come back to Australia to race again for the first time in five years. But to do it with a team that ever since they started was the one I dreamed of being with. And obviously the last few years spending more and more time around them, that hunger and desire to do so at some point has only got stronger. So, yeah, I’m rapt.

How much do you reckon you’ll race this year?

Honestly, I have no idea. We’ve only talked about tomorrow.

I think your last WorldTour race was Tour of Beijing in 2014, right? How do you think you’re going to go tomorrow when you jump back into the WorldTour peloton?

*Laughs* Well, it’s not my first rodeo at trying something different, trying something new. I mean, everybody says things have changed a lot. Andre Greipel: “Oh, man it’s so different now, it’s stressful!” I said “Mate, I don’t doubt that, but if I’m honest, I can’t remember what it was like it’s been that long!” I’ve completely forgotten what it was like to be in the peloton.

I’ve obviously got a bit of experience with changing sports now. And the one thing with changing sports that I’ve found is if you really want to do it, you have to leave the old one behind. Obviously, this [rejoining the WorldTour] is totally against that. But there’s a reason I haven’t raced at all for five years.

In the first instance it was because I didn’t want to but then the last few years when I could have done the Nationals or other things or whatever, my 100% focus has been on Kona and racing on the road would have been a bit of a distraction. But obviously now we’ve got to a point where I’ve progressed a lot in those and riding a bike in a triathlon is obviously something you need to do. And racing potentially could give me an extra edge.

But I still haven’t rowed a single stroke since I stopped in 2006. I have not been in a boat. Not a single stroke.

Cold turkey.

Yeah, pretty much. You’ve got to be focused on what you’re doing. And in this case, racing on the road is just a part of the evolution of getting ready for Kona.

What sort of role will you have tomorrow?

One I’ve always had. Just make sure nothing happens at the start that we’re not a part of. Be attentive and support the guys and try and get everyone to the circuits if possible as fresh as possible. There’s certainly no expectation on me to raise my arms in victory at the end. But yeah I’ll just slip back into a role that I’ve done many, many times I guess.

The team’s been great. Luckily Brett [Lancaster, sports director] is here — he’s an Aussie and probably has a bit more of an understanding of me than most would. Yeah, just sort of easing me back into it. They’ve got a lot of the Classics group here so he’s got a little bit of a strategy involved there, more around just how he wants the Classics guys to ride as a unit and so forth.

So it’s good. I definitely have a purpose and a role, and that’s all I said: I’m excited to just get told what to do. Because doing an Ironman you’re making decisions on your own a lot — the swim, the bike, the run. You’re constantly being your own director and athlete and coach and psychologist and any other title you can possibly think of during a race. So it will be nice to just put it on autopilot and do what I’m told and be a bit of a robot.

So drilling it on the front for hours on end?

Well that’d be fantastic — obviously the dream scenario. You can try in training, and I do try and replicate that, but there’s nothing like the racing. Not only that, it’s one thing to produce power; it’s another thing to go fast.

And Bradley McGee [head of selectors for the Australian national team] was the one that told me when he saw me a few years ago — I was visiting Richie [Porte] when Richie crashed out of the Tour and Brad was there, so it must have been 2017, and he said “Wurfy, forget about that bloody power meter. Just focus on going quick. Just do what you need to do. Stay within your perceived effort zones and get that bike to go as fast as possible.” And that was then when I went and broke the record in Kona on the bike. And since then, obviously my speed on the TT bike has been much better.

I even did some efforts in the December camp with Rohan [Dennis] and yeah, I seem to be moving pretty well *chuckles*. So that was some great advice from Brad and something I’ve taken [on board] so I’m excited to get back potentially to that role of riding on the front and continuing to work on that without stressing too much about what that number says in front of me.

What about being in the bunch itself, with riders around? It’s obviously very different to being on the bike in an Ironman.

Yeah, I mean — touch wood — the last time I raced I didn’t have a big issue with crashing. I was always pretty good and I spent a lot of time racing particularly with [Elia] Viviani so that was often in sprints when it gets a bit chaotic and argy bargy. And I never used to worry about that. Obviously I haven’t spent any time in a group since. When I have been in a big group ride it’s a bit different because amateur cyclists — they’re not super competent. I certainly sense the fear and whatever and just get myself out of it. But at this level …

I remember last time, the one thing that helped me a lot was you’ve gotta trust that you’re riding with the best cyclists in the world, and they know what they’re doing, and no one wants to crash. Yeah, people do some things and cause [crashes] and it’s part of the sport. But you just keep the little area around you as safe as possible and that’s all you can control.

So I’m actually excited to see what it’s like *laughing*. As I said, it’s been so long since a race that I cannot remember what it was like.

Your last race was Nationals in 2017 I think. Have you done any racing at all since then?

No, nothing. Not a single event.

You sound excited by this whole adventure.

I am. Who wouldn’t be? I mean, far out. I could not script being in this position as a sportsman. I couldn’t dream it up. What I’ve done and what I’ve obviously done now in triathlon, Ironman particularly, it’s obviously a sport that seems to really work for me and to have the confidence to be able to say “yeah, I’ll come back” — that’s just mind boggling.

You dream about being in the WorldTour and particularly being in this team. And so to have a very two-way-street conversation of “Listen, here’s a role. Are you interested?” Having the option I was like “wow”. People would often say “It would be great to go back to racing” and I said, “Well, yeah, but I’ve been quite successful at what I’m doing.” I’ve desperately wanted to race in the past and it didn’t work out when I was desperate to race.

I mean, I’m 36 now. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. That is the last thing I want to do. And particularly this team that’s been so jolly good to me. And then the other thing is, it’s the best team in the world that’s asking you to ride for them. And not only that, but in five days, they’re like, “Yeah, OK and by the way, you can race a WorldTour race as your first race back.” I mean, that has to give me confidence.

I don’t think this team just makes rash decisions and goes, “Oh, look, this will be funny — let’s see what happens.” There’s some sort of logic to it, obviously, and probably a lot more than I’ve even been let in on, as to what the plans are for me.

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