In this article, I will share with you how I got picked up by the National Road Series (NRS) Team ‘InFrom TM Insight Make,’ including what training and results were required prior to landing a place in the team. Additionally, I will outline what my experiences were initially like riding in the NRS, to finding my feet, and then conclude with my words of wisdom to any aspiring riders looking to land a spot in a team.
How I landed a spot in an NRS team
When I joined InForm TM Insight MAKE, I was still reasonably young as a first year U19 so I wasn’t training ridiculous hours.
I would probably sit around the 15hrs per week mark with an occasional big week of 20hrs, but what I was focusing on was quality. Not quantity.
I made a lot of punchy (VO2 Max / Anaerobic) efforts leveraging 1-2 min hill repeat efforts around the local loops of Hayden’s Rd and Holmesglen in Melbourne (Australia), often once or twice per week.
I would do at least two longer rides, between 3-5hrs a week, that went through the hills. Nothing specific was really done here as pretty much every hill was ridden at sub-FTP pace (roughly 70-90%), so it was more about getting in the volume.
The bulk of my intensity came from racing the local criterium scene twice a week. I really valued this as it was a fun way to get the intensity in.
In fact, criteriums essentially became my platform to learn and develop my racecraft. Initially, the goal wasn’t so much about winning. More so it was about development. However, I still really wanted to win as much as possible, all the while trying new tactics and strategies in a no-pressure environment.
I believe it was local criterium racing that allowed me to have a successful season in the VRS (Victorian Road Series), where I went on to win a few stages and an overall tour in 2017. I quickly progressed throughout the grades there, and I was racing NRS level riders in no time.
However, I don’t believe it was my race results nor my power numbers that got me into the NRS.
The biggest part of it, in my opinion, was having contacts. Back when InForm started, it was a group of mates that raced the local crit scene and the VRS, and the riders were coached by my coach at the time David ‘Steggles’ Sturt from The Hurt Box. It was here that I started to get to know a few of the guys. Most importantly, team manager Cam McKimm and his brother Matt. I stayed in contact with Cam as they continued to progress their team into an NRS team, with the focus on developing young talent.
Then, when the timing was right, I proactively sent Cam an email letting him know that I was looking to step up my racing and progress into the NRS. I would love to be considered for a spot on his team. As Steggles and The Hurt Box were still heavily involved with InForm, I was able to get a meeting with both Steggles and Cam, where I was offered a contract for the 2018 season.
I believe the compelling factor here was getting to know Cam; understanding what his values were, and how I was able to fit in with them.
First learnings/impressions joining an NRS team
My first impressions of the team was how professional the program really was.
The way Cam wanted us to be perceived is the same as any professional team would, in addition to an emphasis on good sportsmanship. At the start of the year, we sat down and had a big meeting with all the riders and the staff where everyone was able to voice their short and long term goals while creating a set of rules that everyone in the team was accountable for—for example, no phones at the cafe.
The team just looked pro! Everyone wasn’t just in the matching kit, but shoes, socks, glasses, helmets and bikes were matching too. No one was allowed to go out and put fancy coloured bar tape or wear different glasses. Everyone had to wear and use the kit provided by the team, portraying us as a solid unit.
The team focused on developing younger riders but we had three older guys who had been in the NRS or higher for a number of years.
This was crucial to our success because we had guys who could win in the early years but also help us develop skills and race tactics both in training and under race conditions.
All three of the guys, Raph Freinstein, Stu Smith and Pat Lane, were super willing to help the younger guys like me, and always made themselves available to chat and answer any questions we had. They were good about it too. If someone made a mistake, they never humiliated them; instead, they would pull them aside and have a conversation and ask why we did it and what we should do next time.
I really appreciated this because you could tell that they respected us and wanted to help us in the best learning environment.
Initial racing experience
I was quite lucky that I could warm into the team environment, racing side-by-side in the local crits, enabling me to get a feel of how we would race as a team at NRS events.
Cam made sure that we always went in with a plan in the early days, practicing racing as a team at club level.
We would always have a briefing before the race and debrief afterwards. From here we stepped up into the VRS season, where winning the series as a team was a big goal for us. Again we were fortunate enough that we were all local, so we had plenty of time to race together and get to know everyone before the big NRS season.
When the NRS eventually come around, it was a big shock.
The fields were bigger than I had raced in, the riders were stronger and faster, it just had a whole new feel which I wasn’t used to.
I remember my second race was the Tour of the Great South Coast, a five-day tour characterised by cold, wet, and windy stages. It’s also one of the top two stage races in the NRS (behind Tour of Tasmania), so every team brought their A-Team.
Stage one and two were both on the same day with a crit and a kermesse, both in the freezing cold and heavy rain. I was never a big fan of racing in the wet, so I was mentally psyched out before the start.
I got pulled by the commissaires on both of those stages, really hurting my confidence.
Stage three was another windy day over a hard lumpy course. I was determined to finish with the main group and make a difference and prove that I deserved to be there.
I remember being at the front of the race overall the climbs, finding myself in the lead-out for the sprint. This stage was a big learning experience for me. We had a team leader and road captain, Raph and Stu, calling the shots. I remember really learning the importance of riding as a team, so if we were caught out or missed the move, we were always together with enough guys (so we could quickly fix anything).
Settling into the NRS
Throughout that first year in the NRS, I progressed so much.
I went from getting dropped on four out of five stages at the South Coast Tour to regularly finishing in the front group, developing myself to become a crucial part in the team’s successes.
The final race of the season was the Tour of Tasmania, and it was a perfect race for me. I found myself in the day-long breakaway, picking up a few sprint points along the way.
We got caught just before the base of the final climb, about 5km out. I slotted into the team train which was already on the front of the peloton setting it up for Raph to win.
I remember being tired from being in the break but I knew as soon as the climb started I wasn’t going to last long. So I went to the front and made the pace fast heading into the last climb to keep the boys in position.
I surprised myself that I was able to do that after being in the break, it was a big confidence booster.
I finished that stage equal on sprint points with the guy who won the stage. Although we were there for Raph to win the tour, I was allowed the freedom to chase the sprint jersey which I took on stage two, lost it again on stage three to Raph, gained it back midway through the final stage (four) at an intermediate sprint, and then lost it again to Raph in the final sprint where he placed second, taking the overall lead with it.
I started the NRS season being smashed in every single stage, yet finished racing for the sprint jersey in a major tour! Something that I never expected to do.
I learnt so much in my first year, 2018, riding as a team in the peloton, being a part of a successful lead-out, riding cross-winds, riding in a breakaway, and so much more.
There were times in 2018 where I questioned if I was good enough to be out there. Self-doubt creeps in when you get dropped. Time after time.
But with perseverance and exceptional support around me – not only in terms of mature riders but also the support staff – I was able to keep pushing through. And I am so glad I did because the 2019 season was a real highlight. I managed 4th in the opening stage of the Tour of Tweed and 15th on GC. I was also able to play my role and achieve a team second in the NRS Team Standings, including numerous GC wins from our leaders.
All coming from the learnings I obtained in that first year. 2019 was truly an unreal year in the NRS!
To summarise, if you want to get into a team, at any level, get to know the guys that run it.
Build a connection and find out what their values are and what they look for in a rider (and a team as a whole). Don’t be afraid of rejection either. Worst-case scenario, they tell you no.
Don’t just think that you’re a strong rider and your results will be enough too. The chances are that you are really strong, but someone will always be stronger.
I’ve heard of many people being told they would have been offered a position had the team known they wanted one. Simply put, make your intentions clear to prospective teams.
Don’t be afraid to try new things in races either, especially at lower levels.
I remember coach Steggles explaining to me that anyone can attack in the first 45 minutes, but only the strong riders can go in the last 15. Try saving your energy early and going when everyone is too tired to chase you. Whatever you do, learn from it, adjust, and eventually, it’ll pay off.
Finally, if you DO make it into the team you want, and you end up racing at a higher level than you have previously, look to the stronger/wiser riders and see how they race it. The smart guys will know when to save energy and when to be at the front. Use this to your advantage.
And remember this – If you ever feel like you’re done, and you’ve blown up, push through it. You never know when they will slow down so you can recover. The race is never over until you cross that line. Above anything, learn from every race, and you will progress.