This is the third 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 devasting time with Pegasus, and the roller-coaster of emotions experienced on his way to riding with one of the World’s top cycling teams.
(Read previous parts of The Cantwell Chronicles by clicking on “Interviews” on main menu)
Explain your first Series as a pro. I guess it was a huge step up from a club team?
Yes… it was just different.
It was a completely different outcome, the way the teams are run over there, the sponsorship. What I really found, it’s all about the bike, that’s what you concentrate on.
With Americans, they seem to give back a lot, a lot more to charity, to communities, which is what I really appreciated.
Jittery Joe’s, it’s a coffee company if you didn’t know. Every 2nd Saturday you had a commitment to do a coffee shop ride and things like that, and some of the bigger races Jittery Joe’s would come and have a coffee stall, selling coffee and things like that – It was really, really fun.
One of the benefits of racing in the States was there were no language barriers, so my wife ended up travelling with me in 2008 and in California where we based ourselves. It was awesome.
I think there were 3 or 4 Aussies with Jittery Joe’s that year, and there’ve always been Australians going through that Team.
There’s probably less pressure racing in the States than there would be in Europe and so forth.
Results-wise things were pretty good.
Jittery Joe’s wasn’t the strongest team so I didn’t have the strongest lead-out, but I still managed to win about 6 races in my only year with them, many of these in the bigger races.
I competed in the Tour of Georgia and the Philadelphia International, both of which were super hard. It was a fun experience though, really good. Hanging out with Aussies there, racing there. I didn’t do the bigger races when I was racing for the club team. Still, once you know a race you do it the following year, so you know what to expect.
Unfortunately I was only able to ride with Jittery Joe’s for one year.
The world economy was taking a turn for the worse, and Jittery Joe’s ran out of sponsorship, despite desperate attempts to pull another sponsor on board, but it didn’t happen.
2008 for me was awesome.
I really enjoyed racing as a pro and the step up from what I’d been doing and so forth, so finding myself without a team at the end of my contract with Jittery Joe’s was a really, really stressful time. I didn’t have 20 wins under my belt, and I didn’t really have a name for myself – so it was really tough.
I was fortunate and lucky that the whole Virgin thing came on board.
With Jittery Joes folding I didn’t know what to do., I didn’t know what other teams to call, I didn’t have anyone guiding me and it was a tough time.
Unfortunately, with a cycling career, you are going from year to year unless you’re lucky enough to get a two or possibly a three year deal which is almost unheard of these days.
Getting a 1 year deal, going from year to year – you’d love setting yourself inside a team and run your whole career through there because you get to know the people, the infrastructure, you know you’re not changing brands all the time.
It was a tough time when I came back to Australia and found that Jittery Joe’s wasn’t going ahead.
So you found out once you came back to Australia?
Yes, because obviously the season goes from February to November. I came back in October. There wasn’t a whole lot going on, and there were some races here that I wanted to do, and then to get the email, and the phone call to say “Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull it off. Jittery Joe has pulled out”.
It felt like, I was starting all over again.
How did the transition over to Virgin occur?
Chris White had started a local Brisbane team called Virgin Blue, which was basically a coffee shop team, it was super small – they started in 2007 actually.
They raced around in Brisbane and Murarrie in 2007 and 2008 and started to get a little bit bigger and then Virgin chipped in with a little bit more money so they started racing around Australia with the Nationals NRS series in 2008.
They sent 4 guys over to do Super Group including Bernard Sulzberger and David Kemp, so they actually got domestic and national exposure,m and they had that four week block over in the US which was good for them.
This way they were able to secure a few more sponsors.
2009 was the first year that I rode for them and V Australia jumped on board, now called Virgin Australia.
Rather than Virgin Blue, Company bosses wanted recognition as “V Australia” because that was the 1st year the airline was launched onto the world aviation scene.
It was perfect timing, as Virgin Australia now sponsored a cycling team that raced in Australia and raced in the US.
They quickly announced sponsorship of two stages in the Tour of California back in 2009, and this left us with about a week to prepare for one of the hardest races in the world.
Needless to say, we didn’t do any good.
I signed a one year deal with those guys and Chris signed a 3 year sponsorship deal with that team and 2009 really did boost cycling in Australia .
It made other teams and companies realize that they can sponsor a team and get international exposure and we did really well.
We realized we had to make a pretty good impact, so I think we won something like 94 races throughout the season, out of the whole team. We rode Number One team in the US and Number One team in Australia, and that really helped to set up 2010.
“V Australia” had some exceptional riders and it just shows, if you’ve got a really strong core of guys, a group of guys that meshes well together and they’d do anything on and off the bike for one another, you then have one powerful force to be reckoned with
2010 was another pivotal / turning point for you, your first ride in the Tour Down Under?
Yep, 2010 was the 1st year I did the Tour Down Under in the Uni National Team.
That was really exciting. I guess what gave me a good start was the fact that I did really well in the US in 2009 and when I came back to Australia I won a number of stages in the Tour of Murray River and and the Tour of Tasmania. That was on top of winning two stages in the Herald Sun Tour in 2009.
I had the yellow jersey one day and ended up winning the sprint jersey so I obviously got a lot of recognition from that race from guys like Shane Bannan and Brian Stephens and Dave Sanders.
You know, ‘Hey this guy can climb now, he’s a good sprinter obviously and he’s matured as a person and he’s a guy for us!’
So to race against good teams and guys like Bradley Wiggins and CJ Sutton was magical for me.
And me being there at a couple of stages made them realize that Jon Cantwell had the ability, and deserved to get a shot at anything that was being planned for the future.
It was hugely exciting to be given a spot on the Australian team at the TDU. I actually got the call-up very, very late. They don’t put their composite team together until pretty much the last minute. I was moving OK there, I think I got 10th in the very last stage of the Herald Sun Tour as my best result.
It was very hard, stepping into a composite team of 6 riders like that one.
Everyone has their own their own agendas and objectives, and it was pretty hard to get five other guys to ride for me when they’re riding against Lance Armstrong and others, and there were other team dynamics.
2010 was awesome and the Tour down Under was probably my biggest race, but the second biggest race for me was the Tour of California which is now very highly regarded on the world calendar.
In 2010 we saw some 6 or 7 pro tour teams come across including the likes of Tom Boonen, Cancelara. Mark Cavendish, and mark Renshaw.
So, almost the best of the best of the Tour de France was there except for the major climbers.
I ended up running 5th against these guys on Stage 1, and after running 5th again in Stage 4 and having good team with me,I knew I had the ability to be right up there with these guys.
This gave me a huge confidence boost, to know that when we’re stepping into the sprint, these guys aren’t riding away from me, I’m actually being very competitive against them.