The Scott Sunderland Diary 2000


Countdown to 2001 and a reflection

Inverell, Australia, December 17, 2000

Waiting for...
Photo: © Sabine Sunderland

December 17th. The year 2000 is coming to an end. Someone told me things would slow down in the new millennium but time seems to accelerate still. It seems like only a few months ago since I last was here in Inverell with my family preparing for a new season. I realize now that was at the end of last year.

I am very excited about my new team, Fakta. Things feel good there and my family is sharing my enthusiasm; wondering how I can keep anticipating another season (my 12th as pro).

My family is a big one. I am one of 7. My older brothers Douglas and Malcolm live with their families in Tamworth. Sis Caryn lives up in Darwin with her husband and two sons. My younger brother Peter, his wife and three sons live here in Inverell. Also calling Inverell his home is Adrian, who has just turned father to gorgeous twin girls. The study-head in the family, Naomi, my youngest sis, resides in Brisbane where she is finishing her doctorate.

It gets busy here at the end of the year, as you can imagine. My mum fusses over 12 grandchildren and every year stories from our own childhood get fresh colouring as they get told over a few drinks - it's good to have a big family.

Although it all seems so easy now, I do recall my first steps into cycling vividly, they weren't what one could call smooth. Mum and dad, both hardworking to support our family have always tried to give us all they could afford at that time. Life in a country town was not luxurious and I do admit having known some hard times. My father Bruce was into cycling; and I mean, really into cycling.

He was an accomplished cyclist himself (still rides almost every day!) so I suppose I was born under the right stars to be in this profession. Although my first bikes were quite dodgy second-hand ones, I remember being excited and eager to learn. The club here in town, the Inverell Wheelers, witnessed my first steps into competition as a seven year old and my father, my younger brother Peter and I were soon travelling all over the state to race. It was kind of fun, sleeping in caravan-parks and tents...it all was just a hobby, a game, but I was serious about racing. I wanted things to go my way and got quite upset if they didn't.

Peter told my wife Sabine the other day on how I had been saving up for weeks and weeks to buy these new forks I wanted for my BMX bike. I finally got them and while trying to install them on the frame I realized they wouldn't fit. With lively gestures Peter demonstrated how I beat the crap out of the forks and how they were seen flying through the air in the end. A bit of a hothead those days, I did some stupid things, I do confess to that, but this temperament also gave me the determination and character I would need to make it.

I turned 17 and left home to go to Sydney. I worked in a bike shop and stayed with a couple that were supposed to look after me. All I can bring to mind are the empty beer bottles scattered on the floor next to the couch, with the TV going flat out while my caretakers got heavily intoxicated. It was hell but mum and dad never knew. I didn't tell them, as I knew they'd come to get me and I feared not being able to race at the level I wanted.

I worked hard, very hard. Getting up before traffic would hit the streets to get my training in and working at the shop during the day. It wasn't healthy but I did not have anybody telling me so. Alex Fulcher, my "mentor" as NSW coach, only saw me at races and he didn't have a clue about the circumstances I was living in. I contracted mononucleosis and was ill for over a year - still forcing myself to train and work.

I should have taken the offer to go to the St George Club and live over in Cronulla, South Eastern Suburbs. Stubborn as I was, I didn't want to "run away" from the obstacles and stayed put. I do regret now not being supervised more and hope that anyone who is taking their first steps in cycling tries to get the support of an Institute of Sport or other organisation. It makes a hell of a difference, trust me.

A couple of years later, I was tired of it all and decided to go to America with a few mates. It was there, while having tons of fun that I got back to the source of my love for cycling. I returned to Australia, raced, did well; won the Australian Titles, a seventh overall in the Bank Classic and got noticed by an amateur club in Switzerland run by Jean-Pierre Mazza.

A difficult decision had to be made. I had the option to stay and gain selection for the Seoul Olympic Games the year after with the Australian squad, or I could grab the opportunity to travel to Europe and take a shot at racing there, trying to obtain a pro contract. I chose the latter. Before taking the plane to Europe, I worked the proverbial nuts off in the abattoirs in Inverell; doing double shifts at one stage, to gather enough cash to see me through the coming year. I kept working there during the off-season the following years. Not the nicest of jobs, but a sure way to make heaps of funds quick.

Being in Switzerland was good for my career; very good. I collected wins and in 1990 I was offered a professional contract with TVM. Cees Priem, the team director, insisted I'd stay in Geneva instead of moving to Holland and I agreed. It resulted in a lot of travelling and as I couldn't afford a car, I had to carry kit and caboodle with me on the train every time I had to race up north. I loved the cycling but I got really tired and had a bastard of a season. Being severely underpaid, with bitter little prize-money, I ended up having AU $2,000 debt to pay back to my parents.

I realized it was simply stupid to stay in Geneva and with the help of a Belgian soigneur, Marc Andre, I found a small apartment in Ninove, Belgium. Okegem, the suburb I would be living in, was a cycling loving community; only few kilometres away from the finish of the Tour of Flanders. I heard Allan Peiper lived nearby and although we had little contact due to different racing schedules, it was good to have a fellow Australian close. I arrived in Okegem just before the New Year.

Because of the move, I couldn't pay a ticket home that year and I had to survive my first cold winter in Belgium. Little did I know about the Belgium rental market and I found myself sitting on a box in my new place, shivering, without electricity or hot water and no way to get it connected over the Christmas break. Candles brought light and the neighbours a warm meal. The rest was up to myself and I kept my head high, feeling very proud about moving on in life by myself.

On the ground floor of the building the owner had his offices. The financial advisers, insurance brokers and bookkeepers working there were very kind. I developed a close relationship with Bart, who lived in an apartment at the back of the building. Bart and his wife Christa took me in as their dearest friend and I enjoyed the Belgian stews and rabbit prepared with Belgian brown beer many times with his family. I didn't speak much Dutch and their English was very basic back then, but we had good conversations and they made me feel very welcome. No need to explain why Sabine and I asked Bart to be godfather to SaŽn.

Dorothy, the insurance-broker of the company, and her husband Nťron, one of my biggest supporters to date, took me under their wings by advising me on the complementary insurances and I soon felt at home in Okegem. The second season with TVM started and I felt confident that things would be better. They were.
At the barbie
Photo: © Sabine Sunderland

So, many stories like this one are circulating within my family. Everyone has his or her yarns to spin and fortune and misfortune to share these days before Christmas. We are jokingly looking at the four boys, SaŽn (4), Dylan (4), Zak (4) and Matt (at 2 the youngest but surely one of the toughest), running wild on the lawn, playing on the little bridge over the gully and riding their bikes, trying to run each other off the drive way. We call them mockingly, the Sunderland Pursuit Team. I wonder...

This afternoon, I'm going fishing with my mate Gary and brothers Adrian and Peter. Should be good, as big catches have been reported over the last few weeks. My training schedule for December is almost chewed up and digested well, and I am feeling OK, not super, but good enough for this time of the year. I find myself as relaxed as I was at the beginning of the '98 season; Fakta has not set any deadline for being in shape as they know I will be there when they need me to be.

In this mood and shape I started my first season with Palmans and I pulled of quite a few good placing in the first races then. I am planning to race the Bay Series Criteriums, Melbourne-Sorrento, the National Championships and the Tour Down Under in January. With those set as training races and in case we do the Tour of Malaysia, I will be ready to start the European road season in the form I am expecting to be in by then. The team presentation is currently scheduled for the 29th of January. I'll introduce my new team further to you at that time.

For those of you enjoying summer: I hope you get a lot of kilometres in the legs! For those in winter: whack in a Tour de France or Classics video and enjoy the home-trainer! Either way, have a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year!

Yours in cycling,

Scott