Shane Archbold is the epitomisation of what it is to conquer in the game of cycling. The 30 year old went into 2019 skeptical at best about his future at the highest level. He fought through though, won his way back into the top flight, won his first professional race and secured a 2 year contract with the best team in the world.
The broken body and the stalled restart
When Shane Archbold lined up for his first crack at the Tour de France in 2016 it was, what many cyclists would consider, the mountain’s summit. What was to be Archbold’s finest hour turned into a nightmare with a horror crash in stage 17 that opened the gateway to a near year-long battle to find not just his form again; but also find a way to remain at the level he’d fought so hard to reach. It was all to do with a prolapse disc in his back – or disc extrusion – that was sitting on a nerve that was causing immense pain in his leg. Surgery was needed, that in the end saw him spend 11 months without serious racing; and by the time he managed to make his return to BORA-Hansgrohe in 2017 it was just too late to get the necessary results on the board to keep him there the following year.
Aqua Blue Sport came to the rescue in 2018, but folded with a crucial couple of months of the season left in unusual circumstances. Over his time with the Irish-based team, however, there were whispers of his brilliant self coming back. From the Commonwealth Games to the GP de Denain-Porte du Hainaut, the Tour of Norway to the Tours of Austria and Denmark; he was getting close to the kind of form that took him to a nice drawer full of silverware on the track. But cycling is at times a sport of what-ifs, and for Archbold and his then teammate Aaron Gate we had to ask ‘what if their season had ended three months later instead of towards the end of August.’
At the start of 2019, then, and thanks to the rescue of EvoPro Racing, Archbold and Gate along with the likes of Daniel Whitehouse and Luke Mudgway began the season with the Flying Mullet far from confident in a sport that had dealt him a bit of a cruel hand since July 20th 2016. We asked Shane how confident he was that he could return to the pinnacle of the sport, and whether there was any thought that he could be sitting at the end of his 2019 season with anything like the kind of finish he’s had.
“I was not confident at all if I’m honest, I thought this would be the last season racing on the road. I have had a lot of bad luck the past years but to make the move back into the World Tour was by pure luck. I knew I was good enough it was just about getting this luck and the chance to prove it,” Shane told us.
The unforgettable first & the special relationship
Luck puts it a little modesty. The open door may have presented itself but Archbold still had a season to work through, and he put in the shift of his life that resulted in his first professional road race win in stage 2 of the Czech Cycling Tour. It’s not hard to appreciate that that was his highlight of the season. “I hadn’t thought to myself if it [a first professional win] would ever come or not, but I’m happy in the end it did and I’m sure I’ll never forget that moment,” Archbold said.
It’s also not hard to appreciate that given the adversity Shane has had to overcome, 2019 ranks as highly as it does in his list of achievements; achievements that include Commonwealth and World Championship success. “As a year on a whole it’s the most significant of all the years in my career. Firstly to earn the chance to move back to the World Tour. Secondly to prove I never should have left and to earn a start at the Vuelta, then to finish it off being signed by the world’s best team. Can’t get much better than that.”
Even at the end of 2019, though, the uncertainty remained about what next for the Flying Mullet. His reputation as one of the best lead out men in the business was once again cemented – if it ever really was in doubt anyway – as he teamed up to contribute enormously to Sam Bennett’s 13 wins this season alone; including two at the Vuelta a Espana. Archbold and Bennett had reaffirmed their effectiveness together and while it was clear that Bennett would be leaving BORA-Hansgrohe at the end of the season, there was an excitement over the prospect that where Bennett would go Archbold would follow; in a kind of Renshaw-Cavendish kind of way.
“I hadn’t thought to myself if it [a first professional win] would ever come or not, but I’m happy in the end it did and I’m sure I’ll never forget that moment.”Shane Archbold
“I am not sure there was ever a secret about Sam’s change in teams. It was just a long process before it could be announced. But as of signing the papers 2 weeks ago there was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders that I was able to train with motivation and start to plan and prepare for what is going to be a huge 2020.”
“Me and Sam have a great professional and personal relationship. QuickStep wasn’t my only option for 2020 but I took it as I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work with one of the current fastest men on the planet,” Shane explained.
There’s a certain irony that in a sport that is so driven by technology, finding the latest and greatest training methods that will make the most fractional marginal gains; it is a long-established old-fashioned virtue that still drives relationships such as that between Shane and Sam. “It’s very simple. It all relies on trust. Sam has to trust me that I make the right decisions to be able to prepare the sprint for him. I have to trust him that he is going to follow me and deliver the win. There isn’t much communication in the high pressure point of the race. It’s not needed after working together for so long.”
Winding up for 2020, and a shot at nationals?
So as we head towards the end of 2019, two years await with Deceuninck-QuickStep; an outfit who took a monstrous 68 wins between 16 riders. Those two years have already been given a taster with Archbold catching up with us from the Deceuninck-QuickStep pre-season training camp. It’s been an eye-opening time for Shane, with it becoming crystal clear why the team are as good as they are.
“After finishing 2019 so late it’s the opposite to winding down now. It’s just starting to kick into gear as I am currently at a training camp. 12 days jam packed full of photo shoots, medical exams, endless meetings from sponsors and the planning of 2020. Alongside the training which I must say there is a reason this team is number one in the world,” Shane said.
The objective for 2020 is simple, progress and performance for himself, Sam Bennett and the team that will continue to boast the likes of Julian Alaphilippe, Bob Jungels, Remco Evenepoel,
Fabio Jakobsen, Zdenek Stybar. In the short-term, though, we can look forward with great anticipation to seeing Shane Archbold of Deceuninck-QuickStep lining up in Cambridge at the Elite Road National Championships; which this year will be held from 14th-16th February.
“I will be returning to New Zealand for a short visit of a week or two and in this time I will be competing in the Nationals I am very much looking forward to it. It’s early to say but I would like to think I will be in the best condition I have been in a very long time on New Zealand soil.”
It’s been a journey of downs and ups for Archbold, but as we stand on the precipice of a new decade we hope that this up hasn’t reached its summit yet.