Aussie Richie Cunningham is a great catch for the Timex team but it appears the feeling is mutual. Cunningham had a rough 2013 season with a road rage encounter, an injury and a sponsor circus act and he is not holding back.
Slowtwitch: Thanks for your time.
Richie Cunningham: No problem. Thanks for interviewing me.
ST: Another year is well under way and we would think so is your prep for the season.
Richie: My prep for the upcoming season is usually well underway by the end of the previous year. Because I broke my arm in July and had to have a forced break then, I was feeling fairly fresh by the end of the year and didn't take too much downtime. Also, this early part of the race season is important since I have to play the points chasing game to get to Kona.
ST: To say that you had somewhat of a wild ride last year may be a bit of an understatement.
Richie: Up until the point where I broke my arm, everything was running smoothly. It took a little bit longer to heal than I had anticipated, but honestly, it wasn't really a big stress. The season was long and I managed to get a couple good races in at the end of the season. The only real bummer was the fact that I missed the 70.3 World Champs. At the time, it was frustrating, but in hindsight, it's probably helped me be more fit at this time of the year, which is important.
ST: Was Pucon your first race in 2013?
Richie: No. Are you thinking of somebody else? I started out with a third in Panama 70.3 last year.
ST: Yup, that is what I meant. So how did you feel about your effort there?
Richie: I'm always happy with a top 3 in any championship race. I love racing in the heat, even when I'm coming from the cold winter. I just raced Panama again this weekend and it was even hotter. It turned into a massive survival fest for everybody.
ST: What happened in San Juan?
Richie: Everyone has a race that they just can't seem to do well at. San Juan seems to be that one for me. I just had a bad day. I had a crap swim, which lead to a crap race. I always seem to have one bad race for the year. That one was it.
ST: You followed it up with convincing wins at 70.3 Texas and St. Croix. Is it fair to say that all was falling into place?
Richie: My fitness was pretty much the same going into San Juan, but I managed to get everything right in Texas and St. Croix. St. Croix was always a big bucket list race for me to win. I've been there 10 times and podiumed 8 times.
ST: In early 2013 you also switched from Kestrel to Blue as a bike sponsor. When did you realize for the first time that something might be wrong with Blue?
Richie: Honestly, it took me by surprise. I had a chat with Bill Overbay, the former owner of Blue, in Rev3 Quassy and he certainly painted a pretty picture for the future. I later learned that that was when things were starting to go downhill.
ST: Was that the last time you communicated with Overbay?
Richie: That's the last time he communicated with me. I sent him numerous emails with invoices after that but never heard back.
ST: What directly did that Blue circus act mean for you?
Richie: I still haven't been paid for last year, but I'm trying to work something out with the current Blue company. It also really sucked for me because it meant I had to go back to square one looking for a bike sponsor. As most pros know, this year has been really tough for landing a bike sponsor. I got a lot of rejections from bike companies who said they were going after the up and coming athletes. I'm grateful for Timex and Trek taking me on and I'm happy I've been able to prove those other companies wrong with good results in the first two championship races this year.
ST: You also dealt with a road rage accident that landed you in the hospital and out of racing for a while. How much time and fitness did that cost you?
Richie: It took me out for a lot longer than I expected. I hadn't actually got the all clear from my final x-ray until December. I spent a few months training with a lot of pain, but don't we all?
ST: The Boulder DA never filed charges against the driver, but did anything else come else from that?
Richie: The Boulder DA's office in my opinion were totally spineless. The guy admitted to leaving the scene, which is a separate crime in itself. The police even failed to site him on that issue alone. Later I learned the guy had multiple DUIs, but the police were too lazy to go out and interview him in person that day to see if he had been drinking. They called him instead. The big issue with cycling is we are expected to follow the same rules as a car, but when there's an accident, the vehicle seems to always be in the right. Even in this case, there were 4 separate witnesses saying the driver was at fault, but that didn't matter.
It's not in my nature to go out and sue someone, but this guy is dangerous and as I said to the detective, he will kill someone someday. The fact that the coward left me in the middle of the road and drove off is one of the reasons why I'm going after him civilly.
ST: What is the progress with that civil charge?
Richie: The whole thing is in the process. Last I heard we were waiting for all the statements from the guy's insurance company.
ST: Has that changed how you ride when you train? Maybe in terms of training ride routes and or lighting and cameras on your bike?
Richie: Most definitely. To be honest, I don't enjoy riding anywhere near as much as I used to. I'm no coward, but every time I hear a car come from behind honking or driving aggressive towards us, I have a bit of a panic attack. I always looked forward to riding casually when I retired, but it doesn't interest me at all anymore. It's just not worth the risk.
ST: How did the connection with Team Timex come up and when did that take place?
Richie: I was on Team Timex a number of years ago. When I lived in Europe, I always raced in a team environment. I like racing on a team. It kind of makes triathlon not such an individual sport. Timex has put a lot into triathlon and it's nice to be a part of that. I've known Tristan Brown, the team manager for years and have always liked working with him.
ST: So what is on your calendar for the early part of the season?
Richie: Since the early part of the season is already underway, I managed to get 2nd in New Zealand and 4th in Panama. After that, my big focus is Rev3 Knoxville. I managed to have a few good Rev3 races at the end of the season, which has given me a chance to go after the Rev3 Series win again. It's all decided in Knoxville. After that, I plan to do Ironman Boulder.
ST: Main focus this year is?
Richie: My main focus is Ironman Boulder. It would be awesome to get a win in my home town. A good race there will also quality me for Kona, which is something I've never been interested in doing before, until now.
ST: So why now?
Richie: It wasn't so much that I wasn't interested in Kona as the ironman distance in general didn't interest me at all. However, since Boulder has an Ironman this year, for some reason it got me interested. If I'm going to do one, I might as well do two. I've never actually been out to even watch Kona, so I figured it was about time to see what all the hype is about.
ST: What hype?
Richie: That's true. It's just another race. I'll get punished by all the pros for that comment.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Richie: Since you bring up the question. I was a little disappointed in Slowtwitch's defense and support of Michael Weiss's comeback. I don't know too many other athletes who have had the opportunity to have an open forum about their race, with restricted questions about their past. Yes, the guy has been given a second chance, but there are many other clean athletes who won Ironmans last year that Slowtwitch could have given that much attention to. Yes, I've been told he's a nice guy. But I'm a nice guy as are most triathletes. The people he beat when he cheated don't think he's that nice of a guy. I'm still of the opinion that deliberate dopers deserve lifetime bans.
ST: I was not directly involved in that specific setup, but my understanding is that Michi Weiss reached out to Dan Empfield to see if he could share his story in the forum. The idea was that instead of us interviewing him, he would post in the forum and that would give everyone the opportunity to ask the questions they wanted to but of course in a civil manner. I don’t think it panned out the way it was imagined (in terms his responses and the tone of some questions) and I doubt this setup will be repeated.
I personally also hear you loud and clear and agree that folks who have doped should get a lifetime ban, but these are not the rules we currently have.
Regarding doping, do you think enough is done to stop it?
Richie: I think the system they have now is certainly better than it was. I think testing has come a long way, however, I think the punishment is outdated. For example, deliberate doping cases like Michi Weiss's or anybody who is caught using substances that can only have been put there deliberately (i.e. epo, growth hormone, steroids, blood doping, to name a few) should receive lifetime bans. A first time cheat is more than likely going to cheat again. This way, we keep them out of the sport for good. Minor infractions for contamination or just careless mistakes should be anywhere from 6 month to 2 year bans depending on the case. I also believe cases of deliberate doping should be dealt with criminally as well. They are basically committing fraud against other athletes and sponsors.
Also, athletes who have been caught should have to start over again and earn back their pro license. They shouldn't be able to sit on the sideline for two years and come straight back and automatically have a pro license.
ST: Do you think Pros are united enough and how do you see that evolving?
Richie: I think Pros are definitely united, but a lot are very reluctant to speak up in fear of offending and losing a sponsor.
I'd like to see WTC make all of their drug test results public, especially considering we are paying for them. This would certainly stop a lot of rumors and help to better unite us.