Where Are They Now – Micheal Wilson

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"If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch, if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, if all men count with you, but none too much; if you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run, yours is the earth and everything in it.."

After interviewing Micheal Wilson, this quote seemed to attach itself to my impressions of him. Speaking without ego and still with a great enthusiasm for his sporting achievements, I already knew he was amongst our best ever road cyclists but he was not about to tell me.

His illustrious international career wasn’t without some hiccups along the way though. At the start of the 1980 Moscow Olympics TTT race Micheal Wilson rolled around near the start line on the team issue Malvern Star steel frame bike. His tyres were used, cast-offs from Charlie Walsh’s track team. Lightly raced, with a stage race in Romania the only race of note, this team of four Aussies were up against it.

Coming in the opposite direction was an Eastern Bloc team, hulking steroidal monsters, like giant, muscled up Bocconcini cheese in their skinsuits, on the best aero bikes available. Before they hit the Moscow-Minsk Highway, the Aussies were already psyched out. It all got to the youngest team member and he sat in for nearly 90km’s, but then inexplicably attacked and tried to ride his three teammates off his wheel for the last tortuous 10km’s. They plucked a credible 11th place from the fire, but importantly the experience didn’t faze Wilson, who would build on each subsequent race and opportunity until he had a Palmares amongst Australia’s best.

Through his Aussie team mate John Leslie, who was already established in Italy, Wilson made the big leap to Europe and raced as an amateur in Umbria. Winning several races in Italy meant the strong Italian team Alfa Lum soon came knocking. But it was a strange choice back then, as the Pro peloton had only a handful of English speakers. Those riders would become big names within the sport though, names like Greg Lemond, Andy Hampsten and Phil Anderson.

Wilson was quickly dropped in the deep end with a start in the 1982 Giro d’italia. Although riding for his team leader and Grand Tour heavyweight Marino Lejarreta, Micheal had an opportunity early and went for it. On the second stage, he worked his way to the front on a long flat stage. At about the 230 km mark and with less than 4km’s to go, he went off the front forming a breakaway of three.

Looking across at fellow Neo Pro Laurent Fignon, Wilson was unfazed. He knew the stage ended with a long climb into the Tuscan town of Cortona, and he knew his own time trialling strength on the stretch would suit him. He attacked his cohorts before the bunch came, taking the win a couple of lengths ahead of Fignon and became Australia’s first ever Grand Tour stage winner (correction: Don Allan was the first by winning a stage of the Vuelta). He took 43rd in his first ever Grand Tour, amongst giants like Hinault, Moser and Van Impe.

In 1983 Micheal raced La Vuelta and early on ran head-on into trouble in the form of patron of the peloton and multiple Grand Tour winner Bernard Hinault. Hinault’s La Vie Claire teammate had escaped up the road and a chase was beginning to form at the front of the peloton. Hinault tried to muscle in at the front and help block the road, thinking his four TDF victories and two Giro’s at that time would afford him some respect. Some manhandling of the Badger by Wilson ensued (“I just scuffed him back a bit”), a pulled jersey, and Hinault disappeared out the back.

That night in the team hotel, Micheal was embarrassed to see Hinault sitting nearby. Wishing the ground would swallow him up, Micheal looked over at Hinault. The man described as “independent, outspoken and quick to take offence” was concentrating on his meal, but noticed Wilson out of the corner of his eye. Hinault looked up, winked at him and smiled, giving an immense of respect to the young Aussie and not a small amount of relief for his personal safety.

Later in that year’s La Vuelta, Micheal found himself in the company of Greg Lemond in the Gruppetto on a particularly hot and gruelling race. Late in the Vuelta, Lemond’s morale was down somewhere near his bottom bracket, and a rider at the front attacked the peloton. The result was carnage, with screams and shouts and a sudden ramping up of speed. Lemond stepped off his bike and jumped straight into his team car.

Guts-ing it out, Micheal stayed on and led the final stage, with several laps in Madrid. Reports from the time were that the crowd numbers were close to one million. With around 15 km’s to go, Micheal snuck quietly away with a small group. Then, with still a couple of km’s to go, he dropped the bunch and hit out for the line. About 50m behind him, and the same ahead of the peloton, Laurent Fignon was out after him, but could not get any closer than the 50m or so. Micheal Wilson had chalked up his second Grand Tour stage win.

Micheal wearing the leaders jersey at the Tour of Romandie with his son Josh at age 5.

Two years later, Micheal Wilson confirmed his absolute quality with a top 10 finish in the GC at the Giro d’Italia. At his lightest ever racing weight, and on the back of a new team base and new training partners, Wilson rode for his team leader Lejaretta and helped him to 4th overall. Wilson meanwhile rode consistently well himself to secure 8th place.

After an ill-feted stint with 7-11 in 1987 where management refused to honor his signed contract, forcing him to return home, Micheal took 50th in the Tour de France in 1988 with his new Swiss team Ariostea. The next year there, he came 3rd in Stage 8 and, also in 1989, Micheal won the third stage at the Tour De Suisse, as well as one in Tirreno Adriatico.

Later, in that year’s Tour de France came a very tough stage as the riders faced lots of 3rd category climbs. Again, Micheal formed a breakaway, but this time miscalculated the speed of the chasing peloton behind. With a long 4-5pm climb at the end, Micheal was feeling very strong. “I had them on toast” he said of his breakaway riders. He hesitated, and didn’t hit them on the climb when all his instincts told him to go. Seemingly his one life regret.

A good indication of the esteem in which Micheal Wilson is held is the fact that he has a Wikipedia page in Italian, not English. He still retains his links to Italy especially, often helping with contacts, advice and introductions for more young Aussie hopefuls. Some years ago, his son Josh headed over and raced the elite amateurs, taking with him none other than fellow Tasmanian Richie Porte.

These days back in his native Tasmania, Micheal and his wife Mary run the well reknowned Velo Wines , a great winery turning out quality whites and some very nice Pinot on the pristine Tamar River.

In his nine years in Europe as a Pro, Micheal Wilson quietly but determinedly set several Australian firsts, not the least of which include being our first ever Grand Tour stage winner and first top 10 Giro GC placer. He did so against some of the greatest ever, names like Hinault, Fignon, Lemond, and Kelly. Undaunted, he raced and won many times against them.

In my mind though, it’s the simple nod and a wink from Hinault that confirm his standing in the sport.

Salut.


1985 Giro d’italia featuring Micheal Wilson, alongside Hinault, Lemond, Fignon, etc. The Italian commentator does a good job saying “Weelsen”.


SIMILAR ENTRIES

Showing 5 entries
  • Tricky Dicky

    I met Michael a few weeks ago for the first time. You couldn’t meet a nicer guy. He just has this humble enthusiasm about him. I knew virtually nothing about him as we talked about his background. It was a measure of how highly he is thought of in the cycling community that Brad McGee, who was with us, was just having off his every word like I was. Thanks for a great post – it has reminded me that I need to order some of that wine!

  • Matt

    One of my favourite reads to date.

  • Christian

    A great and inspiring article.

  • Gooda Ray

    Another ripper article. I’m loving this gradual cycling learning journey I’m on, thanks man.

  • http://profiles.google.com/aglogan Andy Logan

    I love these where are they now articles, its great to get an insight into the challenges and accomplishments of some slightly “lesser” known cyclists that dont get as much coverage than some of the all times great like Yates, Hinault et all.

    Awesome post, I love it and great reading for a Friday morning, especially after working till 10 at night last night and missing my training ride this morning.

  • pinarello413

    Just awesome CT!  Great write up.  Oneday they’ll have a Wikipedia page for you CT, but that’ll be in English I’m afraid.
    Where can I get some Velo wine?

  • Tim

    How pron is the 80s. Movembering it up 12 months of the year. And how down are the Podium Girls. All headbands and pump socks and crazy hair.

    Love it.

    He still looks in great shape too!

  • Pelican

    I’m heading to Tassie for Xmas – will make sure I drop into Velo Wines. Last time I was there I rode past it a few times as its on the famous Launceston-Rosvears loop…

  • Marcus

    Great article – but pretty sure its Michael no9t Micheal…

  • JJ

    That’s how he spelled it on his email…

  • JC

    You’re more likely to get an uppercut from the Badger than a wink! Solid 

  • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

    Thanks to everyone pointing out the spelling of Micheal’s name. It is in fact “Micheal” but I accepted a few of the autocorrect spelling changes. It’s taking a bit for the cache to refresh.

  • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

    Now I don’t know which it is. I see emails from Micheal spelled both ways “Michael” and “Micheal”. I also see on his webpage that it’s “Micheal”  http://www.velowines.com.au/about/about-us.htm

  • Notso Swift

    Respect, because he does make a decent drop of wine as well, they age quite well

    Once again Jamie I find myself saying that you add so much to this site and I am sure everyone truly appreciates your efforts

    (Not least Wade who gets a day off and can be comfortable with the quality contributors like you and the other regulars add)

  • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

    Indeed. A day off is appreciated, but even better is getting to read about these Aussie greats and the way Jamie tells it.

  • aro

    Hahaha how classic is the interview at the end

    “scusi scusi, si”

    Great read BTW

  • CJ

    As always fellas – top interview… but if you watch the bottom clip thru to the end when Andy Hampsten is being interviewed, the interviewer asks how long he has been a Pro and Andy says 2 weeks…. GOLD!

  • Susi Reed

    It’s spelled Micheal but most people correct it to Michael and he doesn’t mind so you’ll find it spelled both ways.

  • Susi Reed

    It’s spelled Micheal but most people correct it to Michael and he doesn’t mind so you’ll find it spelled both ways.

  • Chadwick

    Must be something in the water in Tasi turning out great cyclist :)

  • Abdu

    Even better clip is this one from the 1989 Tour De France, super cheezy music and voice over from John Tesh (but aweseome as well).  Stage 8 starts at 6:41 but Micheal is seen in the break at 9:21.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxqKwyHAXEg

  • jules

    this is really appreciated. i used to read micheal’s name and those of other aussies in Winning magazine. there was zero mainstream media coverage of our pioneering riders in europe at that time and all you’d get out of Winning was usually just race results, and if you were lucky, a one line mention in the report. i had no idea what half the races were about, but they sounded very exotic and prestigious.

    i imagined the riders cycling through beautiful parts of europe, living a charmed life and taking the occasional win. of course i wanted to be a pro like them. these stories are great, not only to finally learn a bit more about the riders themselves, but also the fascinating realities of life as a pro in the 80s and 90s – obviously much, much harder than my romantic teenage fantasy (i know that sounds wrong).

    i still have a whole pile of those mags. i tried to Ebay them, but no buyers, so i think i’ll keep them.

  • Anonymous

    So you have a pile of dirty magazines from your youth that you read and have fantasies about….normal teenage years.

  • Anonymous

    JJ Thanks for the great interview and the effort that obviously goes into researching and asking the right questions.   But I think we need to say a very big thank you to all the “Where are they now” guests that take the time to tell us their story.

    Keep it up JJ.  Love the work.

  • jules

    i only read them for the articles!

  • Jonathan.

    Great write up and great wine maker to – Not sure about the “pristine Tamar River” though. You don’t want to see it at low tide.

  • Marcus

    sorry – wow – no wonder he had the determination to win races. Imagine how many times he would have had to correct people spelling his name Michael!

  • TB

    Ripper of a post. Thoroughly enjoyed the read. Well done CT! 

  • Stratocaster09

    He’s a gun bloke. His brother is a moth tho. If the lights on at your house he’s there.

  • Mickeyd64

    My thoughts exactly, we must have been at the same place – AGF STRT

  • timmy

    Just to give Rudyard Kipling his dues- the opening quote is from the poem ‘If”. I believe written to his son at the time of his birth. Well worth a read I reckon.
    Good article and great photos.

  • mouse

    I’ll buy em!

  • http://twitter.com/yosoypatrick Patrick Smith

    That was brilliant, thanks Jamie. I loved the Hinault story.

  • Henry

    Would love to see a Where Are They Now on Jeff Leslie (John was used in the article, but he owns an apartment about 1km from my place in Hobart, and last time I saw him he called himself Jeff?).  He seems to be an interesting guy!

  • JJ

    Yes, it is Jeff. The perils of writing up something at 2am and doing your own proof reading…

  • David

    Now THAT is how you wear a cycling cap!!

  • Dandtwilson

    ok who is this stratocastero9 guy i must know you

  • Stratocaster09

    One of your many fans…………without facial hair.

  • Michael Leadbetter

    Excellent read thanks

  • Toneredd

    Jeff Leslie, I think is living in Western Australia?

  • Susi

    Hi Pinarello413, I work with Micheal and you can get velo wine online at http://www.velowines.com.au.  We’re having a 15% off sale until Jan 3rd so it’s a good time to stock up!  You can see a heap of old cycling pics on the website and also on our facebook page (velo wines Tasmania).  Cheers!

  • Susi

    Hi Pelican,

    You should definitely come and see us!  We’re having a sale too for Christmas so it is a good time to pick up some wine.  Mary & Micheal are also going to do Taste Festival over New Years in Hobart.

    Cheers

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