Jono Coulter (pronounced “john-o”) has been a fixture on the NorCal scene for several years now. He has paved the way for a fleet of Aussies and New Zealanders to spend their winter, our summer, in Northern California. Jono has been working on the pro and international circuit the last few years for teams like USA Cycling, Bissell, and Fly V Australia. He’s rejuvenated the Vanderkitten program and is setting a new standard of professionalism for strong regional teams. We caught up with Jono to get some insight into how he views the sport and peloton.
I often get Austria and Australia confused – Since you speak English so well, and do not sound like Julie Andrews Austrian tell me where exactly in Australia do you come from?
Brisbane, Australia Warm, flooded, nice brewshops and outdoor culture
How did you end up in Norcal?
I watched the Jamie Paolinetti Video, “PRO”, probably 450 times too many and decided i want to ride on Webcor like Chris Horner and go to Philly. The lad [Horner] bas balls.
Australia is a sport obsessed country – how did you end up in cycling?
Cycling has always been a part of my life. I won my first BMX race in the Under 5 category in 1983 in Dickson, Canberra around the same time Nicole Kidman played Judy in BMX Bandits http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsNjqh1MxiQ&feature=related I remember doing a fist pump as i crossed the line as i had seen it in the film. Its probably one of the last times i ever won a race. As an Aussie i played Cricket, Rugby, Aussie Rules and Tennis, i always rode. i went from BMX, to Triathlon, to Duathlon, all at Junior National or International level to Cycling. I think i peaked at 22 years old. Thats now a decade ago.
You do not brag much but you spent a lot of time racing in Europe during your “International” days. Tell me about your European racing experiences?
One day i was listening to some mates (the Hanson Brothers) in the University of Queensland cycling club talking about their summer of racing in Holland as they described the drama and intrigue and gutter chewing mudslap that is euro racing. That was August of 2001, and I was hooked. I Finished my PostGrad at Uni that November, sent my lab results and a few National Road Series results to a contact in Italy, and by Feb of 2002 i was in Villongo, Lombardia racing with G.S.Bagnatica U23. I basically didnt speak english for 8 months.
Was it a big cultural and physical adjustment to make?
The best things were the hardness, the chaos that is Italy, the 180 rider fields of wired 21 year old kids all smash slapping each other across the road, guys flying in the air in crashes, but mostly being fine and days where you felt completely invincible. For me my best days i would feel invincible, make the final split of 15 and finish 15th. Like, you’re good enough to go with the best guys. But then the best guys have another level. Incredible things would happen, like two Ukranian guys would attack at the start of a 150km stage, and the other 160 riders would be single file for 145kms, riding average speeds that would make the world 4km Team pursuit look ordinary, and you would never see these guys off the front.
To top it all off you are in Italy, which has a lawless feel to it, like if Las Vegas got bred with the Tour de France and a velodrome
A funny thing i did in 2002 was a 3 day Track meet in Dalmine that was fixed. Because i was the Aussie local i got to race against guys that had just come off the Giro, Baffi from Mapei, Strazzer from Phonak who had just won the points jersey, and a bunch of other lads from Panaria and the like. So i’m doing this fixed track meet and they wanted the foreigner to put in a late attack that would upset the Pros, but i was to be caught at the line. I was going good for a kid but it must have looked funny to all the folks in the stand when i hit out with a lap to go and a line up of Pros pretending to be strung out hurting and catching me. True enough they catch me at the line and Strazzer does a massive salut like he has won worlds and we all get a couple hundred euros and some salami and my director is ecstatic and nearly crying. But im like- this is all fixed, this isn’t real. Like my director knows 100% that the result is not true and here we are carrying on like pork chops that this kid is on the podium with guys from the Giro. My director was funny like that.
Carrying on like pork chops sounds funny. Italian food… thumbs up or down?
We would get weighed once or twice a week at like 11pm at night. So we had between 6-12 guys in a 2 bedroom apartment in Villongo. Our curfew was always 10pm, so most nights you would go to bed witha torch so you could read, but of course there was a chance the Team Doc and the Director would come around an hour after you went to bed, flick the lights on and this whole procession of riders would be weighed, measured, congratulated or scolded for their weight. Of course the Italians caught onto this and would ask the team doctor to inform them when the weigh in nights would be. So they always knew, and would skip dinner. But the foreigners (Alex Efimkin, from Russia who just won the Tour of Turkey and me), we never knew, so we would have dinner, and of course be a little heavier, get scolded, have our rations reduced (yes rations- 23 pieces of Pasta per day- which i would divide into 11 pieces for lunch and 12 for dinner, as well as one bread roll per day and one ball of mozzarella. Unlimited salad). Then the director would leave and the Italians would be up till 1am making dinner in the dark after being hungry all day but with the internal satisfaction that they “won” the weigh in. Then, when we would kick their asses in training and racing, then they would say we were doped.
That’s right about when the tide started to turn on doping, but it was still prevalent. Did it impact you at all?
Those accusations [from the Italian riders] got us raided a few times by the caribineiri. They took heaps of my stuff, anything pharmaceutical looking that wasn’t written in Italian or did not have a prescription. I remember once i was the only guy home and this guy holding a machine gun has my Colgate Toothpaste from Australia shoved in my face shouting “Dove Ricetta medical!?!?!?!” which is like where is the prescription. What do you do?
You have made a transition from rider to staff (on Pro Teams) – can you give us a description how that transition went?
Linda Jackson from Team TIBCO gave me my first opportunities in US Pro Cycling with Tibco at Montreal World Cup in 2007 and 2008. I started as a soigneur with her program doing a limited schedule, basically the World Cup, Philly, Nature Valley, Redlands. Then in 2009 and 2010 my responsibilities with Bissell and v Australia were full time.
Last year i was Technical Assistant, for Fly V-Australia, which is a term for saying being part of the glue to hold a squad together in 41 states in the USA over 270 days, with only 4 days at home. That encompasses a lot of roles, primary one being truck driver, but at the other end of the spectrum i got to direct my first two races with V-Australia also. My track record Directing V Australia is 100% wins- it was not hard to win with the best team in the USA. I have been super fortunate to work under the best Directors in the business including Linda Jackson, Glen Mitchell, Henk Vogels, Ed Beamon, Jim Miller and Manuel Fanini. I have taken lots of information on board over the last 4 years that i am trying to apply to my little squad of hitter kittys.
A lot of the image and branding and vibe that Dave Verrecchia has created around Vanderkitten is distinct from the traditional model of cycling. As much as we love the history and passion behind 100 years of the sport, we feel that if it is to survive and thrive, we need a fresh outlook and to break free a little bit from the stifling atmosphere of what your generic roadie cyclist tends to be. Especially in women’s cycling, where corporate sponsors are very hard to come by (Thank you Webcor, Aarons, TIBCO, HTC, Colavita!!) We need a model that people from outside of cycling can identify with our athletes as modern day female champs.
For Dave, a Vanderkitten is your everyday Jane doing extraordinary things. Just as much as you can go on the Vanderkitten FB group page and see women Motorcycle riders uploading vids of them stacking at 150mph in a GP race (NOW THATS A VANDERKITTEN!) we want to have casual observers of cycling or people who are watching random youtube vids say- “hey this Vanderkitten chicks cycling thing is cool”.
With an approach like that how do you build a team and how do you engage fans?
From our team standpoint, there is no doubt that we have an audacious, engaging group of athletes. I mean, who doesnt want to love pixie sprinter Starla Teddergrren, Fairy Princess Jenn X, Aussie Kid Jazzy, throwdown like Anna Lang, Dance Techno wizzkid Maura, Swiss Miss Vanessa, or the adorable Emily Collins? These women have a great outlook, they are feisty and fast, they are great role models to kids, and they are top bike racers.
Putting that story together and making sure that Vanderkitten is doing good things in the community, for kids, for women, and for everyone- thats the story that we are creating. At Redlands this year we were in the paper everyday. Half the pics were from the race, and half were the girls doing things in and around the community. If an outside industry sponsor sees that story and wants to identify with it, then thats the partnership we are looking for. We are not a transient group. Vanderkitten Athletics has been around since 2007, and we aim to build and grow upon our global fan base and keep delivering for our sponsors.
What is your career ambition in cycling?
Develop women’s cycling into a high profile, financially viable, and financially attractive viable sport for athletes, race promoters, advertisers and staff. I want to be part of the movement that makes racing exciting for viewers- both fans of cycling and your fan off the street that sees one live race a year and says “Man that is cool”. The entertainment value, the drama and the quality of athlete is already there.
I would love to be a part of the building of the sport in the USA and globally. Right now Nicola Cramner, Linda Jackson, Lisa Hunt and Rachel Heal do a great job of running superb professional outfits… and don’t forget Jim Miller and Bob Stapleton also, of course. There are a few people on their heels like Susannah Gordon, Dave Verrecchia, and myself who are really putting our energy behind women’s Pro Cycling. Race promoters that offer equal prizemoney and other incentives- like Ryan Dawkins from Project Sport, David LaPorte from Nature ValleyGP are a great role model for what the sport can become. I think its important we create a united front. While i am talking about Pro Cycling, one of it would exist, without the countless people working on behalf for women athletes every day like Lorri lee Lown, Laurel Green.. the list goes on.
As a director what race or races do you like the most?
Boise Twilight is my favorite race to compete in the world. Also love the Noosa GP and the energy that the Australian Road Champs in Bunninyong has. As a staff member i have really enjoyed the Giro della Toscana and of course the old Montreal World Cup. I am in love with Italian Cycling, no doubt, and i would love to fast track the Vanderkitten-Focus program to be able to experience racing there. But really, my focus for this year is a good race for the gals at Philly.
Who has a funnier accent NZ, US, or Canadian?
US sound like a bunch of crackheads.
If you were a cute Aussie animal which one would it be (Koala, Joey, palatypus, etc)
Koala. Lots of inebriated sleeping time- so far from me in real life…
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