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A conversation with Michael Barry

A conversation with Michael Barry

Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.

Michael Barry (Team Sky) has been very busy this season in what’s a new beginning for the veteran Canadian.

Barry is primed to start the Giro.
Barry is primed to start the Giro.

After a highly successful spring classics campaign – capped by the victory of Team Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the podium at Paris-Roubaix – Barry will help usher in the team’s first grand tour with the start of the 93rd Giro d’Italia on Saturday.

Barry will be one of the anchors of the team as it mixes it up in the sprints with Greg Henderson and aims for the pink jersey in the first week with Bradley Wiggins.

VeloNews caught up with Barry to talk about the Giro, the spring classics and why Team Sky is the most democratic team he’s ever raced on. Here are excerpts from the interview:

VeloNews: Michael, how is your form coming into the Giro?

Michael Barry: My fitness has been pretty good last couple of weeks. I haven’t raced since Roubaix, so I haven’t tested my legs in racing, but I’ve been training hard, trying to climb a lot and I feel good and confident going into the Giro. We have good team and the goal is to hit several targets in first 10 days. Bradley (Wiggins) is focused on winning the prologue and he has some great fitness at the moment so there is no doubt he can do it. For the overall, Bradley can do well but we’ll see how the race goes — he’s not putting pressure on himself to win the Giro by any means, but he’d like to perform well. The goal for the team is to win a couple of stages, perform at our best in the TTT and have the pink jersey for at least a few days.

VN: Is it a difficult transition from racing the northern classics to a mountainous course like the Giro?

MB: It takes a couple of weeks for the body to adapt to the climbing. Since Paris-Roubaix, I’ve been climbing non-stop as much as I can in training, to help my body adapt to the long climbs we will face in the Giro. I’ve lost a little weight, maybe 1kg or so. Not much, as I tend to be pretty light. I hover around 70-72kg.

VN: You look skinny. Does anyone ever tell you your picture on the team Web site looks like that British rocker ?

MB: Yes, the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft. I’ve heard that a few times …

VN: Talk about your spring campaign.

MB: It was very good for the team. When we started, the ambiance was really good right from the start of the season. Everyone is very motivated and really raring to get the season going. We have a great group of guys and great management. In a team, when everyone is happy, the morale is good, and you can win races. Right through the classics the morale was high – we had a good group of guys, Flecha was on awesome form and we achieved some great results. We can only build on that going into the Giro and the rest of the season.

VN: You had an excellent Roubaix, how was it for you in the finale?

MB: I felt good right through the classics but felt really good at Roubaix. I had a little bit of bad luck, with about 50km to go, I flatted. If that hadn’t happened, my legs were good enough to go further in the race. It would have been nice to help Flecha out a while longer – deeper into the race. In the end I finished really satisfied with my form and how the team rode. I think we can be proud of our race. Everybody did their best, which bodes well for the future. Everybody was doing their job well and everyone found their role in the team right away.

VN: How has it been with the new team at Sky, any growing pains with the squad?

MB: The transition was quite easy. They started planning the team a year and a half ago, two years ago, so when the riders showed up, it was extremely well-organized. It seemed like the team had been going for a couple of years, so the transition wasn’t that hard. It was kind of like the first day at a new school, with a lot of new faces that you haven’t worked with before, meeting new people – exactly like that new-school feeling. We had a team meeting in November, and everyone got to know each other that week. By the time the season started, everything was running smoothly. It felt like the team had been operating for years. With Sky, they have been working with British Cycling already for quite a few years, so they already had a lot of resources and knowledge. The infrastructure had already been set up and the management pays a lot of attention to the details so any issues are dealt with swiftly and effectively.

VN: What’s unique about Sky that you haven’t seen before?

MB: The thing that’s unique is the team’s philosophy and the approach to the sport. It is quite a bit different than most other teams. Sky tends to think outside of the box. For instance, the team works closely with psychiatrist, which benefits both the riders and management. It helps the team grow, both individually and as a group. (The psychiatrist) has worked with British Cycling in the past, he understands cyclists quite well. I think almost everybody has benefited from working with him so far.

VN: What’s another example of how things are different?

MB: We have better communication and really focus on improving – everything from improving our home life to better communication in the meetings. They’re open to whatever we want to work on to be a better cyclist. If we bring up an idea, the team will assess it and try to improve on it, whether it’s the bike or the protein powders or a psychological issue or personal problem. They really are pro-active, and try to deal with issues before they become a problem.

VN: How is the team approach different?

MB: With the overall approach, the riders make all the rules and decisions. At our first team meetings in November, we sketched out what we needed, what we wanted, how to create the best environment to achieve our goals as a team, how to improve as individuals as a team. The management was there to guide the discussion and direct us, but the riders’ opinions are the ones that really matter. That’s quite a bit different from a lot of other teams.

VN: That’s quite different from other teams you’ve raced on?

MB: (Sky) has tried to create an environment that nurtures the confidence of the rider, so if a rider has a problem, they want them to be open and honest about it, instead of fearing they might not be selected for a race if he’s injured or if he’s not feeling great. I would guess it’s a more nurturing environment. Instead of just taking the best riders at the moment to a race, the team wants to have long-term objectives, and have a clear vision of where the team wants to go next month, next year, in three years. Both of the teams I raced on before are teams that are well-directed and also have a clear focus, but overall the philosophy of this team is different. I would say it’s more democratic at Sky.

VN: You’re happy with your decision to join Sky?

MB: Very much. I am enjoying it. I am enjoying the season. On some level, when I am with the team on the road, I feel as I did as a junior traveling the country with some of my best friends to the races. As for my fitness, I still have room to progress through the season. I have a new coach, Rod Ellingworth, and we’re working well together. I’ve been feeling good on the bike and I have been recovering well from the hard efforts in the races.

VN: What are your personal goals for Giro?

MB: The most important thing is that I am there to support the GC guys in the mountains and help out in the sprints. Basically, it’s a similar role that I’ve been doing most of my career. Hopefully, I can climb well and do well in the mountains. We’ll see what happens as the race goes on. I want to be there to support to help achieve our goals of winning stages and getting the pink jersey. The team time trial is also a big goal for us.

VN: Do you think you’ll have chance to get into breakaway and go for a stage?

MB: That’s not a priority. If that occurs, that’s great, but I am there to help the team achieve its goals.

VN: Your role as a domestique is something thrust upon you or do you embrace it?

MB: I enjoy it, I like it. I know I can do other things in cycling, but I really enjoy working for the team. It’s rewarding at the end of the day when I know I’ve done a job well-done for the team. When we were winning heaps of races at Columbia, and even at Discovery Channel and U.S. Postal Service, I was happy. I really enjoy working on the front for the other guys.

VN: Is there a special feeling for the Giro as it’s the team’s first grand tour?

MB: Whenever I start a grand tour, it’s a special feeling. The Giro, the Tour, they’re all really exciting as they put cycling in the international headlines and incite unique emotions in the spectators. For Sky, it’s obviously important that we race well. I know all the guys racing and the staff are very excited for our first grand tour. That last week is brutal. It’s hard to make predictions for that last week. The team wants to ride a good Giro all the way through to the finish.

VN: You’ve ridden a few Giros, once winning with Savoldelli, last year was a big Columbia year, what do you like about Giro?

MB: I love the Giro. The countryside is beautiful, the ambiance is great and the people in Italy are so passionate about the sport. The first time I did the Giro, the team won with Savoldelli, so that was special. We had a great race last year with Columbia. The racing is exciting and unpredictable and the courses are beautiful. The Giro always has some of the most beautiful days of racing on the calendar. And from our perspective they’re also some of the hardest. Overall, it’s probably the most exciting race on the calendar.

VN: Who do you see as overall winner?

MB: Evans has some fine form, but it’s really hard to predict. The teams are always surprising in the Giro, and when the organizers put in those insane stages in the last week, it’s difficult to predict what can happen. Plus, I am terrible at making predictions.

VN: How it’s looking for the Tour?

MB: The Tour’s a goal. Right now, I am focused on the Giro and then I will have the month of June at home. In June, we will be doing some training camps and trying to build and get in shape for the Tour.  At the moment, there’s a list of roughly 15 riders for the Tour. My goal is to be in top condition for the race.