Ordinarily, “Gets PEZ’d” rider interviews are the domain of the venerable and esteemed Ed Hood. But this time, he’s left it to Chuck Peña because there’s a personal connection. Chuck and ex-pro Nick Clark are mates – both on and off the bike.
Aussie U23 TT champion when he was a youngster
Most of the time, the riders featured in “Gets PEZ’d” are more recognizable names – either from the present or past. Nick Clark might be a name that some Aussie PEZ readers know because he was the 1998 U23 Australian ITT champion. And before that, he stood on the podium (bronze medal) representing Australia at the 1993 UCI World Road Championships (Oslo, Norway) in the Junior Men’s Road Race.
Nick was a pro rider from 1993 to 2005. As a domestique, he rode for:
- Petit Casino
- ASC-Vila do Conde
- Polygon Sweet Nice Team
In other words, Nick was probably not someone that most PEZ readers would know. But that’s why PEZ-ing him is “special.” In many ways, he’s just like the rest of us. We all have our cycling heroes (past and present), but Nick is one of those unsung heroes (as well as a local hero in the DMV). Yes, he’s an ex-pro racer (something many/most/all of us wish we could say about ourselves as bike riders), but you’d never really know it if you were out on a ride with him because it’s not something he brags about. At least you wouldn’t know it until he decides to put the hammer down and go full gas. And then you’d realize you’re in the company of more than just your usual local group rider (or racer) and why his nickname is “The Nuke.” Nick is a pretty humble and low key guy who doesn’t seek the spotlight. But we’re happy to put him in it on PEZ.
So without further adieu …
You were born in Jakarta and now live in Falls Church, VA just outside Washington, DC. Two places that are worlds away from each other. Tell us about both and why you decided to set up shop in Falls Church.
The Jakarta story is pretty boring. My dad was working for the Aussie embassy so that’s just where we were at the time. I move to Australia when I was about 6 years old and lived in Perth for the majority of my childhood and late teens. The first place I ended up in the US was South Carolina. I moved to the US to take on some DS and GM cycling rolls but then decided to switch it up before my visa expired and we picked Falls Church just by fluke. Unfortunately, my wife passed away in 2016, and we were due to head back to Australia, but I decided to keep the kids grounded and made the US my home. I needed to do something, and saw a big gap in how cycling shops operate in the US, so I decided to mix it up and create something different than the norm. So, here I am, in Falls Church, a Permanente Resident and well embed in the area now.
The PBFC Sunday group ride is one of the most popular in the DMV — even in the cold of winter!
How did you come to bicycle racing? Did you play other sports? Do you remember your first race?
By complete fluke. In Australia, back in the 80’s /90’s, you either playing rugby, cricket, or Aussie Rules football. I hated all of them, and found a local cycling club, initially to hide in. I had an old Malvern Star (the US version of a Huffy) and before you know it, I was racing! OMG, my first race. That was back in 1989 and it was called the Bridgewater Classic. I won it!
What were the performances that got you the ride in the 1993 Junior Worlds?
Cycling wasn’t a big thing in Australia during the ’90s. It was based on the races I had raced and won, and my time with the Institute of Sport.
Elder statesman invited to ride with now defunct Pro Conti team Lipomo
That bronze medal – any ‘what ifs’ about that day?
WOW, what if all right. I remember not really understanding what the hell I was doing. I didn’t really even understand the relevance of UCI worlds and what winning would mean. I remember when I was coming into the finish line, I had 500 meters to go and thought, man 3rd’s pretty good. Since I actually found out the relevance of wining a UCI gold, I haven’t stopped questioning “what if I had of gone harder?”
How does your time in the army fit into your time line? Why did you join?
I joined to get an education. I got an economics and law degree out of it, and I was able to keep riding. They were very supportive of my “other career” cycling.
Living the life of a retired pro cyclist… somewhere in Europe… life is rough, eh?
After you won the Aussie U23 TT title did you ever think about specialising in that discipline?
I never really thought of specializing in it. The reason being is because I wasn’t really a multi-day racer. I spent most of my career riding classics and monuments. I was a one-day racer, so I never really got to ride TT. I was able to work well in the TT, cause riding cobbles a lot makes you naturally strong
Tell us about Team Spenco and living in Flanders.
Spenco was my first European pro team. It was really tough. Living in Flanders was a great experience, but being an Aussie kid, trying to learn the language and not really being accepted in the peloton was a tough start to my cycling career. It was back then (and I guess still today, to be honest) a very European sport, for European kids who generationally got into cycling. I didn’t even really understand the cobbles and even though I was on a pro team, they sent me to do my apprenticeship on the Kermesse scene. That hurt!
He may be retired 15 years from pro racing, but Nick can still hammer up the cobbled bergs!
Speaking of Flanders, you are good mates with Johan Museeuw. Tell us about that friendship.
He is a good man. I met him back in 1996. I was punching way above my weight level with him, but he was such a pleasant and approachable guy. Very colorful but full of advice. I continued to talk with him all through my career until about the early 2000’s when I left Europe and moved back to Australia. We finally ran into each other on a ride in Portugal where he and I were invited guests and we didn’t even know it. It was an instant reconnection and we speak to each other often and visit when we can. It was also great last October when I was also able to catch up with Paolo Bettini. We just rode miles and told war stories. We also started working a bit together, but that’s a whole other story.
With the Lion of Flanders
With the Cricket
Chazal (that jersey!) which became Petit Casino (now AG2R). Tell us about how you got the ride and what it was like.
A simple story that one. I started performing with Spenco and got the call up with Chazal. I signed a 3-year contract with them and during that time, Casino AG2r had taken over the team. They weren’t really deep in classic riding and were more of a grand tour type team, so it wasn’t long before they cut me. It was the best thing that happened. I was getting worn out on the world tour. It was a tough slog being a non-European in Belgium and in particular French teams. I had some options with other WT teams but made the call to drop to Pro Continental and was so much happier for it.
Nick on his bespoke FiftyOne custom painted to represent the start of his career and his first pro World Tour team
You rode on an Italian team. There’s always skulduggery afoot in the lesser Italian teams, did you experience it?
Oh yeah, don’t you know it. I don’t really know where to start. Next question HA!
The closest thing to a picture of himself riding from his pro racing days in his shop. That’s how humble a guy Nick is.
What was your best day in the saddle as a pro?
Well, the best experiences were the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Ronde van Vlaanderen, but my best day on the saddle was the Zuri-Metzgete. My biggest day on the saddle as a domestique. I controlled the peloton for 80 miles and put my GC on the podium. It was just one of those days. It all worked out.
What made you decide to hang up your wheels as a pro rider?
I was getting tired, sore from a lot of crashes, and broken bones. Riding Flanders most of your career does that to you. It was a tough life. It was a controversial period of racing as well (mid 90’s to early 2000s). It was just time.
Signing “the Flanders wall of fame”
You had a go at Race Across America (RAAM) in 2018. Compare that to pro racing.
Never again! Being an endurance cyclist as opposed to a pro cyclist is very, very (and let me put another very) different. I did it for a personal reason. Gave it a shot but its not my thing being on the saddle for 21 hours a day.
You earned degrees in economics, law, psychology, business administration, and management. Tell us how those have helped you in your career after pro racing.
I did that because I felt I needed more than just knowing how to change gears. It helped with the academic side of things, but I find that learning it “on the street” teaches you more. I got into managing Pro Conti teams after I retired, so dealing with budgets, and rider contracts and sponsor negotiations helped quite a lot.
For the record, Nick has been known to put a tire on backwards
How did you get into coaching?
By default I guess. I had cyclists that would simply ask me to help coach them. I decided to get into it in more detail. I don’t take that many people anymore. I really only coach the women’s team I manage and a handful of others including a couple of junior riders.
The badass ladies of the PBFC women’s team that Nick manages
What advice do you give to riders and racers in these difficult times?
Don’t get to caught up in what’s going on right now. There’s nothing you can change. Steady yourself and your training. Don’t overreach otherwise when you get back to racing, you will be burnt too early. Take the time to have fun on your bike. Find a new love for it and to take a quote from Eddy Merckx himself, “It doesn’t matter how far, how long, or how fast your ride, just ride.”
Nick is the Technical Director for the Kelly Benefit Strategies Elite Cycling Team
And a final word about Nick from Chuck:
Nick is a great guy whom I’m fortunate enough to call my mate. He’s someone who is just fun to ride and hang out with. One of the things I love about him is that he’s an ex-pro who’s not to pro to wave (a pet peeve for both of us is cyclists who don’t wave). And he truly is a very humble and unassuming guy. He will tell you that he wasn’t anything special as a pro racer (but we all know that to ride at that level – even as a domestique – requires being something special). And the walls of his shop aren’t covered in “look at me” photos of himself. Nick isn’t about having people pay attention to him; he’d rather pay attention to everyone else. I really appreciate him taking the time from his busy schedule being a single dad (with three great kids), bike shop owner, and cycling coach (plus riding his bike) to answer questions for PEZ. If you find yourself in the Washington, DC area, stop by ProBike FC for a chat and a laugh with Nick. He’s the sort of guy you’d have no problem striking up a conversation with in a pub. Better yet, do a PBFC Sunday ride (currently on hiatus during COVID) with “The Nuke” and his crew – there’s a group for every level of riding.
Chuck and Nick post-ride at the shop … Leave no man behind!