Colin Sturgess, is a former English road and track cyclist who enjoyed a 14 year career between 1986 and 2000. He won gold and bronze in the individual pursuit on the track at the world championships in 1989 and 1991. He won the British National Race Road Champs in 1990 on the road.
Born in Ossett, Wakefield, Colin turned professional after the 1988 Olympic Games and rode for Greg LeMond at the iconic ADR team.
Colin has also worked as a wine maker and wine educator near Sydney, Australia, winning national awards for this work.
As a racing cyclist, which results are you most proud of and why?
I guess most will remember me for winning the 1989 World pursuit championships, which is kind of hard to top, but I’m equally proud of winning the British National Road Championships in 1990. There’s a handful of other races including my first pro win at De Haan, and breaking a world pursuit record over 5000m at the world champs in 1991, but two that really tested me were winning the New South Wales Points Race championships in 1998 and again in 2000. Anyone that raced the Australian track carnivals and championships will know how bloody hard it is to win a State title over there… Every second rider is a World or Commonwealth champ!
Which are your favourite stretches of road to ride on locally and what is it that you like about them?
I live back in Leicester nowadays (after 20-odd years in Australia) and I love my lanes and loops heading south out of the city towards Cosby, Willoughby, Gilmorton, Kimcote and beyond… or a snappy loop out towards Wolvey and the lanes in Warwickshire. I missed the lanes so much when I lived in Aus. You can just switch off, get into a nice steady tempo, and know that you’ll see maybe one or two cars every now and then. You’re more likely to get abuse from a pissed-off badger than a motorist.
The same question for roads anywhere in the world?
Again I used to love getting lost in the lanes and paths over in East Flanders. I’d do my intervals and motor-pacing on roads which were in the Polders and are pretty boring, but then my endurance stuff I’d head out and just ride for hours with a Michelin map folded in the middle pocket and go lane hunting. There are some doozies near where I used to live: St. Niklaas/Temse area. In Australia we’d stick to the same roads most days; out towards the National Park south of Sydney and on to Woollongong; laps around Centennial Park; and up over the Harbour Bridge, up the coast to Whale Beach/Avalon… Too much traffic for my liking though.
What is your most memorable moment on the bike or involved with cycling
There’s been a few to be fair! Apart from winning races, and being involved in winning teams, a couple of my most memorable and emotional moments have come behind the wheel of the team-car DSing. In 2017 Dan Fleeman won Rutland-Melton for the small Metaltek-Kuota team, which was meticulously planned and executed, and this year with Connor Swift winning the National Road Race champs I was a blubbering mess in the car. We’d spoken about the importance of having the jersey, and wearing it for a year, but also having the honour to wear the bands on your sleeves for a lifetime. He’s one of the youngest riders to have won that jersey too at 22… beaten only by me at 21! Haha, sorry Swifty!
Has racing affected your relationship with the bike? If so, how?
Yeah, I’d say it has. I think mostly in a positive light, but there were years where I turned away from the sport and had nothing to do with the bike. When I moved from Sydney to the Hunter Valley vineyards and started work in the wine industry no-one knew of my sporting prowess for ages (I never used to mention it, why would I?)and it was only a couple of years later when we were sat around having a few beers in the old Tallawanta pub watching highlights of the Tour de France, my name was mentioned for some reason by Ligget and Sherwin, and my winemaking mates looked at me and the penny dropped. As you know, most Australians are sports mad, so I never had to buy a beer again in the Tallawanta. But riding has helped me greatly with my struggles with depression and bi-polar. Apart from the physical health benefits, and the release of dopamine etc, a good mince about in the lanes allows for thought, allows for contemplation, and gives pause. Only issue is I do tend to press on a bit, which pisses my mates and training partners off sometimes.
Do you agree with Mickey Goldmill's advice to Rocky that 'women weaken legs'?
Nah! It’s a myth! One of my best ever results in a tough Belgian race was achieved after spending the morning “in flagrante delicto” with my girlfriend, then getting a panicked call from my DS to tell me I was racing a couple hours later. So I rode to the race, got in the break, got caught, attacked solo with 2km to go and only got caught with 300m to go by the Buckler sprinters. Although, admittedly the next time I tried this devious tactic it backfired and I got spat in the first 40km!
We are in the midst of a well publicised boom, has it affected you? Do you see any negatives to the increase in popularity?
The only negatives I see are a backlash against cyclists by uninformed and arrogant motorists, and the demise of the cycling club and ‘club-life’. Those steady winter club-rides and getting a bollocking for mucking around taught me a few lessons in life, let alone bike riding. Simple things learnt early doors stay with you for life. One of our Madison Genesis lads, Johnny McEvoy is a prime example. If you ride next to him, or behind him, he ALWAYS gestures when he’s getting out of the saddle. Here’s a guy that started with a good club up in Liverpool, has ridden at ProConti level, and he still remembers the courtesy. I’d love to be more involved with teaching young club riders the etiquette, it’s dying out. But in general, the more bums on saddles, the better. It’s supposed to be an inclusive sport, not exclusive.
All cyclists, whether they race or not, seem to obsess over the weight of their bikes. Why do you think this is?
The weight thing has always interested me. Having turned pro on bikes that would be scoffed at by most people now, and being fortunate enough to have raced on some of the latest and lightest gear going, I’d say in hindsight I didn’t give it enough credence. As long as it wasn’t like dragging an anchor around, and it was functional, I was happy. I only ever had one 753 frame, and all my team bikes were either standard Colombus TSX or Tange tubing, nothing flash. But GOD, I love a light bike now! Sorry steel purists, but having had to drag nearly 10kg of pig-iron up the Muur and Kemmelberg has diminished my fondness for them… then again, I should probably just skip a couple of beers and lose weight myself. But bugger that idea!
Do you approach riding, or ride your bike, differently now to when you first got into cycling?
I do, and I have to. I’m now 50 and I have to accept that I need more recovery, and I’m prone to having lower back problems. For instance in 2017/18 most weekends I spend 12-15hours behind the steering-wheel of the team car, and on a Monday I could hardly turn a pedal in anger… but by Tuesday I’m keen to give it a nudge again. My racing career was based on a diet of motorpacing, z2 mincing, and lots of racing. Not much in between tbh. I wish I could motorpace these days... love it. Nothing like 200km behind the moto!
Who has been your favourite pro riders over the years and why?
Odd thing is that I was young enough to have pictures on my wall of guys I ended up racing with in my first year pro: guys like Greg Lemond, Eddy Plankaert, Frank Hoste, Sean Yates, Allan Pieper. But one guy that stands out is Sean Kelly. A hero to many, and especially to me, so to share a manager with him and have interaction in races with Sean (despite being in opposing teams) was pretty special. Sean Yates was another rider I looked up to massively. Then when we raced together and buggered about in kermesses I loved it! Doing a two-up TT down the windward side of the bunch at 60kph… Never to be forgotten.
What was you favourite era of professional bike racing?
Oooph! Difficult that one… I look back at my short time on the continent and sometimes think was a golden era, and in many ways it was. But then again, despite the very obvious, I enjoyed the late 90s and 2000s. VDB and Bartoli... taking chunks out of each other up La Redoute in LBL... oh yes! I was never a huge fan of Merckx, and after meeting him a few times I’m still underwhelmed. A GOD on a bike; not so off it.
Mudguards, mudguards and mudflaps or racing bike with clip on guards through winter?
Nada. Hate the bloody things. I’d rather get completely and utterly ‘shit-up’ with spray and crud than have muddies on. I turned up at my first professional team training ride in early January in Belgium with guards on and was laughed at, and rightly so. Mince about at Z1 with guards, no drama, but train properly without the buggers. And for those that whinge about staying clean, it’s bike riding! It’s an inherently grubby bloody sport. Grow a pair… Preferably not mudguards. Then again, I’m always happy to fight for the wheel that has muddies on.
Do you enjoy a cafe stop or do you prefer to ride straight round?
I am renowned for not stopping… although I’m trying hard to adapt! Nah, my premise is get the ride done, then stop. Especially in winter. Why on earth would you want to ride for a couple of hours getting cold and wet and muddy because some old ex-pro hasn’t put mudguards on (Hah!) then sit in a café that usually serves weak coffee, to go out again and freeze your ‘cojones’ off? It’s abhorrent! In Leicester we have a decent group that goes out when we are all back home, and the two stalwart anti-café-stop riders are myself and Lucy Garner. I figure I’m in good company.
Assos, Rapha or neither?
Eeek! Ok, honestly? Griffo used to help out with some Assos back in the day, so I have used that brand, but I’ve never had the money to use Rapha, apart from a pair of overshoes. But to be perfectly honest I’m more than happy with GSG or Madison kit. It may not have that Rapha/Assos status, but frankly I don’t care. It’s comfy, it’s functional, and it’s warm in winter/cool in summer. So I guess neither… although I hear this Mamnick kit is quite spiffy!
What is your favorite piece of cycling kit (either something you currently own or have in the past)?
I love my power-meter (Shimano DA) and Garmin head-unit. I’m old-skool enough to know that there’s a balance of science and art, numbers and feel, but I love looking down whilst half-wheeling Rob Orr and knowing I have watts to give. Besides this, I really loved my Campag Ghibli disc wheels from the pursuiting days… Double disc (front/rear) and a lo-pro Harry Quinn… Lush. I never had the money as an amateur rider to get into kit… I rode what I could afford or what the National squad gave, which, mid 1980s wasn’t great.
Do you prefer to get your head down on main roads, keep a good tempo going on the ‘B’ roads or get onto the back-wacks? What about the rough stuff on your road bike?
Avoid main roads at all costs! I hate the bloody things. One of my regular rides has about 500m on the A5 near Lutterworth and I genuinely hate it. Reason I have to use it is that it’s the only real way onto the Wolvey circuit at Magna Park, and all my 20min efforts are done from there. As I’ve mentioned before, I love nothing more than a good mince in the lanes and smaller roads but some guys I’ve ridden with hate it, as in their opinion, “you can’t do specific efforts”… Yeah, maybe, but you’ve gotta be able to put out that power on all sorts of terrain, so get it done.
What do you think about Strava?
Strava. I was initially not fussed; now, I’m quite happily a staunch supporter. I use Training Peaks, but Strava is my ‘go to’. To be perfectly honest, I have NFI about live segments etc, so any KOMs I have are usually through local knowledge or mishap!
What do you think about Sportive rides?
As long as organisers don’t take the piss and charge a million quid then I have no issue. I’ve ridden a few, and quite enjoyed them. But I get all het up when people start to race them! Ffs, if you want to race – race a race! Don’t get all agro when a dad and daughter may be pottering along at 13mph and you’re trying to get passed at 33mph. And keep a sense of proportion and levity…
Do you have any cycling pet hates?
Cycling pet hates…? *pulls up a chair*
I do. Flagrant disregard for rules of the road for one. I know cyclists/bike riders are copping a hell of a lot of flack at present, so why make it worse and antagonise other road users… it’s up to us that know better to do better. So don’t jump that traffic light, don’t just pull out and expect drivers to pre-empt you, and yep, even though we’re allowed to ride two abreast, don’t always take it as a given… single up for 30seconds, let the cars passed. Poor etiquette in the bunch is another, but that will take far too long for this Q&A!
Are there any cycling traditions that you think have been, or are being, lost as a result of changing attitudes and behaviour? And are we better off or worse off as a consequence?
Yeah, for sure… as I mentioned previously, the club scene has all but died and all that traditional knowledge is drying up. I’m not stuck in the 90s/00s at all, but we need to learn from those that have come before. There’s youngsters out there that have no knowledge of cycling’s greatest heroes (and villains) and that’s a real shame. People like Chris Sidwells has the right idea with the legacy of Tom Simpson, but we are fast forgetting those that came before the current crop of world beaters. So, do yourselves a favour, get into some cycling history, learn a bit about our rich and varied past. It’ll get you off Twitter for a bit at least...
Cotton cap or helmet?
Sorry my paternalistic friends, but I’m firmly cloth cap and happy to embrace liberty and thus consequence. Of course I do wear a helmet, but I also hold the option of not wearing one as a crucial aspect of choice.
The benefits of spinning a low gear compared to mashing a high gear is often discussed. Putting aside the serious, physiological and mechanical aspects, what cadence you think looks right?
Cadence is something dear to my heart! I used to spin like crazy... but I do enjoy a good stomp too. There’s nothing prettier than VDB or Bartoli hitting out at 100rpm.
White, black or coloured socks?
White, although I’m a covert convert to the use of black socks these days… I started rocking the coloured sock back in 89, and loved every second of the frisson. Always rolled down in those days, now I love a bit of height, but NOT half way up yer leg ffs! Those ultra high things are anathema.
Frame pump or mini pump?
I’ve still got a couple of the original Zefal FPX frame kicking around and they are mint! But on modern carbon frames it takes a fair bit of juggling to get one to fit, so I normal roll with a mini-pump or even a CO2 cartridge. (Cycling pet-hate number 156: if you are going to put a mini-pump in your back pocket, please put it in the middle one. It screws badly with my OCD seeing one in the right/left pocket).
What do you like to talk about when you are on a ride with friends/team/club mates? Do you prefer to keep the subjects lightweight or get your teeth into something contentious or controversial?
Everything! I love a good natter and I love turning people onto new experiences and learning. Joe Parkin and I used to have some good old philosophical chats, and other times just talk utter trash. Back in the day most of the chat on the team training rides revolved around bikes, cars, women, money. I used to love riding with Pieper because he could chat literature, art, Buddhism. Rob Orr is the guy I ride with most and we go highbrow and lowbrow. But I hate skinny climbers chatting away halfway up a berg... Geezuz!
Who would be/is your perfect tandem partner? Would you ride captain or stoker?
Tandem riding died for me back in 1986/7! I rode one around the old Calshot velodrome for a TV ad. Hated every second. If COERCED I’d ride stoker... with either VDB or Bartoli.