Monday, June 24, 2024

Luke Roberts – Former World, Commonwealth and Olympic Champion Winds Down


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Luke Roberts
Luke Roberts.

Two decades, twenty years, it’s a long time – especially to ride a bike at world level.

But it was 1994 when Australia’s Luke Roberts won his first world title in the junior team pursuit.

The following year he twinned another victory in the team event with the world junior individual championship for good measure.

Two Commonwealth, three world and one Olympic team pursuit titles followed.

He’s ridden Pro Tour with CSC, Milram, Saxo, the Grand Tours, Classics and just about everything there is to ride – including the Six Days.

We caught up with him in Amsterdam as he rides his last Sixes and prepares for a new chapter in his life – Director Sportiv with new Danish/Luxembourg Pro Continental squad, Cult Energy Pro Cycling.

When you won the junior team pursuit in ’94 did you ever think you’d still be a professional 20 years later?

“The dream back then was to win the Olympics, my heart was always on the track but when I was riding road with the German Comnet team as preparation for the Worlds in 2003/4/5 that sparked interest in me and it enabled me to ride with good road teams.”

And it’s 10 years since you won the Olympics.

“Olympic Gold was my ultimate goal and I achieved it.

“After that I began to set myself new challenges – including a road career.”

Luke Roberts
Luke gets ready for the next race at this year’s Amsterdam Six. Photo©Ed Hood

Are you still an observer of the team pursuit scene?

“Oh yes, I watch the Worlds and study the different tactics and techniques each year.

“In Beijing I realised that the event was becoming one for ‘endurance sprinters’ rather than road guys adapting themselves back to the track.

“The top teams have guys who can rattle out a 1:00 or 1:01 first kilometre to take the pressure of the fast start off the others – so you start fast but don’t overcook it.”

Remind us of your palmarès, Luke.

“I was World Junior Individual Pursuit Champion; twice Junior World Team Pursuit Champion; three times World Elite Team Pursuit Champion; twice Commonwealth Team Pursuit Champion and Olympic Team Pursuit Champion.

“And I was in the team which broke the world record, three times – we were only the second team ever to go under four minutes.”

Luke Roberts
Luke with teammates Brad McGee, Graeme Brown and Brett Lancaster after winning the men’s team pursuit at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Photo©AFP

Will that sub 3:50 ride come?

“Eventually; I remember when we rode 3:57 in Stuttgart on the 286 metre track; that ride was perfect and I thought it would stand for a long time.

“The track was fast and conditions were perfect, warm and ideal for speed.

“But a year later we rode 3:56 having caught and passed the Lithuanians with two laps to go.

“Each Olympics it gets a little faster still.”

Bremen will be your last Six, why there?

“I’m making that my last race because for me it’s the most fun race and is close to Cologne where I live – so my wife, family and friends can come and see my last race.”

Luke Roberts
Luke in action in Amsterdam behind the derny last week. Photo©Ed Hood

You could still live the ‘Six Day man’ like Leif, crits in the summer, Sixes in the winter?

“That was something you couldn’t do on a Pro Continental or Pro Tour team but you could as an individual.

“But I realised the risks involved in that when I crashed and broke my leg – fortunately I was back racing fairly quickly but if you’re on your own and that happens then you’re earning no money.”

Luke Roberts
Luke raced for German team Milram in 2010. Photo©Ed Hood

How did the the Cult ride come about?

“Riding for CSC and Saxo I’ve always had strong Danish links and for the second half of the season I was DS with my current German Stölting UCI Continental team.

“When I came back after that Gent crash I rode Bremen, Berlin and Copenhagen but when I went to the road I found that I didn’t have the strength for the big gears.

“The track was OK with the high cadence on much lower gears…

“I ended my road career in May.”

Luke Roberts
Lke rode for Bjarne Riis’ Saxo Bank team in 2011/12. Photo©Anders Solgaard/AF

How was DS-ing with Stölting?

“Enjoyable, it’s good to work with the young guys – long term I always I imagined I’d become a DS or go into coaching.

“Stölting had Pro Continental ambitions for 2015 but they didn’t materialise – that was the level I’d set my mind on so I used my contacts and landed the Cult job.”

The team has been busy recruiting, Russell Downing, Gustav Larsson, Fabian Wegmann…

“Yes, the focus will be pretty much on Scandinavian and North European races so we need riders to suit that programme – and we plan to ride UK races, too.”

It’s difficult to fix your programme at Pro Continental level, isn’t it?

“Yes, you have to rely on wild cards and the team is stepping up from Continental so it’s hard to judge – but we have good quality riders like Linus Gerdemann on board which should encourage organisers to give us starts.”

Luke Roberts
2004 World Champions, Ashley Hutchinson, Stephen Wooldridge, Luke and Peter Dawson.
Photo©Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

What’s the ‘Roberts Philosophy’ of DS-ing?

“I have a lot experience as a rider and I’m a calm person so anything I say to my riders will be well thought out in advance.

“I’ll be looking to have happy riders who are ready to race and can motivate themselves.”

When’s the first camp?

“We have a short get together in Luxembourg in three weeks time – so we can all get to know each other.

“We’re still working on finalising our bike brand but might have it tied up for then.”

How will it feel to waken up the day after the Bremen Six Day and no longer be a pro?

“It’ll be a strange thing to wake up and go for a ride on the bike because it’s nice weather and I want to – not because I have to.

I think I’ll get back to enjoying riding my bike – after 20 years of often having to force myself to ride it.”