Talk Time: Matt Brammeier – Chasing the dream

A young rider from Liverpool has managed, with unimaginable determination, to take himself from Merseyside to the monument races of the world with a ProTour team, HTC Columbia.  Matt Brammeier. It is a journey that  has been a roller coaster that has left him ‘chasing the dream‘ …

Matt Brammeier with one of his big fans, Anne at the Eureka Cafe.

VeloUK caught up with Matt at the Eureka Café, a famous stopping off point for cyclists on the Wirral where he explained he was back in the UK to prepare for the next phase of his season. “For the first five or six years I was cycling, we’d come here two or three times a week and as you can see now, it’s full of riders and everyone who lives around here knows this cafe.” Matt explained. Which is why Anne from the café came out to have her picture taken with a rider who has shown that if you have enough self belief, you can go places in the cycling world.

The chain gang he was out with had quite a few riders from the Liverpool Century club. It is the club he started with and the same one that helped him all the way until he had earned himself a place in the GB Academy.  His dad used to race with them and as did his dad’s work mates. The friendships formed in those early years are still there today and Matt was enjoying being the ‘celeb’ on a training ride with three professionals riders. The others were Mark McNally (AN Post) and Lucy Martin (Garmin Cervelo).

On the Academy, Matt was coached by Team Sky’s Rod Ellingworth and he raced the road and track before being let go from the programme and the start of a roller coaster ride for the youngster. He spent times with various teams until he ended up with Sean Kelly’s An Post. A victory in the Irish Road Race Championship in 2010 saw him wearing the champion’s jersey with An Post and his attacking style brought him to the attention of HTC Columbia.

Riding for a pro team as a Junior, Matt was a British Junior road race champion and has now gone on to show that was no fluke and he has the talent to race with the best.

Looking back at that period prior to earning a place on the biggest team in the world, he admits there were some dark days. “I went a bit stale after I left the academy and found it tough especially after I had my accident. Things went downhill but  I kept fighting and got there in the end.”

“My attitude towards this sport hasn’t changed over the last five years as I have always had that belief in my ability. There is always one or two days in the year when you’re mixing it with the best and that gives you the belief that you can do it. It was about perseverance. Everyone has bad days and so on but somehow I got here.”

Matt on the attack in the Tour of Britain.

‘Here’ is a place in a team that has some of the biggest names in cycling including a rider who was on the GB Academy at the same time Matt was, 2005, Mark Cavendish. And being part of the biggest team means he rides the biggest races, Roubaix, Amstel, Leige… Races kids all over Britain are dreaming of being part of one day.

Roubaix for Matt was huge and he admits that going from a race like that to one like Amstel was a little bit of a come down. “At Roubaix the build-up to it was huge and I was really nervous because it was such a huge event for me. I wasn’t as nervous for Amstel though and I don‘t know if that was because there wasn‘t so much pressure on me or it didn’t feel as special as Roubaix. It is still a big race though with a lot of people there watching but it did feel different.”

It was a tough day too Matt says. “Amstel was definitely a lot less nervous than the earlier classics in the year. It wasn‘t that vital to be at the front at the start whereas at something like Roubaix, its on from the start and it’s a constant battle for position — you just can‘t relax all day.”

“At Amstel, my role was to get in an early breakaway just so I could go as far into the race as possible and if I couldn’t get in a break, then to switch to looking after the leaders. It went okay but not as good as expected. I tried flat out from the start to get in a break and it took an hour and half for the break to go so it was a bit hectic jumping round for an hour and half”.

“I ended up helping out a few guys in the team, Albasini (the Tour of Britain winner) was going pretty well and I took him to the front a few times and rode in the wind as much as I could before I stopped at the feed after 150K so I could watch the rest on tele!”

Asked what its like being on early doors duty, trying to get in breaks and so on, Matt replied “it has been strange this year where 80 per cent of the races I have done, the break has taken an hour or hour and half to go. They used to go in the first 5k but this year it’s been real hectic like. It is normally my job to go early doors especially in this team because its my style to attack and I‘m normally quite good at positioning myself at the start of the race and fighting through the crap before the break finally does go.”

Living the dream and riding races that are household names in the cycling world is one thing but as Matt has found out this year, such races can take their toll on a riders legs and he came back to Liverpool knackered. Prior to that he had to ride another Monument in cycling, Leige-Bastogne-Leige and he soon found out just how knackered he was.

“I rode the course on the Wednesday and its unbelievable how hard it is – for sure that is the hardest race of the year. After Roubaix, I was pretty knackered and then after Amstel, I was on my knees and went into Leige to do my job early on as best I could. I really don’t like going into races knowing that I’m not in good condition and that there is the chance I might not be able to do my job. Last year with An Post, I did races as hard as these but this year its every race I do is a big race. Last season, one week I’d do a 1.1 and then the next week a race with amateurs while now every race is a massive race.”

Matt with Mark McNally (An Post/Dolan Bikes) who was also out on the chaingang last week.

Matt has seen first hand just how hard it can be going from a smaller continental team to a ProTour outfit and after the years of hard graft is learning what it takes to ride at the ProTour level. He explained just how professional HTC-Columbia are where even the little things are taken care of to make life easier for the riders who have a big enough battle on their hands when they get to the end of a 200 kilometre race.

Being part of a team that is known for it’s lead-out train, I asked Matt what was it like working for a rider like Cav? “If I am at race and we have a sprinter in it, there is always a plan for the lead out. At first I was pretty nervous, like the first one I did with the team I did with Cav so there was a lot of pressure early on to help him out and get him up front but having guys like Renshaw and Eisel, its very reassuring as they give some really good advice.”

“I’m always learning. A few years ago I was a bit further forward in the lead-out train but now with HTC-Columbia, I am generally man one or two and sometimes it’s up to me to make the decision when we start riding.  A lot of it is about positioning like being on one side of the road so there is only one way the teams can come past you and you can monitor what’s going on. It is a hard call because it you wait to long, you’re going to get swamped, and you have to fight again to get back up and if you go to early, you’re going to die.”

“There hasn’t really been one dominant team in the lead outs this year and it has been a lot more scrappy. For us, it’s more about keeping Cav in a good position at the front of the peloton and making sure he doesn’t end up 50 places back and then in the last k, it’s  up to him and Renshaw to do their stuff.”

With all the argy barge and pushing around going on, it is certainly an adrenalin filled experienced for the riders like Matt and a great experience when they get it right and the team wins. For now though, Matt is busy training and recovering from his Spring Classic  campaign building up to a one day race in Berlin before going on to the Belgian/Dutch classic, Ster Electro. He then returns for the nationals, in Ireland.

Matt has really enjoyed his year in the Irish champions jersey and says it’s a really cool jersey to wear in the peloton, one that gets picked out by the fans and the media alike. Even if he isn’t doing any more work than his teammates, having the jersey seems to make him look like he has worked harder and longer if what the people say later is anything to go by. Which means he’ll be back to Ireland to defend that jersey and try and keep it on his back in the HTC colours.

Matt with his unique jersey he wants to win again this year and keep on his back at HTC Columbia.

Thanks to Matt and we’ll keep an eye on his progress through out the season.

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