Hayden Roulston from Roulston Coaching knows a thing or two about getting to the top. He went through the ranks to becoming a world championship and Olympic medallist on the track along with enjoying a long career at the top flight of road cycling. We wanted to get his take on rider development, talk about his pathway the ranks, the role of development teams today and what he’s doing to coach his young riders towards the higher levels of top flight cycling.
The scene has changed since Hayden Roulston took the steps that eventually led to him signing that first professional contract with Cofidis back in 2002. Technology has changed, communication has changed, teams have changed; but Roulston’s advantage in pursuing a top flight road contract was his history in the New Zealand track team. “I probably did it a very hard way, when you look at some of the guys trying to turn pro now, how they’re doing it,” Hayden told RoadCycling. “The game’s changed, now you’ve got development teams which are feeder teams for these pro teams. Back in my day I didn’t have a cell phone, didn’t have a laptop. I just basically went from the New Zealand track team, I used the track for the road and used the road for the track. The track took me all around the world, so I had a bit of exposure to what it was like outside of mum and dad’s home.”
The introduction to European racing presented a couple of cultural challenges. For example, having studied Japanese and German at school Hayden opted for France as his cycling stomping ground . . . makes sense! “When I went to Europe I went over for a couple of short stints as an amateur, and I didn’t have a big team or a special team, it was just a division 2 team. We got two pairs of kit each, my race wheels were literally changing the tyres from training tyres to race tyres, I didn’t have good wheels; I had one set of wheels. I think the message that I’m trying to get across is that I didn’t have the best of everything in trying to make it pro, but every race was a massive opportunity, and I took every race and really tried to do something at each race.”
On top of that Hayden, like many riders tackling Europe from New Zealand, took time adjusting to the European way of racing. “It took me quite a few months to really learn the trade over there because racing in Europe is very different to racing in New Zealand. But once I learned that the floodgates opened, I started winning and then I got noticed, but it still wasn’t easy. I had to go and do testing at Credit Agricole even though I signed with Cofidis a few weeks later,” Hayden said.
Today the introduction of development teams have been a major shift in the way riders – particularly from this part of the world – have been exposed to opportunities to move towards the upper echelons of the sport. But despite the progress don’t be fooled. “It’s made it easier, but it’s still very hard to get into those teams. But it’s made it easier for the pro teams because all of a sudden they’ve got riders who they can really trust in these development teams; which is more often than not run by someone who has been a top professional cyclist or has a lot of knowledge. That’s why pro teams like these development teams, they can track the progress of their riders,” Hayden said.
“It’s definitely not easy to get noticed, and now what I’m trying to set up is clear pathways to teams in Europe, into some big development teams where I can identify a rider in New Zealand who’s got good numbers and good results and a good head on their shoulders; and we can set up a pathway that goes to one of these big development teams, and from there they have the opportunity to turn pro.”
So what is it that young riders today need in order to keep moving forward? Talent clearly, good numbers certainly, the Dimension Data for Qhubeka Zwift campaign can testify to that, and results obviously. But there’s more that Hayden has identified. “They need to be thinking the long game. More often than not with some of the riders I’ve got now, they’re more like a pitbull on a leash and I’ve got to hold that leash so tight! All of my riders have two days off a week, completely off the bike, because right now whether they’re 15, 17 or 18 even though it’s an important time and results are important it’s usually 22, 23, 24 where you need to really be doing the time on the bike and have the motivation to succeed at that age; that’s when it really matters,” Hayden said.
“Quite often, especially when I was growing up and Greg Henderson, Julian Dean, all these riders who have been there and done it, a lot of talent was around us, but they didn’t continue because they didn’t get through those teenage years. Teenage years have a lot of distractions, and when I was in my teenage years I probably had the most distractions out of anybody! But it’s about being patient, setting goals that are achievable, achieving those goals and learning how to race and race properly. Each level is a stepping stone and it doesn’t matter if you take five stepping stones and someone takes three at the end of the day it’s a long game and you’ve got to be prepared to put the work in but do it properly.”
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