BLOG 2: Stories of passion and determination in cycling episode 1- 'Bart Man' Bart Hickson
Bart Hickson is a former Australian national team cyclist. Bart represented Australia at the 1991 World championship and raced an international career spanning over a decade and 4 different continents. Perhaps best known for his results in the prestigious Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic which during the 1990's was the premier cycling stage race in Australia. Affectionately known as 'Bart Man' Hickson was renown for his strength, determination, laconic attitude and hairy legs. Mind Matters sat down with 'Bart man' for a chat about life, cycling, motivation, the highs & the lows of life in high performance sport.
Mind Matters (MM): Alright, so Bart Hickson, what is or was your favorite ride or race food?
Bart Hickson (BH): Yeah, that's a good question actually. Used to like fruit cake. Mind you it's probably too high in fat and stuff. The funny thing is I love food, but when you're riding you sort of lose your appetite a bit. You don't feel like eating. These days I probably rely on gels and that sort of thing. Old school fruit cake.
MM: What would your biggest week on the bike?
BH: It probably be 13 to 14 hundred k’s. Did a couple of AIS training camps where you pretty much do three big days. You might do 200, 220, 240, or 260, then a day off and do it again.
MM: What was your favourite place to ride in the world and what was your favourite race?
BH: Favourite race would definitely be the Bank Classic. I always seem to do well there. I seem to know the race. Favourite place in the world? Probably the Alps in Europe. I've done trans alp (MTB race) there for a couple of times so Northern Italy. There's a lot of beautiful places in Europe, I guess, to ride.
MM: And, with bikes, you reckon aluminium or carbon fibre bikes?
BH: Probably Carbon, yeah. It's been a long time since I've had an aluminium bike. At the end of the day, you've still gotta pedal the things though. Yeah, Carbon seems to give a softer, nicer ride.
MM: With the gear, do you reckon the cables, or the new breed Di2
BH: I suppose, if I upgrade my road bike next, I'll probably go for the Di2.
MM: Now, Bart you raced an international career that spanned over a decade. You raced for the national team in the early 1990's. You've raced on four or five different continents. And, you've competed in pretty famous races, like a peace race in eastern Europe. You represented Australia at the world championships. But, you're perhaps best known for your results in Australia, winning the famous Goulburn to Liverpool, 2nd at the national titles. Probably you are most famous for the big race you always did well at which was I suppose the old breed Tour Down Under, the Commonwealth Bank Classic race.
MM: So, that was your life in the 90's. What are you up to now?
BH: I work for a medical device company now. So, I work for a company that makes pace makers and defibrillators. I work in sort of training and education for them. Yeah, it's a good job. I'm quite pleased about it, I don't work in the bike industry.
MM: Now, you're officially known as Bart Man. I remember when I started riding I would hear stories about the famous Bart Man. You were renowned for your strength, always riding hard, long and fast. Now, you still race the mountain bike, occasionally. Any more of these races, coming up on the horizon?
BH: I might do another trans alp, for the ... Yeah, I like to pick a race every one or two years... every year or two, have a go. I'll probably do the trans alp again. I keep thinking I'd like to get really fit and do some Masters racing and stuff, but I never get around to it.
MM: Now, going back, you grew up in Hobart, Tasmania I understand?
BH: Yeah, yeah, I did. I didn't ride when I was in Hobart but.
MM: And then you moved here to Sydney, and how old were you then?
BH: I would have been 11 or 12.
MM: And what sparked your interest? What motivated you to get into cycling?
BH: I think I had a mate that got into it, and he had a bike. It was more the bikes. That got me into it. You know, I was into the bikes. I started working in a bike shop. Pretty soon I realized I wasn't bad at it. You know, like, I'd tried cricket and ball sports and I just didn't have the goods ... I wasn't any good at them. Whereas, I found cycling. I might not have been the most talented bloke around, but I responded well to training. So, I did a lot of training, which I didn't mind doing. I improved, you know. So, finally I found something I was actually pretty good at!
MM: And when you're good at it, you're motivated to keep doing it….
BH: That's right, exactly. Yeah, yeah. It's a win win. And I enjoy it too. I did it cause I loved it. I think when I was 13, or 14, I was doing 200K rides, you know, just for fun.
MM: And, when you started racing, did you have any role models, or any people that really stood out in your mind that motivated you to go deeper into the sport of bike racing?
BH: Yeah. Not overly. I was always a fan of Bernard Hinault, the French Tour de France winner. But there was no one in particular. I always looked up to the Australian professionals. There weren't many Australian professionals, back in the 80's. Like, there were Phil Andersen, Steven Hodge, and Allen Peiper also a bloke named Michael Wilson. Professionals were... that was the holy grail, whereas now everyone seems to be professional. But, no super role models, I guess.
MM: Now, you started racing and you started getting some good results, and hence your career took you pretty deep into the high performances aspect of the sport of cycling, and in particular the Australian institute of sport. How did you find this environment for your own character, or your own kind of personality? And, would you attribute this for the improvement, or the detriment of your motivation and your performance in cycling?
BH: So, a lot of what the Institute of Sport did in the early 90's, was introduce Australians to racing overseas, like Heiko (Salzwedel- AIS cycling coach) had got a lot of starts in big races in Europe, races you wouldn't otherwise get a start in. We did a lot of week long stage races. That takes it toll on you when you're young. You can only do so much racing. I think it's different now. All these young guys, new professionals, get sort of, developed. You know, they don't get pushed too hard when they're 19 or 20. But, it certainly makes you a better bike rider, definitely. But, you gotta balance. If you do too much racing and not enough training, you just start falling in a hole. I think my first season overseas, I was pretty exhausted. You know, I probably did seven, seven day stage races, which is a fair amount for a 19 year old.
MM: Yeah, wow. You obviously, would have went through some pretty painful tough times in those first two years in the Institute of Sport and racing overseas. What would you say ... Is there anything you can kind of allude to that would have kept you motivated through those tougher or more painful times in cycling?
BH: Probably more results, you know what I mean. Like I said, you become ... You might race in Australia and you think you're pretty good, and you might win a race or get places. Whereas you go overseas and you just, you are ... Cannon fodder. I remember my one of my last seasons in Europe I raced the peace race and I got a second in a stage. Not a bad result, whereas Robbie McEwen was in his first season overseas, he won three stages of that. That's when I realized, he's on another level, you know? And, that it wins is what keeps you motivated, if you're winning like that. For all the days you don't when you're at the back and you're struggling, you get one win, it keeps you going. Whereas, if winning was few and far between it gets tough. Harder.
MM: So, results were like your candy. Kept you going.
BH: Yeah. I think it's easier. You get the guys like the sprinters, like Robbie. They get wins. I was never a very good sprinter, so you don't get the wins. But, then it's different now too. Because a lot of these new professionals I think get hired to do a job. It doesn't matter if they don't win, because they're hired to do a job. Sit on the front of a bunch. Whereas, I think the sport is probably different now to what it was 25-30 years ago.
MM: So, do you think when you were racing there was less of a team aspect in this sport?
BH: Certainly, domestically there was less of a team aspect. Yeah. Internationally, you raced as a team. But I think it's much more coordinated now with race radios. It's just so much more professional. What matters is winning, so the teams are very well organized. I think it would be interesting to take race radios away, because I think then riders would have to think more on their feet.
MM: Do you reckon, it's kind of dialled down the excitement of the sport? I know recently you were watching the national championships , and then some of the races you might see here in Australia. Do you think having that team aspect tour has made it less exciting then it was in the past?
BH: Yeah, I suppose it’s hard for me to say for domestic racing, because I don't see that much of it, other than what you see on TV. But, still you watch the tour de France now, or something like that in the front stages. As much as I like watching it it’s pretty boring. I'm sure if they took away the radios, it would be a lot more exciting. It's interesting no one talks about what races, what results they have any more. They talk about what team they're on. It's a more professional sport now.
MM: Now, when you were racing some of those professional races, like the bank race, you saw some of the guys you were racing against, and in fact some of the guys you were beating, go on to quite high profile tour de France careers and so forth. People like Rumsas, Ullrich, Jens Voigt and the like, that kind of generation. How did that feel for you, seeing these guys, that were essentially your peers, going on to that kind of level? Was there an element of regret? Do you kind of wish you took that path?
BH: Yeah, funny, not so much, actually. After a few years racing overseas, all I wanted actually was a 9 to 5 job. It's actually a bloody tough gig. Maybe there's a little bit of regret now, in my 40's, but not really. I know plenty of other bike riders who were probably better than me, that never made it as professionals. There's a few of them around. Some of its, at the right place at the right time. And just cause you beat these guys in the bank, doesn't necessarily mean you would beat them in July. You gotta be realistic. Yeah, I suppose if I ... never used to have any regrets about that, but maybe a little bit now. It is what it is.
MM: And when you find out later on, and as things have come out over the years, you think those guys took a path you wouldn't have been comfortable with anyway?
BH: Yeah, I think that's right ... I think that you now realize a lot of what you saw in the 2000's and the 90's was not real. A lot of it ... probably the majority of it ... Yeah. I mean, you look at Rumsas I think, he got third in the tour de France the year after he rode the bank classic, you know what I mean, yeah. So I think, yeah. There's yeah, some murky 20 years, probably for the sport. Then 90's. And I think if you did want to be really good you would have to get on the ‘program’ so to speak.
MM: And, what would you say, during those years, what brought you most joy to your career?
BH: Yeah, that's a good question. I was never hell bent on winning or anything. I just enjoyed riding the bike, and if I finished a bike ride, and I had given it my all, and I left nothing out there, I was pretty happy! Whether I finished first or last. Which is interesting. Maybe I didn't have enough of a winning mentality, you know a real racers mindset. I was very competitive, but maybe not smart enough. If I was racing now, I'd be much more cunning, much smarter. So, I guess that's the thing, what I enjoyed was giving all out on the road and if you finished well that was a bonus!
MM: And making other people hurt along the way..
Ron: Yeah, I love making other people hurt, yeah!
MM: What do you think has been after being a cyclist, or being an athlete at a very high level, what do you think that has taught you, what you're most grateful for, or maybe what has it taught you that you are not so grateful for?
BH: Yeah, that's a good question. It's probably one and the same. I mean there's no doubt that the thing is with cycling, what you put in is what you get out. Regardless of how talented you are, that's the beauty of any endurance sport. If you put the time and the work into it, the odds are- you will improve. So, that taught me that if you want to be good at something you got to put time and work into it. I try to instill that in my kids but they don't listen. I tell them if you try then you will get better. They go oh, no I'm just not good at it. That's what it taught me. I suppose it's a pretty hard sport. It's probably one of the toughest sports ... You can put a hell of a lot of time into cycling, and still not get as much out, but if you put that time into something else you might succeed further. If I had a dollar for every kilometre I did…..
MM: You'd be a millionaire.
BH: Yeah, I’d be retired! But yeah, there's no doubt. It's funny, even when I go into job interviews now, I use cycling as an example as the amount of effort you put in there is scaled to the results you get.
MM: Has cycling taught you anything that you resent for instilling that in you?
Ron: Eh, that's an interesting question. Not so much taught me ... I've become resentful ... or, what's the word? There's a lot of hypocrisy in cycling now, I think now, with the doping. It's disappointing when you see Contador, or Valverde, on TV and the commentators saying, he's one of the greatest cyclists in the last 20 years. That's hypocrisy, you know, you can't persecute Armstrong, in one sentence and then sing the praises of these others. Yeah, so I think there's a lot of hypocrisy in cycling. But, you know, there's probably a lot of hypocrisy in many sports. But saying that, It's a good sport, it's made me what I am today. That's how I define myself in my life, is as a bike rider. A few times, I have stopped riding seriously, I’ve stop riding the bike altogether. But I ALWAYS come back to it.
Now I just pedal around, that's what I do.
MM: That's a good sign that you're perhaps in it for the right reason. You know you have a genuine love for the sport.
BH: Absolutely. Cause you do. You see a lot of people come and go in this sport. You know, they are done after a year or two, five years. If you're out to prove something, or whatever it might be, you’ll eventually fall on your ass. You've gotta do it cause you love it. You know, you genuinely have to love it.
MM: And that's what, I imagine, would have taken you through many of the more, kind of, stressful times of your career, the fact that you actually loved riding.
BH: That's right, yeah. To be honest, the true appeal when I was overseas racing and suddenly there's pressure on you to get results. Suddenly that pressure, it becomes more of a job. Yeah, then I would return to Australia and continue riding because I LOVED it and that's probably when I got some of my best results. This was actually when I stopped racing overseas, and went back to Uni and started study, and just continued to race. That's when I did well in the Bank race. It's not my life, but I do it and I do it well because I love it!
MM: It seems like you're a guy that you could go on your own motivation, you didn't need someone to tell you- “oh you gotta go do a 200 k”...
BH: No, absolutely, I'm a big advocate of that if you need someone to tell you to do this or do that ... I mean It's good to have someone to guide you to do it, but at the end of the day, you gotta wanna do it. When you wake up in the morning and its bucketing rain and you don't wanna go out but you gotta do a 200k, well, either you can make yourself do that or not. I mean, yeah ... absolutely.
I consider that all throughout my life you know, only you can make those decisions to motivate yourself.
MM: Now, you've seen many changes in this sport, the fact that you still are loosely involved in it. What would you say is that most noticeable for the good and most noticeable for the bad, the more negative changes in the sport of cycling?
BH: Yeah, good question. I mean, especially for the good, is the fact that cycling is so popular now. It's trendy now. You know, all the young guys, they are trendy, they are COOL. Back in the late 80's and early 90's, cycling was a daggy sport. You were bit of a weirdo. Now you see all these young bucks, and they're all trendy, and they have the right haircuts, and they wear the right clothes.
So, that's certainly a change, and the fact that so many people do it, is good. I guess on the negatives, you know, we talked about the race organisation.. I think it's become less passionate.. Race rodeos and the science and that sort of thing. People riding to the ’power meters’ sort of killed a bit of the excitement.
But, that's, I suspect, all professional sports a bit like that. Yeah, that'd probably be the biggest changes. I haven't been in a proper bike race for 16 years or so, I can't officially say.
MM: Now, looking back, as you mention is been over 16 years since your last big race. Is there anything you wish you knew, or taught yourself then, when you were in the midst of your racing career, that you know now?
BH: Yeah, if there's one way I could have improved, I would have been lighter. I'd probably be 4 kilos lighter. You know, you look at the riders now, and they're so lean. I knew that back then, but now that people can calculate out the weight and that sort of thing, it's so much more tangible. You see these guys who come out, and you know they have improved- Chris Froome I remember he lost 5, 6 kilos. Or something and he went on to win the tour de France. Yeah, I also would have been smarter, more cunning. I would have raced smarter.
MM: What would you reckon, I know it was a long career, but what would you, is there any moment that stands out as particularly memorable, or has made you particularly proud?
BH: I thought my bank race results were pretty solid, but nothing in particular. Like I said, I'm not one who's sort of hell bent on any one race or result in particular. But certainly the bank race results. When I look at some of the names that were in those races, yeah, I'm pretty chuffed, yeah.
MM: And, there you've got a couple of kids now. Would you encourage them to get into the sport of cycling?
BH: I would if they were interested, but I wouldn't force them to .. I just know how much work it is to get good at it, you know. But if they had a passion to that and they wanted to do it, I'd encourage them, yeah. But I think. It's a tough one. If you wanna put in the time to the cycling, you gotta make sacrifices in other parts of your life, you know? You have to know when to stop too. You have to know when to pull back at a certain age.
MM: You must have been incredibly good at balancing aspects of your life, because you were doing incredibly sophisticated university degree, whilst you were still at the peak of your career more or less…
BH: Yes, I suppose good time management. But, in hindsight, I had more time back then, then I do now. Now I've got three kids. Now, it would be more of a struggle. Be up at 5 every morning, just to squeeze a couple of hours in.
MM: Now, if you could give one piece of advice, to a young guy that might be wanting to race, young guy or girl, that wanted to get into racing now, what is something you could say to encourage them to get going in the sport?
BH: Yeah, look I'd say, follow your passion. Do it because you love it. Get out and do the training, you know. I think eddy merckx once, someone asked him, how do you become a better bike rider? And he said, Ride lots! At the same time though, you need a bit of a ... You know, if I trained now, you know I used to do 8, 12 hour rides. I don't think I'd do that myself anymore. I think you don't need to do that. Now you just, 4 to 6 hour rides, or 2 hours on the trainer at tempo would be fine. Just realize you do have to put in a lot of work to be good, but it'll pay off.