It’s moments like Shane Perkins’ world championship victory in the keirin where primal yells are not just okay but completely necessary, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

In mid-December last year, Shane Perkins took his first break in two and
a half years, and his longest respite in more than four.

When I
caught up with him for an in-depth magazine feature on his experiences
racing in Japan – as of last Saturday in Holland, the genesis of the
cycling discipline he now owns as 2011 keirin world champion – he was in
Perth visiting the Bayleys, his in-laws since marrying Kristine, sister
of Athens dual gold medallist Ryan, in the spring of 2008.

Eighteen
months from what he considers his final sporting destination, the
Olympic Games in London, and on a hand-tailored program to see him at
his very best come the 30th Olympiad, it was quite possibly his last
visit to the other side of our wide brown land from his home in
Melbourne, Victoria.

Qualifying for London began in April 2010,
after that year's track world championships. "Our results from then on,
towards London, all count for qualification for position," Perkins told
me, the term "position" a slight misnomer on his behalf given there are
three disciplines he's currently targeting – the match sprint, team
sprint, and keirin. "It's fairly straightforward," he said of the
process, "but you've still got to have fairly decent results to keep in
the hunt."

After his performances at the Commonwealth Games in
Delhi and opening round of the Track World Cup in Melbourne, where he
won the match sprint at both, he said "nothing's finalised yet" – but
did say gunning for qualification in three events at the London Games
may be too much of an ask. "I definitely think it will only be two
events... Just which two, I'm not too sure yet."

Perkins added:
"I really enjoy the team sprint team, getting in there with two other
guys and just rippin' it up for Australia, but the sprint's up
there pretty high [too]. I've got to say my pet event – physically as
well – is the sprint; I really thrive on that. It's really mental and a
lot of mind games going on with it and I really love that."

With
rest in order and he and Kristine expecting their second child at the
end of last month (which was successfully delivered), after Melbourne he
decided to sit out the next three rounds of the Track World Cup. A lot
was riding on his performances in Apeldoorn, therefore, where he chose
not to ride the team sprint and concentrate on the match sprint and
keirin.

On the second day he was confronted by flying Frenchman
Grégory Baugé and four others better than him in the sprint, Perkins
having to settle for sixth place. But what a difference two days make,
as Perkins used all his tactical nous, honed from two seasons racing in
Japan, to upstage his more fancied rivals and take his first world
championship in seven years, when, in 2004, he became junior world
champion in the keirin.

He might just have to rethink what he told me three months ago.

And
if you saw his visage moments after he won, as joyous tears rolled down
his face and that of his coach Sean Eadie, I could just tell all he
wanted to do was scream a primal yell, Ã la the Team America__ movie title song: "F--- Yeah!"

Would that have been so bad if he did say that? Hell, no!

Let's
face it: these guys are beasts on the bike – you won't see a Team
Leopard Trek scarf in sight. And when they win, just as they do in the
wild, they scream. They yell.

Okay, Perkins' two-fingered salute
to the race officials in Delhi, where he was disqualified from competing
in the keirin final because of a dangerous move in the heats, was
unnecessary and should not be tolerated, as he and head coach Gary West
acknowledged. But as Scott McGrory told me, those anal retentive,
navy-blazered officials only informed Perkins he was forbidden from
competing in the gold-medal ride-off moments before mounting his bike,
not straight after his semi-final win.

How would you have felt?
If I was in the mindset of, 'I'm going to rip this bloody keirin final
apart and go for gold' – then at the eleventh hour told I'm no longer
part of the final, I might've extended a finger or two as well.

In
light of what happened in Delhi, I asked Perkins whether he considers
himself an aggressive rider, and whether two seasons in the rough and
tumble world of keirin racing in Japan has made him more forceful still.

"It's
funny. When I went to Japan I had a lot of comments from the media,
saying, 'Jeez, you look like you're so comfortable out there; when you
get a hook you kind of flow with it', things like that. I guess you
could say I'm an aggressive rider and I have a really big passion for
what I do out on the track – and that flows out of me sometimes, when
things go good and bad.

"When I was over there, I just thought,
'Well, flow with it'; you give them a bit of a bump, and you kind of use
a bit of their bump... 'Cause if you get to their shoulder and you're
coming round 'em and they bump ya, they're going to push you forward. So
I thought: 'Right, if I can get there and give it another kick, I can
use it for more speed'... It's kind of motivating and a bit of an
adrenalin rush. I mean, some of them get pretty bad," he said, laughing
to himself, "and you get a little bit angry after it and kind of think,
'Geez, that could've ended pretty badly!'

"I guess the only thing
that Japanese keirin has done for me is that I might ride closer to
some riders. I've always done that, though... and that's just what
keirin and sprinting is about. The international stuff has probably
helped me with that in Japan, because you do ride pretty close to one
another when you're sprinting. Yeah, I don't think the keirin's really
changed me that much in any way."

I told him I completely get
where he's coming from, and that 10 years ago, people said the same
thing about Robbie McEwen, in that he used to find gaps others didn't
think were there, with some labelling him as dangerous – before he
became renowned and revered for it.

"I really understand how he
[McEwen] felt there, because I guess he's someone who shows his passion
on the bike, and they wear their heart on their sleeve and I reckon
that's great," said Perkins.

"If guys in the peloton are
complaining about that they should have a good, hard look at themselves
because cycling's a bloody hard sport and there are a lot of hard nuts
in there. And it's not easy. So the ones that win are the ones that are
aggressive and push those limits, and it's exactly what we do on the
track. That's our sport and how it should be. That's how we express
[ourselves] when we ride and we stay within the rules... And it adds a
bit of character to the sport too, doesn't it?"

Well, Perko,
years of pushing those limits turned you into a bona fide keirin world
champion. Bloody well done and don't change yourself one bit, I say.

And bloody well done to the rest of the Australian track team. It really has been a renaissance from Down Under.

Editor's note: Japanese Story,
Anthony Tan's tale chronicling Shane Perkins' adventures racing the
keirin circuit in Japan, where he became the most successful
international in history, will be out in the May/June issue of Bicycling Australia, on sale next month. An excerpt will be available on Cycling Central in the coming weeks.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan