Focus on Athlete: Daniel Carruthers

Daniel Carruthers has been a familiar face on the Chinese cycling scene for several years. Fluent in Mandarin, the New Zealand-born Hangzhou resident travels around the country and beyond, looking for great races that he on occasion ends up winning, too. Although primarily a road biker, Carruthers started on the MTB and he is always up for another Genghis Khan Adventure. You will enjoy reading this.

NW: The Genghis Khan Festival has become a classic on China’s amateur sports calendar and will be organized already for the 7th time next year. How do you feel about this?
DC: I feel that China is in need for some classic MTB events, for which there is not enough here. The Yellow Mountain MTB Festival is probably the only other event that is in the ‘worthy category’ recommended for international riders to come and particpate in. The Genghis Khan Festival is on track to become the China classic and should remain firmly on the Chinese MTB calendar. It is a ‘baby version’ of the epic Mongolia Bike Challenge and provides riders with a challenge that is still within reach of civilization and with a good bed to sleep in at night. If the GKF continues to become popular, I think many multi-day MTB races will start to spring up in other places around China. I hope that some will be held in the beautiful remote regions of Yunnan and Sichuan.
NW:This year you will participate for the 3rd time. What do you like the most of the Genghis Khan Festival weekend?
I enjoy mountain biking and although this is not a ‘challenging’ course, it offers the chance to escape the maddening hustle bustle of the Chinese mega cities and to be out riding in the green vast grasslands with ever blue skies without a trace of pollution in the air. I also enjoy the challenge of riding a MTB over long distances and it suits my rider ability, the hills are not too long and steep; I can keep a good speed for along time.
How did you experience your race in 2012 compared to 2010? Was it more difficult than you expected?
My experience in 2010 was completely different to my 2012 experience; firstly I was on a Nordic Ways rental bike that weighed a ton and was spinning insane revolutions just to keep up in the pack. The bike was not conducive to high performance racing at all, but I still managed to keep up for the most part and finish well. In 2012, I was on the CHIRU-WTB team bike for the race racing for WTB and CHIRU. Riding a high performance long distance carbon bike equipped with WTB tubeless compatible wheel sets, fast rolling WTB Nano TCS 2.1 tires and the WTB VOLT saddle made for a very fast and comfortable set-up. However, my form was not the best, having suffered from some sort of virus that saw me bonk completely on day two and finish well behind. I had no appetite for food as I tried to recover. I did recover somewhat to be reasonably competitive in the final stage, over 100km. I finished 7th in this stage and was a great result, but it was not enough (due to some other riders taking the wrong turn and finishing with same time as me) to move up on GC.
You are primarily known as a road bike racer, and a successful one, too. How did you get involved with MTB?
Actually, my first bike was a GT Talera bike when I was 16 years old way back in 1991. I was a sport class mountain biker back then and really enjoyed my weekend thrashings on the bike. I never trained seriously so never went beyond sport category. I rode mountain bikes during the height of the mountain biking boom of the mid 1990s and really enjoyed the comradeship of the MTB community. It was also the time when all bikers rode the same MTB for all the disciplines (downhill, trials, X-country). It was not till 2005 that I restarted MTB again, that time seriously training for the New Zealand MTB nationals. I got good results but quickly discovered that I was good on the road after training and then entering some races on my old Reiker 531 reynolds tubing old school road bike that had the shifters on the down-tube! I discovered my ability as a sprinter at road races and with the backing of my coach, I switched to road racing and have been primarily focused on road ever since. But my love for MTB has not diminished, I still love the thrill of discovering new places in the middle of nowhere on off-road trails and the buzz of carving a good downhill at speed. I’m a speed freak. I love it. I will always ride a MTB despite my road focus.
You are the PR manager for WTB ASIA-PACIFIC. Can you tell us a bit more about the fantastic Tubeless TCS tyres? What is the feedback from riders you have been receiving?
Yes, thats right, I’ve been working with WTB for the past nearly two years and we are seeing some great things happening here in Asia, particularly in China. WTB has TCS (tubeless compatible systems) tires that are designed to be used with WTB TCS rims. In short, you can build your dream wheel set using your choice of hubs and spokes. The rims are made to UST compliance and this was approved by the folks at MAVIC. When you pair the TCS tire with the TCS rim, you achieve a perfect synergy and its virtually impossible to get a flat tire. You also achieve more control of your bike and go faster with more confidence in your ability to handle the rough terrain. I noticed that quite a few riders at the Yellow Mountain event had flat tire issues and were unable to finish there race, had they used WTB TCS they would have finished the race without suffering flats!
What happened to the 29” Stryker wheels? They were pretty popular, particularly at the GKF event.
WTB was partnered with American Classic for the hubs, but they were not 100% to their satisfaction as they had too much service and convertibility issues.
Therefore, WTB being the pioneer company they are, are currently perfecting a new hub that solves the issues. The new hubs will be easily convertible for different types of users and the free-hub body will be faster to engage (the previous hubs did not have quick enough engagement). The new set up will result in a even lighter and stronger wheel offering.
Further, the bearings will be of the standard type, so that it can be serviceable in any bike shops. The new bearings will also last longer. Right now, this is all in development phase and a release date for the new improved WTB MTB wheels is not yet known
You are a Kiwi by origin, how did you get involved in the sport of cycling? New Zealand riders have been around but are not particularly famous. Recently, only Julian Dean comes to mind.
I’ve always been a keen cyclist since a kid. I rode my own bike with two wheels to kindergarten through rush hour traffic in Auckland, following my mother who was on another bike. I’ve always liked riding a bike and had BMX bikes when I was growing up. I brought my own BMX bike with my own hard earned dollars when I was 13 years old. I raised the cash by selling nuts’n’fruit and chocolate to office buildings in central Auckland. I was always entrepreneurial in this way. I never really followed the cycling sport growing up and even when at university I never followed road cycling. The only famous cyclist that I vaguely knew was Lance Armstrong (kid you not, I did not know who he was really till someone told me about him). When I was Mountain biking, I often bought the Mountain BIke Action magazine and was in awe at the abilities of John Tomac, Ned Overend and Tinker. Those were the three most well-known MTB riders I knew about. Since I did some local races, I also knew some riders on the national circuit and was too shy to talk to them as I felt that they would have no time to chat with me. During this time, another rider, Kashi Leuchs was on the rise, also from Dunedin where I lived. I can remember a race that I won when 19 years old and Kashi was 16 years old (he finished 3rd). He went on to become the world’s top 15 and was NZ’s no.1 mountain biker for many years. It was only my conversion to road racing in 2005 that I started following and taking notice of who is who. I was quite naive and did not have much cycling knowledge, I still don’t have much knowledge really! New Zealand over the last few years has been a real hot bed for developing world class talent that is really showing on the world stage. I am surprised that you only know about Julian Dean. Yes, he is perhaps the most well known Kiwi cyclist at the Tour de France, but we also have a whole new breed of talent that is emerging. We have guys like Hayden Roulston (Radio-Shack Leopard), Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp), George Bennett (Radio-Shack Leopard), Greg Henderson ( Lotto-Belisol), Jesse Sargent (Radio-Shack Leopard) and Clinton Avery (Champion System UCI Pro Conti) all Pro Tour level riders that do well consistently. New Zealand is also bursting at the seams with more talent coming through and we will have another wave of top talent coming through to race at the highest level of the cycling sport. New Zealand is a small nation, but we have an impressive sporting pedigree and if you base our sporting achievements, including cycling, on per capita basis, you’d find that New Zealand would come out top of the world.
What do you think of your compatriot Alex Revell, whose impressive moustache has given him a large following in the Belgian cyclocross scene last winter. Would you consider doing cyclocross one day?
To be honest I don’t really know much about Alex Revell, till you pointed him out to me. Its pretty awesome that this Kiwi rider is racing well in Belgium and has attracted a large following of fans! I have tried Cyclocross before. In fact I did a series of races in Seattle (USA’s most popular location for the sport). I did StarCrossed in 2007 and loved the atmosphere. I entered the category three mens event that had close to 150 starters on the tight course. The crowds that were lining that course was fantastic. I could feel the atmosphere as I streaked over the course under the night lights. It was my first cyclocross experience, and it was awesome. It was lightening fast and I finished in the top half of the pack, , maybe top 50. I also realized why the sport was considered the house of pain. Its the most painful hour of cycling you can endure, its tougher than Mountain biking in that you are constantly going and you also need to learn how to dismount and remount at speed.
Revell is living in Belgium. Will you try to meet up with him when you travel there this summer to prepare for the Deafolympics in Bulgaria (Carruthers has a hearing deficiency, kvdv)?
I will try to contact with Revell and meet up with him in Belgium if he is around. He would be cool to meet. Not sure if he also races the Kermesses in Belgium. Those are the races I want to be doing in preparation for the Deaflympics.
Who are the people in cycling you look up to and why?
I don’t really have a cycling idol. I have always just done my own thing in cycling without resorting to putting up posters of the cycling stars in my bedroom. I like all riders who don’t have the superiority complex and have time to talk with you as an equal. I like to talk to lots of people and always ask questions about cycling tips revolving around training and racing. I am like a sponge. IF you have to make me name some cyclists… then some of them spring to mind: Jack Bauer who has risen through the ranks of cycling so quickly that its nothing short of amazing. I used to train with him in Dunedin and he’s a down to earth type of guy. He’s someone who keeps his feet firmly on the ground despite his cycling success. So I am inspired by him. Of the super-stars of Pro-Tour level, I like Tom Boonen, Thor Hushovd, Andrew Talansky and of course Peter Sagan. I’ve had a few people tell me my riding style is a little like Sagan, I can do some rather unexpected things – win from a breakaway, win on a power climb or from a bunch sprint. In a race not many can predict what I will do.
When and why did you move to Hangzhou? How’s the cycling scene in Hangzhou these days?
I came to Hangzhou in 2010 to start a Ph.D program majoring in tourism. My Ph.D topic is about Granfondos and tourism. I moved here because I got a Chinese government Scholarship to study at Zhejiang University. I am still working away on my PHD and expect to be done in another couple of years. There is quite a variety of cyclists in Hangzhou and you can definitely see that cycling as a recreation is growing considerably in a country that mostly considers cycling as a poor man’s mode of transport. There is also a small but steadily growing racing culture in Hangzhou that are affiliated with the different bike shops around the city. There is no real cycling bunch that leaves regularly in the mornings. This is something that needs to happen if the sport is to progress even more in Hangzhou and China-wide.
You travel around Asia to compete in races. Where does China stand compared to other countries in the upper amateur level?
The level of cycling at the amateur level has been improving quite a lot in recent years, but still lags behind Taiwan, Philippines or other Asian countries. However, that said, Xinjiang, West China, does play host to one of Asia’s best organized amateur multi-day road tour events. All the top amateur teams in China compete in this race at the end of May and the level is reasonable and improving with each year.
Do you feel there has been progress in Chinese cycling in the past few years?
There has been improvement in Chinese cycling from both the professional and amateur levels. But, as long as the two remain separate, I feel that the sport will continue to lag behind countries. In Taiwan and many other countries, the pros and amateurs race together and thus the levels are higher. I hope that the CCA and the sport departments of local governments can change their policies and allow more opportunities for the amateurs and pros to race together. There are a couple of races that are invitation only and provide amateur riders the chance to race the professionals: the two that spring to mind is the Tour of Ordos in Inner Mongolia and Tour of Poyang Lake. Both these events attract high level pro riders and the best amateur teams are invited to participate. If China can provide more of these race opportunities, then I think cycling will improve considerably.
With your insight in the domestic scene, do you see a young Chinese professional breaking through internationally soon?
An amateur cyclist in China has a very slim chance to break through internationally, unless he/she can spend time overseas racing and with the right support. The way the system is set up in China at present, only the professional cyclist can get the chance to race at international events. A team like the Champion System UCI Pro Continental, owned by Loius Shih (CEO of Champion System) is a great model to encourage growth of cycling in China and provide chances for the professional Chinese rider to make it on a global scale. The CS team is committed to teaching their Chinese riders the correct way to race and train.
Back to the non professional level. Amateur races in China are characterized by –often- ridiculously high prizemoney, which is unheard of in most of Europe. Is that what amateur cycling is about here, and would you still travel to a race if – for instance – there is no prizemoney at all on offer? Having prize money on offer at a bike race for me is a bonus. But it is not essential. I often race in races around Asia, like the recent Tour of Friendship in Thailand or the Tour of Matabungkay in Philippines, both of these great multi-day races don’t offer prize money, but I still go and compete and miss out on races in China that offer big prize purses. I think that the organizers in China wish to offer high prize money in order to attract the best amateur riders. This is so they can put on an exciting spectacle for the fans. For the cyclist, its always good to win some cash to cover your expenses etc. When I raced in the USA, I did some bigger events for the experience of racing top riders and professionals. I found that I was good enough to win primes and placing money. I won enough to cover my expenses and this was a great feeling. So when in China, if I can race, place well, take home a “pay check”, I feel like my hard hours have paid off. But on the same token, I race because I enjoy racing and would still race without prize money on offer. For instance, I attend the Shanghai Trek Series that has no cash on offer. One thing that irks me in China is the number of short road races, some of them are less than 30km and offer big prize money. Despite the prize money on offer, I try to avoid traveling to these types of races, I want to attend a race that has a decent course and makes it worth the while to travel all the way there.

What would be your key message to race organisers in China?
My key message to race organizers in China is to listen to the bike riders and put on events that are at least 70km or higher in length. If its a road race, it should be 100km or higher on a nice scenic road loop that showcases the best of the region’s landscape; not just some circuit race in the middle of no-where. IF an organizer wishes to hold a circuit race, then I would advise them to hold one in a CBD area where there is plenty of shops, cafes, restaurants in the vicinity so that people can watch the riders zoom by each lap. The ideal circuit/lap should not exceed 2km in length, preferably 1km to 1.5km in length. This provides for intense action for both the riders and the spectators. I also advise organizers to think about holding events that are gran fondo style and allow both amateurs and professionals to attend, and to be 160km or greater. These types of events should be held on good roads with scenic points.
What do you recall as your greatest moment in cycling so far?
My best moment in cycling was winning my first criterium in USA – a strong category three field in Northern California with a perfectly executed sprint without team-mates. I often replay that sprint in my head for inspiration. This win was only my second category three race in USA, and that same afternoon I entered the PRO category and placed in the top 30 from 150 riders. That marked the beginning of my belief that I could pit myself against professional cyclists and do well. Criteriums are my forte. I always look forward to going back to the USA to race these events, plenty of them in USA.
You had a nasty crash at Huang Shan this year (link to video, crash at 6:15). Do you fear it will affect your confidence when you get back on the MTB?
Yes, that was a very nasty crash! I am still recovering from it. It has really disrupted my preparations for going to Europe in July. I was unable to train for 2 weeks. I still started Tour of East Taiwan and finished stage 1, but off the back. I opted to sit out stage 2 to help my knee and shoulder heal faster. I did Tour of Friendship in Thailand. After 2 weeks of no training, I did this race and it was very hard given they had the best open field ever assembled including a number of professional riders like Lee Rodgers, Peter Pouly, and a few more. What was encouraging was that my knee came right during the tour, but I was never at my old strength. I will be back on the MTB no problem, the crash will not affect my confidence not one iota!
Was that crash your worst ever?
Yep, it was the worse one for me, as it kept me off the bike. I was unable to train properly. Normally when I crash, I can get back up and complete a race and also keep training…
With the benefit of hindsight, how would you and your teammates at WTB try to beat the Mongolians and Team Triace this time around?
There is no benefit of hind-sight. The Inner Mongolia race is one where if you have the fitness, you can do well. The Mongolians (CCN Mongolia) and the Triace team were just fitter riders for mountain biking. I just need to be fitter on the mountain bike to compete on the same level. On the road bike, its different, I can compete with them all and often finish in front of them.. this time at the Inner Mongolia event, I will have a good team of WTB riders with me but its not a road race, so bunch riding won’t always be possible. But, the presence of the WTB team and Team CHIRU-WTB will be a confidence booster.
What is your personal ambition for this year’s GKF stage race?
I don’t have one, just to race well and stay out of trouble. I will be going to Belgium and Holland the day after this race concludes. So, this race is just a training race for me, to continue building fitness and power for my European campaign.
How does the Genghis Khan MTB race compare with other mountainbike races you have done in your career?
The Genghis Khan MTB race is actually quite easy when you compare it with other MTB races like Mongolia Bike Challenge or the Karopoti MTB Challenge in New Zealand just to name two that I have competed in.
Which advice would you give to people who want to take part in the Genghis Khan MTB Adventure? To people that wish to take part in this event, just go and do it. Anyone can compete. This is a race that is good for anyone that wishes to experience the vast open outdoors on two-wheels. Its a great event to do where everything is put on for you. All you have to do is ride your mountain bike and imagine Genghis Khan and his army galloping across the vast steppes of Inner Mongolia. Other advice is to enjoy it. Its a fun adventure and its not just for the hard core mountain biker. The Mongolia Bike Challenge is a different level altogether, to do this one, you need to be a tough breed of mountain biker… and that race is another story…