Where Are They Now? Stephen Hodge

StephenHodge
When I asked Stephen Hodge what he thought his biggest strength as a rider was, he told me it was his Time Trialling. As twice winner of the Grand Prix de Nations amateur section (then the unofficial ITT World Championships), I was happy to take his word for it.

But, the more I spoke with him, and the more I read up about him, I am sure his biggest strength lies between his ears. Both as a racing Pro and since retirement, his career seems to have been marked by smart decisions, no shirking of hard work, a lack of ego, and the ability to get his teams to achieve real success in Grand Tours.

To race and finish 6 Tours de France, 4 Giro d’Italia’s, 4 La Vuelta’s, virtually every Classic, 10 World Championships, an Olympics and a Com Games, plus all the races in between, needs more than just a big engine.

Stephen Hodge, twice winner of the Grand Prix de Nations

As Stephen pointed out, deep in the 3rd week of a Grand Tour when your team leader is in GC contention but your younger teammates are barely hanging in, let alone even able to speak, and your DS is sitting somewhere behind in the team car, a lot rests with the Road Captain. Decisions of whether to, and when to, chase breakaways, calculating acceptable time losses, knowing where the other GC leaders are and how they are faring, are made that much harder when your own body is racked with pain. That’s where mental toughness comes in.

After moving to Canberra as a kid, Stephen found his love of cycling as a teenage touring cyclist but didn’t race until his ‘20’s. While studying his Bachelor of Science at ANU, a mate thought it would be fun and convinced Stephen to race with him. Clad in his Stubbies shorts and sandshoes with a massive polystyrene helmet on his head, Stephen found he was pretty good at this sport. Joining Canberra Cycling Club, Stephen progressed through the ranks quickly and was working at Albion Cycles when friends like Tony Consceiecaio, then at Clarence Street Cyclery, stepped in to help.

In the 1983 Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic, Stephen raced for the Clarence Street Cyclery team and came 12th, impressing the visiting Swiss amateur team Mavic-Gitane. They told him if he could make it across to Switzerland, they’d give him a shot. Working in Canberra bike shop Spokesman Cycles, Stephen told the manager Rob Fletcher about his opportunity, who organised fundraisers and helped him get across to Switzerland. CJ Sutton’s Dad Gary helped too, recommending him to contacts and advising of his experiences as a Pro via the less travelled route of Switzerland.

His two years with amateur team Mavic-Gitane turned out to be a smart move. The competitive racing on long hard stage races like the GP Willem Tell (amateur Tour de Suisse, where he came 3rd in 1985), combined well with training on great roads and mountains. Plus there was a lot less rain than Belgium.

The Mavic connection paid off in 1987 when he joined the mighty KAS-Mavic team under leader and ‘Classics King’ Sean Kelly. Kelly was a formidable rider in the peloton, but one who taught his own team mates a lot. Stephen rode all the Classics with Kelly over the next two years, making him a vastly stronger rider and providing a steep learning curve, especially for someone still learning the tactics of the sport.

Stephen wins the 1998 Grand Prix Impanis ahead of Johan Museeuw. A race also won by Alan Peiper in 1986 and Phil Anderson in 1993

Paris Roubaix became Stephen’s nemesis, “I’d have been happy never to have ridden it to be honest”, he said. He crashed and DNF’d 4 of the 8 times he raced it, once breaking his elbow, another time a collarbone. Despite his self-acknowledged dislike of cobbles, Stephen finished in the winning break at the Tour of Flanders/Ronde van Vlaanderen where Kelly came a close second. In 1988 Stephen also won the GP Impanis, beating the Lion of Flanders Johan Museeuw on his home turf. He also raced Paris-Tours and Paris-Bruxelles, and placed 10th in the Tour of Britain.

Stephen in the 1995 Paris Roubaix - Photo: Sirotti

Moving to the Spanish Pro-Conti team Caja-Rural Orbea in 1989, Stephen got his big chance – the Tour de France. With leader Marino Lejarretta, and Dutch sprinter Mathieu Hermans who won Stage 11, it was without doubt the hardest thing Stephen had ever done. The relentless physical toll, coupled with the stifling crowds and media attention, were a massive culture shock for the young rider. Nevertheless he made it to Paris rapidly shedding the puppy fat, which he thinks young Aussies also still bring with them to Europe today.

Not long after coming 13th in the Milan-Torino, just behind the likes of Rominger, Hampsten and Breukink, the Cajas-Rural Orbea team folded. Stephen returned to Australia to race the Sun Tour, thinking his dream had ended.

All that changed with a phone call from Lejaretta asking him to join the new ONCE team. The Basque who stood on the podium at every Grand Tour and is the only Pro to have ever completed 3 Grand Tours in a year for 4 years, had repaid Hodge for his loyalty and hard work. Interestingly, Lejaretta decided Hodge was the only rider he wanted to bring with him, despite many Basque compatriots being on the team.

Stephen remembers ONCE being a very tight unit, several years before “things changed and it all went bad”. Run by Manolo Saiz, ONCE introduced a new management style to cycling, more professional management, with very close supervision in coaching, equipment choice and training. A strong personality with emotion always close to the surface, Saiz was very loyal to his team, who in turn were also very loyal to each other. They worked as one on the road for their GC leader, and the number of times the team would “blow the race apart and create havoc” was another great memory for Stephen. The ONCE team rider reunion proposed later this year should be interesting…

Stephen and ONCE lining Up before the 1993 Paris Roubaix. Photo: Sirotti

With GC riders like Laurent Jalabert, Alex Zulle and Laurent Dufuax, ONCE was known as the Yellow Armada for the way it dominated the Team Time Trials and looked to impose itself on every stage. ONCE quickly became a mentally intimidating force that Darth Vader would be proud of. ONCE riders Lejarretta and Chozas each won a stage and finished 5th and 6th in the 1990 Tour.

Even as a hardworking Domestique, Stephen took 34th in the Tour’s GC that year. He also placed 19th in the Giro d’Italia behind winner Gianni Bugno, again delivering team leaders Lejarretta and Chozas into good GC positions. The 19th placing was a really big result when you consider the calibre of riders far behind him in the GC, names like Anderson, Lemond, Konychev, Sorenson, Riis and Ballerini.

1991 was the year Stephen thinks was his physiological and psychological peak (he also began seeing a Sport Psychologist). By now, he was finishing two Grand Tours and racing up to 120 days a year, which included the Milan San Remo, Tour de Romandie, Liege Bastogne Liege, RVV, Classica San Sebastian and Giro Lombardia (and back home to win the Mazda Alpine Tour). In a serious warm up for the Giro, his 3rd in the Dolomites stage race the Giro del Trentino stands out for the quality of the other winners in this race to date – Moser, Bugno, Chiapucci, Fondriest, Basso, Cunego, Nibali and Vinokourov.

He still sees a Grand Tour as the best way to produce the necessary strength, fitness and form, and in his view is also the best platform for a World Championship race. His 8th place in the Worlds at Stuttgart is true to that theory, and after coming 67th in the Tour his world ranking that year was a career high 45.

In 1992 at the Tour, ONCE team leader Laurent Jalabert won the sprinter’s jersey but an increasing leadership and Domestique workload forced Stephen into 93rd place on GC. 26th in La Vuelta, 10th in Giro Lombardia, 19th at the Worlds, and a stage win in the Criterium International, rounded out another hard-raced but successful year for Stephen.

Some might say Stephen had some luck missing the Tour in 1993, because Big Mig swamped everyone taking his 3rd consecutive victory, having also grabbed the Giro win just prior. Stephen finished 93rd in La Vuelta, but it was an otherwise quiet year by his standards.

Joining Festina-Lotus in 1994, Stephen rode alongside the French Housewives’ favourite and all-time Tour KOM champion Richard Virenque. He remembers him as being “a pretty crazy Frenchie, all about the bling. Sometimes I think if he wasn’t such a success on the bike, he’d never have ridden one”.

As Road Captain, Stephen’s work and experience helped team mates Luc LeBlanc, Richard Virenque and Pascal Lino finish 4th, 5th and 11th in the GC that year. Winning the teams classification against Big Mig’s henchmen was a great effort.

Stage 10 of the Tour that year was 160km’s across the Massif Central. A scorching hot and airless day, Stephen can vividly recall just how far into the red zone he went. He was in a bunch of 4 which broke away, led by the iconic Jacky Durand (about whom Velo Magazine published a Jackymètre, to log the breakaway km’s he had ridden at the front of races). Although their lead continued to stretch out, they could never relax with 3 chasers not far behind, and just pulling a turn put Stephen above his maximum heart rate. But he knew he had to keep working though, and hung on desperately.

With less than a couple of kilometres to go, Bortolemi flatted and Jacky Durand took the opportunity to attack the other two, creating the winning move. The Italian Serpellini finished 5 seconds behind, with Stephen another 54 seconds, leading the remains of the chasers. Nearly two minutes back was the main field, led by sprint powerhouses Abdujaparov, Svorada, Zabel and Ludwig. Stephen still feels that stage may have been his “one that got away…” as he finished another Tour, this time in 83rd place. He took 14th in the World Championships ITT and 31st in La Vuelta that year.

In his final Tour de France in 1995, Stephen helped Virenque secure a 5th in the GC and a record 4th KOM title, coming 64th himself. Again, his obsession with racing that year continued as he also finished the Giro, Vuelta, Milan San Remo, Paris Roubaix, RVV, Amstel Gold, Tour de Romandie, Paris-Tours, and Volta Catalunya, among others.

In his final year of racing, Stephen packed in his usual diet of high racing km’s with the Olympics road race and ITT, both the Giro and La Vuelta, Milan San Remo, Tour Mediterranean, Quatre Jours de Dunkerque, the Tour of Tasmania (with the win on top of Mount Wellington) and finally grabbed 2nd in the Sun Tour, before he hung up the bike after Warrnambool.

Probably the best cycling advocate Australia has, Stephen has been on the Board of Cycling Australia since 1999 and is currently Vice President. He sits on the High Performance Management Committee of CA/Australian Sports Commission, and is the Government Relations Manager for the bicycling industry’s Cycling Promotion Fund. In 2010, he was on the organising committee of the 2010 UCI World Road Cycling Championships. He sits on the board of the Amy Gillett Foundation and patron of charitable causes like Ride to Cure and Men’s Link, as well as a member of the ACT Minister’s Sport & Recreation Advisory Council. Elsewhere, he runs a PR and Communications company Day & Hodge Associates, and works in event planning, management, marketing, sports administration and education.

Somehow he also found the time with some mates to establish www.cyclinghistory.com.au, a group intent on preserving and sharing historic collections from the early years of the Tour de France. Securing rare photographic works owned by Sir Hubert Opperman, this is an amazing collection they have now made available to all cycling fans.

Stephen said he has never returned to France to watch the Tour since retiring, but was keen to remind me he’s still a massive fan of the race and the SBS coverage, staying up late in July like the rest of us fans. Personally I’d be milking all the connections I had to be the biggest groupie since Didi Senft, but that’s just me…

Closer to the likes of us mere mortals, Stephen gets out 2 or 3 times a week with his Squadra H in Canberra for training and coffee shop rides. With the thousands of km’s he raced and the fact he’s turning 50 in July, I reckon he’s earned that coffee.

Can anyone guess the year? Robbie, Stuey, Henk and Hodge. Photo by Cor Vos

Written by Jamie Jowett. Jamie is a keen cyclist himself and loves digging into the tories and details of Australia’s cycling history.

 


SIMILAR ENTRIES

Showing 5 entries
  • http://twitter.com/james_foran James Foran

    First

  • DB

    A true champ with a disarming lack of ego.

    With my family a couple of years ago at the TDU, Stephen was standing beside us and heard me point him out and try to explain far too few of his achievments to my wife & two daughters, he then proceeded to chat and talk with them for the rest of the day. Top bloke.

    Another legend.

  • http://twitter.com/martinmiles Martin Miles

    1996 – McEwen’s first year at Rabobank? Still on quill stems and steel forks, too.

  • Euripides_6

    Went alright on the track too! Ton of ability but mucked around in the Amateur ranks too long looking for Australian selection.  Perhaps too nice a guy. If he had more of  the attitude of his good mate Neil Stephens he probably could have won some big races.

  • Petes

    I still remember the interview with Hodgey straight after stage 10 in 1994. Classic stuff.

  • Sick of FIrsts

    YOU CHAMPION!

  • Anonymous

    Some of my best TdF memories include watching that ONCE train rampage through the Peleton. And I can remember cheering him on. Just having an Aussie to cheer in the Tour was great.

  • Bracks_ashat

    Damn, the helmets sure were atrocious back then.

  • Anonymous

    Great article. Interesting to read, on Inner Ring last year I think, how ONCE were the pioneers of what Bruyneel and Armstrong kinda took credit for when it came to stage racing tactics – TTT mastery, using a bunch of big rouleurs to shelter the GC guy all the way to the mountains, that type of stuff.

    That face he’s pulling in the Roubaix pic is hilarious!

  • melbcholly

    Looks like he has RockShox on during the Roubaix.

  • melbcholly

    Looks like he has RockShox on during the Roubaix.

  • melbcholly

    Looks like he has RockShox on during the Roubaix.

  • http://twitter.com/42x16cc 42x16cc

    legendary….

    Henk, bartape!

  • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

    Good catch! I couldn’t take my eyes off his hair…

  • AdelaideCyclist

    It’s sad that true champions like this DON’T get bikeways named after them, only the big headed, hot aired filled ones get their egos stroked.

  • still in my pjs

    But the big question surely is: Is the guy behind him in the Roubaix photo wearing a helmet or not?

  • Nick

    Far out what an awesome article. Sounds like a great, hardworking bloke

  • Anonymous

    Pave afro!!

  • Deenos

    The photo has to be 1995 doesn’t it Wade?

  • Notso Swift

    Yep, LeMond was the pioneer  of that a few years earier

  • Notso Swift

    WHAT! no pictures of the ONCE guys in Tour edition Pink, so sad.
    Still, I am not sure my eyes could tolorate Henk’s hair and a Fluro Pink assult in the same day

  • http://r.touroperation.info/historic-grand-tour/ Historic Grand Tour

    [...] Where Are They Now? Stephen Hodge | Cycling Tips As Stephen pointed out, deep in the 3rd week of a Grand Tour when your team leader is in GC contention but your younger teammates are barely hanging in, let alone even able to speak, and your DS is sitting somewhere behind in the team car, a lot rests with the Somehow he also found the time with some mates to establish au, a group intent on preserving and sharing historic collections from the early years of the Tour de France. [...]

  • Steve Blair

    Great article.  Steve Hodge is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet (and one of the smartest).  He is an inspiration to ride with and his stories all told without any ego or arrogance.  I was lucky to live and ride in Canberra for 9 years and share the road regularly with Steve.  Steve Hodge is one of the reasons that Canberra continues to produce world class riders who are hard working and well grounded and his contribution to the sport is immense….in NZ he would have been knighted years ago. Thanks for letting others know what a champion he is.

  • Stu

    Wade can you find out what his fastest time up Mt Buffalo was? I recall it was super fast despite the fact that he was not considered a pure climber. He may not remember but would be interesting.

  • http://twitter.com/james_foran James Foran

    haha! love it!

  • Hans Richmond

    Not even pictures of ONCE in a team time trial, so sad.

  • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

    Stephen sent me one with him in it, but it was kinda small to put up. 

  • http://app.strava.com/athletes/plmtznr Paul

    Must have been 1996 since McEwen started riding for Rabobank that year and Vogels rode for them only that one year.

  • http://twitter.com/yosoypatrick Patrick

    remember to thank your team mates

  • Hans Richmond

    That photo is WINNING!

  • Ron

    Very cool article. Thanks for the history lesson. I sadly admit I’ve never heard of Hodge. Hanging my head in shame, I can only chalk it up to 1) being an American 2) only being an avid follow of pro cycling for a few years.

    Either way, the incredible thing is how much talent every single pro has and how much hard work the less gifted must put in to compete. Makes one appreciate how good the top tier riders are, when the very good riders are still untouchable.

    Great read!

  • Jefftee

    My memory could be completely off but did Stephen win an Australian Amateur Road Championship in Adelaide in the 1980s?
    If it’s the one I’m thinking of, it was probably one of the worst days that the Adelaide Hills could dish out. I think it rained the whole race and was about 10 deg c.
    I even suffered watching the race from the comfort of a car.

  • Jefftee

    My memory could be completely off but did Stephen win an Australian Amateur Road Championship in Adelaide in the 1980s?
    If it’s the one I’m thinking of, it was probably one of the worst days that the Adelaide Hills could dish out. I think it rained the whole race and was about 10 deg c.
    I even suffered watching the race from the comfort of a car.

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  • Abdu Whereareyou

    Not sure about the Amo’s but he never mentioned it.

    Stephen raced in the ITT and road races at the ’96 Olympics for Aus.

    Stevo (his Once and Festina team mate, see above about confusion) won the Nationals in ’91 and ’95.

    Was there a different Amateur and Pro Nationals race back then?

  • http://tomcruiseallmovies.mpiaquatics.com/51/where-are-they-now-stephen-hodge-cycling-tips/ Where Are They Now? Stephen Hodge | Cycling Tips | Tom Cruise All Movies
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  • Jefftee

    I’m not sure when the merging of professional and amateur cycling clubs occurred in Australia but there was a definite distinction between the 2 bodies as with most amateur and professional sports at the time.
    Amateurs were unable to compete for monetary prizes, endorse brands, have brand names on apparel etc.
    Any infringement may have jeopardised their status and rendered them ineligible for Olympic games selection.
    The story of Russell Mockridge’s 1952 Olympics and the drama surrounding it, is an interesting one.
    I’m sure there are others reading these pages that can remember the “good old days”.
    Maybe someone out there has compiled a brief history of this “class” distinction.

  • Jefftee

    I’m not sure when the merging of professional and amateur cycling clubs occurred in Australia but there was a definite distinction between the 2 bodies as with most amateur and professional sports at the time.
    Amateurs were unable to compete for monetary prizes, endorse brands, have brand names on apparel etc.
    Any infringement may have jeopardised their status and rendered them ineligible for Olympic games selection.
    The story of Russell Mockridge’s 1952 Olympics and the drama surrounding it, is an interesting one.
    I’m sure there are others reading these pages that can remember the “good old days”.
    Maybe someone out there has compiled a brief history of this “class” distinction.

  • felocity

    Wonderful article: please do more on aussie riders (male + female ) accomplishments etc.
    The year of the photo with McEwen,Stuey,Henk,Hodge : My guess 1992

  • felocity

    Wonderful article: please do more on aussie riders (male + female ) accomplishments etc.
    The year of the photo with McEwen,Stuey,Henk,Hodge : My guess 1992

  • http://facebook.com/brad.priest1 Priestie

    Can any Capag ‘aficionado’s’ explain the hoods on Stuey’s bike? 

    Was this the year Campag innovated internal cabling? Is this the hint to the year of the photo possibly? Hollywood?

    Grazie!

    Nice write up JJ!

  • MK

    I think the GAN team used Sachs

  • MK

    I think the GAN team used Sachs

  • Jay Pee

    Hodgie is one of our true unsung cycling legends 

  • Justin

    Probably ’96.  Hodge is also noteworthy for trying a triple for some of the more difficult mountain stages pre compact cranks.  No shame in a granny!  I expected more of him when used by SBS in their TdF commentary some years back, but sadly he did not translate well to tv. 

  • Shodge

    A few got confused! Now I only get confused with Steve Hogg, the fitting guru in Sydney!!!

  • stephenhodgeaus

    The very first versions!!

  • Shodge

    Nope, Frederick Moncassin, French sprinter

  • Shodge

    GP Liberation in Holland!! You should have seen the faces on the riders of Carrera when we steamed past, they were No1 in the world at that time. :)

  • Shodge

    GP Liberation in Holland!! You should have seen the faces on the riders of Carrera when we steamed past, they were No1 in the world at that time. :)

  • Shodge

    Nope, not me. I only started racing at Uni in 1980-1, raced first national ‘elite’ season in 83, and Comm Bank Classic and Nationals that year for the first time.

  • Shodge

    Nope, not me. I only started racing at Uni in 1980-1, raced first national ‘elite’ season in 83, and Comm Bank Classic and Nationals that year for the first time.

  • shodge

    1994

  • shodge

    1994

  • Jefftee

    Thanks for clearing that up Stephen and confirming that I do have a faulty memory.
     Good on you and thanks for everything you’ve put into this wonderful sport!

  • Andy Whereareyou

    Yeh, intelligence, lack of ego and having been there & done that is not appreciated on TV… Case in point the No.1 sport in Oz has its Footy Show and various other unintelligible self-loving Neanderthal commentators.

    Maybe Stephen made the decision himself? It’s not like he hasn’t got anything on, VP of Cycling Aus, etc. Much as I love pro cycling I wouldn’t get anything out of commentating.

  • Robert Russell

    from a clubbie’s perspective the real eye-opener for me was Hodgie riding away from an A-grade field at Sydney’s Heffron Park crit circuit in (I think!) the early 90′s.  He didn’t really attack, he just went a bit faster at every point on the track until the elastic broke – and then he simply rode away. My sometimes faulty memory suggests he lapped the field (that’s 2km per lap). We’d had plenty of pros line up before and they weren’t unknown at nearby Centennial Park either… but the casual way he just ripped the field apart was somewhat unsettling…

  • Alexvoog

    As an  American  and rabid cycling fan since 1985, I LOVE your website!! I really enjoy it when the “doms”  win stages/one days as they have REALLY earned it. Aussie cycling has good reason to be PROUD of it’s history and those that flogged themselves on the continent. Stephen Hodge was always the consummate professional, and apparently, still is. I raise my glass to my brothers from down under, and of course the ANZACs. WARRIORS ALL! 

  • Alexvoog

    As an  American  and rabid cycling fan since 1985, I LOVE your website!! I really enjoy it when the “doms”  win stages/one days as they have REALLY earned it. Aussie cycling has good reason to be PROUD of it’s history and those that flogged themselves on the continent. Stephen Hodge was always the consummate professional, and apparently, still is. I raise my glass to my brothers from down under, and of course the ANZACs. WARRIORS ALL! 

  • http://keithlyons.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/chain-reactions-week-2-bps2011/ Chain Reactions: Week 2 BPS2011 | Clyde Street

    [...] Stephen Hodge is the guest speaker at today’s Business, Politics and Sport meeting at the University of Canberra. [...]

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