Will Walker video Interview: Over health issues, former top Australian talent ready to push hard in 2014
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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Will Walker video Interview: Over health issues, former top Australian talent ready to push hard in 2014

by Shane Stokes at 7:44 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Video
Move to Synergy Baku should see more international racing and opportunities

Will WalkerSaying that he believes his health is the best it has been since he was forced to give up the sport due to the triple whammy of heart rhythm problems, mononucleosis and Bell’s Palsy, Will Walker is looking forward to the new season and what he hopes will be a successful campaign with the Synergy Baku team.

Walker showed his talent early on when he took a silver medal in the world under 23 road race championship at just nineteen years of age. Several months later, in January 2006, he hit the line 27 seconds clear of the next riders in the Australian national championships, leaving established pros such as Baden Cooke, Robbie McEwen and Allan Davis in his wake.

However, due to his age, the-then Rabobank continental team rider was not allowed to wear the Elite champion’s jersey. It was a controversial rule, given that he was the best on the day, but was something he had to accept.

He went on to a stagiaire slot with the ProTour Rabobank squad in 2006, being put into the Vuelta a España weeks after taking up that place. Being just twenty years of age, he struggled – understandably – with the workload, but finished the race in 112th place.

He returned to Grand Tour participation the following year when he rode the Giro d’Italia, taking tenth on a stage and what was a solid 57th overall at 21 years old. After that, though, his health began to suffer and his early momentum petered out.

That early workload was, in retrospect, very tough on such a young rider.

“I think in those days some teams would tend to throw you in the deep end,” he told VeloNation in a video interview conducted this week at his new team’s training camp. “I did two Grand Tours by the time I was 21 and that was pretty much it. My body just didn’t go any more…I just couldn’t push,” he said. “I had the heart problem, I had mononucleosis, I had Bell’s Palsy. I was pretty much just a wasted man at 21.”

The heart issues would see his ticker suddenly accelerate to levels far above normal. That plus the unfortunate demises of other riders around that time caused him a lot of stress. Over time, that anxiety increased; it was also fuelled by the other health problems he was having at the time.

“When you get caught in the bubble, you don’t think of it at first,” he said, drinking a coffee near the pool at the team’s temporary training base, the Hotel Diamante in Calpe. “You think, ‘ah, this is just tachycardia, but a few episodes and a few people who had unfortunate things…passing away…that makes you think of stopping cycling.”

Walker is chatty and often appears to have a smile on his face, but asking him about that time brings up memories of what he went through and the confusion and frustration it caused. In the interview he speaks in detail about that period, explaining his thoughts and the wide variations in form that the various health issues caused.

“I did the Vuelta for the first time when I was twenty,” he said, when asked when things started to go wrong. “Soon after that I started training. All of a sudden I stopped, I just got sick. Then four weeks more of training, when I felt good again, suddenly it happened again. It just kept going. It was like a road block every month.”

Once seen as one of the top young talents in the sport, Walker’s career limped on until February 2009. He had moved from Rabobank to Fuji Servetto but ground to a halt two months into that year, taking the decision to walk away from cycling.

He did a range of things in the following three years, including coaching the Malaysian national team, working with GreenEdge’s young riders in 2011 in a development role and, outside cycling, earning money in the areas of property development and importing.

The break gave his system a chance to recover and his health gradually improved over time. Feeling good on training rides, he started thinking about racing again. He and Drapac Professional Cycling announced a comeback in February of last year and since then he has been racing with the Australian squad.

Aside from a brief spell of tachycardia in the Tour of the Great South Coast in August of that year, his health has been solid. Regular cardiac testing showed that there were no issues which would prevent him from racing. He says that while his form didn’t always coincide with the races he wanted to do well in, there has been upward trend in how he has been feeling.

“I started to be really conscious with foods and I avoid a lot of refined foods if I can. But the main thing was I just saw a naturopath. This guy worked with me and basically cleaned the virus [mononucleosis] out of my body,” he said, when asked how he sorted things out.

“I know for a lot of people there is not a lot of science in it [naturopathy – ed.]. It was the only thing that worked, but at the same time that took all the extra day to day beats that people have. With extra stress you get extra ectopic beats but I don’t even have any of them any more. It is like a double whammy – he has just cured me from everything.

“When I go back to Australia I will probably see him a few times and I will make sure that I just stay on top of things. But I am back to eating exactly the foods I desire now, based on what tastes good. So it is quite good.”

Walker has clocked up some wins in the past two seasons, namely stages in the Tour of Tasmania, Toowoomba and Gippsland plus the overall classification in the latter. He was also second overall in this year’s Tour of Thailand, third in the New Zealand Cycle Classic and fifth in the Tour of Hainan.

It’s not the same as racing Grand Tours, but it was the right level as he got back into the game. Now he’s interested in stepping things up.

“I was looking to get back into Europe,” he said, explaining the move to the Azerbaijan-backed Synergy Baku outfit. “I have got an Italian fiancée and living in Australia just wasn’t working out. Synergy Baku races all over the world but fifty percent is in Europe, so I can live in Italy next year.

The team will ride some solid events and if the form is there, he’ll have a chance to chase results against riders from some of the top teams in the sport.

“I am definitely doing the nationals but I am not pointing towards that. There are twenty million GreenEdge riders and thirty million Drapac,” he said with a smile, “and I have heard Simon Gerrans is training the house down already. I am looking forwards to a nice Christmas and lots of food. So I will do it, but I am going to have fun there.

“We will do the Tour of New Zealand and probably the Sun Tour. Those two races together will be pretty good. I will be motivated for those. It will be good to race against some WorldTour teams. That is always motivating.”

Walker has been through the mill but, despite being around for a long time, is still just 28 years of age. He knows that he still has time to clock up important results in the sport and, reassuringly, his sensations at this time of year are very good.

“This season didn’t go that well. But as soon as I had an off season of a month…I have only been training for a week now, but I am probably better than I was all of the season. So I think it is time for my body to [click]…It knows that it has got to do something again.

“After two years of training, I am ready to see if I can be quite good again and get back to those [past] levels. I can push my body and it seems to respond now.”

Watch the full interview above, where Walker goes into detail about his past health issues, how his enforced retirement changed his view of life and the peloton, his thoughts on the Synergy Baku team, his initial schedule and his short and longer-term goals.


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