Being Barry

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Few behind-the-scenes players have had a bigger impact on the development of the BIG names in South African bike racing than Barry Austin.

On a forlorn, dusty koppie not too far northwest of Worcester, Barry Austin sat waiting on a rock. A perch reserved usually for baboons, puff adders and the occasional race photographer, this seemed unfamiliar territory for him. His fashionable eyewear, stylish (dare we call it hipster) haircut and white Team Ascendis Health T-shirt contrasting with the rocky reality of Stage 4 of the Absa Cape Epic.

Most people would associate Barry with the road scene – accustomed to seeing him in a team car directing proceedings for Team Bonitas. And yet, those who know him better will tell you the wild outdoors is his first love. Instead of hiking kilometres up into the hills to escape the crowd and go and sit with the dassies, he could’ve waited for Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag at the water point tech zone, with the other team managers. But then, Barry has always done things his own way.

These are his words:

ON HISTORY
I started bike racing as a BMXer. I got a few SA Champs podiums and then moved on to road cycling in northern Free State. I dreamt of riding in Europe, so one day decided to sell my Ford Lazer and use the money for a ticket and pocket money and flew over to France in search of a club (there was no real internet access back then to assist in making this sort of thing happen).

I spent a few nights in a small, dodgy hotel on the outskirts of Paris before locals pointed me in the direction of Roubaix, as there was some sort of race finishing there that weekend. I set off that way, slept one night in my bike bag in a station and then pulled my case along for 20 kilometres to a dingy hotel not far from Roubaix.

The following day I watched Franco Ballerini whizz past on the cobbles during Paris–Roubaix and fell ever deeper in love with the sport.

I ended up racing for Differdange, a continental-level team in Luxembourg for two seasons. I was never a star, but rather a hard worker for the team. I became a leadout man for sprinters and worked to set up the climbers for the big climbs. I made friends with some folk from the Jack & Jones Danish team and wanted to make the step up the following season, but a car hit me during the December holidays and I had to sit a season out.

That was my racing career over, so I opened up a bike shop, but that didn’t work out. Somewhere around that time a local Free State club asked me to coach their U16 team for the U16 Tour, which included a young Jacques Janse van Rensburg. That’s when the coaching bug bit.

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Not long after, I took a junior team to a World Cup in Luxembourg. Although the team failed hopelessly at the first outing, I was determined to turn things around and get Saffas on the map.

The following year I took over the next group – Sure Youth Junior team. Jacques finished eighth in an Austrian World Cup and won a French regional elite race and John-Lee Augustyn got second in a stage of Liège–La Gleize.

The year after that we had a small sponsorship from Barloworld. We also moved the academy to Heidelberg, Gauteng. That junior team won the team prize and KOM (Jacques) in the Tour de Lorraine World Cup. We were very prominent in many other races, with plenty of top-10 finishes by Jaco Venter, Jacques, Johann Rabe and Herman Fouche. We also had the first female Director Sportif in my wife, Ciska, who played a pivotal role in the junior teams while I also had to manage the Pro Teams of Konica Minolta and later Excel (Neotel).

The year after that (2006) it was Konica Minolta and we won the Giro del Capo with Peter Velits ahead of Barloworld. The team’s average age was 19.

Also running at the same time was the Tekton junior team with Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Bradley Potgieter and David Maree.

After that it was Garmin Juniors, with the likes of Johann van Zyl and Christopher Jennings. Chris won stage five of the Tour du Pays de Vaud in Switzerland and Johann won stage one at the Vuelta al Besaya in Spain.

That was the last of the teams on which I worked before I started full-time at Cycling SA where I only used connections to place my coached riders such as Louis Meintjes and Johann van Zyl.

My time on CSA’s Road Commission felt like it held promise in the beginning due to the belief in my long-term planning by the then road commissioner, Hendrik Lemmer. I wanted to invest in young talent by assisting with expenses if they joined international teams, thus making them cheaper to hire while they got the experience. I received a lot of flack from many quarters for this as most wanted to see immediate results. Looking back, I am proud to have done it. The riders who benefitted from the ‘bridge’ program in that period were: Jacques, Chris, Johann, Louis, Jay Thomson, Jaco Venter, Jayde Julius, Carla Swart and Ashleigh Moolman (Pasio).

ON THE CURRENT SITUATION IN SA
What CSA needs is a clear plan with deliverables. It seems we are jumping for one last- minute opportunity to the next. Identify the gap, have a plan, stick to it, learn from mistakes and then adapt and above all, be consistent. Cycling SA is making the gravest of mistakes by ‘following’ corporate trends. Why invest in MTB when there is ample investment? Same goes for eventing on road. Instead of identifying and filling the gaps they are following the trends and the gaps where focus is needed are getting bigger and bigger…


The South African Junior situation is in a very unhealthy spot at present.
There are some flashes of light in the WVE Track Academy and various MTB programmes, but I don’t see many answers to the ‘what next’ and ‘what needs to be done’ questions in road cycling.
With our last junior programme we did around 15 UCI races per month in Europe. In the past few years, juniors would be lucky to do five such races in the entire period they are abroad. It seems going to Europe has become more of a holiday than a development exercise. Sure, youngsters can see Louis performing and can dream to become him, but most have no idea how much hard work it took for him to get to where he is.

We have the talented and willing bodies, they just need to be shown the path of true hard work and commitment.

Racing in Europe as a junior is crucial.
And, it is important to do proper races. Not Kermis Koers vacations, but real-deal racing. The first thing I tell them is to beat a local pro in a big race. Or at least be close to doing it. The next is to survive high training loads to simulate high racing loads in Europe.

Then, very important is that they learn to be self dependant. There is a good five-year gap between you leaving for Europe and getting the ‘pro’ treatment from any team. In those five years, you travel by bus for hours and hours to races, have minimal supplements, do self massage, etc. Learning to survive the off-the-bike issues is essential or it will cripple you quickly and send you packing for home.

Barry Austin

Coaching and developing young riders has always been first and foremost. I have enough experience and knowledge to help develop Junior and U23 riders. From there the international teams should be able to take it further. What gets me out of bed is knowing more and more riders are reaching for higher dreams. What keeps me breathing is knowing they are actually willing to put in the work to get there.

LEADout is the coaching and mentor system that sat behind many teams and athletes we worked with in the past. Now we have brought it to the front to be seen as a school for those who dare to dream big and have the will to work to make it happen. We aim to build a coaching, mentor and experience system that will give each athlete within LEADout the maximum cycling and life skills to be able to manage themselves within the sport and after.

With the gap from the Garmin Junior team to the current day being around six years, we have had to basically start over, as the continuation that there was in the past from a John-Lee to a Jacques JvR to a Reinardt JvR to a Johann van Zyl to a Louis Meintjes has been broken. I have seen some young promise, but plenty of stimulus still needs to happen.

ON THE HERE AND NOW

LEADout Lights by Linea (LBL) team vs Team Bonitas. I have identified my roles in each carefully and made sure that it all falls within the bigger picture of cycling as a sport, my visions and that of the sponsors involved. While I am involved in the coaching and mentoring of the LBL riders, we have appointed John-Lee Augustyn to assist and be their manager at the races.

So it will be me vs John-Lee at some races which actually works out pretty well as we try to instil a positive racing attitude in both teams. Hopefully it rubs off to the rest of SA and lifts the level.

ON MOUNTAIN BIKE RACING
I have worked in road and always strive to be the best I can be, that is maybe why I’m classed as a ‘roadie’. When one follows me on Instagram all you see is nature and outdoors. Working with Ascendis Health is a bit of mixing my outdoor passion with business, so I do enjoy it. It does not have the diverse and intricate tactics of road cycling, but it does share in the level of mental and physical toughness required to race a European road classic. Apart from the fact that the team takes me to the great outdoors, it also reminds me of the harshness of the sport of cycling, so often lacking in domestic road fun rides. If we were in Europe, many of the Marathon MTB roads used in RSA would have been tarred and they would instead be tough road races, so in actual fact, they seem more like a Paris–Roubaix, Tour de Flanders and Tour de France alpine stage to me.

The attitude at the MTB race is more relaxed too, which is nice. As the sport grows, though I see a definite shift and it could get tricky. Bobby Behan and I were chatting the other day on the original spirit of the sport and how it might change. I see it splitting into races and outrides (challenges). In the end we all are riding bikes and that is most important. The bicycle might have changed design and shape to suite function, but it doesn’t mean that it has to change the user. Different bicycles, different roles, yet one bicycle-inspired heart and soul.

ON THE FUTURE
I want LEADout to grow back into the place where one goes to be schooled to become a pro. Luckily I have a great team in Malcolm (Lange) to bring home my ideas to others, John-Lee as mentor and my wife Ciska as strategist to help me get there.
A school of hard (and fun) knocks and the honest hard-working truth of what it takes to become a pro athlete.

I want people to live and explore outside, preferably doing so by bicycle. Any bicycle. And in living by the bike, also learning what it takes if you want to make a living from racing it. No false hopes, no mediocre dreams. Aim for the top and know the work to get there. There is no such thing as a local pro, don’t aim to become one…

ON THE BIKE
Barry believes it’s important – not just for his health and happiness, but also for his credibility – to ride often. “I love exercise,” he says. “I think it is important to do so myself to test methods and also, to remind myself what the athletes feel like. I mix my exercise with trail running; road cycling; cruising on my fixie; and off-road exploring on my ‘monster-cross bike’ (a 27,5” frame; Lauf fork; 29er MTB wheels and road handlebars).” His favourite? “I can’t pick one – depends on mood, terrain and time.”

OF INFLUENCE
Some of he LEADout (called ACI in the past) racers Barry Austin has helped develop:
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