• Australian Nicholas Schultz (C) in the breakaway on stage 3 of the 2018 Tour of Oman (Getty)Source: Getty
In pursuit of a pro career, 23-year-old Nick Schultz (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) was faced with a choice early on - sink or swim.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
16 Feb 2018 - 10:02 AM  UPDATED 16 Feb 2018 - 10:27 AM

Nicholas Schultz appears to have followed a pathway more akin to that of Australian cycling pioneers than his young contemporaries in order to arrive on the pro scene.

The 23-year-old is a graduate of the sink or swim school of European amateur racing, and one of two Australian riders including Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin) currently competing at the Tour of Oman.

Speaking to Cycling Central, Schultz was skeptical of his form before riding into the main break of the 179.7km longest stage, which Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) won yesterday.

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The resilient Queenslander later explained he prefers racing over training to find form, which has come from his conditioning.

Schultz progressed through the junior ranks with Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott), and has raced for the Australian national team at various points including the Richmond and Qatar under-23 road world championships. He also marked a trainee stint at Orica-BikeExchange at the end of 2016.

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However, his path to a professional contract with the second-tier Caja Rural-Seguros RGA team, which took him to the Vuelta a Espana as a neo-pro last season, differs from the likes of AIS product Ewan, or other compatriots that have risen from the NRS.

Schultz, with the aid of former Queensland state head cycling coach Ian Melvin, left Brisbane for France in 2013 and competed with an amateur team, joining SEG Racing Academy in 2016 when he won a stage of the Tour de l’Avenir and then Caja Rural-Seguros RGA.

He describes his first impression as a teen racer competing and living on the continent similarly to that of riders from generations before his – miserable.

“There’s no covering up how hard it was – it was hell, I hated it. I was going to quit. In May, I was done but I couldn’t afford to fly home at that time so I had to stick it out,” Schultz recalled in Oman.

“I got smashed. I’m not the guy that has been a star, who won heaps of races. I just always grovel, I keep grinding and chipping away.

“The hardest year was the first year in 2013. I went to France, couldn’t speak a word of French and the riding went completely out the door. It was all about trying to get life together and that was really, really hard but an awesome experience as well,” he continued.

“The language started picking up and then everything fell into place. Come September I was like, I’ll come back and give it another shot. I spent three years with the team.”

Schultz now speaks fluent French and lives in Girona, Spain, abetted by his formative years.

“It was racing, recovering, racing, recovering, nothing like in Australia where we’d have a month of solid training and then race,” he recalled. “But now, actually, I’ve adapted to that and I need to race to be good.”

Schultz’s neo-pro year was defined by a grand tour debut at the Vuelta, which he started notably with a Spanish team that notified him a few months out.

“I was excited but also a lot of nerves came with it. It was going to be the biggest race of my life and I’d heard how hard a grand tour was,” he said.

Schultz’s main role there was to survive, which he did all the way to Madrid.

“Being on a team like ours we don’t have a Chris Froome, an [Alberto] Contador, so we’re not controlling the race, which to be honest suited me because I didn’t have to ride the front for 100km and then survive the gruppetto. I was just trying to make the gruppetto,” he said.

“But our goal as a team was to be present in breakaways and I got in two breakaways throughout the race, which was satisfying on a personal note, especially the last one being in Madrid. It wasn’t easy, but looking back it was awesome.”

What 2018 holds remains to be seen. Schultz is uncertain of his race program but clear on his strengths, weaknesses and where he wants to go.

“I don’t have the balls to box-on in a bunch sprint,” he said.

“I want to focus on races where I potentially can be a protagonist, be up the front and race for results. I’m a little bit of an all-rounder, a little bit punchy. A stage like yesterday [stage two, which Haas won], is something I would normally like.”

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