Sid Taberlay is a rider that truly requires no introduction but we’ll do one anyway. Sid has been at the sticky end of the field for close to a decade and he is still one of the riders to watch ! He has been to a Olympic’s, a Commonwealth Games and countless World Cups and Nationals, all whilst remaining one of the true gentlemen of the sport. So without further adieu here’s Sid Taberlay :
Name Sid Taberlay
So you are one of Australia’s most seasoned mountain bikers but where did it all begin for you ?
I must have been about 13 or 14. My friends from school (Matt Hunnibell, Mark Morgan & Adrian Morrisby) were into Mountain Bikng and in this case it was a natural progression of just wanting to do what your mates did. I had a second hand 10 speed K-Mart clunker to start with but it didn’t take long to realise that bike wasn’t going to cut it on the trails around Hobart (note: it’s all straight up & down).
What are your first memories of riding ?
To be honest I don’t really remember any specifics. I used to do a bit of running so I had the fitness to climb well on the bike. We used to just find stuff that seemed unridable (for our ability at the time) and just tried to find ways to ride it. Once one of us did it the others then had to man up. This is really how Mountain Biking progressed for me – from local trail riding to XC, DH racing, trials riding & dirt jumping (nothing the size of what kids are doing these days). I was just a kid who loved riding bikes, now I’m a big kid who still loves riding bikes.
What was your first race ?
I’m not exactly sure. It was pretty soon after I started riding, so 14 maybe. It would have been a Dirt Devils/Hobart Wheelers club event. I kind of think it was a local event <5km from home at Tinderbox that consisted of XC, DH & Slalom over two days. I can’t really remember much about my race other than I was dazzled by some pretty fancy bikes & watching some fast guys do the slalom.
You climbed pretty quickly up through the ranks to U23’s taking out the National Series and National Champs multiple times. When did you begin to see yourself as a career racer ?
I didn’t set out to become a career racer – it was a bit of a stumbling process. I went to Junior Nationals in 1997 & 1998 as part of the TIS talent identification program. To put it bluntly I struggled! I don’t even really remember how I finish in the end (12th & 10th maybe). I was disappointed and tried to forget pretty quick & move on. I still hadn’t found my way in 1999 and went to Nationals with a group of Tassie mates & just did everything – XC, DH and Trials.
It wasn’t until that 1999/2000 period where I had the influence and older role models around to drag me to the next level that I started to move up. Mark Leis, Drew Edwards & John Clingo were a couple of the older (than me) local guys going hard and focusing on the MTB State and National series’. At the same time, Steve Aitken was a hard core A-grade roadie who I’d go out and regularly smash a 400km weekend with. We all raced and trained together chasing / trying to close the gap to John Gregory, who was part of the AIS program.
In this case, I just wanted to keep up with my riding buddies. So I just made sure I did as much training as they did. You could say I was fortunate that I was hungry for it and those guys had the focus, knowledge and kindness to drag me to the fitness level I needed to succeed at a National level. Then, I went to 2000 Nationals in Queensland as an U23, finishing 3rd in XC. Several weeks later I found out that I was in the Australian team for World Champs. I literally had no idea that was coming or what that meant and I had hung the bike up for that period of time. All of a sudden I had six weeks to get fit for Worlds.
After that, 2002 was probably my next breakout year Nationally. I held off Paul Rowney to win both the U23 & Senior National Champs. It was a big deal at the time as Paul was winning everything in Australia, including beating Cadel. Additionally, this was the first time an U23 had won the senior race. It also became a great year for our Tassie group as Mark Leis also made the World Champs Team.
What was your first World Cup ? Do you have any recollections ?
My first World Cup didn’t come until my second international year of riding in 2001. I can’t really remember any specifics but I believe it was in North America leading into the World Championships in Vail, Colorado.
I went straight to the 2000 World Championships in southern Spain. It was an adventure just to get there. As Kevin Tabotta (TIS head coach at the time) said “I was a kid who couldn’t tie his own shoes”. I flew to Spain solo, with the Team management picking me up at the other end. Only I had a delayed flight and missed my connection in Barcelona. There were no flights until the next morning and got told at the information desk I couldn’t speak English (huh?), so I couldn’t work out what to do at the time. I couldn’t get my phone card to work (no mobile at that point) and to top things off no one was home to take a reverse charges call. I felt stranded and ended up just bunking down on a wooden airport bench for the night with my bike tied around me, hoping I would have more luck with contact at the final destination in the morning. It all worked out with Michael Flynn being there, waiting for others to arrive and also for missing bikes from the previous day. It is so much easier these days with wireless everywhere!
The race itself was a pretty good course for me – it had lots of climbing and technical descents although I was still battling from jetlag, a cold I picked up on the way and the altitude. I started towards the back of the field (probably in the 70’s) and picked guys off each lap, moving up to 24th and finishing as the highest placed Australian. From there I went solo by train to a Swiss Cup and the Austrian Nationals, where I finished second. That trip was a real eye opener and I learnt I still had a lot of learning and work to do. I became hungry for more.
As a seasoned veteran your perceptions of riders may have changed. Who do you look up to within the mountain biking world ?
Sure, I think when you are younger you get star struck by higher level and Elite riders. As you develop and move up the ranks, emotions turn more towards respect for what others have achieved and rivalry as a competitor.
Throughout your riding career you’ve had the chance to ride some amazing trails. Where is your favourite place to ride? Anywhere you want to return to ?
I could probably fill a page with some great places. To be honest, with travelling so much to races I really enjoy just going out and being on the best of my home trails. Whether that is Hobart, LA or now Sydney I’ve spent enough time in all three places they all feel like a home base. There is something about the simplicity of riding straight out the garage door to the trails.
Representing Australia in a Olympics must of been a real honour, what was that like ?
Yes, probably something I didn’t really appreciate until some time afterwards. As an athlete you tend to get absorbed into training and racing. It was a time where everything I did was focused on getting the best possible result. Especially being at the Olympics, all you hear about in every direction is “Medals”. This leads to you putting a lot more pressure on yourself as you now have the weight of the Nation on your shoulders, you don’t want to let your fellow countrymen down.
Competitively how does the Olympics differ from a World Championships or a World Cup? Do you think everyone feels the pressure more?
In some ways the Olympic race has more opportunities within the race than the Worlds; and Worlds is the same over World Cups. It comes down to the dynamics of XC racing and the field size. At the Olympics, the field is limited to 50 guys but it’s still just as fast of a race at the front. The difference is that you don’t have to waste as much energy protecting your position from behind and it’s easier to move forward when you only have 49 guys racing you, as opposed to the 200 guys of a World Cup. In a smaller field it is easier to create opportunities to move forward. In Athens I got caught in a pile up on the first corner, I went from dead last to 23rd. In a World Cup with the same form if you have a bad start, you’d struggle to ride back into the top 50.
Two years later you were in the Commonwealth Games team, where you achieved a top 10 in Melbourne. Unlike the Olympics this was a home crowd, what was it like ?
Deafening would be the best word ! It was awesome with so many people coming out to support us (thank you everyone) and we got close to pulling off a medal. Chris Jongewaard and I had high expectations. We were good friends, being also on the same teams (Avanti) in Australia and Dolphin (now evolved into Brentjens/Milka) overseas. It was all going to plan for the first half of the race -Chris was off the front and I was sitting comfortably in the chasing group, doing what I could to disrupt the chase for Chris. It all looked good until a lap and a half from the finish. I had caused a bit of frustration with the other riders in the chase group by protecting Chris’ lead and eventually that frustration was taken out with me being pushed off by another rider. I didn’t really recover from the impact of the fall and Chris was suffering from the solo effort. We finished 4 th & 6 th but we were disappointed in letting it slip through our fingers. At the same time, we were content in that we did everything we could have.
Many skilled cross country riders have gone on to compete in various road teams. Have you ever been tempted to go over onto asphalt ?
I’ve done a bit of time on the road at National level events in both Australia and the USA. From about 2000, I was pointed in the direction of the Olympics and the focus was always on that. Every road race I did was a training exercise for the mountain bike. I was totally focused on the MTB, I simply didn’t know anything different. It wasn’t until later, around 2007, that I kind of woke up and was at a bit of a crossroads. I had seen the National Mountain bike program gradually fall apart each year after the Sydney Olympics to the point it was now (non-existent in terms of athlete support) and this was going into an Olympic year. I kind of thought about the road at this point, but reality was at 27, all of the big road teams want young talent. I already had 8 seasons in Europe racing and wasn’t really prepared to do the hard yards with smaller road teams. Pip (my wife) had also just got a job position in LA, so America became the next adventure.
You are one of the the more vocal riders when it comes to MTBA, do you think it is important for a rider to have and express his/her opinions away from what is laid down by the sports hierarchy ?
I feel it’s the view of a number of people, I’m just a little more vocal about it. It’s kind of ironic really. I only have that attitude from the way I was programmed from the National program. Kevin Tabotta & Damian Grundy had a strong influence of attention to detail. I learnt a religious way of life. I was in the shadows of the post-successful Cadel days. I was taught that everything you did was focused on getting the desired results – the commitment, sacrifices, dedication, bike setup etc to get those extra little 1% improvements. I look at the way things are currently run and see so many ways things could be improved. All those little 1% gains from a management point of view are being lost. Why do all the work in training to try and gain a few extra % in physical performance, yet don’t focus on getting those extra few % in other areas? Obviously, I have great passion and love for the sport and I always have good intentions. I think it is natural that sometimes that passion comes out in frustration. At the end of the day I see things from an athletes perspective and just want what’s best for the riders and some people simply don’t like hearing it.
Your a multiple Wildside winner, is this a special race to you ? Do you feel an obligation to do well, more than other races as it’s on home turf ?
I really enjoy the event. The formula of short stages joined by cruising stages/lunch breaks creates a great atmosphere. I feel I have done well as the formula suits me – short stages and natural mountain biking. I’ve always been pretty good at riding blind trails with confidence. Obviously it’s nice being a home state event, although the only time I go to the remote West Coast is for Wildside. It’s amazing the international profile the event now has. I really didn’t realise it until going back overseas this year and everyone was talking about the event. The organisers do a really good job of race coverage I mean there aren’t many MTB events that go to the effort of getting a helicopter out.
What does a normal week of training look like for you ?
Monday & Friday are usually pretty easy days. The others days I average approx 3.5hrs a day on the bike.
Anything special in your dietary intake?
Not really. I go through stages of being strict and cutting out all the crap, then I tend to eat a lot of crap in the off season. I guess if anything,, after my time in America I’ve become more conscious of eating low HI (human interference) foods.
You were associated with Avanti and then Specialized both through various teams was it tough to move on to Yeti ?
I was with Avanti Bikes from about 2000 until I joined the Specialized Factory Team in 2005. It worked quite well at the time since Avanti was also the same company distributing Specialized in Australia. I had a great 2004 – I literally had the midas touch that year. I had several World Cups riding in the top 10, lead the Madrid round on lap two, which was also the fastest lap of the day. Unfortunately my Specialized deal only lasted a year. I had an up and down 2005 (there was way too much travel. I did the equivalent of three around the world trips in 5 months) and played more of a support role to Liam Killeen. I still managed a World Cup podium and top 20 in the World Cup series and was under the impression I had done enough to continue in 2006, but then Christophe Sauser came on the market. Fortunately I still had a good relationship with Avanti and continued that relationship for 2006 and 2007, combined with the Dutch Dolphin Team (now Brentjens/Milka) while overseas. I did another three years with Specialized after moving to the USA in 2008 under the ShoAir/Specialized banner. In 2011, Specialized moved to take their US National Team in house to make a North American Factory Team with Max Plaxton and Lea Davidson to compliment their Global Factory Team. An Aussie just didn’t really fit their marketing plans in the US.
You’ve put together your own program with your own sponsors. How did that come about ?
It kind of just evolved from the above circumstances. I’ve had a lot of sponsors like Sram for what fells like forever (in a good way!). I simply just wanted to build on the friendships I had. Paul Rowney (now distributor for Yeti in OZ) was a senior rider / role model when I was starting out and we had developed a friendship over time and it was a natural fit to expand that relationship. Especially considering Yeti make some awesome riding Mountain Bikes. Jim Wannamaker from Kenda was keen to help out, he loved that I turned up in the USA and won my first US national event at a time when Geoff Kabush (Maxxis being a Kenda competitor) were winning everything. I somewhat broke that domination. I also had a great relationship with H2O Overdrive, so it all came together with a couple of phone calls. I’ve always done the right thing by people and I guess I earned some good karma along the way. I even still have a good relationship with the guys at Specialized and they often help me out at races handing me bottles etc. With Yeti being mountain bike specific, Matt at Specialized AU was even kind enough to recently hook me up with a road bike. I guess if there is any advice to give to younger riders, always be grateful and do the right thing by people…it goes a long way.
You had a very successful Nationals campaign this year, 1st overall in the XCO Series and 2nd overall in the All Mountain cup series. Can you tell us a little of how you felt coming Into the series and how each race went for you ?
To be honest I probably only did the full series to support Ben Bradley in the Juniors. I came off my end of season break, strung about 1.5 weeks of riding together before the first Perth round in the hoping I wouldn’t embarrass myself too much. Somehow I managed to bluff my way through the race until the final lap where I got dropped by Blairy to finish second. I did the rest of the events with no real ambition, just trying to be respectable each weekend. There are other races within the year I was focused on. Winning the XCO series was just a by-product of being consistent each weekend.
The overall for the All Mountain Cup was decided on each weekend by time accumulated through each event and not points. What do you think of the new formats ?
I think it’s generally a good concept, it just needs refining a little. Spread over 3 days is too much -you loose all the racers who have to work on a Friday and those who don’t…well most of those can’t bring their partners for support since they have to work as well (Which means the events don’t have the family atmosphere) I think the entry / costing structure needs looking at as well. I know people were turned off because they couldn’t simply enter the XC alone and not everyone wants to do all events.
I also think points make more sense, here’s an example why: In the Men’s race in Perth there was approx 1.5 minutes between placings in the XC on Saturday. Therefore, I had no motivation for the Eliminator or Super D towards the overall as in four minutes of accumulated racing between the two events I wasn’t going to catch Blairy, and Carlson wasn’t going to catch me even if I just rolled down the hill. It made those two events on Sunday pointless to the overall.
Being an Olympic year results are everything and coming into Australian Champs you didn’t quite have the weekend you were expecting.
I think like everyone I struggled with the heat on the first lap. I also made a couple of small mistakes. On the second lap I got a slow leak in my rear tyre early on and tried to nurse it to the one and only tech zone at the end of the lap… I didn’t make it. By that time the race was gone. I was there to win or at least medal. Once the race was gone, so too was my motivation and the race simply became a training day.
Apart from the Nationals, Oceanias and World Cups are key to Olympic selection. So this year you’ve competed in a select three world cups Piertmaritzburg (RSA), La Bresse (FRA) and Nove Mesto (CZE) as well as the Ocianias Championships (NZ). Can you tell us about how your campaign has been so far?
I had a poor day in South Africa. I think having to go to New Zealand for the Oceania Champs the week before then back across Australia to South Africa meant two time zone changes within a week, that hit my body hard. After this I re-assessed the year and I decided to skip Houffalize and do Sea Otter for two reasons. Dan (Mc Connell) was looking pretty good for the Olympics after winning Nationals and Oceania Champs as well as a top 25 in Peitermaritzburg. At this point I realised it was a tough task to close the gap to Dan, as he starts Houffalize in 24th while I’m at about 70-ish position on a course that has a really crap start loop and very limited passing opportunities. It no longer made sense to put all my eggs in the Olympic basket for the year. I skipped Houffalize and focused on America’s biggest race – Sea Otter. I came away with second, so certainly the right choice in terms of looking after my sponsors. I then refocused on Olympic selection with the Czech Republic and French World Cups. Czech didn’t go so well although I wasn’t having a bad day so to speak. I was simply just riding at the same pace as everyone else around me. Which wasn’t a good day as I should have been moving forward. France was a bit of a battle zone and I crashed early on… and hard. I had an idiot in front of me who had punctured and tried to run a tough downhill section instead of taking the B line, only to loose his footing. In trying to avoid him and avoiding a massive over the bars moment, I slammed myself into a rock wall. My forearm took the impact, in what I later learnt was a nasty cut. I pushed though with blood literally running down my arm and dripping off my fingers. By the end of lap 3 my body had shut down…day over. It was time to find a hospital to get stitched up.
Yes, I’m a lot more relaxed these days. When I was younger every race was flat out but I’ve learnt that’s not always the best approach especially now that mountain bike racing has gotten shorter and more tactical. I’m a different rider than 7 or so years ago. I had learnt a way of life where everything was focused on attention to detail with training & racing. I eventually got to the point where I was mentally exhausted and I had to re-awaken from that way of life. I had to re-invent the way I did things to re-find the love. Today it’s more about picking key events to do well at and being consistent in others. You won’t see me doing an ergo session (unless it’s cold & wet outside) nor will you see me doing a 200km day.
Now the Olympics are gone. The year will still look very much the same except for that one event. I’ll now get to focus on Downieville ( the All-mountain World Championships), which is on at the same time of year. It’s kind of funny how a lot of people think the Olympics are everything, yet for some companies doing well at an event like Downieville means more than making the Olympic team.
Thanks for your time. Anyone you would like to thank?
Well this story feels like a walk down memory lane…Thanks to all my friends, family and people I’ve met on the way who have groomed me to who I am. Additionally, to all the companies who have helped along the way – from my first bike shop deal with Treadlies in Tasmania, to all those who allow me to do what I love to this day. Thanks!
Kenda, H2O Overdrive, Yeti, Easton, Sram, Giro, Rockshox, Fizik, Crankbrothers, JetBlack, Yor Health, Adidas Eyewear, 4Shaw and Nathan Performance gear.