This is the fifth 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)
At what point did you and/or your manager say, “Ive got to have another crack at it.”
Again you don’t want to be unprofessional, and start emailing guys in February, so through the transfer period I emailed a handful of Division 2 teams and it was really, early for anybody.
So around September, October I got a phone call from Nick Gates who’s a good friend of mine, and he said “we’ve been talking to Bjarne Riis because we need another guy to go to the smaller races, with an opportunity to win the smaller races throughout Europe” and he put forward my name.
I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you, if it wasn’t for him, really.
They monitored my races and I did pretty well in the Herald Sun Tour which Saxo Bank raced at this year, and I had an in-depth conversation with Brad McGee and he said we really want to get you pushed across the line.
They must have a little bit of a soft spot for me because they’d seen what had happened in my career as a cyclist and knew that I’d made it and had everything taken away and they obviously realized my ability as a cyclist.
They basically gave me the opportunity through Nick Gates, Brad McGee and apparently Bjarne Riis.
There’ve been so many teams that have fallen over at the moment, including HTC and GEOX, and with more and more riders placing themselves on the market, I honestly didn’t think I was in with a chance.
At first I thought I was going to get a look in with GreenEdge– you know, coming from Australia, with my ability and my various connections there was an outside possibility they would take me on board and give me a contract.
But when I found out 8 weeks ago that Saxo was interested in me, I was happy as Larry.
There are so many guys on the market.
You know there’s around 300 professional cyclists registered through UCI pretty much throughout the whole world.
This year is a really tough time to get a pro contract. It’s a buyer’s market. You’ve got guys on the market that have been on a pro tour that have UCI points up against someone like me who has the ability to race at that level who doesn’t race over in Europe to obtain UCI points!
The fact that I’m not considered to be of any value to a team because Idon’t have points is ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
I had no bargaining power to sign contracts, but don’t worry, this is something I’ll be able to change next year
I haven’t spoken to Bjarne just yet (at the time of this interview), He’s the head hunter, he’s the boss – I’m super excited about meeting him because the communication so far have all been internal, with people like Director Sportifs, Brad McGee, handling my direct contact.
I’ve spoken to my equipment supplier through the team – and the infrastructure through Saxo Bank is unbelievable. I never imagined how in-depth things are set up and how professional it is – all we have to worry about now is riding our bikes, which is awesome.
They’ve got their trainers, their doctors – absolutely everything. I really feel that. You know Jonathan Cantwell has two more levels to go up and I really feel this team will give it to me.
Nick (Gates) seemed really confident that I would be a very good asset to the team.
I’d gone from being on a high to this is not going to work and was hanging in limbo for a bit.
“Don’t get your hopes up, go back to plan A or whatever”.
When I was in Noosa I got the phone call from Nick saying, “Listen, it’s been a while since we’ve been talking, but I really feel I need to push it across the line for you, let’s make it happen”
I’m like, “You beauty! Are you serious?”
I was little down that Virgin mightn’t be continuing for 2012 and 13 so this was like I’d lost Plan A and lost Plan B within the same week and I’ve gone from the high to the low and I’d had enough.
“ I’ll do anything you need”. And Nick said, “No, I’ve spoken to Bjarne and we want to give you the opportunity.” I was like, “Beautiful, when can I expect a contract..?”
He was like “Well, hang on just a sec!” so I was like “Cool, okay” and didn’t speak to him for a couple of days.
I finished my holiday in Noosa with my family and was back down on the Coast, sitting in the Piccolo Coffee Shop at Miami Beach Front and on Wednesday morning, 2nd of November.
I just checked my emails as I do, and there’s a contract from Saxo Bank!
I looked at the missus, I’m probably going to cry again – it gives me goose bumps!
There’s a contract waiting for me on my emails and I just could not believe it!
I was just so thrilled and the chief focus was to get the contract back ASAP.
So at 9 oclock I’m there and at 9.15 had the contract printed out and signed and sent it Platinum express back by 9.30am.
There was a point where you keep it completely confidential.
The team is so professional, and they need to make the announcement.
And they probably couldn’t make any announcement until my paperwork got back there which was four days. So probably one of the hardest things to do was not being able to tell anybody.
As you know I was making a few comments on twitter about how things couldn’t get any better, and people were digging….. but obviously I wouldn’t say anything detrimental to my contract.
Then after sending back the contract, I was checking every web site, refreshing every 3 minutes to see if Saxo Bank had made an official announcement. – nothing yet
I ended up going to bed on the Tuesday night and finally getting to sleep, but was woken up at 3am by a barrage of phonecalls from people going absolutely bananas because they’d officially found out that I’d signed with Saxo Bank
What does all this mean to you and your family?
When I read the press release “Cantwell has Signed with Saxo Bank” – that sealed the deal, that felt like concrete, there was no turning point, the contract’s there.
My wife Alana and my almost 8 month old son Jason and all my close friends and family, they know what the road I’ve been on and how hard I’ve worked to get this, and thanks to the Saxo Bank team directors to give me the opportunity..
Words can’t describe how much I’m going to grab this with both hands to make this work and take every opportunity to learn from the team, from my team mates and the team itself, to become a better bike rider and just give it 110%.
Words can’t describe how excited I am, from the tweets that have gone out there and to me, and my good close friends and family, celebrations haven’t really started yet
It’s another chapter, in the Jonathan Cantwell book – the chapter of, “you’ve made it, you’ve done it’
The chapter we’ve got is super exciting!
I’m heading off to a training camp soon, before going on to Monaco, where Nick Gates lives and where he wants us to reside next year.
Obviously I’ve got things to look after here, I’ve got to look after a mortgage back here in Australia and a new little boy to take over to Europe, but he’s already been over to the US when he was 6 weeks old so he’s an international traveller, and the wife is probably more excited than I am right now.
She knows how hard I’ve worked and what I’ve done to get to where I am and she’s a part of it – without her, I probably wouldn’t be talking about this either. So my wife is probably my biggest support in my career so far.
Obviously to have a wife who understands, and has been through the whole experience with you has been incredibly beneficial – to up and go, and move half way around the world.
For anyone to have a wife, to take a bag and a backpack and bike under the arm. – she’s worth every dollar, she’s awesome, she’s incredible.
She knows what it means to me, and I know what it means to her, and it makes me succeed in what I want to do because she’s given up so much.
When we were in the US she had to come back 3 weeks in advance so she had to spend weeks here by herself looking after the little man and even when she was pregnant, before his birth I was over there for 2 weeks and its super stressful, so for the things I’ve put her through, she probably needs a medal and she deserves the celebrations as much as I am doing.
One last question, when do you get your kit?
Ha ha, tell me about it! I’m about to go down to the local bike shop and buy one! I’m super keen to get one! I’ll have to import one. – But probably training camp.
Because obviously I’m still contracted to Virgin at the moment until the end of the year, so I definitely won’t do the wrong thing by those guys as far as advertising rights and so forth.
You’ll see me floating around, but there might be an odd chance you might see a Saxo Bank kit – we’ll see how we go.
All images copyright Peter Ford (CSN)