With Wielerrevue during 1997 Tour of Netherlands.

Today, Rob talks to Matt White

The Milkman - but a worker no doubt

January 20, 1998

Rob Arnold is a freelance journalist who will be working with me as a guest writer in coming months. He took some time out to talk about cycling with Australia's Matt White. Here is the story that he filed.

Matt White, the rider they sometimes call "The Milk-man" - largely thanks to his ability to "milk" photographers for shots of his near-manic, always-working kinda face as he sets the pace at the head of the bunch - has finally been given the chance to show his stuff in front of the most enthusiastic cycling audience in the world: Italy. Running toward the end of the year, and the end of the crucial contract-negotiation period, Matt was perhaps the most anxious of the former Giant-AIS riders who were being left in limbo with regard to their riding future.

White had previously turned down offers from US-based teams like Computel-Colorado Cyclist with the assumption that the Saturn deal - which was well suited for Olympic Games preparation, the gist of the entire AIS objectives - was the way to go. By the time the Saturn deal was seriously considered by the powers-to-be, however, the US management behind the negotiations grew tired of the delay-tactics and even the amended offer was scrapped.

Then, just two days before Christmas, and as close as possible to deadline-day for team registrations, the new "National Road Cycling Coach", Shayne Bannon called White and Rogers and confirmed that negotiations with the Italian Amore e Vita team had come good, and they were offered the type contract they couldn't refuse - a contract. So this February, Matt and Pete will head off to Italy to begin their first full-time season in Europe. "I've been told that I'll be living with Peter in Tuscany," said Matt the day the contracts were signed. "But I've never even been to Italy before - oh, except one time when we rode across the border and did 15 kilometres on Italian soil and then hung a U-ey and went back to Austria where we were training."

I caught up with Matt on a light Sunday morning ride. He'd been out for 200km the day before and 225 the day before that. When we arranged the ride, I asked Matt if he'd been on the bike much, he answered "oh, not really... I went for a feed down at the pie shop at Robertson the other day and rode home afterward..." Robertson is 125-odd kilometres from Matt's Sydney base. I fretted, but put my bike shoes on and we made it to the cafe at Centennial Park. This is what we talked about...

Rob: How did this deal with Amore e Vita come about?

Matt: Well everything was alright with Saturn. Everything had been agreed to verbally and as far as we (Peter and Matt) knew, we had a ride for 1998, then it fell through all of a sudden. It was just out of the blue. We were leaving for American in two weeks, we were having new bikes built, everything was sent, measurements and other details and one Friday morning we just got a call from Geoff Strang who's handling the finances at the Institute (AIS) and said they were arranging at teleconference with Saturn and it all just fell through. The official version off Saturn was that it was going to cost them more money than the original deal. The original proposal was for five Australians with a European program and it was all set. Then it turned to two riders who were just going to be staying in America. And they just really didn't need us - especially when it was going to cost more money than it was worth. That happened about December 13th or 14th and we suddenly had no contract. For about a week or nine days we had no contract. I talked to Shayne Bannon to let him no that I was trying to go back to my Comptel deal in the US, but that wasn't looking good because they had signed their whole team up already. Peter had already told Shayne he had nothing. Then Shayne got on the phone to Italy and a few contacts in France and he came up with Amore e Vita so it's turned out really well.

Rob: What do you know about the team and your program?

MW: I know the team, I've raced them a lot, but I don't know the Italians as individuals. I know Glenn Magnussen - their sprinter - we raced together as amateurs three or four years ago and he's won a stage in the Giro in the last two years so he's the big-gun at Amore e Vita and probably the guy who Pete and I will be working with the most.

Rob: Will that suit you after a few years of leading Jay (Sweet) out for sprint?

MW: Yeah, certainly. Glenn is definitely a more established sprinter than Jay, winning stages in the Giro is a good sign of that, but it's been good practice. It's been good leading Jay out for 12 months now and I move up to another league now and start looking at the Giro sort-of standard. I think with Amore e Vita, the guys who do do really well get snapped up by the bigger teams like Mapei and the other Italian teams, so they're not a big-hitter team because once they do get good riders they get snapped up. So it's more of a development team - a stepping-stone team. Their program is probably 70 per cent Italian racing and the other 30 per cent is a bit arbitrary. Their whole year will be around the Giro - they don't ride the Tour de France, but they get a start in Italy so it become their major focus.

Rob: How long is your commitment to them?

MW: it's a 12-month contract with them. The big goal for Peter and myself will be to go there in March with all cylinders firing and try and get a start in the Giro and definitely to impress them and show them our value early. Especially in Italy, March and April is a pretty big time of racing for them in the lead-up to the Giro. The team will start in Milan-San Remo, whether we get a ride will be interesting. It's going to be hard for them to put Italians out of their own Classic, but they are going to want the best riders and if we're going well it's our best chance. They don't do a lot of northern Classics like Flanders or Roubaix, but they get starts in the Italian ones like San Remo and Lombardy.

Rob: This is the first full European season for you. Would you prefer to focus your energies on tours or one-day races? What is your preference?

MW: With our last few years with Heiko, we've been very tour orientated. In the past we used to use tours as training for world championships, the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, so I definitely come from a tour background, but I really enjoy one-day races. I think the tours will suit me just because of the way I've trained and raced over the past few years. I don't think it will be too big a step to ride the Giro - it'll always be a big step to ride a three week tour...

Rob: What's the longest you"ve done up until now?

MW: The 12-day Tour DuPont, and a lot of one-week and nine-day tours. But it will always be a big step because there's nothing in between 10-day tours and three-week tours. I think about day five or six is your worse; after that you get fatigued, but it doesn"t get too much worse. A three-week tour will be another ball game altogether -- but being a big focus, you can revolve your season around a tour like that. I'm not really a cobbles man like Henk, though. it's not my scene, putting my life on the line on a one-day race over rides like that. I like races which aren't super hilly, but still have a few climbs: that's what suits me.

Rob: As we sit here in Centennial Park and think about your second place in the Bank Race stage where you declared something like, "F--- number 2!", how do you feel about another season of working for someone else and perhaps not getting a chance for an individual win.

MW: I have developed after I had a really bad season in 1995. I was a different person then, I used to ride a lot for myself in 1993 and 94, I hadn't learned to be a team man at all. If anything, I might have taken it a little too far and thought of other riders in front of myself now. You certainly have to have a personality to be a domestique and a worker and I think I have that personality - and it doesn't bother me at all. I think someone like Neil Stephens has been a big influence on my career. Obviously when I first started it was Phil Anderson who was the big influence, but to see what Neil does and to actually ride with Neil and see the work that he does and the respect that he gets for doing what he does so well... I understand why there's a job there. In the past 12 months with Jay, a win that Jay got was a win for all of us. It was really motivating to know that if you put in, you got the reward. I have no qualms about putting in one-hundred per cent for someone else. When you"re a professional, not everyone can be winners, so it's better to put your eggs into one basket... And this year to work for Glenn will suit me just nicely.

Rob: As Neil showed this year with his Tour stage win, what goes around, comes around...

MW: Yeah, I'm still waiting for my turn to come around, but I'm only young so I can wait. I'll just keep putting in. Like you said, if it comes around in one year or it comes around in 10 years, I'll still be there to see it happen.

Rob: Obviously it's not the thrill of going over the line first that you're riding for; you just enjoy riding the bike?

MW: I do enjoy riding a bike. A lot of people see cycling as an individual sport, but at the top-level it is such a big team sport and I love the team atmosphere and the camaraderie we have in the team. It'll be new going into an Italian team with all foreigners. The team we were in before with ZVVZ-Giant-AIS we were all in it together; we grew up together, we knew each other as kids - I don't think I'll ever have another team like that because big pro team riders don't stay together for that long. While the team atmosphere is what I love, racing for one-another, but if I see any opportunities this year I'm certainly not passing any up. To win any pro race in Europe is a special thing to do and I'm not giving any chances away.

Rob: With all the problems with the sport in Australia, do you think it is possible to get an all-Australian team off the ground? Is Heiko's vision founded?

MW: It's definitely not out of the realm of possibility. There"s only one thing stopping it going ahead and that's money... That's all there is to it. We have 15 Australian riders or so in European professional teams, but probably five young guys who are knocking on the door or only a year or two away from their chance. But it's all a matter of money. But we've got the people and the talent in Australia to do it, we definitely got the companies in Australia who can fork out the money we need, it's a small percentage of a sponsorship package which could get a team in the Tour de France - and the amount of publicity they would get would blow them away. We just have to find the right multi-national company with the right attitude and with need to push their name in Europe.

Rob: When I was doing the ZVVZ-Giant-AIS team newsletter, I was trying to find out if the team's appearance in races like Midi-Libre was making any headlines in Europe... But I still don't know. How was the team received in say the Midi-Libre?

MW: It was, it was sort of a cross between a novelty and a big step. Obviously it was something different for the race organizers and different for the public to see an all-Australian professional team at a race like Midi-Libre. But it's important to realise that they wouldn't have invited us to ride if they didn't think we were going to hold our own. it's not use having a team there is they are going to be hopeless. They put faith in us to put a good showing and we did just that. It was a big thing for us, they are the kind of races you look up to when you're a kid and to be riding a big race in Europe just three weeks before the Tour de France, it was great for us... A lot of guys were there preparing for the Tour and we held our own against the world's best and that was only with the Australian guys on the Giant team, if we had a chance to ride with all the guys like Henk (Vogels) and Stuart (O'Grady) and Neil (Stephens), it would have been totally different league again -- we'd step up a league for sure.

Rob: We were talking earlier about how Neil Stephens has become the new "role model" for Australian riders... Who do you think will take on that tag when Neil retires?

MW: As we saw this year with Henk and Stuart in the Classics, it's only a matter of time before we see those guys having a really big win. I think those guys are a year away from winning Classics; I think Robbie is only a year or two from winning stages of the Tour de France; Jay is an untapped talent at the moment - he's obviously one of the fastest guys in the world when it comes to speed, but Jay is a lot younger than sprinters like Cipollini. He's got a lot of years of strength to get before he's going to be matching it with those guys. Neil is always going to be around - he's just going to keep on working and hopefully keep on winning. he's got such a big base of racing and such experience that he could pull off anything on the day if he gets the right opportunity, but I think Henk and Stuart are the men. Then you've got Marcel (Gono) coming through too. he's a lot younger and will probably spend a year or two in a working role, but he's only 21 years old.

Rob: You went for a ride with Brad (McGee, La Francaise des Jeux, 1998), how was he feeling about the coming season?

MW: Brad"s got a little bit different program to all the other guys. it's more like what Stuart had a few years ago with Gan.

Rob: Is there a big difference between the Charlie (Walsh) guys and the Heiko guys?

MW: Yeah, those guys (Charlie's) thrive on the high-lactate stuff. They work on a lot of high-intensity, whereas we're at the other end of the scale with a lot of endurance. That's why they are pursuiters and one-day riders and a lot of us are more tour riders. Brad had a bad season in 1997 with injury and sickness, so he's started preparing for this road season very early - around October. He's already got a lot of kilometres behind him and I know he's been going hard in the gym too. He's racing in Europe flat-out in March, April and a bit in May, then he goes to Charlie's squad to prepare for the track world championships. Then it's up to him whether he goes back to Europe to do the road or to Malaysia for the Commonwealth Games. He's flying at the moment, but he hasn't done any professional road races at all yet. He has been in Italy and seen what it's like down there and that"s the strongest amateur country in the world. Brad is a racer, has always been a racer and while he's till very young, he's been racing for 10 years already. I think Brad's ability with his physiology wouldn't be far behind Chris Boardman, but I think Brad will slip into the road and do similar things to what Chris has been able to do.

Rob: Thanks for your time Matt. We should get back on the bike...

MW: No problem at all.

Amore e Vita Forzacore:

Country: Italy

Confirmed: Andriotto, Ferti, Giacomelli, Jones (Zim), Magnusson (Swe), 
Patuelli, Zattoni, Zucchi, De Pasquale.

New: Cannone (neo), Leporatti (neo), Lupi (neo), Gimondi (neo), 
Puglioli (neo), Profeti, Castaldo (neo), Massa (neo), Paolini (neo), 
Rogers (Aus), White (Aus).

Team Manager: Giuseppe Lanzoni 

Director Sportif: Gian Luigi Barsottelli, Roberto Pelliconi, Sandro 

Bikes: Fausto Coppi

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