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Chat with the 2012 NZ Road Champion James Williamson
Feb 20th, 12. On Friday, RoadCycling.co.nz sat down for a coffee chat with 2012 NZ Elite Road Champion James Williamson, the day he left NZ for what he hopes will be a big year.
He is eager to jump into international racing again and is excited to start the new season with the prestige of the NZ champion's jersey.
Williamson is not yet 23, but he has had his fair share of ups and downs in his cycling career - most of them in the last three months.
In early December he had the high of a teammate winning the NZ Criterium title followed the very next day by the low of finding out his PureBlack Racing Team's dreams of taking on the world looked to be shattered.
He took a couple of days to register the disapointment but then he looked ahead to January's Elite Nationals - he trained hard, and he won.
Williamson is now back overseas with what is called the BikeNZ/PureBlack Racing team, a non-UCI team which intends to race in Asia, Europe and Australia - wherever BikeNZ's invitations can get them.
Yesterday he raced a criterium/street race in Kuala Lumpur, the team's first hit out before the ten day Tour of Langkawi and the start of a three month stint in Asia.
The new plans are far from what he had hoped for 2012, but the young Kiwi has his year's ambitions firmly in mind. Next year he wants to be racing in Europe fulltime with either a pro-continental, or continental team.
Apologies for the length of this article. I enjoyed hearing what James had to say, I hope you do too - Sarah, Editor.
On turning disappointment around
"Obviously we were all pretty shocked at what happened. I didn't really know what to do with myself. I got home and the opportunity to do well at Nationals was there and I put my head down for a while and it paid off. The hard work that you put in is what you get out really.
"Then it was still early in the year to be doing so much and getting yourself to a high level when you've got six months more racing, so it was a matter of trying to maintain a slightly relaxed attitude and not actually burning yourself out mentally and physically too early in the season.
"My parents still live in Alexandra, but we have a holiday house in Hawea right next to Wanaka and it's a beautiful lake with nice training around there, in summer it's one of the best places in New Zealand. It's pretty easy to hang out down there.
"I had Shem [Rodger] and Dan [Barry] come down after the Nationals and we had a bit of a relaxing time down there. It's good to be able to do that with teammates off the bike – just forget about racing and the uncertainty of the situation for a while.
"I did everything I could to set something up for myself but in the end it came down to realising I couldn't actually do any more to secure my position, so I let what had to happen, happen.
"I was prepared to look at some pretty drastic options, it was definitely a relief when it all came together again. You never really want to take a step back."
On being acknowledged as the NZ National champion
"Every other time I've been to races overseas I have sort of been unknown but that will probably change a little bit now. I think if we went back to America it would be a lot different, everyone would definitely know us there, but we are going to quite a different scene so I still say we should have a bit of surprise factor."
On the public's understanding of him being the champion even though be crossed the line second at the Nationals
[Michael Vink took line honours, but he was racing the U23 race. Williamson crossed 2nd but won the Elite championship title].
"I didn't know what to expect, it's hard to quantify but I think there was definitely confusion there. It was quite clearly two races in one race - U23 and Elites - people didn't really realise that although we lined up together we weren't racing each other.
"Most cyclists know that, but the general public doesn't. It is something NZ cycling will have to look at as the sport gets bigger there will be opportunity to split those races up.
"It would have perhaps been less confusing if it [the order] was the other way around, but that's the way it was on the day. I was there to win my race, and in the end that is the way it finished.
"Every other race for the year I get to have the recognition, I'm excited to start that. I haven't had the chance yet. Every race apart from timetrials I'll get to wear the jersey."
On wearing the NZ Champion's jersey
"It's pretty special. When I won the U23 title it was super exciting but you don't get to wear it all the time. It doesn't have that pedigree that the elite title has – you take that everywhere you go.
"Just the fact of the previous winners, especially in recent years, it is so cool to be up there with all those names. I think that speaks for itself really."
On his goals to follow in the footsteps of former NZ champions racing in Europe
"For sure. This year my main priority is securing my future. Keeping up a high level of racing and getting some good results, and trying to make some contacts and furthering myself in that area as you never know what is going to happen.
"Obviously we didn't realise what was going to happen to us last year. I want to be in a stronger position by the end of the year and hopefully be back to racing at a fully international level whether it's a conti or pro-conti team in 2013.
"America is a great place and it was easy to live there, but the racing didn't really suit me that well. Apart from Philly, which was probably really the only race I was able to pick out and say this is a good race for me, all the other tours just didn't suit me.
"The altitude climbs and long time trials are not my thing, and that's pretty much all it comes down to in those races. I definitely want to be riding fulltime in Europe in the coming seasons. That's where it's heading at the moment."
On whether the jersey helps him to get to the Worlds as an Elite rider (he raced as U23 last year)
"The Worlds road selection policy is not clear cut, it definitely progresses through the year. I'd love to go to the worlds this year and help the team though.
"I know I haven't proven myself in a pro-tour field at that distance, but I'd love to go and try it and be a part of the team to help one of the more established guys get a result.
"I think after coming through teams like Subway and PureBlack I've been in positions where I've done a lot of teamwork as well which is pretty key. It's a long way away and probably something which will come clear whether it's an option later in the year."
On his racing style
"I think I am still figuring it out myself really. I am probably more of an all rounder, but definitely one day racing is better for me at the moment. Whether that's a hilly race or a flat race, I like the way they play out.
"It's the sort of racing I've been brought up with as well. There are are few tours here in NZ but most of the races are one day races.
"There is something about the one day race that works for me. I love going on tour as well and being part of it but at the moment I am not specific enough at one thing to be a GC rider. If I get an opportunity to get in a break and get some time then I'll look at that kind of thing but otherwise I'll be looking for a stage win or to help a teammate.
"It's something I feel will develop with time rather than concentrating on it, and I will make the most of one day type racing in the early part of my career."
On the BIG races he one day wants to ace
"The part of the pro-tour season which looks most attractive to me is probably the week of the Ardennes Classics – hilly one day races. Then the Worlds, those kind of races are definitely where I see myself as hopefully being able to compete.
"But you still want to be a part of big tours like the Tour de France and the Giro, I can imagine it being an awesome thing to experience and be a part of ."
On his supportive family - his sister Sophie is also a developing star who raced the Junior Worlds
"I have pretty awesome support at home. My sister is doing more than I was at that age as my parents know more about it all now. Mum and Dad just love the sport as well so there is no question of their support which is always good.
"It was cool to have them over at the Worlds last year when we were both racing. It was pretty special. It would be pretty cool if we can do that again."
On the development of NZ racing in general
"It's awesome rolling up to the start line of international races and having other Kiwis there in other teams, but also when you come back to NZ you notice the difference.
"The level of racing just gets higher and higher as everyone gets better overseas and comes back bringing that knowledge, experience and form with them and that brings the people in NZ on too – it's a snow ball effect at the moment.
"Year to year, everytime you come back you notice the improvement. The core of the field is at a higher level."
On PureBlack Racing in 2011
"It was basically like going on an adventure with your mates. We were racing hard, and training hard but everyone was fun to be around and we all got along well and there were never any major dramas. I think we were pretty lucky with the support and setup we had over there."
"I'm 23 in March, there is no rush at the moment. I wanted to be at that top level coming out of U23, I wanted to be competitive in the Elites. It will be an interesting year, it's pretty exciting to take that national team status as well, that will have a bit more of an impact, everyone will realise the full NZ cycling brand over in Asia and Europe.
"I have a new direction this year, but I think that although the way things have happened are not what you want to happen, you have to expect it in cycling and in sport. I am still pretty happy to have the opportunity to do these international races and get the exposure.
"Having the jersey is great, but it doesn't necessearily mean just because you've got that you can do what you want. You still have to work hard.
"I am eager to jump into racing and excited to start the new season with the prestige of the jersey."
Update: So how did his first race as NZ Champion go yesterday?
"It was a good race, the team was straight back into it. It was super hot, I think my heart rate was at about 80% just lining up! It was really fast and fun on the f1 circuit though.
"We had a good plan from the start and it played out well, Dan Barry had a good sprint to get 3rd but some of the Malaysians obviously handled the heat a bit better!"
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