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World’s fastest rower targeting Olympic road cycling glory

Peter Stuart
21 Mar 2017

New Zealand's rowing World Record holder Hamish Bond plans to race the UK time-trial scene this summer

Hamish Bond was half of the New Zealand national coxless pair, which began a winning streak in 2009 that became the most successful in rowing history. He won two Olympic gold medals, 8 world championships and beat the World Record previously held by Matt Pinsent and James Cracknell by over 6 seconds. Following 8 years of winning, and with no prospect of defeat on the horizon, Hamish Bond decided this year to begin cycling as his primary sport, with the goal of international competition in mind.

Cyclist: How has the cycling scene reacted to a relative novice like yourself jumping straight to the top of the domestic time trial scene?

Hamish Bond: I guess they're all intrigued in some ways. Coming third at the national time-trial champs was definitely a good marker as it was my first ever 40km TT, I didn't have the greatest run in and the result was pretty good.

I was about a minute off Jack Bauer who is with the Quick-Step Floors team. It was encouraging as I think I left a lot of time on the track.

Then coming third at Oceania champs two weeks ago, and beating Jason Christie who had beaten me at the National Champs was another great step on.

I’m coming to the UK for a couple of months in June and July so I’m keen to see what I can do on the race scene there.

It sounds like the time-trialling scene there is the world's best. Plus it’s winter here in New Zealand and there's not a lot going on in time trialling at that time of the year.

Cyc: You had the most successful winning streak in international rowing history, how did you find your way into it?

HB: We rowed for a few years in a coxless four. We were World Champions in 2007 and went into the 2008 Olympics with high hopes but got pumped by good old Great Britain.

They won the gold medal and we bombed, coming 7th. Off the back off that I looked around the squad and the coxless pair with Eric Murray was the best decision from my point of view.

Andy Triggs-Hodge and Pete Reed also went from the four to the pair at the same time. The talk from the media was not whether the British pair would win but whether they’d beat Pinsent and Cracknell’s World Record. We thought if we can be competitive and in amongst it that would be good.

We went into the season in 2009 and won our first race and never lost another race. Over eight years we had 69 wins in I don’t know how many events, plus we took a chunk out of the world record.

Cyc: What was your key to your dominance in such a competitive field in rowing, and was it tough to maintain that?

HB: We were probably both very good psychologically. I would put us both in the top five across all rowers internationally.

At all times we were both pretty good on the rowing machine. Eric, I think his best 2k score was 5.41, my best is 5.44 which is pretty handy at under 90kg.

We’re both pretty good and we combine well, when your parts are pretty good and the sum of your parts is even better then that’s a good start.

I definitely would say there was an element of expectation fatigue. It weighed quite heavily on me at times, almost that fear of losing as opposed to the excitement of winning.

Just the constant expectation that you know you’re good enough to win and you should win but you’ve still got to go out and win.

Cyc: When did you begin the transition from rowing to cycling?

HB: I basically started training for this before I left the Olympics in Rio, more or less a couple of days after the final, I was straight on the trainer.

It’s pretty nuts but I figured if you’re at the top of one mountain and you need to get to the top of another it’s better to jump off the top and land half way then start at the bottom.

Obviously I was in great physical condition. For the Olympics I rowed at 90kg. I set about stripping a bit of weight, naturally if you don’t use your upper body you tend to shed a little weight so I’ve managed to lose about 10kg.

So I’m down at 80kg now. I think I’m pretty lean, but I’m not Chris Froome lean.

Cyc: What was your cycling history before that?

HB: We did a little cycling as cross training. Probably the last time I cycled seriously was in 2009, when I raced domestically.

Since then I guess in the build up to London I really didn’t do much just because of the risk of injury.

That racing season did pique my interest, though, so I wondered how good I could be if I gave it my full focus and full attention.

Cyc: Has weight been an issue for you?

HB: When I was rowing Eric is about 10 kgs heavier than me so I always had to hold my weight up. Basically, I’ve just competitively eaten for 10 years.

So to flip that on its head has been quite challenging. I mean when I was rowing and I was hungry I would just eat, whereas now I just eat to perform not for satisfaction anymore. My food now has to be for a reason.

Cyc: What is your overall cycling goal at the moment?

HB: Ultimately the Tokyo Olympics. It’s a massive goal, to switch sports in four years, but I haven’t got to where I am by aiming low. Whether that’s in any way feasible is to be determined.

I have sort of given myself a time horizon. If I feel as though I’m not progressing anymore and I’m not at a level where I wanted to be at then I’m not just going to keep banging my head against a wall.

My goal is to be in Tokyo and be competitive whether that’s in cycling or in rowing, so I have a short amount of time to work it out.

I’m aware, you’re looking, the gold standard is around the 6 watts per kilo, as an 80kg guy, wow that’s really getting up there in terms of power.

I’ve heard rumours of Cancellara being able to do around those high 400s, 500. Yeah, I’ve done sets, short intervals at 500, to do it for a whole TT, well crikey that’s hard to get your head around.

Cyc: Would you say there’s more depth in a sport like cycling compared to rowing?

HB: Internationally, yes. I think so. I mean you only have to look at the number of competitors and in terms of competing at the Olympics there’s a lot of spots for rowers and a lot of medals to win.

If you’re a cyclist there’s a few on the track, if you’re a road cyclist there’s two. That’s hard, and you’ve got maybe 500 cyclists training professionally to a very high level for two olympic medals.

Cyc: Are you intimidated by the scale of the task?

HB: It’s an exciting challenge, Cycling New Zealand has been quite supportive and I guess trying to reduce or knock down any barriers that might inhibit me from getting the best from myself.

I’m on quite a steep learning curve and also conscious that in some way time is against me. I can’t spend two or three years figuring this out. I have to get through that "figuring it out" stage in six months.

I’ve also had support from Trek who have provided me with a SpeedConcept time-trial bike which is an amazing bike to be racing on.

Cyc: Would you consider joining a road racing team?

HB: I think I’m going down a different path, I guess I’m looking more at how track teams prepare for the Olympics – I know a lot of them still ride for trade teams as well.

If I was going to do any road racing it would just be a means to an end. In terms of training, if someone deemed it to be the thing to improve me the most or get me the best benefit then, yeah, I’ll look at it.

Also, I don’t know what sort of teams would be interested in me. I’m not adept at road racing, I know there’s a lot of tactics and you can’t get by on horsepower alone.

Cyc: Have you started the quest to become more aerodynamic too?

HB: You have to remember that we’re in New Zealand so there’s no wind-tunnel around the corner! There’s one wind-tunnel here and I have been in that once and I’ve been told I’m not completely unaerodynamic, so that’s encouraging.

There’s only so much you can do, I can’t exactly go at my shoulders with a knife or anything. I guess I can try to lean up as much as possible, I don’t do any weights anymore so I hope that happens naturally.

I’ll be working on that position as much as my power. Then finally if those two are looking good then I’ll get out the credit card and start buying speed. But there's no point in buying speed if you’re a chocolate pudding who can’t push anything.

Cyc: How about the more technical handling elements of cycling?

HB: That’s definitely somewhere where I can improve – taking the tightest course and carrying speed through corners, that’s all part of the efficient use of the power.

I had Jesse Sargeant helping me a bit. He rode for Trek for a number of years and finished with AG2R a year ago so he’s probably New Zealand’s best ever time trialist.

Cyc: Is it difficult coming from a sport considered extremely clean in terms of doping to a sport where many competitors may have a history of doping?

HB: I guess you can’t really do much about it on an individual level. I mean you’d be pretty naive to think it’s all hunky dorey now, but as long as I can take pride in being a clean athlete and doing things honestly then I'll be happy.

Some people take the cop out in saying you know everyone was on it and so it was a level playing field, but any sort of satisfaction or success one gets from racing with that mindset that then it’s a pretty hollow victory.

I certainly wouldn’t get any satisfaction from it. I don’t know any of the people who have been tainted by drugs but a lot of them were in a position to do something about it, to be a whistleblower and change the situation but they took the easy option.

I know that’s always easy to say from the sidelines, but that’s just my opinion I guess.

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