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An interview with Graeme Brown, December 2, 2003
Happy to be home, but hungry for more in 2004
By Karen Forman
After an excellent start to the season, colourful and sometimes controversial sprinter Graeme Brown was expected to rub shoulders with Petacchi, Cipollini and McEwen at this year's Giro d'Italia. While poor form denied him success, the rider everyone calls 'Brownie' managed to pick himself up again and formed an integral part of the winning team pursuit squad at the world track championships in Stuttgart, breaking a world record in the process. And as Karen Forman discovers, he's hungry for more in 2004.
Having announced his plans to win "as many stages as possible" of the 2004 Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under in Adelaide come January, it's obvious that Italian-based Aussie Graeme Brown isn't planning on having a restful Christmas season.
Like most of his Australian peers, the 24 year old sprinter, who hails from Menai in south western Sydney but has spent much of the past two years living in Pistoia while racing with Panaria-Margres, he's home for Christmas, but rather than taking time out with family and fiancée Hayley Rutherford, Brownie is off and racing.
After leaving Italy on October 7, Brown spent a little time at home before heading to Perth to contest the track Grand Prix, winning one race and placing well in others. Next up will be the Sydney Cup on Wheels on December 6, the Tasmanian Christmas track carnivals, then the Skilled Bay Criterium Series in the Geelong region in early January, as a lead-up to the Tour Down Under (TDU), where he is vying for the sprint jersey title.
And that will be just the start of what is shaping up to be a busy and exciting year - both on and off the bike.
"Next year I want to win some stages of the Giro (d'Italia) and I want to be an Olympic champion," he says on the phone from Perth, where he is enjoying a couple of extra days with Rutherford, also a European-based professional, in her home city. "That's why I started cycling in the first place, when I was three. And now that dream is getting close to becoming a reality."
He will also be focused on gold in the teams pursuit and the madison at the world track championships in Melbourne from May 26-30 and would also like to win a couple of stages of the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia, which is next up on the schedule after the TDU.
Off the bike - and in no way less important than the racing, judging from his obvious enthusiasm for the event - Brownie has wedding to look forward to on his October 30 2004, in Perth.
It's been an eye opening couple of years for the young rider who set off a tad naively for Europe two years ago after single-handedly creating "the most publicity we've ever had" according to organiser John Trevorrow at the 2002 Bay Criterium Series, when he pushed the eventual series winner Robbie McEwen against a parked car in the final sprint of the third race.
At the time, Brownie was quite outspoken about his actions, which resulted in him being relegated by commissaires from first to eleventh for sprinting illegally. But the young hothead made no apologies for his attitude. "I am a sprinter and sprinters want to win," he said at the time, "I want to win an Olympic gold medal. I want to beat Mario Cipollini."
Two years of living in Europe and racing in a team of Italians, a culture known for being outspoken and opinionated themselves, Brownie says he has matured, learned to speak Italian, honed his racing skills... and earned himself a very different reputation in Italy than he has here.
"I don't have the [reputation of] a fiery attitude in Italy that I have here," he says. "Nobody really knows me as a fiery character over there. I think, well there are 200 other bike riders who as good as you are."
He says he has enjoyed his time with Panaria, which "isn't like a big massive team so there aren't big pressures" and has gained a lot of racing and life experience, along with an ever-greater appreciation of Australia.
He lives with Hayley in Italy (their respective teams are based 30km apart) and while he says he loves it, he loves coming home more.
"It's good, Italy. I have got a few friends and I can speak the lingo. By no means perfect, but I am getting there. I can have a phone conversation, but I can't speak about hospital things, which can be a problem. This year I was in hospital after crashing in the Tirreno - Adriatico. I hit a pole at 50 k's an hour, back first, and I couldn't feel from my butt down for several hours. I was shaking and I had blood in my urine so they thought I might have had a problem with my kidneys."
The incident not only challenged Brown's Italian, but also put his training back by a month.
"I had one week or not even looking at the bike and then the next two to three weeks trying to do an hour or so, hoping to come good before the Giro," he says. "I trained well for it, but I didn't quite get the fitness I had expected. I mean, I always train at 110 per cent, but afterwards I didn't think I did the right training. I didn't do any speed work. A mate said I trained too much to get over the hills and finish it, but not enough to win a stage."
As a result, he started training differently later in the year. Rather than doing long slow rides up hills, he started doing speed work on the flats, behind a car.
Like a lot of his peers, Brown follows his own training program rather than having a coach per se, but says if he needs to know anything, he asks the experts on his team. When he's in Europe, he also runs questions by Australian head coach Shayne Bannan and while in Sydney, New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) coach Gary Sutton. He also wants to thank others who help him, like his brother Raymond Brown who performs a managerial role, Shimano, Teschner bikes for his building his track bike and Bontrager who supply him with wheels for the track.
"Basically, though, I look after myself," he says. "I like to do it that way, because it's more individual. Like, if there is a 200 kilometre ride on the program and you can't do it because you are tired from the day before, nothing should be written in concrete. The main thing is to recover."
He says having his partner Hayley living with him has been positive for both of them.
"Brett Lancaster and Hayley and I go training together and it's good for her because we go faster than the women normally go. She makes good food as well, so it's good for me to have her around!"
And yes, it is a case of "when in Rome": pasta is on the menu most days, although Brownie says his preference is for "steak, two eggs and vegetables - although I can't be bothered most of the time so I have pasta."
For now, however, he's home and loving it. "It's just so easy. I have the option to go down the road to get a meat pie. I mean, I wouldn't, but I can. And there are no food courts and Westfields (shopping centres) over there. And there's English. You know what the first words I said to the Customs guy when I got home were? ‘Gudday, mate!'"
He managed to have a few weeks' off the bike after getting back, but Brown's "flat out into it" again. "I'm actually a bit sore, because I've been doing a gym program as well as riding again. I hurt my back a bit yesterday. I hope it's nothing."
Between the Perth Grand Prix, which he said had "the best crowd I have ever seen at a track event in Australia, the Sydney Cup on Wheels and the Tasmanian track carnivals, he'll only spend about a week back in Sydney before he heads overseas again after the TDU in January.
"I'm going to try for the sprint jersey this year and with a new team bike with a fixed headset I'll be sprinting in a straight line," he says. Brown's referring to the first stage of the 2003 event, where he was relegated to last place and docked eight points in the sprint classification for dangerous riding in the rush to the line. "This time around, I'm planning to get the upper hand on the main threats for the sprint finishes and not lose points before I start."
He says he made a lot of mistakes during the 2003 TDU and that "Robbie (McEwen) took advantage of those."
"If I can have a mistake-free TDU, meaning not going at the wrong time, cornering well and being in the right place at the right time, I will go well. I'm really geed up to start the season with some wins."
He'll be relying on Lancaster to help set him up for the sprints and says the rest of his Panaria-Margres team is likely to concentrate on securing outright race honours. "Paolo Tiralongo will be chomping at the bit to do well because he's been out of action since this year's Giro d'Italia where he had a really bad crash. The sort of climbs on this race will suit him and the other ones to watch will be Giuliano Figueras because he's always one to watch and Fabio Giloli because he also wants to prove himself after being plagued by knee problems this season."
How fit does he think he'll be by January?
"Well at the start of the year I was five weeks ahead of last year so I hope I am five weeks better now," he says.