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From the Tour de France to the City of London: Simon Gerrans on life in retirement

In-depth
20 Mar 2020
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Saturday 21st March 2020 should have been the 111th Milan-San Remo but due to these unprecedented circumstances amid the coronavirus pandemic, La Primavera has been pushed back for the foreseeable. 

In these truly trying times, sport is surely a footnote that is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. However, it is also something that can help fill the void of many things that are being taken away from us.

To stave off the boredom, Cyclist has dug into its archives to find some of its best stories from the past and here is one with Milan-San Remo winner-turned London city banker Simon Gerrans from Issue 87.

Words Joseph Robinson Photography Patrik Lundin

Catch the 7.30am Northern Line Tube from Clapham Common to Bank station, Monday to Friday, and among the army of commuters travelling into the City of London, cycling fans will see a familiar face.

In a well-tailored suit provided by old friend Jeff Banks, and still looking trim and tanned, Australia’s greatest-ever one-day rider and double Monument winner is on his way to his new job.

‘I’m officially on the Sports Internship programme at Goldman Sachs,’ says Simon Gerrans when we meet on a weekend near his London home.

‘My old agent, Andrew McQuaid, told me about this scheme that came off the back of London 2012, but it kind of fizzled out. I contacted them about sparking it back up and they said, “Yeah, why not?”’

Gerrans has been slotted into Goldman Sachs’s securities division, which, according to the company website, helps ‘buy and sell financial products on exchanges around the world, raise funding, and manage risk’ for its multinational clients.

The internship is a scheme whereby former professional sportsmen and women are taken on to learn the financial ropes, regardless of previous experience – or lack of.

While Gerrans is tight-lipped about his exact day-to-day duties, we can assume he isn’t making coffee and running errands, and any job at one of the world’s biggest investment banks is likely to keep him well stocked with Vegemite.

The Australian has been a Londoner since last summer, when he moved from Andorra to Clapham in preparation for his career change.

As he sips at his coffee in the Italian cafe where we meet, it becomes obvious that the British way of life has rubbed off on him as he seems uncharacteristically reserved about telling the curious cafe owner why he is being photographed.

He tells me how his two young children are being taught in English for the first time, having been taught in French while living in Monaco and then Andorra, and how the excitement of visiting the Natural History Museum has yet to wear thin.

‘When I first moved here I was still training in team kit. I’d head out to Surrey or Kent and get a few funny looks from people thinking I was a pretender in all of the gear,’ he says.

‘Riding here is quite different to Andorra,’ Gerrans laughs. ‘I don’t mind Richmond Park, though. It’s just 15 minutes away so I can go out, get a few laps in and then get home quick.’

Planning for the future

Sportsmen and women often find it hard to let go in retirement. After spending your entire life devoted to a sport, it can be tough to accept that you are suddenly no longer good enough to keep going.

It’s why so many take jobs in cycling after they retire. Sport directors, race organisers and co-commentators tend to come from the professional peloton.

Gerrans is no different. The reason we are meeting so early is because he has to be at Eurosport in the afternoon to make his commentary debut. He is also an investor in start-up helmet company Hexr.

The sport does its best to look after its own once they can no longer compete at the top level, but there aren’t enough jobs for everyone and many struggle in those first years away from the sport.

It would be easy to blame the teams for not preparing their athletes for life after racing, but Gerrans sees it differently.

‘I feel like many riders could shoulder the burden a heck of a lot more to prepare themselves for a career beyond cycling,’ he says. ‘Teams could do more but they are already so stretched with budgets and resources and considering the here and now.

‘I just think that a big difference could be made if riders considered looking beyond their riding career and using their downtime to build a network beyond racing.’

It seems logical, but then again Gerrans is speaking from a privileged position. Unlike so many, he made the decision of when to walk away from the sport, instead of the sport making it for him.

He had offers to continue into this year but knowing his legs and head were no longer there, he had already made the mental switch to leave cycling behind in search of a new challenge.

I was really fortunate in being able to step away from cycling on my own terms. My results were way beyond my wildest dreams but I knew I was beyond my best level. Mentally I was ready for a new challenge,’ he says.

‘As my career evolved I was meeting people at corporate cycling events who were involved in financial services, which is how I stumbled upon Goldmans. I’ve gone from the world-class environment of the professional peloton to Goldman Sachs, which is also world-class at what it does.

‘I’m surrounded by the best in the business, who are super-competitive and motivated.’

Against all odds

Growing up on a farm in the small village of Mansfield in Victoria, Australia – territory best known for being the playground of 19th-century bandit Ned Kelly – cycling was not on the agenda for Gerrans until relatively late.

‘I was big into my motocross as a youngster. I grew up in Victoria, where everything was about Aussie Rules footie. I didn’t have an interest in cycling really,’ he says.

‘I only took up cycling as rehab. I had two knee reconstructions as a teenager and the doctor basically told me that I needed to take up a new sport that wouldn’t impact my knees anymore.’

Luckily for Gerrans, in the nearby village of Jamieson lived family friend and recently retired professional Phil Anderson, the first non-European ever to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.

‘I always had a good work ethic, which Phil spotted in me early on. It’s probably why he encouraged me so much into cycling. He wrote all of my training programmes when I started and he coached me,’ says Gerrans.

‘I did one year as a junior and one at under-23 level in Australia, and then I was already packing my bags to move to Italy.’

Short stints at the Norweigian-based Team Ringerike SK and a last-minute selection for Carvalhelhos-Boavista at the 2003 Tour de l’Avenir put him in the shop window, with AG2R-Prevoyance signing him in 2005.

It didn’t take Gerrans long to start making an impact. In 2008 he took a first Tour de France stage win riding for Crédit Agricole and by September 2009, by which point he was riding for the Cervélo TestTeam, he’d already won stages at all three Grand Tours.

In between the first and last of those stage wins he also scored top 10 finishes in the three major Ardennes Classics – Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – and took victory at the GP Plouay.

Gerrans then moved to newly formed Team Sky in 2010 with the expectation of leading the team to early success. He spent two frustrating seasons with the British squad before joining another new project in 2012, the Australian team Orica-GreenEdge.

As a racer, Gerrans was hard to categorise. Early in his career he picked up victories here and there, earning a reputation for being a fast finisher from small groups whose successes were often down to his racing nous, which is something he feels would be unlikely to work in today’s peloton.

‘I would strategically target races at times when I knew the level of racing wasn’t so high, such as early in the season,’ says Gerrans.‘Back then, guys would turn up with barely a few thousand kilometres in their legs.

‘Now, if you’re not turning up to the Tour Down Under with 6,000km banked and some intervals in the legs, you’re not finishing the race.’

Gerrans also points out that his wits and cunning helped him transition into one of the best one-day riders in the world, one who has wins at both Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Milan-San Remo on his palmarès.

‘Look at both of my Monument wins. I’d say I was the biggest underachiever on both of those podiums yet it was me who managed to win,’ he laughs.

‘I’m proud of those victories not just because of their calibre but because I wasn’t necessarily the strongest guy in the final reckoning but I still outmanoeuvred or outsmarted my opponents.’

The best example of this was his 2012 Milan-San Remo win. Attacking towards the summit of the Poggio, Gerrans escaped the peloton along with Vincenzo Nibali and Fabian Cancellara.

Gerrans openly admits that Cancellara was the strongest sprinter in that trio, but he knew Cancellara’s weakness, and that knowledge was all he needed to outfox the Swiss rider and take victory on the Via Roma.

‘Cancellara was so certain that he was going to win that sprint and I let him think that,’ Gerrans recalls.

‘I let him sit on the front and try to ride me from his wheel like he’d done so many times before. That was all I needed to be able to out-sprint him that day. I made him too confident that he was going to win.’

Highest highs, lowest lows

Both of those victories came during Gerrans’ time at Orica-GreenEdge (the team now known as Mitchelton-Scott). He smiles as the conversation turns to his time at the team from his home country.

‘It was a special time,’ he says. ‘Being part of a team with such an Aussie core was incredible. Most of the riders and staff were from Australia and everything was built around producing homegrown talent.’

The unique culture of the team, in which riders were more friends than colleagues, helped propel them to success, not only with Gerrans but also Mat Hayman and Michael Matthews among others.

It helped Orica-GreenEdge become one of the sport’s dominant forces in a relatively short period of time, but the focus on promoting Australian riders didn’t last.

After a while, the team transitioned away from this approach as they hunted success away from stage wins and one-day Classics. Instead, they recruited worldwide to build a team ready to challenge for Grand Tour victories.

‘It was when the team began to bring in its future stars, who maybe didn’t buy into the team culture as much, that you saw the direction of the team begin to change,’ Gerrans says.

These days, the team rides for a pair of English twins in the form of Simon and Adam Yates, and a Colombian, Esteban Chaves.

It’s working, with the trio counting wins at a Grand Tour and a Monument between them, but it’s far from what the team was originally created to do.

‘The emphasis of that team is no longer to develop Australian riders but to win Grand Tours and develop the likes of the Yates twins and Chaves,’ Gerrans says.

‘I fully understand and respect that decision but, from an Australian perspective, it’s a little disappointing that it’s no longer really an Australian team.’

Gerrans remembers his time at Orica fondly – the broad smile gives that away – but he cuts a more subdued figure when discussing riding for the Australian national team.

‘I had one shot at winning the World Championships and that was Ponferrada in 2014. I look back and know I could have won that day,’ he says.

‘I made a tactical decision not to follow Michal Kwiatkowski. I was strong enough but I didn’t move and he became champion.’

A year later, another Australian was leaving the World Championships bitterly disappointed with second place. This time it was Matthews, and at the time it was reported he blamed Gerrans for his failure to win, claiming that they ended up ‘sprinting against each other’.

Gerrans’ version of events is different.

‘Richmond 2015 was poorly managed on behalf of the Australian team. Me and Michael were both promised leadership in that race from a long way out and they didn’t manage our expectations well,’ he says.

‘We both turned up on the day expecting our own opportunities, so they split the team in terms of support. They shouldn’t have promised things they couldn’t deliver.

‘I saw it a lot during my career: two guys on one team being promised dual leadership. It never ends well.’

Working out the 98%

The serious tone continues as we approach our final topic of discussion: the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné, which Gerrans rode for Team Sky.

It was the year that produced the Jiffy Bag scandal and spawned the subsequent investigation into Dr Richard Freeman and revealed the alleged delivery of a batch of testosterone to the Manchester velodrome.

‘In my time at Team Sky, I didn’t see anything remotely suspect,’ Gerrans says. ‘Honestly, the investigation and the enquiries completely shocked me.’

Gerrans was questioned during the UK anti-doping investigation in 2016. He told investigators that he saw nothing wrong with the team’s practices and reminded them that they were ‘referring to something that happened during a bike race five years ago’.

He was very clear that he remembered nothing different from any other bike race.

Suspicion has followed Team Sky ever since, but Gerrans believes the reason for the team’s rapid rise from newcomers to Tour de France supremacy is down to a realisation early on.

‘Look, I was part of Team Sky from almost the beginning. When I joined in 2010, all they spoke about was “marginal gains” – that top 2%,’ he says. ‘

They hadn’t worked out the stuff below that yet, the other 98%, which is just as important if you want to win. But they did that quite quickly and that combined with the marginal gains is why they are where they are today.’

From a land Down Under

The life and rides of Simon Gerrans

1980: Born in Melbourne, Australia.

2004: Signs as a stagiaire for AG2R Prevoyance before turning professional the following year.

2006: Takes first of four overall victories at the Tour Down  Under.

2008: Joins Crédit Agricole and wins Stage 15 of Tour de France.

2009: Signs for Cervélo TestTeam. Wins GP Plouay and finishes in top 10 of Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

2010: Signs for Team Sky.

2012: Joins Orica-GreenEdge. Wins first Monument, Milan-San Remo, and first senior Australian road race title.

2013: Wins Stage 3 and 4 (TTT) of Tour de France. Wears yellow jersey for two stages.

2014: Takes victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and second national road title. Finishes second at Road Race World Championships in Ponferrada.

2015: Wears the pink jersey at Giro d’Italia after winning opening team time-trial.

2018: Joins BMC Racing and takes final victory of career, Stage 3 (TTT) of the Tour de France. Retires at end of the season.

Gerrans on…

… Lance Armstrong

‘Controversial as it is, I’d consider Lance one of my main heroes. When I first got into the sport, he had this fantastic story of cancer survivor to Tour winner that was really inspiring. Plus, you still have to admire how he changed the sport in terms of attention to detail.’

… His favourite race

‘I loved Amstel Gold. It was the start of the Ardennes Classics and I’d just get so excited. There was always a fantastic crowd and a really punchy course that suited my style of racing. It was a shame I never got to win.’

… The Yates twins

‘Simon and Adam are very different people. Both are talented guys but have completely different approaches. Simon is willing to learn and take on advice, whereas Adam is a little more set in his ways. We spent the whole first week of the 2016 Tour de France trying to convince Adam not to ride at the back of the peloton in case of splits or crashes, but he was stubborn and never budged.’

Simon Gerrans is an ambassador for Hexr, the world's first custom-made helmet. For more visit its website here.