Cyclingnews talks with Matthew White

The End of a Tough Season

By Jeff Jones
Click for larger image
Matt White and his wife Jane before the Noosa criterium.
Photo: © Tim Francis

27 year old Australian Matthew White has just finished his sixth season as a pro cyclist, riding with Lance Armstrong's US Postal Service team for the first time in 2001. Matt started out well in 1996 with the promising but ill-fated Australian-Czech pro team Giant, which became Giant-ZVVZ in 1997 before it folded. He won the Joseph Sunde Memorial Criterium in January 1998, just after he had signed with Amore e Vita, an Italian team that gives riders the opportunity to race professionally.

His big breakthrough came in 1999 when he signed for Vini Caldirola for two years, winning a stage of the 1999 Tour de Suisse, as well as impressing many with his domestique abilities in the early season classics in 2000. That was enough for US Postal to be interested in him, with his reputation as an unselfish rider fitting in well with the team's goals. He was contracted as a team worker and he's done plenty of that this year, as Cyclingnews found out in a serious poolside chat prior to the Noosa International Criterium on November 3.

Matt had been undergoing a heavy pre-season training schedule, involving a round of golf and a lie down by the pool with his wife, Jane. "I'm all finished with golf," he said. "I've only played twice this year. Stuey [O'Grady], Robbie [McEwen] and Nick Gates play more often."

A look at just the Australian riders on the start line in Noosa reveals that almost all the country's top pro's were there: Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole), Cadel Evans (Saeco/Volvo-Cannondale), Brad McGee (Francaise des Jeux), Scott Sunderland (Team fakta), Robbie McEwen (Domo-Farm Frites), Nick Gates (Agro Adler-Brandenburg), Jason Phillips (Team Coast), Matt White (US Postal) and Jay Sweet (Saturn). Not to mention the international riders including Jans Koerts, Dave Millar and Sven Montgomery.

"It's the only time everyone gets together," says White. "It's good, we're all good mates."

Vuelta 2001 recap

The Vuelta Espaņa was a race that he rode for the first time in 2001. It was Matt's third ever three week tour, having also ridden two Giros d'Italia. "As far as toughness goes, it was equally as tough. The stages were shorter, but not easier. They don't ride slow for a while any more. They race harder. There are no easy stages - it does not happen. Even when it was flat, the sprinter's teams would make it hard."

Matt made it to Stage 15, but retired during the stage. "I was gone three days before that. I was going strong on the flat, but on the climbs I was too far behind. I was happy with the work I did for team. On the fastest ever stage [Stage 9, Avs: 55.18 km/h], we were the ones who split it to pieces. We rode for 80 kilometres at the front at 60 km/h. But it cost a lot for only a small gap - 43 seconds. David Plaza and two others lost some time, but that was it."

As the Vuelta progressed, an interesting situation developed between Matt's teammates Roberto Heras (last year's winner) and Levi Leipheimer, who eventually became the first American to finish on the podium of the Vuelta. It was reported elsewhere that there was a conflict between the two riders because Leipheimer was supposed to be working for Heras, who could not hold his own.

According to Matt, this was rubbish. "I think people have talked it up a lot more. At the start of the Vuelta, Roberto was the leader. Levi Leipheimer had better form as it turned out. We never changed our tactics. In the climbing stages, Levi was to follow. There was never any conflict - in fact, it was one of the best teams I've ever been part of. We all had a great time."

"I enjoyed the Vuelta, but hopefully I won't do it next year. In 2002 I'd like to emphasise the start of the season and obviously the Tour. This year I was going well in March/April, and then in May in the lead up to the Tour."

The USPS squad is a hard one to get into come July, as Matt found out this year after he was in the 12 man long team but not in the final 9. Next year, he wants this to change. "The classics mean a lot to me, but the Tour is one thing I haven't done. I could have gone to other teams and be guaranteed a start. But I want to ride it with Lance and I want to win a stage as part of Lance's team."

2002 build up

Click for larger image
Matt White in action in Spain in February
Photo: © Steffen Kjaergaard
To realise this goal, the Sydney-sider is now doing some more serious pre-season training - it's not all golf and pool! Following a forced break after the Vuelta, and no World Championships due to lack of form and the fact that he was unlikely to finish the race, he has already started his gym training. "I enjoy doing the gym, mentally it's not taxing. I'll stay in the gym for a while. Once your body gets used to it, it's ok. I try to maintain it while increasing kilometres. You don't feel good on the bike while doing it."

He describes his gym plan as an "all round program". Although he doesn't bother with the bench press, he does do some abdominal and lower back work, but mainly sticks to below the belt exercises. "If I do too much upper body stuff, I put on too much. It's squats, leg press, hamstring curls etc."

"Next week when I get back from Noosa I'll be back on the bike. George [Hincapie] would already be back into it, [Christian] Vandevelde would be back. The guys who did the Vuelta won't be on for another month...Lance would be on the bike."

The off season for most pro's takes place during the European winter (November - February). At this time there are no road races, the focus being on track and cyclo-cross racing. Of course Australia is enjoying its summer during these months, and professional riders can start their season in January if they choose with the Bay Series criteriums in Victoria, followed by the Melbourne-Sorrento, the Australian Road Championships and the Tour Down Under in quick succession.

Being a member of a trade team has its disadvantages at this time, with many pro's having to travel to Europe or the US for team presentations and training camps. This will apply to Matt White, who will have US Postal team commitments in January. "I can't do Down Under, maybe the Bay crits. No National's unless we don't go to the US for three days. A week later we've got the training camp in Spain."

Then the European season begins. He will be again based in Spain, in a town called Oliva about 70 kilometres from Valencia. "It's great there, especially in January," he says of the climate, which is warm enough to train in all year round. His only US Postal teammate nearby is Victor Hugo Pena, but that doesn't bother him greatly. Matt enjoys the roads around Oliva and the attitude that the Spanish have towards cyclists.

If all goes according to plan in 2002, we'll see Matt White doing what he does best - working selflessly on behalf of his teammates in the Spring Classics and the Tour de France.

Other Talking Cycling Interviews