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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

An interview with Allan Davis

Hitting the big time

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Allan Howard Davis

DOB: July 27, 1980
Age: 22
Height: 172cm
Born: Bundaberg
Local club: Coral Island Cyclists Inc.
VO2max: 80 ml/kg/min
Fiancée: Andrea, daughter Brooklyn
Nicknames: Alby, Bullzo

Teams: Australian Insitute of Sport (1996-2001), Mapei Espoirs (2002), ONCE (2003)

Personal stuff

How's the Spanish going?
I signed my contract with ONCE last August, and in the contract, Manolo said I needed to speak some Spanish by the Tour Down Under, so I pretty much went straight to the tutor the next day! [laughs] But knowing Italian helps a lot; most of the guys on the team can speak Italian, so if I don't know how to say something in Spanish, I can always say it in Italian.

Hopefully by the end of the year, I'll be able to have a conversation in Spanish with reporters from television and newspapers. It's normal for a professional and it's something you should be able to know, especially with Spanish sponsors.

So are you going to be living with your fiancée and daughter in Spain?
Yeah, they'll be coming about a month later because I've got a lot of racing and training to do before then. I'll be living about 100 metres from Neil Stephens in a small town about 10 kilometres from San Sabastian, near the French border.

Chill time

Brooklyn and Allan
Photo: © Jeff Quenet
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I love playing with my daughter; I just love it - I'll be stretching on the ground and she'll be crawling all over me. It helps keep my grounded - and out of bed too sometimes!

Living down at San Sabastian, it's right near the beach, so I'll do my training sessions to keep Manolo happy and then head for a dip at the beach!

Music
It varies, but U2, techno and Nirvana are some of my favourites. Mick Rogers [Alan's teammate from Mapei] always had his little MP3 player before a time trial, and I used to listen to his warm-up tape a lot, which had Eminem and some other pretty heavy beats.

Food
It's going to be pretty hard to top Italian food, Italy was sensational. But Neil [Stephens] tells me that where we're living, the food is also pretty good with seafood being very popular, so at least that will keep my Andrea happy!

What's a foreign rider gotta do to get a ride in Spain's number one team? Australian young gun Allan Davis, ex-Mapei espoir and latest Cyclingnews diarist, talks to Anthony Tan about his meteoric rise to the top echelon of the sport and finally hitting the big time with ONCE.

IT MAY APPEAR Allan Davis' rise to the top of the cycling tree has come overnight, but in actual fact, it has been the product of seven years' hard work, punctuated by moments of brilliance.

Asked about his initial foray into Europe at 16 years of age, Davis laughs - though not your bellowing type of laugh - more one of disbelief as to how he made it through a gruelling initiation period with the Australian junior team. "I copped an absolute flogging in my first three years in Italy. The first year was the worst, but then it started getting a little bit better each year."

It was a learning curve for both Davis and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), the latter making the decision to base their entire road program in Italy after former AIS road coach Heiko Salzwedel paved the way to success in the early to mid-nineties.

U23 coach Brian Stephens was always there for Allan
Photo: © Miwako Sasaki
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"I think that was good for me though," says Davis. "To get really, really beaten and flogged and realise how much work you have to do to get up to that level."

But the way Davis describes his apprenticeship in Europe, you can't help but crack a smile, even though you know he's been to hell and back.

"It's been a bonus for me getting my arse kicked," he says, trying his best not to laugh again. "Just realising what you have to do to make it in this sport, you have to be really switched on 12 months of the year."

The smallish (even for a bike rider at 172cm) 22 year old comes from a strong pedigree of cyclists, his father Greg a more than competent track and road rider and his father before him a professional track star, racing in the same era as Sir Hubert Opperman. With his elder brother Scott signing for Panaria-Fiordo this 2003 season, the Davis' might as well have come from Lombardy than Queensland.

Greg Davis developed the cycling bug much the same way Allan and his brother did 20 years later, traveling with and watching their Dad race at the local Christmas track carnivals and regional road events.

But only watching. "My Dad didn't let Scott or I race till we were 10!" says Allan, who later tells me he was annoyed at the time but in hindsight, it was quite clearly the right decision. "We started off really easily with no pressure, just the local [track] carnivals and road races around Queensland and northern New South Wales, and progressed from there."

2003 National Champion... almost
Photo: © Kathy Watt
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To be supportive but at the same time not overly pushy - even though both sons exhibited oodles of promise - must have been a hard task for any father, however, Greg Davis did his job as a coach and a father to perfection until it was time to let go.

Both Allan and Scott weren't your typical 16 and 17 year olds. Before heading 15,000 kilometres north to Italy, both had already experienced the sensation of winning and winning big - Allan a touch more so with his national championship victories in the points race and individual pursuit.

It was most likely this sense of cunning that he learned on the boards which enabled Allan to hone his skills as a roadie quicker than most.

National Under 23 men's coach, Brian Stephens (and brother of former ONCE professional Neil) believes so. "The first time I saw him race I figured he had a fair bit of talent," says Stephens. "Having raced quite a few international championships on the track, he acquitted himself very well as a junior and he's now developed into a very cunning rider."

So after two national titles and participation in the 1995 Junior Worlds, was a career on the track ever an option?

"Australia was really dominating the world track scene and I thought that was all there was," says Davis about his naivety as a junior.

With riders like Stuart O'Grady, Brett Aitken, Shane Kelly and Brad McGee breaking world records like it was going out of style, Australia couldn't have done much better as a track nation. Not surprisingly, their success was a contributing factor behind Davis' tunnel-visioned outlook on the cycling world.

AIS-Mapei provided the foundation
Photo: © Miwako Sasaki
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"But in my first year as a junior on the road in Italy, I got a taste of what it [road racing] was all about and started watching races like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France over and over again. And ever since then, I wanted to be a professional road cyclist," he says.

Which is exactly what Brian Stephens and head coach Shayne Bannan groomed Allan into.

With funding and technical support from Italian cycling's godfather, Georgio Squinzi, the AIS road program began churning out top quality neo-pros year after year, soon becoming the envy of many other nations' development programs.

Explains Stephens, "It started back in 1999 and it's grown stronger every year. The more we had to do with them, the more they liked us; they liked the riders we were producing and they liked our style."

In return, all Squinzi asked for was to have the first right to offer Australia's most promising riders a non-binding contract - non-binding in the sense that should any other teams wish for the same rider's services, Mapei were to be notified first before any deal was signed. When the world's number one team offers you a place in a market flooded with an oversupply of talent, however, the offer is generally not refused.

"They keep an eye on all the riders we have, but they were particularly interested in Allan," says Stephens, referring to Davis' last year with the AIS in 2001.

At 20 years of age, Davis had his best year ever, winning a prestigious one-day race called the Grand Prix Pesaro in northern Italy, beating many of the country's best amateurs, then rounding out his stellar year with 6th place at the Under 23 World Championships in Portugal. However, it was more Davis' consistent results that secured his spot at Mapei. "Anyone's going to be interested in a rider who keeps popping up in the top 10 in most weeks, and that's what he was doing," Stephens adds.

Brad Davidson (L) and Davis: AIS success stories
Photo: © Rowan Beckworth
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Shayne Bannan agrees, and tells me Allan Davis' work ethic was so good, there were periods where he actually overtrained.

What followed was a barrage of questions to his mentors as to why a corresponding increase in results was not forthcoming, leading to a few moments of self-doubt during his time with them. Interestingly, Davis tells me earlier he knew 100 per cent he wanted to turn pro, but physically, he wasn't so sure - which may explain the overtraining to compensate for a perceived lack in ability.

"He went through some rough patches as any young person goes through, but in our hearts, we knew he had the potential to become a professional cyclist," says Bannan proudly.

This year, Davis will be racing with the really big boys, so it's likely he may go through a couple more rough patches as he adjusts to competing with best pros in the world. Taking a glance at his early season racing schedule, he'll certainly have his hands (or should that be legs) full: Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix - quite the schedule for a neo-pro.

Davis is realistic though - his goal is to gain as much experience as possible "while I'm still in the race, doing my job and doing what I'm told.

"But to get a win - just one - would be nice," adds Davis.

Not that Davis had any problems at Mapei, but less than one month into the new season, everything's going hunky-dory. "I was just saying to Neil Stephens the other day that the organisation in this team, the team morale and the guys on the team really suit me, so I've fitted in a lot more easily [than Mapei]."

Next year mate, you're history!
Photo: © Jeff Quenet
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His relationship with Saiz and ONCE is so good in fact that Davis is already thinking of wearing the yellow and black strip well into the future.

"I would love to get another contract with ONCE after this one [Davis has a two year contract with ONCE until 2004]. From what I've seen so far, it's unreal and I want to stay here for as long as I can," he says.

When I communicate Davis' ambitions to his old coach Brian Stephens, Stephens likes what he hears.

"He's got to serve his apprenticeship as a domestique and it's good to see he's happy to do that, because I think he's still got a lot of growing and maturing to do as a rider," says Stephens.

"But he could win some big one-day Classics - probably more so than Tours - because he's got a lot of cunning and he's also got some speed. If he can make it to the end of a bike race with a group of 15 or 20 guys, he'd be one of the favourites in a bunch sprint."

Greg Davis has a slightly broader although equally rosy dream for both his sons. "Just to be good professional cyclists really. I hope they have a big career ahead of them - another ten years would be great - and to ride any of the big tours such as the Tour de France would be a big honour.

"I like to think I could go over and watch them in the Tour one day," he says simply.

Editor's note: Allan left for Spain the day after the Tour Down Under, and will send his first diary update in February once he gets settled into that awful Mediterranean lifestyle.

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