Team Sky: The 2015 Tour de France winners are heralded as the team at the cutting edge of professional cycling; with coveted technology, plans copied by other teams, and three Tour wins in just five years of operation. And UQ counts two alumni in their ranks.
Head of Athlete Performance, Tim Kerrison (Bachelor of Applied Science, First Class Honours ‘96, Bachelor of Arts, ’98) and Performance Coach, Shaun Stephens (Bachelor of Applied Science, First Class Honours, ’97) joined the team in 2009 and 2012 respectively and are credited with devising and driving one of the most successful training programs the sport has ever seen.
“I started when the team launched in September 2009 as a Performance Scientist,” said Kerrison.
“After our first year of competition I was made responsible for overseeing our Performance Support department which includes sports science, medicine, nutrition, data management and analysis, and recovery.”
Profoundly modest about his part in the team’s success, Kerrison is widely credited as being the mastermind behind Team Sky’s incredible results: he came on board at the team’s inception and championed innovations that saw the team rise to their first victory just two years later.
“I started coaching Bradley Wiggins in 2011, and following his success, my coaching role was expanded so my time is now mostly taken up coaching key riders in the team, including Chris Froome, Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas,” said Kerrison.
With Kerrison’s time largely devoted to coaching, Stephens has stepped up to play a key role in the Performance Support team.
"I started coaching up to eight riders in the team, however in the past 12 months, my role has evolved into taking over some of Tim’s responsibilities in overseeing Performance Support,” said Stephens.
Whilst the pair has never worked together prior to Team Sky, Stephens suggests they maintained contact after their university days and their careers ran in parallel with each other, ultimately bringing them back together 15 years after going their separate ways from UQ.
How did two UQ alumni come to be working together at Team Sky?
SS: Tim and I met whilst studying at UQ, but more through our mutual involvement in rowing than our studies. We were both coaching rowing throughout our time at UQ and spent many hours at the UQ boat shed. Tim was one year ahead of me through university but we had the same honours supervisor. Through our continued friendship and mutual interest in coaching and sport science, Tim contacted me at the end of 2012 when an opportunity opened up in the team for a performance coach. I had just returned from the London Olympics working as Head Coach of the Australian Triathlon Team and jumped at the idea of working for Team Sky in a different sport.
What were your roles prior to Team Sky?
TK: 1997 - 2005 Sport Scientist, Queensland Academy of Sport;
2005 - 2009 Performance Scientist, British Swimming.
SS: 1998 - 1999 Sports Physiologist, Australian Institute of Sport;
2000 - 2006 Head Coach and Program Manager (Triathlon), Queensland Academy of Sport;
2007 - 2008 UQ Sport Development Manager and Senior Lecturer in HMS;
2009 - 2012 Head Coach (Triathlon), Australian Institute of Sport and Triathlon Australia.
What attracted you to Team Sky having worked in other sports?
TK: I had the opportunity to be involved in the project from its inception. It came at a time when I was looking for a change, and the opportunity to transfer my knowledge and experience from rowing and swimming into professional cycling was an exciting challenge.
SS: I had worked in triathlon for 14 years and was looking for a new challenge. Knowing the philosophy behind Team Sky’s success, as well as the opportunity to work with a highly successful professional sporting team, was a huge attraction for me.
What have been the keys to Team Sky’s success?
TK: A relentless work ethic, an open-minded approach, great leadership (from Team Principal, Sir Dave Brailsford), and a philosophy of continual improvement. We pride ourselves on working harder than every other team to continually review and improve what we do.
SS: The team really prides itself on leaving no stone unturned in terms of athlete preparation.
What are the philosophies the team holds at its core?
TK: Continual improvement. We invest a lot in developing our people through the team's Winning Behaviours program. And we invest much more than any other team in developing our riders' talent through our coaching and performance support system. Most teams spend as much of their budget as possible on rider salaries, whereas we spend relatively less on talent, and more on developing the talent.
SS: The team is driven by success and is constantly looking for new ideas and innovations to implement. Surprisingly, prior to the start of Team Sky, the sport was very primitive in terms of quality coaching and performance support. Tim, along with our Team Principal, Sir Dave Brailsford, have been largely responsible for establishing this philosophy and performance model. Other World Tour teams have since adopted similar performance structures within their teams.
What has your time around elite athletes such as Wiggins and Froome taught you about success?
SS: Elite athletes make huge sacrifices, work extremely hard and often face set backs that require resilience and perseverance which makes watching them achieve success very rewarding.
What do you most enjoy about the Tour de France?
TK: Paris! The Tour de France is a brutal race, even for the staff! After four weeks on the road with the daily pressures of racing, travelling, dealing with media and the craziness of the race, it is very special to finally arrive in Paris and to see your rider on the Champs Elysees in a yellow jersey.
What are the realities of working on a professional circuit?
SS: The World Tour calendar is extremely busy. The team completes approximately 250 race days in over 25 different countries each year. Add to that almost 100 days of training camps throughout the year and the calendar becomes very full. The job is demanding and often very stressful. Grand Tours, which involve three weeks of racing, are very intense and involve extremely long days and high-pressure environments. They are not so much enjoyable, rather incredibly rewarding at the end of the three weeks.
What are your proudest achievements during your careers?
TK: Coaching my first rowing world champions in 2002, three of whom where UQ students - Steve Kuzma, Michael McBryde, and Marguerite Houston. Coaching Bradley Wiggins to be first the Brit to win the Tour de France in 2012, then to Olympic gold just one week later. And of course, coaching three of the last four Tour de France winners.
SS: Watching Emma Snowsill and Emma Moffatt win gold and bronze medals at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. I feel extremely privileged to have attended the last four Olympic Games as a coach and have been fortunate to coach some amazingly talented and committed world champions and Olympic medalists in triathlon and cycling.
What are your fondest memories of your time at UQ?
TK: The many hours spent rowing and coaching from the UQ boat sheds. In 1992 I was a member of the UQ Men's Eight that won the Oxford and Cambridge Cup, and was awarded a half-blue for rowing - the highlight of my student sporting achievements.
SS: I made the most of all the University campus had to offer. Between lectures, I spent many hours coaching rowing at the boat shed, training for triathlon at the University swimming pool, and running and cycling around the campus, as well as a lot of time in the Human Movement Studies common room discussing all things sport related with fellow HMS students.
What advice would you give to students or recent graduates about following their dreams?
TK: Be patient. Be prepared to invest in your career. Be prepared to work hard and for nothing other than to gain broad experiences that will enrich your career and pay dividends in the long term.
SS: Achieving success is hard work. Elite sport teaches you that lesson very quickly and it is no different in professional life. You can be the most talented athlete (or intelligent student), but ultimately, if you aren’t willing to work hard, make sacrifices and continue to look for new ways to improve, you’ll never achieve the highest level of success in your chosen field.