• Michael Freiberg was one of the top performers for IsoWhey SwissWellness, taking out the National Road Series overall victory. ((Cycling Australia/Con Chronis))Source: (Cycling Australia/Con Chronis)
The conversation begins with a curious statement from the rider crowned champion of Cycling Australia’s National Road Series in 2017. “The NRS wasn’t on the radar at all.”
Rob Arnold

Cycling Central
30 Nov 2017 - 11:15 AM  UPDATED 30 Nov 2017 - 1:05 PM

Michael Freiberg didn’t plan on contesting the series. He returned to racing after a break to invent a training product and establish a company to produce it. He has been a world champion and he’s had a taste of professional cycling but, he admits, there’s more to life than racing bikes.

“But then,” he tells me, “the chance to ride with an NRS team came up and I was able to grab on with both hands.”

A discussion over a fence in March would lead to a role racing with the IsoWhey-SwissWellness team managed by Andrew Christie-Johnson. And some good results would follow. By the end of the season, Freiberg had collected a total of 535 NRS points, 184 more than the runner-up in the series, Ryan Cavanagh of NSWIS.

“I can actually remember the conversation I had with Andrew,” said the 27-year-old. “It’s a bit daunting when you’re asking a well-developed team, ‘Oh, hey have you got a ride for me?’ So it was a bit awkward…”

Still, he knew he had form and so he blurted it out in the hope that he could get another taste of international competition.

“What I asked him was, ‘Do you have any room for me in Belgium because I heard you’re going over there later in the season?’ And they did. But,” he explains, “part of the deal was that I’d lead out Scott Sunderland in the Tour of Korea and the Tour of China and I’d get a ride.

“That was the main focus of the year, to do my job for Scott and get him up for a few wins, then head over to Belgium. Everything that came beyond that was great.”

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He would come to realise that the NRS victory was something to cherish. What made it enjoyable, however, was – as they say – the process rather the result. “It’s not until later that you realise that winning the domestic season in Australia is actually a pretty big deal.

"There are quite a few good names on that list of who have won it in the past. It means that you’ve been able to perform consistently over quite a number of races."

There have been several layers of success in racing for Michael Freiberg but it doesn’t always lead to bigger and better opportunities. “I don’t think anyone who has won a world title hasn’t been allowed back to defend their spot,” said Freiberg about his conquest in the omnium at the worlds in 2011. “But the leverage [Cycling Australia] used was, ‘We don’t need your points…’”

He won an Olympic event at the worlds 18 months before the London Games but was then entirely overlooked for selection for The Big One. Freiberg handled the rejection with maturity and, to this day, doesn’t complain about his predicament. He explains it, in fact, with a very casual, non-judgmental tone.

“I was introduced as ‘The Back-Up Rider’ on two occasions. The first occasion was for the [2010] Commonwealth Games where they’d gone, ‘Oh shit, we don’t have enough riders to run a training camp in Aigle in Switzerland because we’ve got riders doing the Tour de France or the Giro…

“They looked down the list and saw that my IP time should get me through the training camp and I was whisked off to Adelaide for a two-month pre-camp before heading over to Switzerland.

“Out of that,” he laughs, “I ended up winning a gold and silver medal at the Comm Games which is a pretty handy by-product of being the guy who was furthest down the list.

“A very similar story happened six months later with the omnium where Australia wasn’t going to qualify a spot for the Olympic Games… Ian McKenzie (the national track endurance coach at the time) sat me down and was like, ‘Alright Michael, if you can place 10th or better in the next two (World Cup) events, we’ll take you to the world championships.’

“I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds like a pretty good deal…’

He got to the worlds, won the title... but, he says, “I didn’t end up going to the Olympics.”

Those kinds of antics can be most upsetting but Freiberg takes it in his stride.

“It’s a bit unfortunate that that’s how it is,” he says, “but when you come into these sorts of things you’ve got to know that you’re going to get screwed at some point. And you just go along with the flow.”

Cycling requires optimism and Freiberg has plenty of that.

“You’ve got to enjoy the journey and it’s not about the final result because sometimes just making the team is actually harder than winning the medal.”

He understands that some riders, even world champions like him, may be overlooked in favour of others. And he deals with it.

“I’ve been part of the system for a long time and a lot of the guys working there are my friends and they’ve been really great mentors so it’s not this big, bad beast that people make it out to be.”

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There was an announcement about the future of the NRS last week. The series is in a state of flux but there’s plenty of talk about how it can be resuscitated. It has given Freiberg an appreciation of phase two of his racing life.

It also allowed him to highlight the benefits of his invention, the AirHub, which is “an on-road resistance training device”.

He used it while developing it. He trained with it. He built up his form. He returned to racing. He won the NRS. So what is the AirHub?

“What it basically does,” he explains, “is it hooks up to your iPhone and it’s like having a Wahoo KICKR out on the road – you can adjust the resistance as you ride along and it talks to your heart rate monitor and your power meter, so you can have your whole ride controlled.”

His pedigree, his attitude, his fitness and his invention have all helped him become a more complete person. Racing success is part of that, but it’s not everything to Michael Freiberg.

“The NRS wasn’t something that we set out to achieve but I got a lot of late call-ups. And I think [the win] is a tribute to the product,” he says of the AirHub. “If you’re always riding your bike – and enjoying it – then, when you’re maximising the quality on the bike, you can’t help but start performing well.”

The experiences he’s enjoyed in recent years have reignited the passion for racing but he keeps it in perspective.

“As cyclists, we’re quite self-centred,” he says. “[It’s] rare that we contribute back to the community; it’s all about ourselves and our training and you cut things out of your life in order to get that one percent extra gain…

“I really needed to take a step back and be like, ‘Look, I want more from this and I think I can deliver more to the world.’ That’s when I wanted to start riding down two paths.” He’s working and he’s racing. And he’s enjoying both.

Read more about Michael Freiberg at RIDE Cycling Review.