With 2009 slipping from our consciousness already, and some of us getting excited (already!) for 2010’s tarmac-based mayhem, Paul gave us some considered thoughts on the highs and lows of the season just gone and a few musings on what’s little more than two months down the road.
PEZ: Hi, Paul! Where are you right now and what are you up to?
Paul: Well, you may or may not know that I live in Uganda. My two businesses are running a gold mining and exploration company in the east of Uganda, and the other is a logistics company. That keeps me busy!
Sherwen in action at the 1982 World Championships in Goodwood.
PEZ: Is that as exciting and/or dangerous as it sounds?
Paul: My role is on the managerial and financial side, although I lived on the mine for five years when it was first developing. Now, we’re talking about trying to get the company and the exploration side of the company onto either the Canadian or the British stock market, which will hopefully attract new investment.
And, yes, I’ve been underground. I wouldn’t say I’ve got involved in the manual lashing of rocks but I’ve worked underground, supervising drilling and blasting operations, but I haven’t done that for six or seven years.
PEZ: So gold mining is a crucial industry for the nation?
Paul: Definitely … it’s one of the major industries, but what’s currently happening is that there’s been a large discovery of oil in Uganda, so the country is trying to consolidate its oil reserves and then get into oil production in the next five years.
The timeless duo of Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett…hard at work.
PEZ Uganda is definitely home for you then?
Paul: It is, and it has been home for years really. I grew up here. I first came to Uganda in the 1960s with my parents, so I understand the culture and the people. I’ve been a spokesperson for the mineral and oil sector. Whenever anybody comes, I’m usually dragged out by the government or the investment authority to say what a good venue Uganda is for investment, which I’ve enjoyed doing.
Uganda is proactively training up young talent so that Ugandans can fill positions in the industry. One of the biggest companies here is a British-registered company, Tullow Oil, originally an Irish company, and they’re really proactive in encouraging local involvement in the industry.
Sherwen keeping watch over Super Mario.
PEZ: Following the cycling circuit and then going home to Uganda must be the sort of culture change that keeps you fresh and enthusiastic?
Paul: Totally. It’s what keeps me sane, being able to dive in and out of both worlds.
PEZ: In terms of cycle sport there, are there racing and training opportunities for Ugandan youngsters?
Paul: Not really, but I’ve seen more and more people riding – not state-of-the-art bikes – but riding, and wearing trade team jerseys. In fact, next door to us right now the Tour of Rwanda is taking place. Remember the name of the first American to take part in the Tour de France? Jonathan Boyer? He’s the Rwandan national coach, and he’s had his Rwandan team racing all over the continent.
In fact, one of his riders raced the Tour of Ireland with the MTN team from South Africa. The kid’s name is Adrien Niyonshuti, I think he got bronze in the U-23 TT and road race. I think it’s the first time Rwanda has medaled in anything on a continental level in any sport.
Kenya has a good strong cycling presence … they’ve had three or four Kenyans in the top ten on stages of the Tour of Rwanda, and I think something’s going to happen in Uganda fairly shortly.
One more from back in the day.
PEZ: We’ve seen some Pro Tour teams sending squads to African races like the Tour du Faso. Do you hope that they’ll come to a race like a Tour of Uganda eventually?
Paul: Well, my business partner and I have talked about looking into organising a Tour of Uganda, to try and get an interest in the whole region and raise the level of cycling here.
PEZ: Turning to the European scene, can you pick out some 2009 highlights?
Paul: It would be remiss of me not to mention the comeback of Lance Armstrong as one of the high spots. At the time I said I’d never really been a big supporter of comebacks. I believe that once you finish your career you should stop and walk away.
Armstrong’s 2005 retirement was the ‘perfect retirement’, ending on the Champs Elysees with a seventh Tour de France victory. Having said that, he rekindled a lot of interest in the sport when we really needed it.
It seemed to be embraced all over the world, if you saw the popularity of the Tour Down Under in January 2009. That was his first race back, a definite indicator of the ‘Lance factor’.
What was also interesting about his comeback was that it was a much more relaxed athlete. He obviously had nothing to prove from a physical point of view … well, he did have make sure he didn’t get dropped and left behind, of course, but the fact is that he really enjoyed his comeback and so did his fans.
PEZ: As someone who’s known Lance for a long time, when you heard he was returning did you think he’d do a good job?
Paul: I pretty much knew that he would because he’s a guy that knows himself more than the ‘average Joe’. He would have known the sort of level he needed to be at to participate. I knew he wouldn’t come back and make a fool of himself.
Sherwen expects a stronger Lance in 2010.
PEZ: How will he go in 2010 … stronger than last year?
Paul: Absolutely. Every professional knows that when you’re in the sport, you have the benefit of the strength that you acquired in the previous year, whereas Lance had three seasons without any of that latent strength that you get from riding every day, every month.
I think he will definitely be a stronger rider, but … he’ll be up against some serious talents who are improving as well. Obviously I mean Contador, Andy Schleck and … why not? … Cadel Evans who had probably his worst year at the Tour de France. But after a bad year, you can always have a great year.
Lance will come back stronger than he did this year, but the negative thing is he’ll be one year older, whereas these other guys will still be extremely competitive.
PEZ: Do you think he’ll look at the classics now maybe more than a Tour de France which he’s won so often?
Paul: I think he will. He’s already talking about the cobbled classics, because of the cobbles that will be in the Tour next year. He always did enjoy the Tour of Flanders. I would doubt he’d take the risk of Paris-Roubaix, but Flanders would almost certainly be on the cards.
Armstrong looked none too pleased to be standing on the third step of the podium in Paris.
PEZ: Which was the most exciting race for you to work on in 2009?
Paul: It’s sad to say, but it’s always the Tour, because the Tour is the biggest. This year it was even more interesting because of the intrigue surrounding the relationship between Lance and Contador.
PEZ: Do you ever think the Tour will pale for you?
Paul: I say this to people all the time … every year, the Tour de France is completely different. Every time it starts, there’s a different story, a different scenario, a different group of characters, and it’s totally unpredictable.
What next for Contador?
PEZ: Does Contador have the same focus as Lance about the Tour, or will he think “Well, I’ve won it twice or three times or whatever, let’s try and get three Giros, three Vueltas”?
Paul: I think it depends on the people you have around you, the advice you have. Obviously, he was pulled a little bit this way and that this year, obviously perturbed by the Lance comeback.
Now the question is who are the people that he’s going to pull around him and will that be as strong a group as Lance had throughout his career?
Over the years, even going back to his young days at Motorola, Lance always had a host of people who could give him the information to feed on. That’s something Contador needs to do over the next few years.
But I think that if he believes he can win the Tour every year … the fact that he pretty much locked up shop after the Tour de France this year indicates the way he’s starting to think.
He’s a story that we need to let unfold, so that he finds his place in the world.
…more gunslinging antics of course.
PEZ: Talking of finding a place in the world, the new British Pro Tour squad Team Sky will emerge…
Paul: It’s unbelievable for Great Britain. It’s a natural evolution after the success that Great Britain has had on the track over the last few Olympic Games, World Championships, Commonwealth Games … if you look at the success of the Australian professional side of things (on the road) that’s come off the back of the endurance track cycling events on the whole.
It’s a natural progression and I know that the Australians always wanted to do the same thing, to have their own professional road team.
Sky is a great sponsor which will get behind the team and the sport. They will have teething problems, it’s very difficult to put a team together on day one, but with guys like Scott Sunderland and Sean Yates on board, they’ve got some extremely talented people.
Scott’s worked with Bjarne Riis, and Sean’s worked with Lance and Johan Bruyneel so they’re going to bring a wealth of information to that team.
Maybe they’ll click together as quickly as Cervelo Test Team, which was a team I didn’t think would get the immediate success that they did. It is very difficult to bring a brand new squad together – they did that and they had great success.
I think Sky is going to come in at a higher level than Cervelo Test Team.
PEZ: If they don’t land Bradley Wiggins, do they have anyone who can go top ten, top five at the Tour?
Paul: That’s the big question…hmmm…If you take out Brad Wiggins, the only other guy that you could put in as a hopeful is Chris Froome. I like to refer to Chris as a Kenyan although he’s now British! He was brought up in Nairobi, so I refer to him as one of the neighbours from just down the road!
It might be a good thing, in fact, not to have Brad on board straight away. It could put too much pressure onto year one as part of their development because Wiggins would want to emulate his performance at the Tour this year.
I’m not sure what the contractural relationship is with Garmin … it might be an advantage to run out his contract this year and move to Sky next year when they’ve got their feet firmly on the ground.
PEZ: When do you get excited about getting back on the circuit…are you thinking about it already?
Paul: January! At the moment, no, but once we get over the Christmas period I’m off to Australia for the Tour Down Under. That’s basically the start and then it’s every day through to the Tour.
PEZ: Do you foresee the day that you’ll tire of it?
Paul: (Laughing) I think it’s in the blood, and working with Phil … I think we work together as a great team. We’ve commentated together for more than a quarter of a century. I don’t think our enthusiasm has ever waned and I don’t see why it should in the future.
PEZ: So, racer, PR man, team liaison, commentator, business man, miner – will we see a Sherwen autobiography?
Paul: You know, a lot of people have asked me about that, and I’ve never even thought about it. It’s not on my horizon, and I don’t think it would be a very good read! I certainly haven’t got the time to write it!
PEZ: What do you miss most about your own racing days?
Paul: The racing was absolutely the best part, the training was the drudgery. What I miss most is being fit at that level, and the competition.
But commentating on a sprint finish, you can get the excitement into the commentary on a sprint finish as if you were participating, as if you were actually in the bunch! That’s something that Phil and I both get a huge buzz out of and takes away a lot of not being competitive.
PEZ: Can you make any predictions for us for 2010?
Paul: I think what we might see is Contador not win the Tour because of the first week of racing which is going to be very tactical. You’re going to have to be very careful before the race even gets to the mountains.
That could open up a big chance for a guy like Cadel Evans, or my big favourite to win the Tour, Andy Schleck. He’s a good racer, a clever racer in the way he sees things. That might be the surprise.
PEZ: How do you think Lance’s new RadioShack squad will come together?
Paul: I think very well. Basically, you’re just taking a well-oiled machine which we’ve seen as US Postal Service, as Discovery, as Astana, and you’re changing the colour of the jersey on their back. They’ll be ready to go from the start.
Just like Paul himself will be ready to go when the Tour Down Under rolls off in, what, less than two months? No one here is counting the days until Christmas!
A huge thanks to Paul for his time on what seemed like a very busy day at the office, and maybe we’ll get another quarter-century of the Phil and Paul show. Here’s hoping!