Drew Ginn on riding through the night

Drew Ginn is an Australian five-time world champion rower and triple Olympic gold medallist. From 1992 to 2012, rowing consumed Drew’s life as he competed at the highest echelons of the sport. But since rowing at the 2012 London Olympics, Drew has rediscovered his love for cycling – a passion that began while riding BMX bikes as a child, then developed into a competitive racing career on the road at local, state, national and world championship level. Having set himself some substantial goals for the not-too-distant future, including a 24-hour world record attempt on 27th November, Rapha spent some time riding and training with Drew in his hometown of Melbourne.

Some people refer to you as a lifetime athlete. Is that accurate?

It’s probably pretty close, having been involved in sports as an athlete in various activities from a young age. I have certainly been an athlete for most of my life, and hopefully I have many years to come.

Are you a romantic sportsman or do you live and die by the numbers?

It’s a mixture of both for me. I certainly don’t live or die by numbers. I love the art form of sport, the creative side of moving, and the dance and relationship between teammates, the equipment, or the field of play. But I do enjoy learning about myself with the perspective of data.

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What’s your first cycling memory?

Crashing my brand new BMX bike on the Inverloch track was a significant moment. On the first ride I came down straight after the first jump, and I remember the red coating on the handlebars being scratched off. Soon after this I began racing, and then spent the next three years competing in local, state, interstate, and at a couple of world championships in Japan in 1984 and Canada in 1985. Since the early 80s I’ve ridden my bike for love and competition, and have also enjoyed riding as training for rowing.

Many rowers are converting over to cycling with great success. What’s the appeal, and is there a secret recipe?

Cycling is a great cross training activity to support building our physical capacity for our on water training. Both sports require a big engine too, with their mix of high volume and high intensity. Our lightweight rowers are ideal for cycling and are more closely matched in size to cyclists. You could say rowers develop a love of training and pushing themselves, and for those who have the skills on a bike, the cross over can be rewarding and appealing.

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You first rode the Melbourne to Warnambool race in 2009, and again last week. Does experience count for much?

Definitely. Skill and knowledge only come with racing and listening to those who know their stuff. I love learning from other riders, and it’s obvious that cycling smart wins races. Learning how it all works and how to be effective does take some time though, and races are the best place to learn.

You are preparing for a record attempt in 2016. What’s driving you to achieve it, and can you tell us about your build up?

My motivation to do the 24-hour solo attempt is simple. I love a challenge and can’t think of anything more demanding than trying to hold such a significant speed for a full day and night. There is no hiding, but along with being vulnerable and exposed, [a challenge like this] is so much of what life is about. Find something extreme, find yourself, find people who can help you, and finally find a reason to go through it all. The last part is particularly important, as I will be riding for ‘Tour de Cure’ – a charity raising awareness and funds for cancer research and support initiatives. While I take on this challenge I will reflect on the passing of my mum when I was 11 years old, and the many family and friends impacted by cancer. If in some small way I can raise funds and direct support to this cause, it makes the challenge seem less overwhelming.

The record attempt will unfold on a 2.4km circuit. Physically you are in great shape. Mentally, how will you approach the challenge and push through? 

Mentally and emotionally it’s going to be extremely fascinating to see what comes out of attempting to average 38kph for 24 hours. I think the highs and lows will be huge and contrasting, but I will keep reminding myself why I am doing it. I know I can get pretty focused at times, and hours can disappear, so if I can find those moments of flow and prolong them it will help greatly.

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How will you spend your hours on the bike over the coming months – adventures on the gravel or efforts on the TT bike?

Both, as once the 24-hour attempt is over I’ll enjoy being an adventurer. I like having fun on my bike, and that includes time trialling, hard efforts, and gravel grovelling. Maybe I’ll find some great gravel rides and venture out on the TT bike to really mix things up.