From stage wins to doping and now business, Te Awamutu man Tim Gudsell talks about life after cycling.
After all that cycling, it's one day in France that sticks in the mind for Tim Gudsell.
Racing in the classic Paris-Tours one-day race, Gudsell spent most of the 260km ride shuttling back and forth between the team car and the team's lead rider, Phillipe Gilbert.
His job was as the drinks man, keeping Gilbert hydrated and fed on the lengthy course, setting him up for a tilt at the title as the group rode into Tours.
"I remember giving him his last drink with about 25 kilometres to go," Gudsell said.
"Those last few kilometres were so hard, and by the time I crossed the line the leaders were well and truly finished.
"To then find out that Phillipe had won it, it was amazing. It's one of the Monuments of pro cycling, and for my team-mate to win, it's almost as good as winning it myself."
He has competed at the Olympic Games, won bronze in the Commonwealth Games, won tour stages and toured the world with his sport.
But it was the one moment he didn't even see that stuck in the mind. When Phillipe Gilbert won Paris-Tours.
"I know it seems strange but that's one of the best memories I have from my career," he said.
"Just the work that goes in as a team to prepare the lead rider for those final moments.
"There is nothing in the world better than winning a race yourself, but it does come close working as a team to get a victory."
That Paris-Tours ride was back in 2008, four years before Gudsell would throw in cycling and focus on a new business and family.
He was racing big tours in Europe, mixing it with the best, and the worst, in the sport.
Riding shoulder to shoulder with names like Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador and Frank Schleck showed the level he was racing at.
The fact they were setting superhuman times and finishing well ahead was disheartening, but winning the races wasn't Gudsell's job.
Plus, he didn't get any help.
"There's no doubt that when I was cycling, doping was still around," Gudsell said.
"One of my biggest highlights was completing my first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia in 2008.
"I wasn't able to finish in 2007, so to actually get across the finish line in 2008, it was huge for me.
"There were only about five or six guys who finished below me in the general classification, and that sort of hit home the sort of level I was at compared to the top guys.
"About six months later heaps of the riders in that tour tested positive for a new generation of EPO."
The 2008 tour was then known as the tour where Mircera was first found, with mountains winner Emanuele Sella one of those to test positive.
"To learn that the guys ahead of you had help, that some of them were doping, that's pretty tough to hear.
"I finished that tour and fell to my knees, I was shattered. It was really disappointing to learn that some guys were on something that helped them out."
Gudsell said he was lucky to never be confronted with doping, having never been asked to take anything, and never seen any doping happen.
He said that left a stain on the sport, but it's something that authorities are now on top of.
"The one thing it has done is made cycling the most tested sport in the world, and that's a good thing.
"They've cracked down on testing and hopefully it never comes back. It happened in American sport and other sports, but now it seems like it's much better.
"Cycling in the 1990s was pretty bad, but it has got better ever since."
Gudsell made the switch to New Zealand team PureBlack Racing in late 2010 after several years with Française des Jeux.
That switch didn't turn out well when the team folded in late 2011, leading to a change in career earlier than he had hoped.
At 27, finding a new team in Europe was going to be tough, and with the time off he was going to have to start from scratch.
Having just married wife Sarah in November 2011, Gudsell decided it was time to come home in mid-2012, and set up his own business.
Daughter Olivia arrived soon after, in late 2012, and is now 18 months.
She has grown up with dad never too far away, with a new high-end cycle tour business Ventouro taking off.
The company offers cycling tours through New Zealand's main wine regions, like Hawke's Bay, Martinborough or the Marlborough region.
Prospective clients are treated as if they are part of a professional cycling team, with support cars and a former professional in Gudsell to help them along.
The only difference is the recovery each day.
"Instead of ice baths you get to enjoy fine wine and lovely dining," Gudsell explains.
"You also get to enjoy the view. I spent my career riding some pretty amazing roads in amazing places around the world, but New Zealand has just as much to offer, if not more.
"I thought why not cater to those people who want these cycle tours. We have the scenery, and we have the wine and food to make it even more enjoyable."
Since its launch, the company is going strong, and the feedback has been brilliant.
Gudsell is enjoying seeing more of his family, with tours now taking one week somewhere in New Zealand, rather than months away in Europe.
He has also started a coaching arm of the company, and is working with riders young and old who want to get better on a bike.
That includes mentoring some of New Zealand's top young riders, like United States-based James Oram.
"Someone like James had the world at his feet," Gudsell said. "If I can help him achieve his potential, I'd be thrilled.
"It's guys like Julian Dean who have got these kids into the sport. Julian was the best lead-out sprinter in the world when he was racing. The absolute best there was.
"When you have a guy like that racing in the Tour de France, that's a huge role model for our young riders.
"Back when I was racing, there was Julian Dean, Greg Henderson and myself racing in Europe. Now there are seven or eight guys in each major tour.
"That shows how much the sport is growing, and it's only going to get bigger. New Zealand is in a great place when it comes to road cycling."
Gudsell will be keeping a close eye on those young riders as they come through the ranks, but from a bit of a distance.
"I'll be enjoying the wine and food while they're racing. But I will be watching." You can see what Tim Gudsell is doing at www.ventouro.com
- Waikato Times
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