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Interview with Mike Garrigan (and it’s a really long one)

Legkedvesebb Olvasóink, az a helyzet, hogy megint újítunk valamint; ismét először csinálunk valami olyat, amilyet eddigi pályafutásunk alatt nem tettünk még meg. Ez pedig az, hogy legújabb interjúnkat ékes angol nyelven készítettük, ami abból a szempontból természetes, hogy másként nem tudtunk volna kommunikálni az interjúalannyal (elég nagy kár lett volna). Igen, furcsa mód eddig még nem volt külföldi interjú az oldalon, bár 2016 nyarán Carlee Taylornak adtuk az Instánkat, és ott már láthattatok angol szavakat a mi nevünkben. További csavar, hogy nem álltunk neki lefordítani, hanem így , teljes eredetiségében, a nyelvi nüanszokat megőrizve adjuk közre ezt a nyári beszélgetést, bízva abban, hogy legtöbbetek ismeri ezt a nyelvet.

Lényeg a lényeg, egy remek és roppant meleg nyári délutánt töltöttünk Mike Garrigannel, beszélgetésünk már-már az estébe hajlott. Mike-kal először Etyeken, a Supercross sorozat (béke poraira!) utolsó állomásán találkoztunk 2014-ben, majd ezt követően talán nem annyira nem annyira meglepő módon többször bringáztunk, mitöbb, dolgoztunk is együtt. Egészen zseniális emberről van szó; nem túlzás azt állítani, hogy mindent tud a kerékpározásról, ami nem csoda, hiszen rengeteget látott már, erről szól az élete. Ezen a ponton – angol nyelvű olvasóink köszöntését követően – talán érdemes is abbahagyni a fényezését és a saját szánk jártatását, hiszen sokkal izgalmasabb az ő történetét olvasni.
Hello and welcome to leBidon, an online Hungarian cycling magazine that focuses on road cycling and cyclocross. Okay, you might know that already, but in case this is your first time here, we wanted to make sure you know what you see. This is our first article in English ever: we knew it would happen one day and the time has come! We already had an Instagram take over with the super funny Carlee Taylor back in 2016 but that was different. Now we sat down with Mike Garrigan to chat and boy did we talk a lot! Mike is an amazing human being, he could be a real role model both on and off the bike. Why? That’s why:

It all began here: Etyek (Hungary), January 4th, 2015

Van egy kanadai bajnokunk is 😉 #etyekcross #sc_hun14

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Az élmezőny, Cleppe, Garrigen, Fejes #sc_hun14 #etyekcross

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Here we go!

Be so kind and describe Mike Garrigan in just a few sentences.

You’d find me on Facebook as Michael Joseph Garrigan. I’m Canadian, and I’ve been a cyclist since I was 20, I’m currently 35. I was national cyclocross champion twice, tried to win more times than that though! Currently a coach of the Canadian National Mountain Bike Team. I do some projects on the side here in Europe, starting a touring company (okolobike.com). In a nutshell: Mike Garrigan, national cross champ, husband and father.

How was your life without cycling? What was Mike doing before he became a cyclist?

I used to race around on my snowboard, also spent a lot more time on a skateboard. When I found cycling it was a bit of a calling to me. Cycling gave me focus and direction in my life, so for a few years that’s really all that I did. I tried coaching after an injury when I was 23 and then coaching took over my number 1 focus. I fell for coaching right away. Working with kids, working with people who are trying to get better, love it!
In Canada, I went through a Coaching Certification Programme, you have to achieve certain levels of coaching, so in Canada I’m credited as a level 3 coach, and part of a program called the Advanced coaching diploma. I’m sure it’s a little bit different here.

How did you find cycling at all?

I used to use my bike to get everywhere. A now very good friend of mine took me in – Brad Hunter. Brad owned a bike shop, really took care of me with a place to live and a place to work, and taught me about bikes. When I found out that you could race on bikes, I was totally hooked! Brad introduced me to a coach when I was 20 he became another lifelong friend -Steve Neal, he had such a positive impact on my life, I’m forever grateful for the time I had with him and his family.

From mountain bike to cyclocross. How did that happen?

I really loved mountain biking but as I became more and more involved in coaching, cyclocross fit my schedule more. In the fall I could have some time to myself to race. With the higher speeds, nasty conditions and competitive atmosphere I just really like the sport.

So, there we are: cyclocross. Tell us more about this relationship!

My first road bike was a cyclocross bike, I was racing road on a cross bike. That happened because the store where I was working sold Kona bikes, and the owners of Kona are big time cyclocrossers. When I was much younger I was a competitive runner, so it kind of made sense for me to run and bike. I enjoyed being agile on my bike and I was testing myself on my bike. Already before I knew about cyclocross I was already doing cyclocross. I often rode my road bike through the woods on my own. Also when riding with friends on the road it was not uncommon for me to be through ditches and running up stairs, so it was natural, we found each other.

What do you like in cx? Is there something you hate about it?

I love the equipment. A cyclocross bike to me is the sexiest bike. Don’t get me wrong – I also like nice road bikes and setting up great mountain bikes is a passion as well, but to me a really nice, racing cyclocross bike is hottest! With the racing, I like the fact that the fans can actually experience the event: they can watch the race and understand what’s going on. I suppose even if they don’t understand what’s going on, they can still enjoy watching the people going around. They can be part of it. Also at the races, it feels like a family atmosphere most times. That was actually something I didn’t really like about racing in Belgium; the bigger races feel like you’re at a football or hockey game. I’m less likely to invite my wife and young son to a big Belgian race. The race you guys ran in Budapest was a lot like what you’d have in North America. Just a really nice time in a park, you can bring your dog, kids, have a good time.

For the pure fan, Belgium is a special place. But one of the aspects I like about cyclocross is that family thing. I’m definitely a fan of that top echelon and I’ll have a hard time if I’m in a good shape not going to Roubaix cross or Koksijde again. Maybe I’ll be in good shape and all of a sudden I call the Canadian guy or Gabi and say “Nah, I’m going to Koksijde this year, whatever”. I’m not only a racer, I’m a fan as well, but I like the family atmosphere at the smaller races.

No downside at all?

The cleaning…I really like clean equipment, I have a pressure washer and all that but I’m kind of a minimalist as far as I like to live my life so I do not necessarily enjoy traveling with three bikes and 6 pairs of wheels and 3 pairs of shoes and 5 pairs of thighs you know (not that I have not!). That really is a part of cross at a high level and some people really enjoy that part. I was known as a guy who would show up at a World Cup with a bike and spare wheels, and the Belgians were like what the hell? There are some good stories…at the GVA (the final UCI race in February), I went to pick up my numbers and they gave me a parking pass for my RV. Haha – I just had a small sports car with 1 bike on the roof parked in a roped off area for elites. The copious amounts of equipment, definitely have a love/hate relationship with that part.

You were a pro cyclist, you rode for money. What was your way to becoming a pro?

For me, winning national championships is the easiest way to get recognition. In Canada it’s really the only way to turn heads. Performance and connections (I also had a lot of connections). I still know a lot of people in the industry, so I was able to leverage my friendships into support. There weren’t any more tricks.
It’s funny: when I started working at a bike shop, I remember, I wanted to work in a bike shop because one day I would need the connections to become a bike racer.

There were 2 years when that was all I was doing (racing bikes), then took a break because my knee was messed up, I couldn’t ride at all so needed nearly 2 years to sort that out, Then I had 3 years where there was no racing really, not being professional, and then another 3-4 years where I was focused on being the best racer I could be at certain events – while working at the time (coaching). I wouldn’t say many riders have a conventional path to professional.

Tell us about moving to Europe and about Canadians becoming “europros”! Leah Kirchmann is a success story.

It’s a challenging road… And there are some great examples for sure. I feel I’m lucky to know a few of the Canucks who have succeeded in making that leap…They all have a few things in common – unbelievable work ethic, good role models and just the a humble but very raw talent. Leah is a very good example BUT she also comes from a bad ass crew of women who came to the somewhat new Canadian Belgian base and were able to perform together. I think with the number of positive role models the Canadians have racing right now and the connections Canadian Cycling has sustained we will see more and more riders making that jump successfully.

Let’s talk about your teams. What can you tell us about them?

I have so many friends in the cycling community back in Canada, I was fortunate to get support from several of them coming up. More recently I was working with Van Dessel, that came about because I was good friends with the owner of the bike company Edwin and he worked with a friend of mine Mike “Yak” in Toronto. Cyclocross is a unique sport as far as sponsorship goes, in most cases unless someone builds a team around you, you’re kind of a lone wolf when you’re going to races. It’s not like a road team or even mountain bike, you’re really on your own. I was sort of a unique case because I always had a bit more going on in my life than just being a bike racer. I was more focused on my coaching and family. I didn’t want to commit to being on someone else’s team. So what I’m getting at is – I was putting my own sponsors together vs. building or riding for teams.

There are a lot of races in America. How’s the scene over there?

Some seasons I’d do 10-12 races, maybe more, a lot of races. Often two per weekend. The scene over there is really-really good. They almost have too many UCI races! You get in this mindset where you need to get UCI points, so Saturday you’re here, Sunday you’re there, next weekend you’re someplace new and back at it, travelling like crazy! You’re going to all these races, often looking at the prize purse. Try to make some money and earn as many points as you can, it’s kind of crazy really…Overall – it’s just a really fun at those North American races both large and small; there is a good race for everyone.

Lots of places have a good scene; they just don’t get as much media attention. I for instance really loved coming here and racing in smaller races. I thought that was fun. Not long ago I was considering an email to a friend of mine in the States and saying “What would you tell to guys in Hungary who have a big race?” because to me when I came to your event, I thought this looks and feels a lot like Adam’s race 10 years ago. Lots of excitement, lots of people coming, you can tell the national TV is starting to get interested, local media starting to get interested, so what would Adam say to you? “Okay, this is what your next 10 years is going to look like. Do it or not do it.”

We’re always open to suggestions, thank you 🙂 Speaking about big races: Crossvegas.

Yeah, I’ve done Crossvegas but I didn’t do the World Cup last year. That was a sore subject. I was supposed to do it as the national champion. I was really-really excited but there’s a great story. It should be embarrassing for me to tell but, whatever. We started our own Canadian Cyclocross Organising Committee: people, who would make the selection criteria, make everything very official and make everything very serious. We made our own set criteria for the very first time to get into a World Cup. We set deadlines when athletes have to register and everything was done. When all the registrations came in, we got together and said, okay, who’s going to go to the World Cup? They wrote down all the names and I was like, why am I not on the list? Then my friend says “Ohh you didn’t send your application”. I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m on the board, I’m the national champion, what do you mean?” We went back and forth like this. Anyways, our board decided I should not race and we published the list, and I didn’t race.

Crossvegas is great, maybe it’s greater than it should be, haha! Interbike is such a big powerhouse bike industry weekend. That’s when some of the big connections and reunions are made as far as North American cycling is concerned. There are so many deals going on, all the bike shop people are flocking down to Interbike. Crossvegas by default becomes this massive event and a bit of a party where everyone is primed for drinking beer and going crazy, maybe acting a little like they have seen in videos of big Belgian races. I think it gets a little out of hand as these guys just really want to feel like hardcore spectators but don’t have the same deep rooted history of watching cross and having favorites etc. They seem to just be yelling at whomever and spraying beer around for fun. Anyways, it’s a great weekend.

The race Paris-Ancaster? 9 starts, always top 10, 3 wins. Stunning.

It’s a gravel/ all surface bike race, I think they have been running it for over 20 years now, I’m friends with the organizers by now! It started like almost any annual group ride where everyone got together. John and Tim are the organizers; they started taking race registration fees once the ride was big enough to warrant extra planning and timing etc. Quickly their mailbox started to get full of registrations and cash! They had to bring on more staff and support, anyway; it’s turned into the biggest one day event in Canada I think, likely because it’s fun, maybe the early spring date helps, everyone can do it. People are totally into it, the mud and rain, all of it. Kind of like a dirty fondo but much shorter, 20 km, 40 km or 70 km.
There’s pack riding; in theory there should be, but I’ve won it a few times and we’ve always broken things up early. You can go really-really hard, and for the people at the front it pays off to be aggressive because it’s so short. If they double the length of it there would be more tactics and stuff but the way it is now you get 10 minutes into the race and then attack, attack, attack. And before you know it you’re having lunch at the end with your friends!

I had some tough luck in this race, flatted while leading 3 times, haha!

Most difficult thing about the race? The effort. You have to go very-very hard if you want to do well. It’s a unique one because if you look at the elevation profile, it goes slightly downhill and usually there’s a tailwind too. For me it’s great, but I guess who doesn’t like a tailwind downhill?! There’s a lot of woods, forest, fast flowing corners which really reward the riders that don’t want to sit in the pack and want to go as hard as they can. There’s some mud and a bit of sand so it helps to be in a big gear going as fast as you can from start to finish.

The organizers often ask me if I know any cross riders who may like to come to their event, usually I’m able to help them connect with a few top. Usually around September I get an email from the organizers 🙂 Helen Wyman did Paris-Ancaster one year, it was the same sort of thing: “Hey, what would it take to get Helen to come?” They have had quite a few top riders; Jonathan Page, Ellen Noble, Ellen Van Loy, Jeremy Powers to name a few. I’m sure they would be happy to have a Central or Eastern Europe based rider come out!

Any other gravel races?

There are lots of great ones in the States, Tour of the Battenkill and these races, but I never had time to focus on that. I was always totally focused on coaching by the time the “real” summer season got going.

What does the word “fun” mean to you when you talk about training, racing, riding a bike?

Well, I think as a whole, North Americans always say they’re having fun, often not wanting to admit that things are enjoyable but NOT FUN. For me, I really like to take my bike on non-traditional routes. So if I’m having fun on my bike I’m usually exploring.

What opportunities have cyclists in Canada?

We’re much like the other countries where high performance programs are pretty focused on performance, so unless you’re really trying to win big events, make it to the top or compete internationally, there’s not going to be a nationally supported system for you. But there are so many good clubs and groups that you can ride with if you’re lucky enough to live in a city that has a lot of cyclists – and most Canadian cities DO have very strong cycling communities – but if you’re asking about funding for performance focused riders the only way you’re going to find government financial support is if you’re trying to go to the Olympics.

Can you tell us about the structure of the Canadian Cycling Association?

On the provincial levels, so on the more local levels, it’s not as separated by discipline. But for the national team, it’s fully separated. I should add that though the provincial level is quite large, the size of some smaller countries’ programs. The disciplines on the national team are Road, BMX, Para, Mountain Bike. And our track programs are getting most of the financial attention as of late. We have the infrastructure, a new track in Ontario, and we seem to have the drive for a top performance. So it’s an exciting time to be a track rider in Canada for sure!

On the road most but not all of the road programs are still focused on helping riders develop towards top track racing performances, there is still some funding going to some road athletes but this side of the national team has taken a step down in their support. The national team supports the riders more on the development side, so for instance their endurance track programme is a little bit more like an Australian national team in the sense that they are fully funding the riders. They are not just sending some cash to riders that are already on teams, they have a full team. It was as of last year called Team Race Clean and they have all their own sponsors, they’re traveling to the races as a group – you’re either part of it or you’re not. That’s very cut-throat. That’s on the road/track side of things.

Mountain bike and cyclocross are different disciplines. Just to be clear, cyclocross doesn’t have any support from the national federation in Canada – not financial. There’s a really good coach running the programme (Scott Kelly), it’s actually a really well run operation. Totally at the professional level AND he’s doing it as a volunteer putting the schedule together, making a selection criteria, getting all the staffing and logistics sorted out but there’s no financial support from the national federation – they are focused on Olympic disciplines. I think the sport organizations work very much like several of the other top nationals, and do a good job of it overall.

There’s many different levels of sport in Canada. A coach would likely not go straight to the National Cycling Federation for guidance or funding but instead look to their local organisation to get help with their coaching education or project. If I want to continue my coaching education, for example, I would not go to Canadian Cycling, but a national coaching program that focuses on coach development, not sport-specific.

The country is really-really big and broken into provinces. Ontario, for instance, has a really strong cycling community, and I was the provincial coach there for several years. A lot of the athletes spent most of their time training with their local clubs, but would could with Team Ontario to the biggest, most important events. I had my own mechanics, etc. The money came from the Association, and then if something was going to be extremely expensive, then we’d have to look for private sponsors. It was a really good program because it brought everyone together, even though they were on their own teams or riding for their own shops.

Where is the main focus? Infrastructure?

Money towards coaches and programs. It means there are going to be even more programs. For the track program, they’d have a certain amount of coaches, like women’s endurance coach and men’s endurance coach, sprint coach – because they have a bigger budget, they can do that. For road racing, they’d have a junior development coach and a senior coach because they don’t have as deep of a budget. It’s like a company: whichever divisions are performing better, they get more money.

You might know the next (Canadian) Peter Sagan!

Yes haha, maybe! There’s so many really good Canadian riders that not many people would know yet. One example would be Annie Foreman-Mackey. She’s the current road national champion and a phenomenal talent, I could see her coming to Europe and performing at the highest level, that said, there are many VERY talented and dedicated riders in Canada. Just now I can picture at least 10 riders that would also give Annie a run!
I’ve been very lucky to work with some of these kids, when they were younger athletes and part of Team Ontario, or met them while they raced with their respective provinces. Right now I’m doing something very different: I have a job with the national mountain bike team, I’m working with elite riders at competitions, it’s much more hands-on. These riders are already at or near the top of their fields. I feel lucky to work with each level of development.

What’s the daily routine? Filling Excels?

For sure. For maybe 5 years wintertime was playing on Excel BUT then going to training camps luckily as well, I was with the athletes. I was never focused on myself, I wasn’t really in that great of shape, I was just riding with the people I needed to be with. Drive the car if I needed to, find and bring extra support staff so that we’d run a good programme. Through the summer it was like for any person who’s running a team or big programme, just driving like crazy. Coaching and racing in Canada and North America in general involves a LOT of driving!

You know the athlete and not-athlete life. What’s your take on that?

I feel like it’s business in a sense that there was a period where I had to sacrifice so much as far as my social life and everything in order to make those physical gains. That’s when I started; I was 21-22 years old. There was nothing else, that was all, I just wanted to train and get better. For several years that was it. When I made those veep and got better, I was able to bring back some more social life and work, and kind of float on the fitness that I had.

I was a kid that came from a family that lived in community housing for a bit, my mother was working like crazy just to keep my brother and I fed, I think we ate a lot! She worked so very hard to help us where she could, but it wasn’t like I felt like I was stepping away from some other opportunities. I never once thought I should be a doctor or do this or that. I had a fantastic coach when I started. He was giving me great support but as far as being afraid that I’m not living a normal life, I was used to that.

I had really crappy equipment when I started out but I’m not sure that held me back at all. I used to work manual labor, shoveling snow, doing whatever I could to find work until I was introduced to a mountain bike and ski facility (Hardwood Ski and Bike) where I could maintain and build trails and then later started coaching, just school groups at first,, it went on from there. I’d just make enough money to live simply and train, I was still struggling to make the rent though. Somewhere along the way I won some bigger local events, that’s likely when people took notice and offered to help, I was really fortunate. Now I was able to buy flights, better food, some equipment, really just amazingly generous. I’m still humbled that someone would just reach out like that. That’s when I also realized that I was a part of a community that was larger than I could see when just shutting myself out to focus on daily goals, kind of a breakthrough moment for me really.
Anyways – I tell kids that you’re not going to get rich racing bikes, they can do that later. This right now is for the passion.

What do you do for a living right now, what’s your job?

The coaching with the Canadian national MTB team that’s my only official title. Honestly, I stopped working in Canada to move here. That said I always seem to have some sort of additional project on the go.

How did you end up in Croatia? We know about Okolo, your own business.

Well, that’s kind of a long story of how I met my wife, Bori. She was teaching at the University of Toronto, I met her there. I raced in Belgium for a few years and we were living together in Belgium. It just happened that her parents had a place in Belgium, pure luck. We stayed at her parents’ apartment and then I was doing Superprestige, World Cups and a few GVA races while we were there. I was living with her or living with the Wyman’s who I’m really good friends with; Helen and Stef. When I told her (my wife) that I wanted to stop working and try to be national champion again, she was really supportive. She had a great job at the time, I basically had 7 months where I was able to just train again. That was 2 years ago, I won the nationals and that was it. I was like, okay, that was it, I need to go back to real life. I still raced last year but it wasn’t all that serious; I just wanted to represent the national jersey. We moved here, my focus was on the next phase of life. Now I’m here in Hungary because we have a son here and her family is from Hungary.

I’ve been going to Croatia for the last 5 years with her family because they always go on vacation in Croatia, I just fell in love with it. It’s so beautiful down there, just absolutely remarkable landscape and a feeling calm island living with wild rugged nature mixed with shockingly old villages and architecture at your fingertips, it’s really quite unique. I decided I do not want to EVER stop riding down there and I want to show my friends in North America how nice the riding is. So that’s why I started a tour company – OKOLO. We’re up and running, with a few really successful tours under our belt, it’s going to take a while before people find out about what I’m doing and what I’m offering, but, I hope the people who know me from the high performance side of the sport will trust that I can run a good programme.
April 2017 was Okolo’s 1 year anniversary, I hope by this time next year I can share more about our progress.

Croatia vs. Hungary?

Things are more relaxed down in Croatia, but specifically where I’m bringing the people who chose to come on an Okolo Tour, there are no people. It’s very isolated, these are not famous roads, they are forgotten roads. When you go on Strava, you don’t see lines all over the place. It’s really good.
I’d love to have a trip with Okolo where friends can come to Budapest and see the city and some of the Hungarian countryside. I think it’d be really fun to run a tour here in Hungary. We could have fun nights in the city, we could have good rides in the country, I think it would be a fun way to have a vacation. Croatia is where I’m focused right now though, jaw-dropping Adriatic adventure.

You mentioned the Wymans. They are an inspiration for many.

The first time I raced in Belgium for the World Championships in Hooglede-Gits I wanted to stay in Belgium a little bit longer. Helen and her husband Stef were renting a house in a small village in Belgium. I found a room with them, they rented it to me actually; I was with a few other Canadians and it just seemed like every year I was somehow talking to them or getting in touch with them. Eventually Helen wanted to come to the States and I was living in New York (city), they knew that I’d be a good, trustworthy contact, or maybe they just thought I would show them a good time, regardless; they called me up. I owned a really big van at the time so it just turned out when I was in Europe I was traveling with the Wymans and when they were in the States they were travelling with me. We forged a relationship that way. Now we’re really good friends. Although I’m in Croatia and they are now in France, I think we’re still going to find a way to see each other.

Stef Wyman always threatened to get out of it but he can’t stop for some reason. He’s a really good manager and he’s good with sponsors, very professional. He is running his own team on the side and has almost always been able to put together really good groups of riders. Stef and Helen are in the heart of it – if you really want to know what’s going on in the very center of women’s cycling Stef is your man for sure. They lived in Oudenaarde which is a small hub, Jonathan Page lived there as well. They had a good training group in this area.

In summer 2016 you were the highest ranked CX rider in Hungary, 91st. Gábor Fejes was 121st. What’s your opinion about the Hungarian cyclocross scene?

Buzsó is trying to be a cyclocross rider I think, he’s a great rider. I haven’t had enough time to ride with these guys in training. I think that’s where you really see what everyone’s level is at, but cx is such a great sport. You can improve quickly. Through good technique and some specific workouts you can improve a lot. There’s an opportunity for Hungarian riders to do well in Cross I think. It only takes 2-3 years of dedicated training and they’re going to find out whether they’re going to be able to race world cups or not.

You have seen a couple of races in Hungary by now. You’ve been to Crossliget but also to Salgótarján – there were some issues about the latter.

Maybe I have an unfair opinion for races because if I look at the course in Salgótarján in particular and I look at it from the perspective of a rider of a local level then I’d think, okay, maybe there’s some things that were dangerous. But when I came to that race myself I was just thinking I’m going to an exciting event. I’ve raced internationally and there was nothing there that I hadn’t seen before in Belgium. I raced in Overijse, immediately I think of Overijse because that’s just outside of Brussels. Huge event, barbwire all over the place, metal poles all over the place. Nothing seemed like totally out of place. I’ve seen dangerous courses before so I think I’m not the best resource. If people felt unsafe then that’s a good indicator.

I don’t think I’m a good judge of it, maybe also I wouldn’t find things as slippery as some. Coming from Canada, we’re riding on roads covered in ice all the time…

What about the standards of the Hungarian races?

I raced all the US levels; I think you guys are on the track. That’s why I was thinking I should talk to Adam or some of these other guys. Especially with Etyek and Crossliget, that was great. But the awards take a very long time, that’s different than the States. Usually people are still finishing the race and you’re still struggling on the course and you can hear the commentators already, or if you’re doing well you’re getting on top of the podium while your friends are still out there battling!

Can you tell us about your experience with World Cup races?

My first WC was Hoogerheide in 2008, and then I raced Le Bresse and Koksijde a couple of times. Couple of times I raced in Roubaix, I raced maybe 10 World Cups total with my best WC placing was 30th. As for the World Championships, 2007 Gitts, then Treviso, Louisville, Hoogerheide, Tabor. I was always often really not going very fast at world championships for some reason. I suppose Italy was not too bad. In Treviso I think I was on the last lap. For all the times I went to the Worlds that was always pretty late in the season and I think I was already focused on my coaching. I had camps starting in a few weeks in California, so I was kind of already switching gears. Also, Worlds is a time of the year when you’re almost at the crossroads: if you are not someone who is trying to get a medal then you’re going there thinking “What am I doing with my life?”. If you have North American sponsors, they are typically not overly interested compared to the racing at the front of the smaller US races in September and October They are not going to see on you on television unless you’re getting lapped – it’s almost better getting lapped: “Ohh there he is!”, whereas if you’re 15th or something, nothing…

If you look at someone like Jeremy Powers compared to Jonathan Page, Jeremy Powers is making a lot more money. I think Jonathan Page was a much more successful cyclocrosser as far as international performance. But Powers is so successful nationally; it’s obvious that for his sponsors and staff he was able to do a lot more by staying in the States. Even now people are asking Powers if he’s going to any European races…It doesn’t seem like a lot of people get that excited about his results in Europe unless he’s trying to get a podium in a World Cup.

Let’s move on to coaching and training. Powermeters are a hot topic these days.

I’ve been working with powermeters since 1999. My first powermeter was a Powertap, my coach Steve at the time was having conversations with Hunter Allen and these guys. I’ve been using a powermeter for a while. I like to call these things you can use “toys” because I would never want an athlete to be dependent on their device. So it’s really nice to have all the toys, the powermeters and whatever, there’s so many things you can buy, even as basic as a heart rate monitor or a stopwatch. It’s all toys vs tools. I guess when you’re looking at the sport as a profession and you change your idea to a tool…the powermeter can be beneficial because for instance almost as a passion project I’ve started coaching a guy just down the street here. He was doing L’etape de Tour and stuff. He’s using a powermeter. I told him right away it’s just a fun way for us to interact as far as online based coaching relationship. I still think you can get pretty good without it if you have good guidance and good body awareness, but it’s certainly handy.

What’s the Mike Garrigan method/secret? What are you looking for in a rider?

What I’ve seen common in really successful athletes, they’re often people who are very driven. They certainly make sure that nothing slows them down they don’t often have to walk on top of people to get there though. The driven people have a clear view where they want to be in a few years time. As far as physiology, like how their body is made up, there are so many different types of athletes. I don’t think there is a mold for cycling because you can have a really tall, slim person that’s going to be a great climber or a great classics rider, who knows.

Luckily in cycling everyone can find a way to be fast and a style of riding that suits them. Sure, it helps so to have a threshold power of 400 Watts or whatever but those are just gifts that some people have. You can still go a long way and achieve your own personal goals. I work with a lot of young athletes that have these unbelievable physical attributes. Whether they become successful or not is not dependent on their physiology.
So my answer is driven with a clear view of where they want to go!

How about amateurs?

This gentleman I coach down the street is very rewarding to work with because he’s interested in personal development and I respect that. People who want to improve themselves just for the pure enjoyment of it and because they’re goal oriented people, I really respect that and enjoy working with them. I almost feel like I’m going full circle now because when I started coaching I was working with hundreds and hundreds of kids. I was working with school groups and all different types of skill and motivation levels. Then I was doing more one-on-one type clinics, and then I got into high performance. Then I was only concerned with people who wanted to be the best in the world, and that was, I thought, my niche. I still think that’s where my ability is, working with those people, but now I have some time and I still enjoy kind of going back to try to work with people who want to develop themselves. Personally, I find that kind of exciting. It’s fun to look at power files of someone who is really excited about making a big gain versus someone who’s just trying to get those little ones.

Have you ever tried road racing?

For sure, yes. I used to do some local races in Toronto and some hillier events in the states. When I was U23 I did some UCI level U23 races but only in North America, never did any European road races. I’d have loved to of done more road racing but I was always on my own agenda, with work and coaching I didn’t want to commit to being on a road team and going down that path. It always seemed I had a lot on my plate as far as athletes that I wanted to help and as a coach I always wanted to make it clear that I was not concerned with my own personal performance or agenda. Going on a road team you have to fully submit yourself to the team for at least the year and I wasn’t willing to do that.

Also, we made an agreement with my wife pretty early in our relationship that if I continue to do any road races I had to not be in any crashes. I still like to do a road race from time to time, We made a deal that if I’m in a road race I’m either going to be off the front or off the back. She understood that. If you see me in road races you can pretty much guarantee I’m either going to try to be in a move or I’m going to be dropped. It’s for that reason.

Crits? They are big in North America.

Red Hook kinda suits the story of me telling my wife I wouldn’t do road racing but I lived in NYC for a few years, we lived in Brooklyn. I still had my Ontario coach job but my wife had a job in NYC so I was commuting there. In that time I met David Trimble who runs Red Hook. We became friends and opportunity arose for me to ride in the Red Hook. I always wanted to, I like the event, and I really wanted to be part of it. I had the opportunity one year to ride in a crit. David has his own programme which was restore Red Hook after the floods in NYC. Red Hook got hit really hard so I had a “Restore Red Hook” jersey on and Dave lent me a really nice bike so I trained on it for a few months. But I still went in with the same mentality that I told my wife. So I led for a few laps early on and then that was it.

Do you follow the big races, Grand Tours? Any favorites?

Oh yes, I’m definitely a fan, well, when I can. I’m not that sort of guys that “okay everyone turn off everything, we’re watching this race today”. But I’m fan of the sport.
Favorite race? Strade Bianche maybe. I like that it finishes just with a couple of people usually, I like that it rewards aggressive riders, I like that usually the strongest person wins, any races like that. The Spring Classics also: there’s usually action the whole time through and usually that action turns into something in the special at the finish.

Svein Tuft is one of my favorites, I have to go with Svein. I’ve got good Svein Tuft stories 🙂 Through working with a lot of coaches I’ve got good stories, like my mechanic that worked for me used to also work for the national team so he’d go to World Championships, always in the fall and then work for me in the summer.
The best Svein story he told me was, it was right before the Worlds, and Svein was on a Scott Plasma, that has a horrible rear brake routing. You can barely get the break to work because the cable is so crazy. My friend Sean is an amazing mechanic, he took it upon himself, like “I’m going to get this brake working”. He stayed up all night, working on the brake, making everything just perfect with different cables and all the stuff. He just got it working amazing, he said he was so proud of it, he was so excited for Svein to get his bike the next day. Svein got off the next day, came down to the garage to get is bike and Sean was like “Try that rear brake!”, and Svein said “Naaah I won’t use those.”
The other one is when Svein is really hurting in a time trial – I think he told this to a group of kids – the best strategy is just to shift down one gear and then raise his RPM. That would help. Go harder, spin faster, yeah…

Let’s talk about sponsors. Do you have any advice for those who are looking to get sponsors?

The industry is small. Make sure that you appreciate what people do for you. Not only because the people who are supporting you deserve the appreciation but because it’s a small world. It’s going to get around pretty quick if you’re not appreciative. The other thing is that if someone’s willing to support you it’s probably not a business move, it’s a passion project. Everything in cycling is like that; you see it all the way up to the World Tour level. Pretty much like with Tinkoff, even though he’s a special case. I’m sure Sky Sports is making money off of their support of Team Sky but there’s probably someone who works for Sky who is an avid cyclist and he’s like “I’m into it”. If you recognize that first that people who are supporting cycling are probably fans of cycling then I think that’s the first step. The next step is to help them enjoy the sport. If they’re willing to support you then help them enjoy it. If the Hungarian Cycling Federation is trying to bring on Túró Rudi as a sponsor then they have to help them enjoy the sport. Show them that it’s really fun to give these chocolate cheese things at the top of Dobogókő on Wednesday morning, you know what I mean?

My advice is to recognize they are fans, or if for some reason they are trying to get into cycling because they think they’re going to make a lot of money of the exposure then try to enable them into becoming fans really quickly because they may realize that they’re not going to make a lot of money. That’s true to most sports. If you can help people enjoy the sport, help the sponsors enjoy it, that will go a long way. Word will get around. People who have money want to have fun with their money; they don’t want to just give it away.

I just learned this recently about the Hungarian market and the psyche of the community…it sounds like the Hungarian market is more interested in good than they are in services. You need be really focused on the goods you can provide versus the services that services you can provide. Obviously the market is different but I’m sure massage therapists or yoga instructors in the States make more money than here. Maybe from an athlete’s perspective or from a sports perspective you have to get creative but that’s just my two cents.

How about women’s cycling? Do you follow the ladies’ seasons?

Yes for sure, as much as the men’s racing, I was happy when you brought up Leah earlier because it’s really good to know that you guys notice Canadian riders, but I suppose Leah is hard to miss! I’m a fan because I just enjoy the racing at the top level so much. I can easily get reeled into watching men’s road races because of the easy online access and hoopla that’s involved, I enjoy the fact that the odds of picking 2 out of the top 3 would often be a very tall order pre race, especially for me – offroad, Cross and MTB. Look at the cyclocross Worlds in 2016 and Thalita de Jong. Unreal! I find that really exciting to have a new world champion like that and now she’s not at the front of every race. It’s just so competitive!

Your connection to bikes seems stronger than usual.

I’m a huge fan of cycling and equipment. If there was no race on the calendar I’d still ride as much as I could. I love the aesthetic of the bike. When I think of doing other things in life usually it involves some biking somehow!
I’m really lucky to work with some great brands who have helped me build some of my dream bikes. My gold Van Dessel for instance. I can’t really even conceptualize a nicer bike. Painted by my friend at VeloColour in Toronto, built up with Full Di2 Shimano. It’s really a just a dream bike.
Somehow I’ve ended up in a position where if I didn’t like the stuff that I riding with I’d just stop riding that stuff. I’m hoping to making money elsewhere and not in getting paid to ride stuff or getting paid to promote a certain product. If you see me using a product it’s because I like it! For me the bike is so many things. A toy, a tool, art. Outside of riding bikes, I think they are also a really fun thing to dream about and build.

Any non-cycling activities? You mentioned skateboarding at the beginning…

I skated a lot, that’s from a previous life almost. When we were living down in Mester street I was skating a bit more again, I used to skateboard in NYC to get around. When I was a younger person I used to change schools a lot, I think that was one of the reasons I was drawn to skateboarding. It’s something that you can keep practising wherever you are, kind of like an instrument I suppose, also seemed like a great way to make new friends when travelling around. Kind of like bikes as an adult I suppose.

Now that we’re in Croatia I’d like to try some more stuff, kite boarding, stand up paddling and snorkelling. So many opportunities!


Favorite food: mango
Favorite pizza topping: ruccola, good olives (we make our own pizza in Croatia, come to Okolo Tours!)
Color: dark blue
Favorite mountain or hill in Hungary: János hegy
Elsewhere: Croatia, Jablanac, 22 km climb, has no name
Favorite band: I have to say Parno Graszt because we are in Hungary! But anything from Stromae to Mozart really
Favorite music track: as of right now Guitar by Peter Nalitch, Raffi – Banana Phone.
Favorite movie: Beautiful life
What do you do to not get bored: (smiles at his kid)
Routine, ritual before races: pinching my tires a few times for no reason at all.

Any B-plan: movie producer, huge Wes Anderson fan
Result most proud of: first time that I won the national champs
Role model: There a lot of people that I look up to
Favorite rider: Tuft (road) and Page (Cyclocross)
Favorite cross race: Roubaix World Cup
If you could have a superpower: the ability to slow time
Something that people don’t know about you: I’m a closet environmentalist.
Bad habit: sometimes I’m in a rush too much
Biggest fear (cycling related): not being able to breathe.
Biggest fear (non-cycling related): spiders and deep water (working on it!)
Biggest dream: be successful enough that my kid looks to me as a role model

That's it folks!

Gratulálunk azoknak az olvasóinknak, akik idáig eljutottak! Reméljük, élveztétek a nem éppen rövid beszélgetést a kiváló Mike-kal, talán még inspirálóan is hatott ilyen vagy olyan szempontból.

Terveink szerint nem ez az utolsó angol nyelvű (és hosszú) interjúnk, ezért minden visszajelzést – továbbra is – szívesen veszünk. 2018-ból még elég sok van hátra, ki tudja, mi minden történhet ezeken a hasábokon. Addig is nézzétek meg gyorsan, mit is csinál Mike az Okoloval, és kövessétek Instagramon vagy éppen Facebookon is!

Mike Garrigan
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