When he’s not competing overseas, Australia’s latest Superstock World Endurance Champion Alex Cudlin calls Old Bar home. Despite the many challenges so far, 24-year-old Alex has a need for speed, a positive attitude, a promising career ahead of him and considerable local support. What kind of dedication and skill does it take for a local boy to achieve success on the world motorcycling circuit? Roger Marmion speaks with Alex Cudlin to find out.
Your dad Shane was a bit of a ‘tear away’ on a bike. Is he the main reason you got started?
Yeah, I guess he was. My dad was a Police Officer, and he used to ride bikes on the road a lot. He loves his motorcycling. He joined the Police Force so he wouldn’t get booked for speeding – now he owns a motorbike shop!
When I was small, my parents moved to Pampoolah in Taree, right near the local motorcycle race track, and my older brother Damian, who was 7 at the time, got a PW50 to ride there. I was only 3-years-old when Damz got the PW50, and I have a clear memory of jumping on the back with Damian doubling me, dressed in nothing but a pair of undies.
I was hanging on for dear life and my mum was having a fit, but I loved it right from the get go. Before long, my brother and I were racing at the local dirt track.
> What do you enjoy most about racing?
Without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of racing is winning. I think that inner craving to win is just part of your makeup. Winning doesn’t come easy and it takes a lot of hard work to be at the top level of the sport, so when you finally do get there with a win, the feeling is indescribable, really.
There are many other aspects of racing that I like as well, such as the pure speed and the inevitable adrenaline rush that follows, and of course riding all the different bikes is pretty cool as well.
> What made you decide to head overseas?
There were a few reasons. I had been racing as a senior in Australia, since turning 16-years-old, and I had won the Australian Championships in my class in the very first year of racing at that level. I always had an ambition to go overseas to see how fast the other riders were from around the world.
My brother was already racing in Europe, so it was something I wanted to experience too. I think it was one of the best decisions I have made.
> You’ve been competing overseas for five years. How hard was it to get a ride with the right team?
It was difficult. There are hundreds of teams out there, but only a handful that are good enough to win. The problem is there are thousands of riders out there who are all competing to be a rider in that handful of good teams. It creates a bit of a dog-eat-dog atmosphere, with everyone vying for the same teams. The first thing I learnt when I went to Europe is that you had to be better than the other riders to get the spot on the team – not just once or twice, but every single time you got on the bike.
> You’ve had a few challenges.
Yeah, I’ve had many challenges. It hasn’t been easy. Every year there is another hurdle or obstacle to overcome – whether it’s dealing with injury, or contending with competing riders willing to pay for their rides, plus there’s the long and arduous hours of training that go hand-in-hand with racing.
The fact is though, that all those challenges make it all the more sweet when you do actually succeed. You know the hard work that you put in has paid off, and it’s all been worth it. I guess it’s like anything though – nothing that’s worth anything comes easy.
> What qualities are important for a rider to become successful?
I’m not sure if there is one particular quality – it’s more a bunch of things that will make a good rider. Some riders, like Casey Stoner, have a natural God-given talent for riding, and most good racers have some talent that they have worked on and honed.
Having the skill to know exactly what the bike is doing on the track and being able to translate that feeling on the bike into words that the mechanics and technicians can understand, in order to make the right changes – especially when there is a language barrier – can be a pretty important component.
Apart from the riding aspect, and being fast and steady on the bike, right attitude off and on the bike is important – you have to be prepared to put in the hard work that comes with racing a motorcycle. Like most things, it’s your dedication behind the scenes – the unglamorous part of the job – that helps to make you successful.
You need to be fully committed to your sport and love what you do. Many times I’ve woken up in a foreign hospital, in a lot of pain, with multiple broken bones after having crashed the bike a few hours before, and people ask me why I do it and why I don’t just stop racing, but I guess it’s just in my blood. I love doing it. I still think I have a lot more to give, and I’m committed to improving on what I’m doing all the time. Let’s face it – if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, wouldn’t they? It’s not easy. It’s hard and it’s tough and because of that, I appreciate it when the good things happen.
> You ride in Superbike and Endurance events as well as Moto2 Grand Prix. Which do you prefer?
Good question. All the bikes are completely different. I love the Grand Prix bike from the point of view of how fast it corners.
It’s a lot lighter than the Superbike and Endurance bike, so it turns a lot faster. The feeling of going through a corner at maximum speed on a Grand Prix bike is something that can’t be described. But I love riding the Superbike and Endurance bike as well.
Both these bikes are heaps faster down the straight – around 60 km/h faster than a Moto2 bike. Going down the straight at over 300 km/h and approaching a corner, which is approaching pretty quickly, is an amazing adrenaline rush.
I guess the best way to compare the two is that a Grand Prix bike is like Classical music and a Superbike is like Rock music. One is finer and more composed, and the other is loud and aggressive, but they can both be just as enjoyable. And they both can bite if you hit the wrong note!
> Becoming world champion last year was a fantastic achievement. How do you think that will affect your racing this year?
I don’t think it will affect me at all. Obviously now that I’m entering the championship with the number one plate in the Superstock category, our team has a target on its back to be the team to beat.
In some ways that will change things, because there will be a bit of extra pressure to maintain the number one spot, but at the same time I think it will be exciting. I haven’t been in this position before, where I have to defend a title, but it’s a new year with a new championship – we’ll see what happens.
> What’s the program for 2011?
I will race in the Qatar International Road Racing Championship on a Superbike. It’s a seven round championship with two races at each round. Currently I’m leading the 2011 championship, after winning the first few races.
I will also race in the World Endurance Superstock World Cup again to try and defend my 2010 title. It’s five rounds, starting with the Bol d’Or 24 hour in France, then onto Spain for the 8 hour. After that I’ll follow the round in England for the 6 hour, and then back to France for the Le Mans 24 hour. The final round will be the 8 hour of Doha in Qatar.
My main focus is on winning the Endurance World title again and winning the Qatar Championship as well, as I’ll be the first Australian to win that championship. If I get a few wild cards in the Moto2, that will be a bonus.
Your brother Damian is racing overseas. How much contact do you have with him?
Damian lives in Germany and races in the German 600cc Championship. He won the title in 2010, and of course he also races in the World Endurance Championship in the Superbike class, where we race against each other, but in different classes.
> Will you be at Phillip Island later this year?
I hope so. I have some unfinished business there. Last year the Grand Prix race I had was a disaster for me, due to a variety of reasons – predominantly inside the team. I would like to get another chance with a different team to prove what I can do. I’m in talks now, but I won’t have any confirmation until later on in the year regarding that race.
> Do you enjoy the travelling?
Yes and no. In 2010 I flew over 80 flights all around the world, which is a lot. I was either going to the airport, or leaving one, or sleeping in one.
I’m only 24-years-old, but I have been lucky enough, because of the sport I do, to travel around the world and see and experience some remarkable things. I like to see how other people live and experience their cultures and learn new things.
I’m a pretty experienced flyer now. I think I’ve trained myself to fall asleep whenever I’m on a plane. I can get over the jet lag pretty quickly, and it doesn’t seem to affect me as much as other people.
> How often do you get back to Taree?
I get home a lot, actually. I live in Old Bar with my girlfriend Amy. Sometimes I’ll be gone for eight weeks at a time, then home for a few weeks and then off for another month. It’s good, because I get the best of both worlds. I travel and see many things, but I also get to come home and see my family and friends. For me, this is very important – to try and have the best balance of both, and so far my schedule is allowing me to do it. Australia really is the best country in the world, so to be able to race overseas and still live here is brilliant – notwithstanding the fact that I have to do a lot more travel than someone living in Europe.
> What does your daily training schedule involve?
It varies a lot. During the off season, which is around six weeks over December, it is intense – running, cycling, swimming and gym – a variety of activities that help to build a good level of fitness for the new season.
When I run, I usually do from 10 – 20 km, and when I cycle it can be anywhere from 20 – 80 km at a time.
We have a physician and dietician in the team, and four times a year we go to Germany for a ten day training camp with him. That’s where we get tested and pushed to our limits to see where we are at fitness wise. It’s gruelling work, but it has helped me to learn the right training techniques for this sport.
> What do you plan to do when you retire?
I would like to start a race school, where I can teach and hopefully share a little bit of my wisdom and experience with young up-and-coming racers. That would be something that would be pretty fulfilling – to give something back to the sport, by training and mentoring some young, talented riders and seeing them grow into champions.
I see some young riders here in Australia who are really showing potential, and I would love to work with them when I get the chance. The other thing that interests me is journalism. I write a column for one of Australia’s highest-selling motorcycle magazines.
I find it quite relaxing, testing new bikes and then writing down my thoughts on the bike – like a kid in a candy shop, really.
Taree has produced some really talented sporting people, in all facets of the sporting arena. For such a small community, we have a lot of talent here. Must be something in the water!
Interview by Roger Marmion.