Mind Matters Podcast episode 2- From Dunlop Volleys to National Champion: MTB legend Cameron Ivory
One of the great things about all sports and pursuits in life is the stories of the people we come across. In our 2nd Mind Matters Podcast interview we chatted with 2018 Australian MTB champion Cameron Ivory and explored his story in the sport from humble beginnings to dealing with the roller coaster ride of elite sport. A story worth sharing. Cameron had just competed at the 2019 MTB World Championship in Canada and was wrapping up his international season with the World Cup Final n the USA.
Audio (30min) and transcript below..
Mind Matters/ Justin Morris (MM): Alrighty, we have Australian cycling legend from recent years Mr Cameron Ivory on the line. Cam has been achieving a lot on the road bike and the mountain bike over recent years. Currently, He's in Snowshoe, West Virginia, USA for the last round of the Mountain Bike XC World Cup. He's just come off a good result in the Mountain Bike World Championships in Canada last weekend. Cam, thanks for your time. Thanks for having a chat with us here at Mind Matters. How are you feeling for the World Cup this weekend?
Cam Ivory (CI): I'm pretty excited to be here. It's the last race of my international season for this year. I've been on the road for the last six weeks, so it's going to be nice to finish it off, get home and catch up with a lot of people.
MM: Good man. This year's been pretty impressive for you, Cam. As has, more or less, the past decade for you. You've got quite an impressive palmares with results across both the mountain bike and road bike. Can you share with us what sparked your initial interest in cycling? What got you into the sport and how long ago was that time?
CI: I've been on bikes all my life. My family house, which is back in Newcastle, still backs onto the bush there. So, I used to have a lot of little jumps in the bush. Used to get out there, whenever I could, with all of the neighbourhood kids. There were a lot of young kids in the neighbourhood. I was on the BMX bike from a young age, and then when I was 12 I had a bad accident, knocked my teeth out and got stitches in my lip. It was a few years after that I thought, "I might give mountain biking a go". Originally, I wanted to get into the downhill side of it. When we were looking at bikes, mum and dad said, "Why don't we just get you a cross-country bike and see how you go"...
CI: I've always been fit playing a lot of sport as a kid, and then with the skills from BMX it just seemed to work for me. I won my first club event that I went to in Dunlop Volleys and a pair of board shorts. Then I worked my way up through the club levels. Started going to state after that. Then in 2009, I was picked in my first national team. That was a big shock to me. Since then, I've just stuck to it and I've made a pretty big goals list for my career. So, I'm just trying to pick them off one at a time.
MM: Nice. You come from pretty humble beginnings in the sport there. Doing your first race in the boardies and the Volleys, yet still managing to towel up the opposition. Now, obviously, your dress on the bike is a bit different. But you are still clipping in and pinning the number on. How does your life look at the moment? I understand, you're on your way back to your current home town of Adelaide. What else is consuming your time, as well as racing this year?
CI: Yeah, I worked at Woolies for 9 and a half years, just packing shelves and then into the fruit and veg section. But, after missing the 2016 Olympics, I quit that job. I just wanted to spend more time focusing on the bike. Doing all those little one percenters correct coming into the Comm Games in 2018. That didn't quite go to plan. Since then, I haven't really done a lot of work, as such. I've done some skills coaching on the side, but I've been studying for that whole time, as well. So, out of school, I got into uni, and then I went traveling for quite a bit with the national team. So, took a few gap years. Then I was studying Mechanical Engineering with TAFE NSW, which was online, so it worked well for me. Last year, I started up with UniSA, studying a Bachelor of Construction Management. Again, that's online, so it allows me to study while I'm away. Last night, I actually submitted my final assessment for this term, which is just bad timing with racing, but now I have two easy weeks then It's the term holidays.
MM: Sounds like you've been pretty full gas lately. I notice you mentioned you used to work quite regularly, packing the shelves there at Woolies, and now obviously, a lot of your time outside of training is devoted to your university studies. I know, for a fact, when you were younger, you were toweling up a lot of other riders who had more or less complete pro athlete lifestyles, and you were juggling these other commitments in your life. Do you think having those extra things in your life have enhanced or hindered your cycling career?
CI: They definitely helped it! Like time management. Trying to work, as well as go to school. I was working when I was still at school. Trying to squeeze all of my training in around that. As well as catching up with mates and all the other normal stuff that we do. This definitely made me more appreciative of the time that I did have. The worst thing about all of those other commitments, like the work, it was just time on my feet. I could be packing shelves for 9 hours, in one shift, until midnight, and then trying to get out to meet the 6:00 AM bunch the next morning.
MM: It saps you, aye?
CI: Yeah. So, that was one of the reasons why I thought I'd leave that job. Since having that extra time, I've been able to put that back into my sport. So, more time for the core sessions, the gym work, stretching, yoga, that sort of stuff. Not that I do a whole lot of yoga.
MM: Like you said, it's granted you that extra time that you can devote to those little one percent things that you wouldn't have had the time to do so if you were filling your time with the work and other commitments.
CI: That's right. Especially now that the study level has picked up since I've gone to uni, instead of TAFE. It would be a lot harder to juggle that with all of my cycling if I was still working a full-time or part-time job. But, I'm actually seeking a job. When I get home, after this trip, I need to find a bit of casual or part-time work again, just to save up the funds for next year.
MM: Good on ya. It sounds like the work ethic that you've developed from doing those extra things has shaped how you approach your training on the bike. Good time management and things like that.
CI: Yeah, definitely.
MM: I know, over the years as you've gotten stronger, your results have gotten better and better and as you mentioned, as your availability to train and devote to your cycling has increased. Your performance has turned many heads I know in road racing, there was a quite a few people who wanted to tap you on the shoulder and encourage you to devote some more emphasis on your road racing and pursue a career down that path. It seems like you've always resisted and you've stayed loyal to your sport of cross-country mountain bike racing. Is there something about cross-country, in particular, that really ignites a fire in your belly? What is it that you really love about the sport? It seems you have a strong passion for it.
CI: For me, mountain biking just appeals a little bit more. I think, because I can mix it up a lot more. Road cycling, I still enjoy that and love competing in the National Road Series. But, when I am out on the road bike, a lot of it's the same. You're on tarmac for most of the time. You might mix it up with a small gravel sector somewhere. But, mountain biking, I can go and climb up fire roads, I can hit good descents, I can find a single track that goes on for hours, jumps, burns. I just find that I can mix it up so much and there's always something that can appeal to me on the day.
MM: Yeah. I know, you as a rider and that element plays to your strengths. Being able to be absolutely present at every single moment and incredibly adaptable to your terrain is quite serving to your skills in the sport.
CI: Yeah, and bike skills are definitely one of my strengths. I guess, I can use them more on the mountain bike than I can on the road bike. Being able to mix it up between disciplines on Enduro bike. For me, coming off a cross-country carbon hardtail and then onto a new Trek Slash bike, this bigger bike just feels like a full downhill bike for me. So, I enjoy going out and doing the local downhill runs on that.
MM: You've been to plenty of cool races and you have had plenty of good results over the years. In 2014, I know you had the experience of being able to represent Australia at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Here you achieved a top ten result. How was this event for you? and how do you consider the role that played in shaping your cycling career? And how was it to be in an event that was considered by a lot of the general public in Australia to be right up there amongst the pinnacle of sporting success?
CI: As I was growing up, I was watching the Commonwealth Games across all sports and the Olympics on TV. That was something that I had in the back of my mind that I'd love to get there one day. So, I guess I was aiming towards that. But, to actually get selected to got to that in 2014, I was stoked with! It was such a good feeling! 2014 was quite a good year for me, as well. I was the Under 23 National Champ back then, and I was able to get on to the podium in the elite National Series that we had. I took that form overseas with me. Had a few European podiums as well. It was a good year. So, to go to Glasgow and finish off that year on such a high was pretty special to me.
MM: Especially, at that age when you're still under 23 to have an experience like that, I imagine helped shape the following few years for your cycling.
CI: Yeah, definitely. I went in there with a lot of expectations on myself and that might have put a bit too much pressure on myself. I think going in there knowing it was the Comm Games and I felt like I had to perform. I learnt a lot of things from that. I've been able to apply them to the years since.
MM: Especially, that you had a good performance at that race. I know, since, you tend to perform quite well under pressure. I know you've had some pretty good people assist your development over the years. I know former Giro d'Italia rider Trent Wilson has been somewhat of a mentor for your road racing through his team GPM-Stultz. And I understand Aussie MTB legend Andrew Blair has been in your corner for the MTB side of racing. Your ability to perform under pressure is one thing, but do you think having good mentors like this in your life has been an important part of your career? Do you think that's been an attribute in your success?
CI: Definitely. I started chatting to Andy Blair back in 2010. More chatting to each other as him as a role model to me. We were actually at the 2010 World Champs in Mont-Sainte-Anne together. We'd go out training on the course and then he'd sit down and help me with my maths homework, because I was doing the HSC (High School Certificate) that year. So, he's always pushed the holistic side of it, like, "You should be studying. You've got a lot of time. Work when you can". But, then on the bike I've picked up so much off him, especially, just in prep for events. He's one of the best people I know for getting himself prepared for an event. Making sure he goes through the checklist. Makes sure that it's all good to go, on both bike and all of the other stuff that he needs. Then other people like Trent Wilson, just listening to stories and his experiences. We just pick up things from that. They may not notice it, but he might say something that sits with me for a while. And, of course, chatting to yourself. We've been chatting for years. I've learnt a lot off you.
MM: Haha, Thanks mate.
CI: I just find the more people I can chat to and pick up those little tips, here and there, it just helps me improve.
MM: That's right. I know for a fact, you're already becoming one of those mentors and one of those role models for the younger generation coming through. So, it seems like having that kind of experience from those people has helped shaped your attitude to the next generation, the juniors that are coming through the ranks now.
CI: Yeah, hopefully. I think that's also a mountain biking thing. We've got a pretty small community, I guess, compared to the road cycling. So, when juniors are coming through and are chatting to you about things, we help them out as much as we can, because we want to see the sport of mountain biking grow and get bigger internationally. I think it's just a normal attitude for us in this sport.
MM :Cool. You're becoming a part of that journey for the sport! At least, in Australia, definitely. I know, since that Comm Games that we chatted about, your results continued on a very positive trajectory since then. Like you mentioned, you were the Under 23 National Champion. You joined the Aussie road team GPM-Stulz and you got a number of podium finishes in some UCI races. Also, your UCI ranking on the mountain bike was getting higher and higher. Hence, It became realistic that selection for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio was going to be the next step in your athletic development. That selection didn't work out for you and you were having to deal with how this whole selection process works and dealing with the different sectors in the wider sport of Cycling. I understand finding out more about this process would have been quite an emotional experience. How did it feel for you having that Olympic Games happen around you and knowing that there were all the indications prior that you might have been there?
CI: I was pretty gutted to not be there. I'd been working towards that, basically, since Glasgow, when I thought, "Okay, I've been to the Comm Games now, what's the next step? The Olympics". I thought, "As long as I can keep improving year after year I should be there". So, I thought I was riding pretty well in that year. But, things weren't to be. It was pretty hard to cop at first when I found out that I wasn't selected which was just a few days before the 2016 World Champs in Nové Město (Czech Republic), which ended up being one of my best results that year. The non selection made me a bit angry, I had a lot of emotions in me. That lifted my week having a good performance there at the World Champs. But, as much as I was disappointed, I was still excited that the games were happening. I watched it on TV. Watching Dan and Scott out there, the Aussies. It was still an exciting time and it took me a little bit to fully move on from it. It just made me more hungry for the next ones.
MM: So you got that disappointing news and yet you achieved your best result ever at a world titles there at Nové Město. I think the word that stuck with me the most from what you were commenting on, coming off that disappointment was the word hunger. I think this showed when you returned to Australia in that season, 2016, you had some really good performances on the road and the mountain bike. I remember one particular race in late 2016. You were within meters of winning quite a famous road race in Australia, called the Stan Siejka Criterium in Tasmania, before you clipped a pedal on the last corner and kissed the tarmac within meters of the finish line. Then, I know, in 2018, you mentioned that the Commonwealth Games was again going to be a big motivator for you, and you were in top form to seemingly be selected there. But, again you missed out on the 2018 Comm Games. Dealing with these disappointments between 2016 and 2018, was there ever any moments where you thought, "This cycling thing it's all up against me. Maybe I'll just throw in the towel"?
CI: I don't think I've ever thought about throwing in the towel. For me, I just enjoy riding my bikes. Whatever bike it is, as long as I'm on two wheels. Going back to that Stan Siejka Criterium. I think, I felt like I let my team down that day, because the GPM boys rode so well for me, put me in the perfect position, and then it was just up to me to finish off that one corner and that's when I went down. Maybe I came in a little bit too hot. That one got to me, because not only had I not performed the way that I wanted and let myself down, but having my team mates there as well. That was what got to me. It also made us realize that as a team (GPM Stulz) we can win it, if we can put me there in the final corner, leading it out into the finish. That made also made us hungry to back and win it again, which we did last year! Yeah, we won it back. It was a bit like redemption day for us.
MM: I like the way you said, you made the team realize that they could achieve these great things and I think it shows that aspect of hunger that you have is quite contagious. If you respond well to these disappointments and you can come up with an attitude like that, it generally responds well to all the people that are around you, as well as yourself.
CI: Definitely. Looking at the disappointment of not going to the 2018 Comm Games, that was a different from of disappointment. That was more directed towards the whole selection process. I knew I was in good form. I just got back from New Zealand, where I placed third at the Oceania Championships behind Sam and Anton who were one and two at the Comm Games. So, I knew that I was in good form and managed to win our national champs that year. The thing that really annoyed me was we had three positions for the men and they only filled one of them. That's what I was disappointed about. That we had this chance to showcase Australian mountain biking in Australia, in front of a home crowd, and they couldn't fill the quota then when they could fill it back in 2014 for the other side of the world. That was pretty tough for me to cop. I didn't go up and watch Comm Games. I followed a bit of it on the TV and the social media feeds. But I went down to Derby (Tasmania) for that week with a few mates and just rode trails. That was really good for me. Good for my head space to have such a good week on the bike. Coming back from that, two weeks later, I won our Australian Marathon Champs, and since then I've just kept working towards my next goal. It's something that's still sitting in the back of my mind, coming into 2020, the next Olympic selection. I've missed out on 2016 and 2018, so I'm just trying to make sure that I can do everything I can now to hopefully get selected for that.
MM: I think many people will not just listen to this, but many people who have followed your career and seen how you respond to these disappointments are quite inspired by your determination... not just coming back, but coming back with all kinds of gumption and power to keep trying to get that next goal fulfilled. I think what really typified this with great example was after that disappointment in 2018, you won the XCO National Champs, you won the XCE National Champs and you won the XCM National Champs in Townsville. I don't think any other mountain biker in Australia has ever done that before to nail all those national titles in one season. I know from what you've just said that that hunger was a pretty big ingredient for your fuel in those races, but what do you think is this greatest fuel for your training and your racing? When it gets really hard, is there something you think about or something that you can attribute that really just puts in that extra seed of motivation in the head, that extra seed of power into the legs?
CI: On those really tough days when it might be bucketing down and my legs are just aching on the bike, I think it's all these set backs that I have in my mind that can just push me forwards. I don't necessarily have to think about them, but I think because I'm so focused on my goals, at the moment, I can try, and dig a bit deeper when it's hurting. Just knowing that I don't want another set back. I want to get to where I want to be this time. I think what I've learnt from that year... Just before the Marathon Champs, I wasn't really training, as such, going into that. Two weeks before, I spent almost a week down in Tasmania just riding the trail bike. So, that took a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I went up to the Marathon Champs, knowing that I'd be up against the Marathon king, Brendan Johnston and I didn't think I would stand a chance. I just went up knowing that I was going to have a good day on the bike, riding some fun trails and it all clicked for me. That's something that I've learnt from that year, to just make sure that I'm having fun. Coming into World Champs, just make sure that I'm enjoying the course. It just lifts my spirits and takes a bit of the stress and pressure out of it.
MM: That's a good point, I like that! You obviously have got the passion for the sport of mountain biking and it's sustained you for well over a decade now. It's good to hear from people that can really lift themselves when they're enjoying the sport, because I know, particularly, at the level you're at, it can can get a bit monotonous. The more serious it gets, the harder it is to find those elements of joy. But, it sounds like that Marathon National Champs last year was a good example for you to remember that when you're having fun you can also perform and really raise yourself to a top level when you're enjoying the sport and you've got a smile on your dial.
CI: Yeah, that's it. I've always said to myself and to other people, "If you're not having fun then you're not doing it right".
MM: That's right. You've put so many hard hours into the bike and so many hard hours into traveling and racing all over the world for all these years. I think, you've really got to have that fire in the belly and that love of the sport to deal with all those hard aspects of training and racing and those disappointments that have come along your path as well.
MM: Cam, you've given us a really good run down of what your career's been like and what's coming up next. I know the Olympic Games is only less than a year away, in Tokyo next year. I wanted to ask you this. If the selection panel was listening to this, right now, which they're probably not. But, who know's they might be. Is there one thing that you feel like you'd really like to get across? What would be your pitch to the selection panel for the 2020 Games, to gain selection for the mountain bike event?
CI: That's a pretty tough question to answer. I don't think there's anything I can say to them that's going to convince them to pick me. I think what I have to do is put my best results on paper, which is what the selection comes down to most of the time. That hasn't quite gone the way I wanted to this year. I would've like to have had some better performances in these World Cups. I've still got time, so as long as I stay focused on that. At the end of the day, as long as I'm happy with what the selectors are looking at. Looking at my lap times, my World Cup positions, things like that, then I'll accept the decision. I'd love to get selected for that, but then if I'm not good enough then I'll definitely accept that, as well, and maybe aim for the 2022 Comm Games or 2024 Olympics.
MM: Good man. I love your determination, it's awesome. Like you said, in this sport, realistically, your legs should be doing the talking. It sounds like you're well and truly devoted to allowing those legs to speak as loud and proud as they possibly can.
CI: Yeah, that's what I'm trying to do.
MM: All right, Cam Ivory, thank you, sir. Good luck for the final round of the Mountain Bike World Cup in Snowshoe this weekend. We'll be following the rest of your progress for the rest of the year. Maybe on the road bike some more later this season and back in the mountain bike for 2020.
CI: That's the plan. I'll get home from this trip. Have a little bit of time off, and then a bit of NRS on the skinny tires for the end of the year. Then get stuck back into the mountain bike season for next year.