Miles Scotson may have escaped quarantine on the UAE Tour, he could not avoid the confinement that has spread over Europe in recent weeks. After a solid start to his second season with the Groupama-FDJ cycling team, the 2017 Australian champion is now, like his colleagues, stuck at home, looking forward to getting back to his pro cyclist routine. In the meantime, he sat down for a good half-hour to grant us a long interview.
Miles, can you first tell us how you’ve experienced the past few weeks?
I’ve been in Andorra since mid-March and the lockdown rules are similar here to those in France, Spain, Italy… Basically, I’ve just been training indoors, doing my best to respect the quarantine and keeping myself productive. For an athlete, it can be boring because we’re used to always exercising outdoors, travelling. We’re probably never at our homes for this long. I just try to stay productive and it’s going by pretty quick. I think before we know it we’ll be back to our normal routines if everything goes well.
“Riding indoors is just a way to stay fit”
How do you stay productive?
Actually, we are now allowed to go out for a walk. They just relaxed the rules a little bit and I think it’s really important for the mind. My coach on the team has included some outdoor runs and hikes, and I think that’s been good for mental health. The team is really good at understanding this aspect; it’s not all about the training in this stage, it’s about staying positive and looking after your mind because it is a different situation to be in isolation for so long. Apart from this, I’m studying some more French. I’ve started some lessons, which the team arranged. That’s kind of keeping me productive off the bike, and then, I’m just staying in touch with friends and family.
Have you actually considered going back to Australia?
When this all started, it was probably more uncertain than now, I wasn’t sure of the full extent of this situation. My parents are a bit old so I was worried if the situation got really bad in Australia, if they got sick… But there was a decision to make and I decided to stay over here. It was probably not the safest thing to do to get on a plane, to go to the airport when this situation was happening. However, I obviously keep in contact with my family and friends back home.
How is training indoors for you?
It’s not something I ever really enjoyed. I think all riders are a little bit different. Some guys really like to just look at the numbers on the computer and put in the effort. For me, I don’t really see it as massive training for the races that are coming, but just as a way to stay fit, healthy, and I think it’s mentally good to do some exercise. The team has been really good, my coach Anthony Bouillod sent me a program with an hour session a day and some activities. I get it done and it’s good as it can be.
“I do feel I’m a part of the team”
How was the team’s support over the last weeks?
I have definitely been very happy with the support of the team. I’ve been able to speak with riders from other teams regarding the situation and this is obviously a stressful time for cycling. That’s why I personally feel very lucky to be on this team where we have the management, sponsors, and partners standing behind as now. But not only that, the communication has been really good between my coach, my reference sports director Jussi Veikkanen, who I keep in touch with. Now, everybody is just waiting to see how this pans out, but in terms of regular communication, I can’t really ask for more really.
Overall, how do you feel you’ve adjusted to the team since you joined it?
From a riding and racing perspective, I think I’ve been able to fit in fairly well. Plenty of races in the first year went really smoothly. To come to a French team, when you don’t live in France and don’t speak the language, was a big step for me, but I felt comfortable from the beginning because the team is supportive. I keep working on my French and the language will make it hopefully better for me and for everyone else in the future. But even as a foreigner on this team, there is a feeling of a bit of a family. It’s quite a united team. I came from a team that was more of a collection of riders rather than a real group. So even as a foreigner, I do feel I’m a part of the team, so it’s been nice.
Was the language barrier a real issue?
I think I’ve been fairly fortunate that I’m normally racing in a group where the majority of the guys speak some English. For the race plans and everything, you eventually have more and more of an understanding of what’s happening. In the beginning it was pretty unknown but I think I was fortunate that I always had people to translate or just help me understand after a meeting. I think it’s gone pretty smoothly so far. It was a big step, especially that I spoke no French when I joined the team, but I think the team is becoming more and more international as well. Guys like Jacopo, Ramon, Ignatas are usually the riders translating to me but also giving me a kick up the ass to improve my French as well so they don’t have to keep translating. In this period, I’m trying to improve my French, but not even for the racing. The more you can communicate well with your teammates and staff, the nicer it’s going to be. Once I can speak more French, I’ll be able to know better a lot of the French guys who don’t speak English. When there is a language barrier, it’s hard to get to know someone so this is surely motivation to keep trying for me.
“I was missing some direction in my career”
Despite the language barrier, you decided to join the team. Why so?
My first contact with the team was through Frederic Grappe, I believe. He simply and clearly explained to me what they’re doing on the team, what they’re trying to improve in, how the team works on the sports side with the directors and the medical. It was a very good explanation. After these first calls, I thought ‘’this could be a nice option for the future’’. The team was very enthusiastic. It was certainly a big step to go to a French team, but just their infrastructure and their way of working felt like what I needed. The year before I was missing some direction in my career and I just decided to take the spot that Groupama-FDJ offered to me.
Last year you had to adjust to a French team, but can you tell us how it is for a young Australian to adjust to a new Continent?
During my years in U23, I spent a lot of time in Italy, but with the U23 Australian group. I probably spent six months or more living there. Then, when I turned professional with BMC, I moved to Belgium and lived alone there. That did not work for me. The first year adjusting to Europe is definitely not easy. I saw other U23 Australian guys packing up and going back to Australia even though we were all hoping to go professional. It’s tough to live on the other side of the world and not speak the language. When you turn professional, it is also a way longer time away; you leave your friends and family. It definitely was a tough time in my neo-professional years but eventually I moved to Spain. I felt a bit more at home there than I did in Belgium, probably partly for the weather. Now I’m in Andorra, I really like it here. I have some Australian riders living up here; I’ve shared an apartment with my brother for a year now. For now, I only know a small bit of Spanish. I had a Spanish girlfriend for a while and that still did not improve my Spanish too much because I was trying to learn French so I did not want to be confused. It would also be nice to learn Spanish because it would make the living over in Europe better as well, but for some reason, I seem to get away speaking English most of the time. Anyway, I pretty much got used to the lifestyle but you definitely give up a lot. I see my friends and family in Australia just over Christmas, for one month, and then I’m back to Europe. Eventually you get used to it but it’s a big jump. It almost feels strange now when I get back to Australia. It’s home but it’s weird when you hear the Australian accent again, and it’s just a different way of living there.
What kept you going in the early tough years?
Talking to people at that time, I figured that the first years are definitely the hardest when you move to Europe. I think they are the hardest for any neo professional actually, because it’s a big adjustment going from a U23 into the professional ranks, but it makes it even harder when you’re living alone in another country. I think you just need to stay positive when you get through that period and you’ll come out of it stronger. I personally got to a point where I did question at times “Is this the career path I want to take? To do this, to live in Europe?” Cycling as we face it now is not the most secure work. We’re always looking for another contract; there is a lot of uncertainty in our sport, crashes, injuries. I loved racing my bike as an under 23 and my dream was always to get to the top level and go professional. That’s what kept me going and now that we’re stuck in quarantine, I’m missing the lifestyle of a professional cyclist, which a couple years ago I was questioning.
“The good consistent 2019 season set me up for this year”
How would you assess your first season with the team?
It was probably the most consistent season that I had. In my first two years as a neo-pro I had some really good results but I also had some terrible races and I lacked the race days. Last year, the team and the directors put together a really nice race program for me with much more race days than I had in my first two years, including a Grand Tour. I was really thankful for that. Going into last year, my priority was to fit in with the team’s racing, working in whatever role I was given by the directors to do the best that I could. I didn’t really have big objectives for personal results last year, I was more looking for this consistency and a good feeling with the team in a working role. I stopped my season at the end of August, a little early, for a surgery also planned by the team. On the racing side, it went really smoothly, and I was super pleased with it. I was pretty happy with the season and I was hoping for it to set me up for this year. I was more looking for results if the opportunity arose this season, but obviously the situation is different now.
You actually started this season in a good way…
It was probably a better start to the season than I expected. I had a knee reconstruction at the beginning of September and in mid-October I was going through a rehab to get the pedal stroke back. I wasn’t actually back on the road until the very end of November. I just kind of had December and the beginning of January to slowly build up. I think my good start to the season was not from the short training that I had. It was from the good race program last year with the Grand Tour. The good consistent season I had set me up, so when I started the year, even if I had gone months without racing, I felt pretty good in my first race. Unfortunately, I got ill after the first stage of the UAE Tour but I still felt I made another jump. It was a really strong start to the season.
We also saw you working in the lead-out trains…
Last year, I had a slightly different role for Arnaud, more riding at the front earlier in stages. There were just a couple of times I had to ride the final. I know his final two guys are Jacopo Guarnieri and Ramon Sinkeldam and they need that extra guy in front of them for the last kilometre. At the Tour Down Under, I was doing some good work alongside Jacopo for Marc Sarreau. It was actually the work I was doing there that made them realize it could work really well in the train for Arnaud. At UAE, I was able to work in the train with Kono before me and Ramon, Jacopo and Arnaud after. In the first stage, we did not get a top result but the lead-out was super good, really enjoyable, united and strong. There was a really good feeling that day. If we get back to racing at the end of this season, I’m looking forward to a role like that again. I think all of us in Arnaud’s group are looking forward to it because for the first race of the season, it was perfect.
“I’d love to wear the Australian champion colours again”
Do you still carry personal ambitions?
On a flat stage, when you have a rider like Arnaud Démare or Marc Sarreau, I have no personal ambition, nor do I on a hard mountain stage. In those cases, I just want to give my best to whoever is the best shot for the team. With my team pursuit and time trialling background, I think I can do this and give good support. Normally when I go to a race, it’s my first priority. But of course, if I’m in top shape and confident, I’m a guy that will back myself for raising my arms. Normally, that would have to be for a time trial or an opportunistic stage, for a breakaway or with a final where you can attack. But as I say, if it’s not suited for me and I have a teammate that needs our help, I just want to give 100% to him.
At 26, you know what kind of rider you are?
I see myself as an all-rounder. I think I can work in sprint trains, I can also offer support for making the pace on a medium climbing stage. If I am in shape, I can go for a time trial, a prologue or an opportunity as well. I wouldn’t work specifically for something because it’s nice if I can always have an objective. I don’t want to just be waiting for the time trial, or just looking for the sprint stage. I’d rather have a role everyday. I think for any difficult stage races with time trials, you normally have to be a GC rider and I don’t see that in my capabilities. But something like the Tour du Poitou-Charente is a perfect race for me to try to target the win one day. I was fourth there last year thanks to the time trial, and I had some support just to try to keep my position and win the youth classification. It’s a great team for giving opportunities. If they see that you have the form, they’re going to give you the support to go for a result. In the next years, I’d like to target an Australian title again. I’ve won the U23 titles and I’ve won the Elite Race. If I have the opportunity to keep racing professionally in Europe, I’d love to wear the Australian champion colours again. That would probably be one of my biggest goals going forward. Apart from that, there is not too much personal ambition, just helping the big leaders of our team.
What do you expect from the 2020 strange season if it resumes?
I think it’s probably going to be the craziest, most unpredictable racing when I think about it. You’re going to have many riders very nervous, very uncertain. Many of us, including myself, are racing for another contract and then there are guys whose team’s future is uncertain as well. If we get back, it’s going to be interesting, very fast, furious racing with very short recovery between the races, so it’s going to be super hard racing at the end of the season. It would also be unpredictable because we need to see how everyone gets out of the situation. Some people are training outdoors, some people are training indoors, and everyone probably has a different level of motivation right now. There is still a plan for three Grand Tours, so I’d personally hope to ride the Giro or the Vuelta if they go ahead. It would be nice to work with the sprint lead-out train again, do some one-day races, target time trials. If we get back, there would be plenty to focus on riding for the team and for sure plenty of motivation after a long time off.