Tuesday 26 November 2013

The Life and Wife of a professional cyclist; introducing Pete and Lisa McDonald.

What an amazing couple! Tour Down Under 2010
Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves?
After retiring from professional cycling in 2011 my wife Lisa and I moved from Sydney to Busselton in WA. Lisa gave birth to Flynn our beautiful son in June of 2011. I had started to make a return to school teaching, which is what I had been doing before taking up cycling. I ended up taking a job in Kalgoorlie WA for 2012. We have been living in Kalgoorlie for the past two years and we are now expecting our second child (a girl) in January of 2014. I have happily secured a position in Bunbury for 2014 and we are very much looking forward to returning to the South West to live hopefully for the foreseeable future. We both hope to raise our children by the beach in Bunbury and both intend on doing lots of riding with the South West CyclingClub
I also hope to build my cycle coaching business - Pro Bike Coaching - as a sideline to my teaching work.
Pete is on the right. In real life he always seems so quite and gentle. Not here! What a machine!
This is from the Tour of Wellington, 2009

So Pete, I know you are a professional cyclist. I’d like to hear a bit about that. How did you get your big break?
There is one clear stand out victory that helped me become a professional. I started out racing for Randwick Botany Cycling Club and had managed to make my way up to A grade from D grade in a reasonably short space of time. I had also had a couple of good races at various opens around NSW mostly in B grade. The FRF Courier Team and The Caravello Team were joining forces for the 230km Grafton to Inverell in 2004 and asked me to join the team for the race as a guest rider. Being a guest and very un-experienced at racing over the distance and at a much higher level, I was asked to try and be in the early break. In such a long race this is usually caught easily before the end and so you are basically there to represent the team but also to be used up as cannon fodder. I got myself into the break and in this rare case we managed to stay away to the finish. I won the three up sprint and was invited to join the team for the following year. FRF and Caravello joined forces for that year and registered as a continental team. This was my first chance to race overseas.
Pete wearing his new Australian kit. 
For lots of people who watch the Tour de France and other cycling events on TV, being a pro cyclist seems like both hard work, but also a quite glamorous. Can you tell me a bit about the reality of it?
Yes, life as a cyclist can be really, really hard. I remember doing a tough stage in the Tour of Langkawi in 2010, I think it was around 190km and oppressively hot. It was getting toward the end of the tour and I had managed to retain the KOM jersey to that point. This involved a lot of energy sapping efforts to claim a KOM point here and there at various points along each stage. You kind of learn to grit your teeth and live with a heightened level of fatigue all the time when racing tours, as you keep telling yourself just get through this stage and there will be a nice hotel, massage and dinner waiting for me at the end. On this particular day we were staying at a very good hotel resort in Langkawi. The hotel had a beautiful infinity pool overlooking the ocean and after some post stage food and a massage, myself and a few team members decided to go for a relaxing dip. I remember falling into the water and just floating around in the pool, totally relaxing. I managed to drag myself out of the water at some point and to send my lovely wife Lisa a message accompanied by a picture of me next to the pool. I had a hard time convincing Lisa that I was actually doing it tough and the racing was really hard. I learnt quickly not to send Lisa (who was back at home working) pictures of hotel infinity pools while away racing.
Tour of Margaret River 2013
What does your typical training involve?
When I was in full training it involved between 500 - 700km a week. This included one long ride per week of about 200km and 4 shorter more intense sessions. I would often do an intense hill session (around the beaches of Sydney) on a Tuesday after the bunch ride; go home for some lunch and a sleep followed by a criterium race at Heffron Park in the afternoon. Basically training then racing club races allowed me to push myself a lot harder than if I just trained on my own. This allowed me to be in good shape for the early season races. Once I was into the season it was more a case of race then recover before the next race, so you could back off the training a bit.

Do you have any standout races when something out of the ordinary happened?
While racing for Drapac something out of the ordinary usually happened at most races. It was a great team in that we never took ourselves too seriously and would always have a good laugh along the way. From all the antics that happened in the team, there is one event that stands out for me. During the Tour of Taiwan in 2009 I had made my way into the yellow jersey. We were racing on a long flat circuit this day and I punctured. I radioed the team car and pulled off with a teammate (Daniel Brunsteins) to swap wheels and get service. A neutral spares bike stop was with us so the team car continued on. I had my rear wheel out and instead of swapping with my teammate I waited for the motorbike to give me a wheel. He walked over very slowly and handed me a wheel with a 12-27 cassette on and the tyre that didn’t have much more air in it than my punctured tyre. I told the guy what I though of his work as a mechanic and out of frustration (and very stupidly) threw the wheel into the paddy field next to me. My teammate quickly gave me his wheel and I rode back into the peloton. 
On the way through the convoy I told Agostino (Ago) our director what had happened and that Daniel may need help. I didn’t know that the neutral spares had abandoned Daniel, who was retrieving that wheel I had thrown from the paddy field. By the time Daniel got back on his bike he was a good five minutes behind the race. Ago went back to Daniel and had him hold onto the car to tow him back to the race (this is against the rules, but under the circumstances would most likely be overlooked). Ago who can be a little aggressive in his approach to racing, was driving at about 120km with Daniel holding onto the car when a commissaire (race judge) pulled out of a side street. Ago had to skid to a stop with Daniel being flung off the car at high speed narrowly missing the commissaire’s motor bike on his high speed return to the race. After the stage the chief commissaire was furious with Ago and threw him and Daniel out of the rest of the race, as well as fining the team a record amount of money. That night at dinner things were a little quiet around the Drapac table but Ago stayed remarkably calm. This continued on until breakfast the next morning until I asked Ago why he was so calm about the whole ordeal. He told me that he had seen his doctor before coming to the race and his blood pressure was high so he was not allowed to get upset or over excited anymore. “That’s good” I replied, “Because I have lost my team shoes.”
Tour of Margaret River 2013
Lisa, I’d like to hear about cycling from your point of view. What is it like being married to someone like Pete, who is so fast?
It’s been a fantastic roller coaster journey. It’s demoralising going riding together to say the least……. Even when I outright cheated while out cycling together, Pete could still beat me without breaking a sweat and talking to me as he was coasting past. I tried so many times in vain.  It was awe-inspiring to me – his level of fitness.  Mostly we just had a lot of fun.  On one of our first rides together we went through the national park in Sydney and I smashed myself so much I literally fell asleep on his shoulder over dinner. 

I remember doing a handicap race up Charlotte’s pass at the ESCC Jindabyne camp and being given a head start with a bunch of others of some 45 minutes or more on Pete……. and him still passing me half way up, smiling and pinching my bum as he rode past, while I was quite literally hyper-ventilating.  A low point for me.
ESCC Jindabyne Camp 2009
Did you ever dream you would end up marrying a professional athlete?
Not in my wildest dreams.  My life around law had been stressful to say the least. Meeting Pete was such a refreshing change as he was so incredibly kind, honest and decent. I wanted to move far away from the world I had surrounded myself with in a way.

Do you get nervous watching Pete ride?
Not really.  I was pretty naïve a lot of the time about the racing….. and as we went on and things got very serious between us, I would start to worry when he went away or we had to say goodbye again. When I knew more about how dangerous the races could be and would hear about the crashes, it would cross my mind more.  Mostly I was just so excited to hear about the adventures in whatever country he’d be racing.

What’s the best thing about being married to a professional cyclist?
I feel a lot of pride about the person Pete is and I am incredibly proud of him.  It’s such an exciting life, full of travel and lots of fun times.  There are very little stresses and the travel lifestyle is very glamorous.  One of the best parts was meeting up with Pete in various places around the world in between races.  In 2009 Pete and I met up with Dean and Dominique Windsor and spent an amazing 10 days or so in a villa in Tuscany when Pete was Australian champion, riding scooters around the countryside, wine tasting, eating and lazing by the pool.  The villa was like something out of a movie, only better.

One of the absolute highlights was when Pete won the Australian Championships in 2009 a few months after we’d first met.  I have to admit, I didn’t really know what the race was or its significance (being just a gumby club rider), still very new to the whole Australian racing scene.  Pete took off to Melbourne for yet another race. Then the next thing, I was sitting at work on a Sunday when I received a phone call from Drapac Porsche Cycling team in Melbourne asking me if I could be on the next flight to Melbourne to celebrate the team’s victory.  My first thought was  - oh my gosh, what will I wear (ha, ha!) The guys picked me up in a Porsche in Melbourne and we spent the night eating pizza with the team and celebrating with Michael Drapac and Agostino Giramondo.  Over time I understood what an incredible victory it was for Pete, what it took to win and I just felt really honoured to be able to celebrate and share it with him and of course incredibly proud.
WINNING the Australian Road Championships 2009. What a guy!

And the worst thing about being married to a cyclist?
I’d say its been hard for us as a couple trying to make the transition back from Pete racing at such a high level on a professional basis to a more normal life and raising kids.  I think everyone finds having a family challenging at times though – marriage is hard, raising small children is really hard.  As a lot of people would understand, I thought I knew hard work and sleep deprivation…..until I had kids.  The change in lifestyle was so dramatic for us, but also really wonderful in a whole new way.  It might have been a little easier if we’d had a more traditional start…. but maybe not too.

I’d like to see Pete race more and more again over the next few years and build up his cycle coaching business – ProBike Coaching.  I look forward to seeing him and Flynn out riding together one day.
Pete and Flynn at Hammond Park in Kalgoolgie. 
Lisa, I’d also like to hear a bit about your cycling. I know you are expecting a baby now – so maybe taking a little time off the bike, but you have a pretty impressive athletic CV yourself.  What is your sporting background?
I wasn’t one of those naturally sporty kids. I would say I was more inclined towards music, in particular the piano.  However I grew up in a house full of sport, as my Dad was the Senior Master of Phys-ed at a local high school in WA.  I grew up playing a lot of hockey, basketball and volleyball. I represented the state in basketball up until about 14, but I lacked height (and skill). I did a little bit of cross-country running in high school, albeit very badly, but I really wanted to be good at it.
Tour de France, 2006
I picked up running again in my late twenties as a bit of a stress relief from working as a lawyer.  I found I could step on the treadmill with a bunch of problems and step off thinking they weren’t really problems after all.  Running straightens out my thoughts like nothing else.

I also spent a season working and snowboarding in Whistler Canada and then later did some snowboarding in Sastriere in Italy and Niseko in Japan. Snowboarding is so much fun it's quite ridiculous.  You have to try it in your lifetime.

After quite a few years working long hours in law firms in Perth, I read the book “It's Not about the Bike” by Lance Armstrong.  While that book no longer holds the shine it once did for me, it was such an inspirational read at the time and served to help me change the course of things.  I sold my car, packed up my house, bought a blue Trek (like Lance) and booked a ticket on a cycling trip following the Tour de France through the Alps.  I moved to the UK to work as a lawyer….. and so began my passion for cycling.  To me it was an incredibly inspiring sport.

Getting ready to ride the Aple d'Huez 2006
And at the top of the Alpe d'Huez 2006
When I returned to Australia in late 2007, I joined the Eastern Suburbs Cycling Club. Training in Centennial Park was just incredibly good fun and such a blast.  The people I met through the club are some of my closest and best friends.  Those years spent training and attending the Jindabyne training camps were some of the best years of my life to date.

I’ve done the Sydney half marathon and a mini triathlon since having Flynn.  I am due to give birth to a baby girl in January and as time goes on (and if I am not completely insane from lack of sleep), I’d like to train for a marathon. It is time. I have even bought new running shoes in preparation, as I miss running SO MUCH. Reading the latest Dim Sum and Long Runs story about Phoebe made me realize anything is possible!
Kalgoolie Women's triathlon finisher in 2012, and look how young baby Flynn is! Amazing achievement Lisa!
What are some races you have done that stood out for you?
I did my first half marathon in Hastings in the UK in 2006 while I was working as an Energy & Resources lawyer in London. That was a beautiful course with a great finish along the seaside.  I caught the train down on my own and remember feeling a real sense of pride on finishing and then crashing in the train on the way home.

In terms of races, one of the absolute highlights would have to be the Gold coast half-iron man in 2008.  While I was living in Sydney, a very good friend of mine (who shall remain nameless, …. oh, and who now lives the expat dream in Hong Kong!) encouraged me to come and race the event with her at a particularly low point in my life.  It was fantastic – we had a blast (despite lost bikes and missing wheels)! I knew I could do almost anything after that. I went up there with virtually no swim training…… and was almost last out of the water (Jane’s Mum thought I must have withdrawn), but gained some ground on the cycle and run legs. It was a tremendous sense of achievement and gave me the boost I needed.
Jubilant 1/2 Gold Coast 1/2 ironman finishers.  Lisa looks so fresh... would you believe she'd just done a 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21km run? 
I have also run the Sydney half marathon a couple of times (2008 and 2012) and it’s always a favourite race just for the scenery and the vibe of everyone competing.  Sydney is one of the most spectacular cities in the world.

I’d like to hear the story of how you both got together. I know it involved a bike! 
Lisa’s story….
There are differing versions….. while romance didn’t bloom immediately, I first met Pete in Sydney at the CheekyMonkey bike shop in when I returned back to Australia from London. I took the little blue Trek into Cheekys (around the corner from my flat) to have someone put it back together…. And little did I know that that person would be Pete, the greatest thing (along with my kids) that has ever happened to me.  I picked up my bike and this nice mechanic handed it to me and started explaining a few things he’d fixed on the bike…… he was just so understated, polite and the whole bike-mechanic thing was extremely attractive (after working with men in suits all day). We became friends and I remember always being struck by how nice Pete was every time I met him after that.  I remember sitting next to him at a group dinner before we got together and being completely stuck by how great he was – listening to his stories about racing and living overseas were completely inspiring to me.  It took a while for things to develop romantically after that and for me to realise the kind of partner I was looking for. On our first dates (which were always at dodgy pubs or RSLs in Sydney), we would just spend hours talking about cycling and racing and bikes. Hands down, marrying Pete was the best decision I ever made. 

Pete’s story…..
As Lisa said there a differing versions of how we met…but what really happened is as follows. We had met at the bike shop and a few months after this Lisa was coming to Melbourne for Around the Bay in a Day. This coincided with the end of the Sun Tour, which I was racing. So I invited Lisa to come to a team function held on the last stage. The team books out a café overlooking the race, so friends and family of the team can have a birds-eye view of the stage. After the stage we met up for drinks and stayed up talking late into the night. This was despite the fact I was racing the next day back in Sydney. I told Lisa that if I won I would take her out to dinner back in Sydney and finally got to bed around 3 o’clock. On a couple of hours sleep and with the help of my teammates I managed to win the race and texted Lis to tell her it was my shout once she got back to Sydney. This resulted in a series of dates to some very dodgy venues around Sydney, starting with The Shakespeare Hotel (Shakies) in Surry Hills. Unfortunately my scooter broke down on the way to the date, I had to walk it home and ride in on my bike instead. Although I was very late we had a great night and we always seemed to be able to talk endlessly during our dinners (mostly discussing cycling). I wasn’t sure if Lisa really liked me at this stage, as at the end of each night she would stand about 4 metres away from me, which made it very difficult to kiss her. It took a lot of dates to dodgy pubs and RSL clubs before she would stand close enough and I was brave enough to kiss her goodnight. Things flourished from there and since then it has been a wonderful roller coaster ride of cycling trips, marriage, moving house, changing jobs, kids, etc.
Following in his dad's footsteps. Already out on a bike!
And so now you have little Flynn and number two is almost here, have you any plans to get your kids out on bikes? After all, they come from some pretty good breeding stock! 
Little Flynn is a bundle of energy – he never stops…. I am told like his Dad was at that age.  He is the happiest little boy, forever giggling, wrestling with his Dad and RUNNING…. everywhere, all the time.  So I’d say cycling would be a good outlet for Flynn.  Pete’s Dad Ken was a really talented distance runner – so it’s in Flynn’s genes. I think it was Jens Voigt’s parents who were at a loss as to how to tire him out when he was young and so they bought him a bike (so the story goes)!  I believe sport saves you throughout your life, so I want to let him try as many sports as possible. We’d like to teach him to snowboard too!
At the Start of Kal to Menzies bike race 2013. What a beautiful family of three. Soon to be four!

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