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Interview with Colavita/Bolla Cyclist Nathan O'Neill
 
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 1/5/2004
Interview with Colavita/Bolla Cyclist Nathan O'Neill
 

Nathan O'Neill is an enormously talented rider who had a fantastic season under his belt (see palmares below) with Saturn in 2003, when a nasty accident at The International- Tour de Toona took him out of play.

But he has made a stunning recovery - we will be seeing Nathan first at the Australian National Championships this month, after which he will come to the US to join his new team, Colavita/Bolla. Here's our recent chat with him.


Tour de Georgia 2003 - Chris Horner 1st, Fred Rodriguez 2nd, Nathan O'Neill 3rd.
Courtesy Dodge Tour de Georgia.

Daily Peloton: Let's get the gnarly stuff out of the way - you crashed just short of the finish line at The International (Tour de Toona) this past July and broke two vertebra in your neck. But as of October, you were riding in Georgia, preparing for the Australian Championships in January. Your doctor said that you made an enormously fast recovery, and that some people with your type of injury don't even walk again. How did you do it? Who would you like to acknowledge or thank?

Nathan O'Neill: First and foremost, I acknowledge it was God and not me. I don’t know why my life was spared, and He has allowed me to walk and ride again. Secondly, God blessed me with a wonderful and loving support network—Karen, my family and friends, the Saturn team, sponsors. I could not have made a recovery without their prayers, support and encouragement.

DP: What factor or set of factors do you attribute most to your recovery? We have some readers undergoing rehabilitation after accidents - can you tell us a bit about your rehabilitation - anything special? What was productive and what wasn't?

Nathan: Two things: 1) I have overcome injuries and other difficulties in the past, so I know to draw strength from those experiences. Also, I read stories of other athletes who overcame what could have been career-ending injuries. Greg Lemond is one of my athletic heroes, so his story was inspirational to me.

2) The physiotherapy I began receiving when I returned to Toowoomba has been the number one factor in my regaining full movement of my neck. My physiotherapist, Scott Epsley, is remarkable, and I see him two-to-three times a week. He has done acupuncture, physical manipulations and introduced clinical pilates. After each visit he has given me exercises to do at home as well. Since seeing him, I can turn my head to full extension on both sides and touch my chin to my chest.


Nathan sent us these photos of his therapy session last night with Scott Epsley.
Photo courtesy Scott Epsley, Peak Performance Sports Medicine.


Photo courtesy Scott Epsley, Peak Performance Sports Medicine.


Photo courtesy Scott Epsley, Peak Performance Sports Medicine.


Photo courtesy Scott Epsley, Peak Performance Sports Medicine.

DP: When you were a very young man, you had to work back after physical difficulties several times – were you able to use any of that prior experience in your recovery the past few months?

Nathan: I have always been a determined fighter. I was born an eight-month baby, and grew to learn very quickly that nothing in life is given on a platter. Things go wrong, and sometimes there is no way to avoid it. That just means you have to work extra hard to make it back. That’s life.

We have a saying in Australia, and I love it: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

DP: You have had a very special coach to help you, right? Tell us about him, and what it's been like to work with him.

Nathan: Heiko Salzwedel was my coach when I was on the Australian National Team. We reconnected this year after my accident. He has been very instrumental in my return to form. He has a very scientific approach and has shown me ways to improve even more in the short time since we reunited. [Visit reknowned national coach Salzwedel's website here.]

DP: You said you will be all set for January at the Australian Champs - do you feel at 100% now? What are you doing at the moment in Australia? Have you been competing in any races there recently?

Nathan: My surgeon, Dr. Franco Cerabona, cleared me to race the Nationals in January, so that will be my first race since July 31. Currently, I am training on the roads in Southeast Queensland.

DP: What will the field be like at the Championships? Besides yourself, who’s dangerous?

Nathan: Australia has some great pro cyclists who will compete in the Nationals. Clearly Michael Rogers and Ben Day are both very strong competitors for the time trial; and Robbie McEwen, Baden Cooke and Alan Davis for the road race. There is one Australian I, personally, will miss in this year’s Nationals—Henk Vogels. Henk and I are good friends, and his presence always raises the level of competition.

DP: You were on fire through Toona this year, winning two stages at Redlands and finishing second, winning at Sea Otter, in the leader's jersey for six stages at Langkawi, and finishing third at Tour de Georgia. In fact, you only relinquished your leader's jersey at Toona because you were hospitalized. Not to get into “maybes” or “what ifs,” but what were your plans for 2003 and 2004 based on how you were riding? Had you thought of returning to Europe to race?

Nathan: Although I remained open to the possibility of returning to Europe had the right opportunity presented itself, my preference was to remain in the U.S. Based on my results to that point, I thought I would have no problem securing a place on a U.S. team. Also, at that point, the Saturn riders had no idea that the sponsorship would not continue. At that stage, I think it would be fair to say that most of us believed we would be riding with Saturn again in 2004.

DP: You seem to be quite a varied rider - you are obviously a great time triallist, but you have also won mountain jerseys, were off the front for 150 km in the 2002 Australia Road Race Champs (after winning the TT two days before), were six days in the leader’s jersey at Langkawi....how would you characterize yourself as a rider? Which particular part of racing do you like best - time trialing, mountains, sprinting, and why?

Nathan: I consider myself an all-round cyclist even though I know I am not a sprinter. I could hold my own in the European mountains, and time trialing is my specialty. Most pro cyclists have one discipline they can wish to improve on. Time trials have always been my strength, and when I am in form, I can climb pretty solidly.

DP: Which race or win is most significant to you, and why?

Nathan: I think it would have to be the moment that I won the overall KOM jersey in the 1994 Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic. It was the final climb of the 9 day race, on the final day. I took maximum points in that last KOM, and took the jersey off a certain Jan Ullrich by a single point! It was the first time I had stepped up in international road cycling.

DP: Do you have Olympic aspirations this year? What are your thoughts on who should be included on Australia’s team?

Nathan: Certainly, I have aspirations of being chosen to represent my country in Athens in 2004. As I said earlier, Australia has so many great cyclists in the peloton, yet there are only five slots.

DP: What is the best piece of advice you've ever received about racing?

Nathan: “Never give up.” My uncle told me to always finish a race when I was 13 years old and had finished last in the day’s race. He said if cycling was what I wanted to do professionally, then never give up, never quit striving to be the best on each day.

DP: Who are the up and coming Australian riders we should keep an eye out for?

Nathan: I have to admit that I don’t really have a lot to do with the younger Aussie guys lately. If you can wait until after our National Championships in January, I will gladly let you know who exactly kicked who’s butt!!

DP: One of our readers wanted to know if it's true your father is a pharmacist? Care to tell us a bit about your family?

Nathan: Yes, my dad is a pharmacist by profession. My sister is a full-time mother of two (and is expecting twins in March). She married a chef, and they own a restaurant now. My mom is a bookkeeper for their restaurant and my dad’s business. I am a very family-oriented person, and I love spending time at home with my family. When you walk into my parents’ home you sense immediately a feeling of warmth, support, love and laughter.

DP: You rode in Europe with Ceramiche/Panaria for three years, and have also raced a lot in Australia. What was it like racing in the US after competing in Europe? What are the differences? Do you like the racing in the US? Why?

Nathan: Differences: level of the peloton as a whole; general population awareness and level of respect; courses.

I speak fluent Italian and loved my time living in Italy; however, it is easier living in the United States. For example, stores are open seven days a week with some open 24 hours a day. Also, with the European economic situation, it is less expensive to live in the U.S.

I should qualify that as I have lived in four U.S. states (Idaho, California, New York and Georgia), and prices vary from state to state. In Georgia, I can stop at a convenience store while training to get an energy bar and drink and pay about US $3; in Australia and Europe that would cost more than US $6. Living in the US has its benefits; it is definitely an easier way of life.

DP: Long-term, would you like to race again in Europe? If so, do you have any particular racing goals there?

Nathan: If the right opportunity came along, I certainly would consider returning to Europe.

DP: At Colavita/Bolla you will be with some of your former teammates - Dominguez, Frischkorn, McCormack. Have you had a chance to meet your other teammates yet? How will it feel to be racing with some of your teammates from Saturn? What’s your impression so far of Colavita/Bolla?

Nathan: I am very pleased to be with Colavita-Bolla. We have a very competitive team for the 2004 season. It is an added bonus to race with some of my teammates from Saturn. Although I have not met the other riders, I have had contact with some of them. Thad Dulin lives near Clemson, South Carolina, which is only two hours from Georgia, so we plan to do some training rides together. I look forward to meeting everyone at the February training camp.

My impression of the Colavita-Bolla team and operation, including staff and management, has been extremely positive. Probably, the traits that stand out in my mind most thus far are their professional responsiveness and attention to detail.

DP: Weren’t you and Horner looking to ride together this next year after Saturn discontinued its sponsorship? How will it be to compete against him next year?

Nathan: Chris and I were hoping to ride on the same team for 2004, and we presented that scenario to a few teams. However, due to the current economic situation with U.S. cycling and sponsorship, it became very difficult. So in the end, we both accepted the best opportunities for our own situation.

Chris was one of the first friends I made in the U.S. last year, and we will remain friends even though we will not be in the same colours next year. I learned so much from him last year. He is a great competitor, and I anticipate some great races in the U.S. peloton for 2004.

DP: At Interbike when you were interviewed on AdventureSports Radio, you were with Karen Ewing, an attractive brunette wearing a simple black dress and fishnet stockings that day. You recently announced your engagement. Can you tell us any of your personal plans for 2004? And does she play a role in your professional life as well as your personal?

Nathan: I asked Karen to marry me while she was packing for our trip to Australia. We spent the month of December in Queensland, and I was able to show her some of my homeland. I return to the U.S. after Nationals. She starts her job with Tour de Georgia in early January, and we are planning a May wedding in Georgia, just after the race.

We are looking for a house in the Gainesville area (about an hour northeast of Atlanta) because it is close to the mountains for me to train. Karen has a background in communications and public relations, so she acts as my press and publicity editor sometimes.


Karen Ewing, Nathan O'Neill and Dave Towle at Interbike 2003. Photo by Janna Trevisanut.

DP: When we are at the races next year and want to encourage an Aussie rider, what are some “strine” expressions we can shout out?

Nathan: Most people know from the Sydney Olympics the “aussie aussie aussie…oi oi oi” chant, but there are plenty of others. If you want to tell someone to open up the throttle (go hard), you could say “give it some stick …..” or simply “let ‘er rip” or “get up it”.

Thanks very much, Nathan - give it some stick at the Aussie Champs and this season with Colavita/Bolla!


Tour de Langkawi 2003. Courtesy Tour de Langkawi

Nathan O'Neill

Bio

Date of Birth: 23 November 1974
Place of Birth: Sydney, NSW

Teams

1999 Navigare - Gaerne
2000 Ceramiche Panaria - Gaerne
2001-2002 Ceramica Panaria - Fiordo
2003 Saturn
2004 Colavita Bolla

Palmares

2003

1st Prologue Redlands Bicycle Classic
1st Stage 2 Redlands Bicycle Classic
2nd Overall Redlands Bicycle Classic
1st Overall, Sea Otter Classic
1st Stage 2, Sea Otter Classic
1st Stage 1, Tour de Langkawi (yellow jersey stages 1-6)
1st Stage 1, Tour de Georgia
3rd Overall, Tour de Georgia

2002

1st Road Time Trial, Australian Titles
2nd Road Race, Australian Open Titles
2nd Stage 1, Tour of Langkawi
3rd Road Time Trial, Commonwealth Games,
5th Coppa delle Nazioni
6th Overall, GP Eddy Merckx
16th Overall, Giro di Romagna
35th Road Time Trial, World Championships

2001

1st Stage 10, Tour of Langkawi (ITT)
3rd Overall, Circuit de Mines
3rd Stage 1, Circuit des Mines
4th Prologue, Tour of Langkawi
5th Stage 6, Circuit des Mines
7th Stage 7, Vuelta a Espana
8th Road Time Trial, World Championships
11th Overall, Tirreno-Adriatico
11th Chrono des Herbiers

2000

1st 20km ITT Stage 4, Tour of Sweden, SWE
2nd 32.5km ITT, Coppa Delle Nazioni, ITA
4th Prologue TT, Tour de Langkawi, Malaysia
19th Road Time Trial, Olympic Games, AUS

1999

1st Round 1, 23km TT, Victor’s Road Series
1st Prologue, Canberra Tour
1st Teams Event, Noosa Triathlon
1st Time Trial, amateur Giro d’Italia
1st Mountains Classification, Redlands Classic
2nd Overall Tour of Tasmania
2nd Overall Mountains Classification, Tour of Japan
2nd Stage 5, Tour of Japan
3rd Time Trial, Coppa del Nazioni
4th Giro Due Provincie
6th Overall, Canberra Tour
5th Trofeo Bastianelli,
21st Road Time Trial, World Championships

1998

1st Road Time Trial, Australian Titles
1st Road Time Trial, Queensland Titles
1st Road Race, North QLD Road Titles
1st Time Trial, North QLD Road Titles
1st Prologue, Canberra Tour
2nd Overall, Canberra Tour
2nd Criterium, North QLD Road Titles
3rd Stage 1, Tour of Japan,
9th Road Time Trial, Coppa Del Nazioni

1997

1st Overall, Sam Ingram Memorial Trophy, Queensland
1st Blue Mountains Classic, New South Wales
1st Overall, Canberra Milk Race
1st Ernest Henry Road Race, Queensland
1st GP Industria Commercio e Artigiano Aglianese
1st Overall, Darren Smith Classic, Queensland
1st Prologue, Tour de New Caledonia
Leader for 5 days of Tour de New Caledonia
4th Road Time Trial, Coppa Del Nazioni

1996

1st Road Time Trial, Australian Titles
1st Road Time Trial, AIS Classic
1st Two Man TT U23, Duo Normande
1st Overall, White Pages Tour
1st Stage 1, White Pages Tour
1st Stage 4, White Pages Tour
1st Prologue, Canberra Milk Race
1st Stage 5, Tour of Japan
1st Mountains Classification, Tour of Japan
Australian National Road Series Champion
1st Stage 1, Tour of the Darling Downs, Queensland
1st Stage 2, Tour of the Darling Downs
1st Overall, Tour of the Darling Downs
2nd Road TT, Olympic Selection Race, Isle of Man
3rd Road TT U23, Grand Prix des Nations
4th Road TT U23, World Championships

1995

1st Road Time Trial, AIS Classic
2nd Road Time Trial, Oceania Titles
2nd Overall, White Pages Tour

1994

1st Road Time Trial, Australian Titles
1st Mountains Classification, Commonwealth Bank Classic

1993

7th Teams Time Trial, Coppa del Nazioni

1992

1st Road Time Trial U19, Australian Titles
2nd Points Race U19, Australian Titles
2nd Teams Time Trial, Australian Titles
3rd Teams Pursuit, Junior World Titles
3rd Individual Pursuit U19, Australian Titles
4th Teams Pursuit U19, Australian Titles
10th Teams Time Trial, World Junior Titles

1991

1st Team Time Trial U19, Australian Titles
1st Road Time Trial U19, Australian Titles
3rd Road Race U19, Australian Titles


Tour de Langkawi 2002. Courtesy Tour de Langkawi.


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