This is a brutal sport. For every Chris Froome or Nairo Quintana, there are two hundred talented riders who suffer through a long season, hitting the asphalt at 60k, risking their lives on perilous descents down massive mountains, gutting out the agony of multiple Cat 1 and 2 climbs — domestiques and workhorses, the slaves of the road.
So it’s always nice to read a story like the one by CycleTips’ Shane Stokes on Rory Sutherland of Movistar. Over the last four years the 34 year old Australian has settled in nicely, first as a top worker for Alberto Contador at Tinkoff and later, for Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde at Movistar.
The interview marks 2012 as the big turning point and role shift for Sutherland who went from team leader at UnitedHeathcare in races like the Tour of California and US Pro Cycling Challenge to a support role for Contador and Quintana.
The transition from King to servant is not generally an easy one to make. Once you’ve got the ego of a captain, stepping back down and performing grunt work for others isn’t in the psychological make-up. Some athletes can make the switch, others struggle.
It’s good to see that Sutherland has such a clear and honest self-awareness of where he fits in the sport. While he enjoyed being the leader, he has found that the job of delivering for his team and captain are even more gratifying and certainly less stressful.
Perhaps the best quote in the fine interview is this one: “There is a lot of stress and changes in your own self-being, your own emotional and mental state. While I enjoyed it and I definitely enjoyed winning, I find more comfort and more contentment in what I am doing now. It has kind of mellowed out the highs and lows into a little bit more of a channel that you can consistently maintain,” said Sutherland.
Our own personal recollections of Sutherland were here in the States when he was the leader of United healthcare and trying to get himself on the podium at the Tour of California. His nickname at the time was the Sheriff and he had the ego to match. That’s not to say he was a jerk — just that he saw himself as the boss.
Perhaps his wife and kids have been a powerful influence for his successful role switch and wise path. I remember interviewing his wife while helping her push a baby stroller up the the road of the queen mountain stage in California. She was teaching elementary school and I remember her as having a very down-to-earth nature. She spoke of always reminding Rory about what a luxury he had to be a bike racer. That he should always be thankful for that and appreciate every moment.
When Sutherland took his job with Saxo-Tinkoff four years ago and moved to Girona from Boulder, Colorado, I wondered how his wife and kids would adapt to the big change. The bike racers go off and race bikes but the girlfriends and wives are left to fend for themselves and set up a new life in a foreign country.
Well, four years on and it seems it must have been a success. With Sutherland opening up his own coffee shop in the old section of Girona, it seems he’s planning well for the future and making a home for himself and his family. We wish him well.
In every sport, there are athletes with the ability to have some perspective and wisdom on their careers. Rory Sutherland is one of those guys.