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Interview: Shawn Milne, Team Type 1
By Christopher Fauske
Date: 8/6/2009
Interview: Shawn Milne, Team Type 1

Interview with Shawn Milne, Team Type 1
At the end of a race, "I don't get stronger, I just don't get worse in comparison to the competition."

This is your fifth year as a professional. You started out with Navigators Insurance in 2005 and had a year in 2007 with Health Net presented by Maxxis before joining Team Type 1 last year. How does someone from New Hampshire who now lives in Massachusetts get into professional cycling. New England is not ideal cycling country, at least not as far as weather goes.

On the contrary, New England may not be a concentrated cycling hot bed like Boulder or have great year-round weather like California, but I would have to say that New England is a great area to start racing. If you live in a fairly central location you can find a bike race within a 3-4 hour drive on pretty much every weekend between March and September. And if you are a true glutton for punishment, the cross season will keep you busy until December. I think for the amateur levels of cycling there is no better place. The only downside is that if you want to get in big base miles to prepare for a full season you might need to travel somewhere for the winter.

Shawn Milne team camp action photo.
Photo ©Marco Quesada

I first got into cycling by joining the local club, Essex County Velo, by going to one of the bike shops affiliated with the club, Bayroad Bikes in Hamilton, MA. I was 17 at the time and didn't know anything about racing. Stu Thorne, the owner of the shop, took me under his wing and helped me out for the next two years until I was good enough to sign for an elite amateur team.

Team Type 1 has a very specific mission statement, "to show the world that people with Type 1 diabetes not only can manage their condition and excel physically, but that they can also achieve their goals, dreams, and potential."

You're not one of the riders on the team with diabetes, so I guess this is a two-part question: When you considered joining the team for its inaugural pro season did you think that it mattered that the team had a mission that encompassed quite a lot more than winning cycling races, and were you concerned that the team's mission might actually get in the way of winning?

Great question. I asked Phil Southerland, team co-founder, the same question. By the end of 2007, I had been in the sport long enough to see that some sponsors don't fully understand the sport and that sometimes their personal agenda seriously limits the potential of a team to win races. So I was a little wary when Phil pitched me this new team. On one side, I loved the idea of racing for a cause. Cycling, and I think all professional sports, are very self-centered professions.

You have to be focused inwardly to become better. The idea of continuing to push myself to become better and to do it for a cause was very exciting. I had a long chat with Phil before coming to the team in 2008, and I could tell that he understood my concerns and was on the same page. He really wants to get the message out about diabetes, and he thinks the best way for those of us without diabetes to help do that is to win races. So far it has been a great balance.

Shawn Milne secured Team Type 1's first UCI win at stage five of the 2008 Tour of Taiwan. Photo © Team Type 1

You won Stage 5 of the Tour de Taiwan in March 2008. That was the first win in the team's history. It's not often a rider gets to deliver a team first. But that wasn't your first career win, so how important was that stage win in terms of the team and your own place on the squad?

Winning that stage was extra special for a few reasons. I was quite happy to be the first TT1 rider to win a UCI stage, because no one else will ever get that record. It also makes me feel more involved in the program. Ideally, it would be great to help the team reach its goal of getting a rider with diabetes into the Tour. If that were to happen I could look back and say that I was there from the beginning.

Another reason that win was nice was that we made a wager at training camp before the race. If any rider won a stage of Taiwan, our director [Ed Beamon] would have to cut his little soul patch off from his chin. When I got up on the podium for the 5th stage award, I told the announcer about our bet and he called Ed to the podium and announced the situation to the crowd. I was then given a set of scissors and cut his scruff off in front of all the media and fans. I think there are still a few pictures circling the web. [Not that we could find--ed.]

One role you have at Team Type 1 is to lead out the sprint train. How do you go about doing that effectively, making sure you have the energy at the end of a grueling day's riding?

I am very excited to have a couple great sprinters on the team because it takes the pressure off of me to sprint in settings that don't usually bode well for me. In a crit or flatter bunch kick, I am not the greatest sprinter but a better leadout man. To be honest, we are still working out the kinks in the leadout train. It can take years for a leadout and sprinter to get to know each other. One thing that has helped us a bunch is having a director [Vassili Davidenko] and assistant director [Gord Fraser] who were the best sprinters in their career.

The trick to giving a good lead out is timing. Being the last leadout guy is almost the same as being the sprinter. If your team drops you off to lead with 500m to go it's pretty simple. Don't jump too hard but accelerate to your max and hope it lasts till about 200m to go. Thatís the ideal situation for a sprinter because he doesn't have to worry about timing. You just go. But unless you have that perfect leadout, like the one Mark Cavendish got in the Tour, it gets trickier. It's all about saving as much energy until as late as possible, and reading and adjusting constantly to your surroundings. Sometimes the best lead out is to drop off your sprinter onto the leadout train of another team.

The key to having that energy at the end of a day's race is to always keep it in mind during the race. If you are on breakaway patrol, you do that job until it becomes obvious that it's going to be a sprint. Hopefully there will be enough time to rest in the field and switch roles.

Shawne Milne Wins Air Force Classic.† Photo © Mark Blacknell

This year you won the Air Force Cycling Classic at the end of May. At the time, you said you didn't think you had it in you that day. How common is it to find yourself finishing much stronger, or weaker, than you anticipate with, say, 50 km to go?

Part of the reason I did well at the end of that race was that I knew that I usually get stronger at the end of a race. Let me rephrase. I don't get stronger, I just don't get worse in comparison to the competition. I don't know if it's the adrenaline, or what. Vasili frequently reminds me that he worked that same way. He says his best results were when he suffered the most. I try to remember that when I am halfway through a race and suffering like a dog. It's so easy to forget at that moment that the guys around you are probably suffering just as much.

Can you talk a little bit about riding on a continental team? The team travels around the globe, but it's relying on invitations from race organizers to make its schedule. Does that affect the riders, not being sure what the season is going to look like during training camp?

Yes it does. But that is the nature of the beast. Unless you are the top dog on the top teams there is some guesswork to what your season is going to look like. On a Conti team, the guesswork is higher. But we know that going into the season. The toughest issue to deal with is how the management handles that unknown. In my opinion, our directors have done a great job keeping the schedule well rounded and as predictable as possible. From what I gather, we have turned down options that didn't look promising but were still possible early on, and we have committed to options that looked promising but maybe not as exciting. Overall, this makes for a better season. By the end of the year, we are fresher mentally and physically. For example, it is better to commit to the 90% chance that we will be doing La Vuelta a Bisbee and Tour of the Gila, than the 50% chance of doing the Tour of Serbia and 5 rings of Moscow even though those trips would be very cool.

A Happy Milne Photo © 2009Casey B. Gibson

On the subject of training and your own regimen: How much of what you do is initiated and organized by the team and how much of it is your own responsibility?

Aside from the occasional team camp, training is 100% the rider's responsibility. We each know our own schedule and usually have our own personal coach. I have been working with Jim Lehman from Carmichael Training Systems since 2004 but have been on multiple teams since then. Teams don't keep tabs on our training schedule. They just will or won't bring us to certain races and will or won't renew contracts according to how we fare in races.

And what are your goals for the rest of the season?

The USPRO road race. When I am at my best that course suits me very well. I placed 6th there two years ago and know that with a little tactical luck and a lot of focused training I can podium. Recently we found out that we are doing the Tour of Ireland the week before Nats. That will suit me as well, will be good prep for nationals, and will take the pressure off of nationals by making my end of season goals two events instead of just one. We are doing the Tour of Missouri, too, but I am purposefully not thinking about that until nationals are finished.

Are the post-race rituals any different on Team Type 1, which has to pay attention to some specific health concerns of some of its riders?

Well to get specifics it would be better that you ask one of the riders with diabetes. But in general, I would say "no." Of course the riders with diabetes have to monitor their blood/sugar levels, but it isn't all too different than what the riders without diabetes need to do. That is actually the big point that this team is trying to get across...that having diabetes isn't as limiting and debilitating as the general public might think. Yes, they do need to use insulin and monitor their levels in a specific manner, but it's very similar to how an athlete without diabetes manages life. While my body manages things automatically, Phil, Joe, or Fabio manually do the same with Lantus and Apidra insulin and have Omnipods and Freestyle monitors to help them do it. But at the end of a race, we are both drinking the same recovery mix, and re-hydrating and replenishing in the same way. That replenishment also varies from strict recovery products to chocolate cake and ice cream depending on the riderís levels of motivation at the time.

What's the most important thing you've learned riding, not necessarily about riding, just the most important thing you've learned?

People are heavily influenced by their surroundings, their society, and their culture. The world is a big place and influences people in many different ways. Cycling and the traveling that goes with it has taught me to be open to that fact.

In other words, not everyone can be as awesome as a Masshole;) Go Sox!

"Helmet or no helmet when you have the choice?"

I nearly died in Ipswich [Massachusetts] in 2001 while riding. The docs said my helmet saved my life. I almost left that day without it because back then I wore it 50/50. Now, unless I'm climbing a really long and really quiet hill, am just rolling down to the store, or am part of a closed group like training camp, I always wear it.

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