Tom Southam is a name that has been around for a while; it was 2000 when he took fifth in the British Time Trial Championship behind Chris Newton – with a certain Bradley Wiggins in seventh spot and Stephen Cummings in ninth place.
It seemed as if he was headed for the top – especially when he took second in the 2002 British Elite Road race Championship behind Julian Winn – but ahead of Jeremy Hunt and Roger Hammond who were third and fourth respectively.
He repeated the trick in the 2004 champs behind Hammond and was by now in the colours of Italian pro team Amore & Vita.
There were a number of solid top 20 finishes in UCI races that year, including 12th in the Tour du Finistere.
Oh his time at Amore & Vita he said:
“I got the ride through Jamie Burrow; he was on the team and put a word in for me.
“I was riding the Bayern Rundfahrt with GB; they saw the way I was riding and I went to them soon after that.
“It was a good year and the team was well organised; I was 23, having a great time, not making a fortune – but it didn’t matter.”
The following year he was with Claudio Corti’s Barloworld team; but the Italian scene was to lose its gloss for the Cornwall man. He explained;
“I just got sick of cycling; the pro end of the sport anyway. From the outside looking in, it’s glamorous and seems great. But if you’re embroiled it, there’s an awful lot of in-fighting and double dealing, especially in Italy.
“You fight to become a pro and race at the highest level, but you want to enjoy it once you get there; I just felt that it was time to re-assess.”
He spent time with the Drapac team in Australia;
“I’d been to Australia before and my girlfriend was Australian; I had three months away from the bike and then I bumped into Scott McGrory at Bendigo and we talked about my getting a ride with them.
“It was just for fun, without riding as a full professional; but it ended up just being frustrating because I wasn’t approaching it properly. I’d have six days off the bike between races and I wasn’t looking after myself in terms of what I was eating and drinking.
“Mentally, I was still pro with Barloworld, but physically I didn’t have the condition, I’d think; ‘I’ll just bridge that gap,’ but of course, I didn’t have the condition to do what was in my mind – I had my ambitions and capabilities mixed up!.
“There was a year at Halfords, then the move to Rapha; ‘I knew John Herety very well and I wanted to be part of his set up. I also wanted to be part of a team where the riders were friends as well as team mates – Darren Lapthorne, Kristian House and Simon Richardson were all guys I knew and liked.
“I originally spoke to John at the Tour of Britain in 2008 – we didn’t know if Halfords were going to continue into 2009 and I wanted to go to Australia for the winter knowing what I was coming back to; ‘a bird in the hand . . . “
But over the last year or so, Southam has made the move from Rapha-Condor rider to team press officer – and we’ve been seeing his by-line more and more in the pages of ‘Rouleur’ magazine.
We thought a word would be in order.
Do you still spend the winters in Bendigo, Australia, Tom?
“I spent four or five winters there but now I split my time between Bristol and Melbourne.
“Sometimes it’s nice to have two houses – and sometimes it’s a pain.”
Racer to writer, tell us about that.
“When I was riding with Rapha-Condor, I was thinking about what I was going to do next.
“I did a part time MA course in professional writing in 2010/11; I raced at the weekends – John and the team were really supportive and I started to do bits and bobs for the team website.
“When I was young and on the WCPP I did a blog so it wasn’t something new for me.
“I broke my elbow in the Lincoln Gran Prix in 2010 and it didn’t heal well – so as time went by I raced less and wrote more, and in June 2011 I made the switch to press officer.”
Tell us about being a press officer.
“It takes around 50% of my week – the rest of my time is taken up with other writing.
“I have two projects on the go – Charly Wegelius’s book, which will be out in June 2013.
“And throughout this year I’ve worked on a book and website called ‘Inside Out’ based on the young riders of the Rapha Condor Sharp team, together with photographer Camille McMillan.
“The press officer part of my life involves keeping the team website up to date, getting press releases out – like the one announcing our new sponsor, JLT – and also acting as a buffer for John Herety.
“As DS and manager he has so many demands on his time – I try to ease the pressure.”
What are the frustrations of being a press officer?
“You have to make the riders realise that those boring requests from sponsors, where you stand around at openings with people you don’t know and become objectified are an important part of the job and crucial to the sponsors.
“The young riders are fine, they give more because it’s new to them – but some of the older guys have seen it all before . . .”
And the satisfactions?
“It’s nice when the team gets a result, you make that newsworthy, feed it out to the media and see it in print in the mainstream press – you know you’ve done your job for the sponsor.”
How did the link come about with JLT?
“Pretty much through personal connections; Charlie Pearch, a senior partner at the company is also a member of the Rapha Condor Cycling Club.
“Cycling has such a high profile at the moment – it all came together quickly.”
And the team sticks with the ‘youth policy’ for 2013?
“It was a bold move to go down that road with the team – Rapha-Condor had enjoyed such a high level of success and then you go from that to a situation where your successes aren’t perhaps as obvious.
“Mike Cuming winning the British U23 road race championships was our biggest success – it’s not as high profile as winning Premiers or Tour Series but shows that our young riders have handled the pressure well.
“The team has such a strong reputation that even our young riders up from the junior ranks find themselves marked tightly.”
How often do you get out on the bike yourself?
“A lot less than I’d like – with working on Charly’s book I’ve spent hour just peering at a computer screen.
“I’ve actually started doing a bit of rowing.
“When I go out on the bike and ride up a hill, I know that I should have ridden up it faster; so I just wanted to do something different.
“It’s nice to be on the river – a change.”
Do you think if you’d won one of those British Elite Road Race Champs, your cycling career may have been different?
“There are a lot of small things which can make a difference – the first time I was second, it was a surprise.
“But the next time, in 2004, I was away with Hammond and it was unlikely I’d beat him in a sprint.
“I didn’t have the same mental attitude for the second part of my career as I did for the first part – there were other things going on.
“I don’t know . . .”
The British scene has changed a lot over the course over your career.
“Immensely – the whole landscape is different.
“Back then, Europe was still a bit of a mystery, GB riders were on the outside but now they’re on the inside.
“The lottery funding and track success has changed everything.”
The slide of the Premier Calendar?
“The race calendar is a disaster; we have organised, stronger teams and there’s more money in the sport – but they need somewhere to race.
“It’s not British Cycling’s remit to promote races, but it’s becoming very difficult for organisers.
“The police fees and the like make it hard for race organisers – it’s a thankless task.
“And many of the new cyclists coming in don’t want to race, they want to ride sportivs.”
The crit is king.
“In Europe criteriums are an afterthought – it’s only in the UK, US and Australia where there’s a big tradition of crits.
“It’s fast and entertaining racing to watch; but it’s not going to produce good roadmen.”
Hindsight on your own career?
“You can’t help but have that – although I never did when I raced.
“I wasted a lot of time and was pig-headed about things – but when you’re in your early to mid-twenties you’re not producing your best thinking.
“Maybe I should have had one more year in France, Italy didn’t really suit me – you had to be a fast climber or a sprinter – but I rode well in French Cup races, in or around the top 10.”
“It’s a hard one, people get angry when they read Tyler Hamilton’s book; but Lance was a driven man and it’s a sport which rewards people who are willing to go beyond the pale.
“If there are rules, people will bend them – everyone was doping so it was only logical that someone was going to take it to the limit.
“There were drugs to an extent in the 70’s and 80’s, but then the sport was allowed to go rotten – and it’s a culture which means that it’s not going to be a nice guy who wins.
“It wasn’t a game for really decent human beings.”
I read that Santiago Botero was your favourite rider?
“He was cool, a disaster – or brilliant.”
And finally, you being a man for your music – who’s ‘in?’
“I’m still into Gaslight Anthem – they’ve got a new album out this year.
“And I went to see the Black Keys in Brum last night; they’re rock n’ roll – I’ll stick with that.”