January 8, 2018
Hamish Bond Takes National Title
Last week double Olympic rowing gold medallist Hamish Bond won his first New Zealand national title after switching sports in 2016 from rowing to cycling.
It was his second attempt at the national time trial title, having finished third in 2017. In windier and slower conditions this year, Bond finished the 40km TT in 50m40s, 1m29s ahead of second placed Michael Vink and over a minute faster than the 2017 winning time.
Bond will now turn his attention towards the commonwealth games and world championships, with his ultimate aim being selection for the New Zealand team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
We spoke to Hamish Bond shortly before his first international race in the cycling world championships last year. See the full article in issue 19 of Row360.
When did you know that you were going to switch sports?
I had it in my mind before Rio that I was keen to give it a shot. I had cycled a bit for training in rowing and I was intrigued to see where I could get if I gave it my full attention. The plan was to give it four or five months and perhaps get to the New Zealand national championships. I figured at that stage I would probably then go back to rowing. Then one thing lead to another and I dived down the rabbit hole and I still haven’t found the bottom. I had enough success to keep me hungry and interested and looking for more. I think my trainer, Dan Plews, was probably the first person to put the idea of Tokyo 2020 in front of me and since then it has been about finding out firstly, if I’m good enough and secondly, how to get there.
Can you say which is harder, rowing or cycling?
I think anything is as hard as you want to make it. I guess rowing is physically harder on the body – you can’t row at a hard level for five hours, but you can bike for five hours. The fact that rowing is a whole-body workout makes the physical sensation of rowing yourself to exhaustion more painful, or at least a slightly different feeling to what you can reach cycling.
Which do you enjoy more?
I enjoyed my rowing career immensely. I received far more from the sport than I ever put in. People talk about sacrifices, but I am just so grateful for everything rowing has given me. I am enjoying what I am doing now because it is fresh and exciting. I was on the New Zealand rowing team for eleven years and on the junior team for three years before that, so basically doing the same thing year in year out for fourteen years.
I got to the point where I had achieved a measure of success in rowing and I was satisfied with that. That is what gave me the emotional freedom to make the decision to step into the unknown. If I had felt like I had more to achieve in rowing I probably wouldn’t have made this decision. That said, I would like to win more things in rowing and I have certainly not closed the door on that. I had a pretty good idea where my limits in rowing lay. Now I am exploring the limits of my potential in cycling and that is quite exciting.
How has it been to go from being a big name in one sport to a relative nobody in another?
I didn’t row for the status I achieved, I rowed to win and succeed and I guess the status was a by-product of that. I had no problem with that and didn’t hide from it. Taking a step away and becoming a nobody within a new sport has been refreshing in some ways because I am free to go out and do the best I can. In rowing, while we also just wanted to do the best we could do, it got to the point where we had to win too. Every time we got on the start line we had eight years of history riding on the next result. I am enjoying not having that baggage in cycling.
Do you get any respect or recognition within the cycling community for what you achieved in rowing, or are people mainly unaware?
To be honest the rowing has helped open a lot of doors in cycling. I wouldn’t be where I am now in cycling without it. I had support from Cycling New Zealand from the outset which wouldn’t have been offered to someone who just walked in off the street saying ‘I want to compete for New Zealand in the time trial’. Rowing has helped me skip a few rungs on the ladder which is important because I don’t have an entire career to figure things out and evaluate whether I have what it takes to compete at Tokyo.
Here in the UK I have been very fortunate to be able to work with Xavier Disley of AeroCoach based in Birmingham who specialise in cycling aerodynamics. I think he read in a magazine that I was coming to the UK and he reached out to me to offer his support which has been hugely beneficial to me. That sort of support has been vital and wouldn’t have happened without rowing.
What have you been able to bring from rowing into cycling?
The ability to apply yourself day in day out to your craft. To work consistently hard towards a goal that is physically demanding and mentally challenging; I learned that in rowing. That’s probably the single biggest thing that I have been able to bring from rowing to cycling; the ability to train hard on a day to day basis. I know what is required of a high-performance rower. I am learning what is required of a high performance cyclist.
Have you learned anything in cycling that you wish you had known and applied when you were rowing?
I think I have advanced my knowledge of physiology and I probably know more about myself as an athlete just through having to challenge myself in a different fashion. I thought I was relatively well versed on nutrition, but I have certainly improved my knowledge in that area with the weight loss and weight management I have had to do in cycling.
How much weight have you lost this year?
I raced at about 90kg in Rio and I’m around 79kg now.
Has it been a struggle to lose that weight?
No, initially it wasn’t a struggle at all. I think part of it was just the novelty of it. Eric (Murray) was always bigger than me and I had had to put some effort into maintaining a certain weight and size to match him, so turning that on its head was quite fun for a while. The novelty did eventually wear off and I could have been a bit smarter about it; I probably lost a little too much too quick.
It’s about trying to find that optimal position with the trade-off between weight and power. Fortunately in time trialling – which is my cycling focus at the moment – weight is not a massive component. It’s more about your surface area drag. That said, the world championships course in Norway next month has quite a big climb at the end of it so the weight will be a factor there.
How does your new training schedule compare to what you were doing in rowing?
I think the volume of training is not dissimilar. I think time wise I probably spend more time cycling. I often only do one session a day cycling and mentally that’s easier than the double sessions that we typically did in rowing. You get up, you know the training you have to do for the day and you just get on the bike and get it done. Whereas when you have a double session like we did rowing, it felt like you were always just waiting to go rowing again. I enjoy the sense of being done for the day once I have done a session in cycling.
Who is your support team around you now?
I am by myself largely. I am using the same physiologist, Dan Plews, who had quite a big input into our rowing training sessions, so he writes my program for cycling and Xavier Disney from AeroCoach is basically my time trial expert. I do everything off my own back though in terms of finding my pathway to what I want to achieve. It’s almost totally self-driven; whereas in rowing I was very much part of a larger machine. I am my own master and commander now; if I don’t get up tomorrow and go training, nobody is going to call me up and ask me why.
Why is it not more of a joint approach with the cycling governing body?
It is partly because there is no precedent to my approach. Specialising in time trial, which is what I am doing, is not really a thing people do. All the big players in the discipline ride for pro tour teams on the professional circuit doing things like the Tour de France. That’s not an approach that is feasible for me on my timescale, so I am making it up as I go along. It may not work out. I may not be successful but I am enjoying trying.
Do you miss rowing?
I miss elements of it. There is something about being on the water, that sense of weightlessness and ease of movement. Sometimes I miss the team aspect and having the squad around me. It’s been challenging mentally not being able to ever just step back and let the program take over. That said there is a great sense of freedom in being solely responsible and organising everything myself.
There are rumours that Bradley Wiggins might be switching to rowing. What do you think of his chances?
I haven’t spoken to him directly and only know what has been reported but I think it would be a massive challenge, just as switching to cycling is a massive challenge for me. But it would be especially difficult for him going to rowing because there is a larger technical element to rowing than cycling. I already knew how to ride a bike, so that’s one thing in my favour going this way. And in rowing it has been shown that you can have the biggest strongest physical specimens in the world but it doesn’t mean they are actually going to be able to move a rowing boat. That makes what he may or may not be trying to do especially tough. That being said, as an elite athlete I love nothing more than somebody telling me I can’t do something. I am sure people like me talking about how difficult it could be to do would be like a red rag to a bull for Bradley.
If the cycling doesn’t work out, would you come back to rowing?
I certainly haven’t closed the door on rowing. I think it’s very likely that I will end up back in rowing in some capacity if I don’t get to the levels that I want to in cycling. I am not purely results driven in cycling but I am also not just going to plug away if it becomes apparent that my trajectory is not where I want to be on the international circuit. I am not going to persist for the sake of it. I want to be a high-performance athlete and I think being a high-performance athlete means high performance results as well. I haven’t put a figure yet on what that means in terms of placings but I want to get on a start line alongside the best in the world several times, not just once, so I can make a reasoned decision about whether I am good enough or not.