This is the second of a five-part series of interviews in which Saxo-Sungard’s latest recruit, Jonathan Cantwell, talks candidly about his outstanding career so far, the devestating time with Pegasus, the roller-coaster of emotions experienced on his way to riding with one of the World’s top cycling teams.
Check out The Cantwell Chronicles(Part 1): "The Early Years" CSN-Australia Front page or Interviews
It’s kind of funny you know, because everyone says if you want to be a cyclist you’ve got to go to Europe and get away, and obviously that’s the heritage of cycling throughout the world, you need to go to Europe!
But having said that, I think we’re ranked number 3 in the world.
We could probably have an Australian circuit that would be just as good quality-wise as European programs or circuit, and we’ve obviously got riders with ability, otherwise we wouldn’t be ranked “Number 3”
And this year, with Cadel’s win in the Tour de France, we have a rider from Australia who is the best in the world.
You know, last year and a little bit of this year I did a little bit of NRS throughout Australia, and the quality of racing in Australia is really, really hard.
I’ve got to be at the very top of my game to be able to win some races at the Tour of Murray River, the Tour of Tasmania or whatever it might be. You’ve got to be riding at your best to get some sort of results here.
Having said this, racing over in Europe does provide another level of professionalism, and the amount of teams you’ve racing against is awesome. It’s a completely different culture, and the way they conduct themselves over there is completely different.
We have the organization and sponsorship to cater for cycling throughout Australia. But unfortunately there is a history of there being two many bites at the same cherries, and there doesn’t appear to be enough money going around in cycling to allow for a higher level of professionalism.
Look at the infrastructure of the European teams…even the shittier ones so to speak. They have team cars, team buses, they’ve got, like 15 guys per team on the roster, and they’ve got seigneurs..!! Just the way the whole dynamics of the team gets run is really awesome.
And they have the races!
In Australia, we have less than a dozen major races throughout the entire country, so how can you get any good results, or how can you race consistently to get results when you’ve only got that number of chances to make a name for yourself.
Over in Europe, I was doing something like 87 races a year – you get to race so many times…on a Wednesday, a Saturday, Sunday, you’d do tours and things like that. There is so much more opportunity.
The years 2005 and 2006 saw you ploughing through hard times?
Yeah, I guess.
After the European experience I actually gained a little bit of an injury in 2005 in my Achilles which is a pretty renowned injury for a cyclist to get, so that really hindered any performance, any chance of getting a contract for Division 1 or Division 2 team over in Europe.
So when I came back into Australia after the end of 2005 I got a job working for Teschner, and in 2006 I had no contacts,and no way of getting into any other team so I basically said, “Well I’ve got to survive”, so like anyone, “you’ve got to start working and get a job”, and it doesn’t matter what it is, selling bikes or working at McDonalds you know, you’ve got to earn a living.
Was this a bit of a down time for you? Were you starting to think, “Should I just really be a professional cyclist or should I be involved in business?”
2006 and 2007 were definitely pivotal years for me Who knows what road you’re going to go down in your cycling career you choose, but having spent 2006 in Australia made me realize how much I wanted to become a professional cyclist.
Maybe if I’d kept carrying on with what I was doing in Europe I would have burnt out or I wouldn’t have been enthused as I was, but having spent 2006 staying in Australia, racing, working and realizing this was what I wanted to be, the flame was kept alive…I wanted to be a professional cyclist .
In 2007 I packed my OWN bag, bought my OWN plane ticket and I left and went to America, because, obviously, you can’t just pack your bags and go to Europe unless you want to start at Belgium and get it handed to you in the gutter.
It wasn’t a direction that I chose personally.
With the help from my wife and you know, my family and friends, I packed my bag and left everything behind here, and with a bike under my arm and a backpack on my back, I went to the States and started racing for a California club team that I’d organized through the internet.
As random as it sounds, that’s pretty much random as it was.
I was still a little bit involved with selling whole bikes and so forth, so I had a little bit of work to do, with John and Rachel Tzinberg.
They owned a bike shop over in California and they realized what I wanted to do as a cyclist and they obviously knew my history because they’re from Australia.
They moved to the US and said that if ever I came over to California, I should try to get involved with a club thing called “Kahala-La Grange”.
I had know idea what this was at the time..it could have been a restaurant for all I knew…But the Tzinbergs had re-assured me that it was “a great environment”.
So, as I said, I literally packed my bike and my bag and went over there, having never met this guy, John Tzinberg, before in my life.
I’m sitting there in the airport in Los Angeles, and I don’t know whether you’ve ever been to LA airport but its massive. You are there in a strange, overwhelming new world; you don’t know what’s happening around you, you’ve never been to the US before and you didn’t have this guy’s mobile number or anything, just had an email address.
Then I noticed this car coming into view, and its got a bike rack and a bike on the roof.
I just put my hand up, hoping I was waving at the right person and hoping he’d see I had a bike bag on my shoulder and so forth.
So fair enough, he pulls over and says “Gooday mate, how are ya?”
“Yeah.. good” and I hear the Aussie accent and I get in the car and I’m on my way.
So crazy as it seems, that’s exactly how it happened!
Went back to his place and we organized which races we were going to be doing and bits and pieces.
I hadn’t been training a whole lot but I was in good shape and with the experience I’ve got now I can block my way through a few races, and the first race I had was called “Conquer the Canyon” just in the Malibu Mountains in California, really beautiful and I ended up winning a crit.
John was pretty chuffed that he “finally had a winner on his hands” and I started racing with those guys.
I spent 6 weeks away from my wife, and won about 7 races in the US over that time, and the team was pretty upset when I announced that I was heading back to Australia.
“Don’t go, don’t go..” and I’m like “:I’ve got to go, I’ve got commitments back in Australia, work and family”, and when I got back home I said, “Honey this is it, this is what we’re doing.” So get ready, we’re going to America next year”.
And I ended up going back for a further 4 week stint and finished up racing an International Cycling Classic called Super League – Everyone knows what Super League is, and the Kahala Le Grange team secured the yellow jersey for a time and I ended up finishing 3rd overall in the 17 day tour, and helped one of my team-mates to win the event.
It was an awesome experience and from there my career in the US started to take a turn for me.
Coming back to Australia I got a phone call from Trent Wilson whom everyone knows. He’s a real good friend of mine, been one for years, and he was “Well, you should have been here 5 years ago” and I said “Yeah, you’re probably right” and I ended up singing for Jittery Joe’s for 2008, first Pro Tour team.