Jordan Kerby | Just Another Hurdle
In June 2018 Jordan Kerby got the phone call to say it was the end of the line for him in the Cycling Australia track squad. A cold call some might say, others would agree. The goal was Tokyo, his dreams were dashed; for only a split second.
"After the phone call, I thought, ‘call Mum to get her to send me her [New Zealand] passport,'" Kerby said.
To understand the full mightiness of the Jordan Kerby story, we need to wind the clock back to the early days of his cycling journey, bouncing around the tracks and roads of the Sunshine State.
Kerby picked up a track bike at the age of 13 and never looked back. He chalked up every track and road season on the local circuit until he was selected for the Junior Road Worlds in Moscow in 2009. Junior Track Worlds selection followed the year after, and he helped himself to a few rainbow jerseys along the way. Smooth sailing.
Off the back of his performances in the junior ranks, Kerby got the call-up to the senior track team and the Jayco AIS road program for the 2011 season. The road season was split between Europe and the Cycling Australia National Road Series for Kerby and the other younger members of the road program. On the Track, he struggled to make a breakthrough into the first squad that was filled by names like Dennis, Bobridge, Hepburn and Durbridge.
In 2012 he rode with Jayco- Honey Shots on the road. He bagged three NRS wins and raced in several countries: China, Thailand and Azerbaijan to name a few. More smooth sailing, nothing to see here.
In the summer of 2012-13, he was putting the foundations down for an onslaught at the Aussie summer. Kerby and the rest of the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) cyclists headed to the annual training camp at Ocean Shores on the Northern NSW coast. Three 1000km weeks, getting those miles in for the summer. Either side of the camp Kerby was working in the local bike shop to make a living, so training time was pre and post-work hours.
"The Aus summer is always something I could work towards, I always had my best form on January 1. The environment for training in Queensland is unreal, it's hot, there are good bunches and the crits are solid," Kerby said.
Kerby won the Prologue at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, he wore the yellow jersey the following day, a day that many regard as the hottest day on the bike. His teammates who were riding the front in the defence of the jersey were being carted away in ambulances.
"Mate, Dan McConnell was in the hospital after day one, it was that hot."
A week later, he was on the top step of the podium in the under 23 National Road Race ahead of Jack Haig and Damien Howson. For those that know the course, it might sound weird to see the name Kerby above the names just mentioned.
"It was one of those no chain days, I was actually preparing for the time trial and I only got fourth in that and was pissed off."
"I remember Haig lighting it up on the last climb thinking ‘who is this guy?'".
A motivated, angry Kerby, look out rivals!
Days later, he was in Adelaide racing the Tour Down Under with the UniSA squad off the back of his impressive early season results. Jumping into breakaways and just enjoying the racing on home soil in the national colours.
It was hard from here.
From staying at the Hilton, in the guts of the Adelaide CBD in summer, to being in the snow in Europe just a few weeks later was Kerby's reality. He was signed with Danish outfit Christina Watches for 2013 and was jetting off to kick off the European season early. Some respite from the icy conditions arrived for Kerby, getting the nod to race at the Tour of Morocco where riders were doing superhuman acts. Kerby went on to say,
"On one stage, this bloke held off a rampaging peloton by himself for 180km".
Kerby, who was living with fellow Aussie and teammate at the time Mitchel Lovelock-Fay, got the call-up from the team to come do some racing in Denmark in April. No plane tickets were sent, just an address to pick up a rental vehicle. The boys were driving from the North of Italy to Denmark for some filthy Danish one-day races against the hardest men in cycling, Danish riders. The perfect introduction for some young Australians on the European cycling team. Teams take note.
"Neither of us had ever driven in Europe, so that was interesting, but the road trip itself was pretty cool. The racing not so much, we just got our heads kicked in up there."
"It was my first full season in Europe, its cold, nothing is the same as back home, I was just in a negative way all year to be fair. I'm glad Mitch was there because it would have been really grim solo".
The rest of 2013 Kerby got to race in some cool countries including Poland and Estonia, countries that are traditionally off the normal tourist route. He pinned the numbers on a few times with the u23 National team but headed back to Australia in August, "fairly broken."
He was back into another Australian summer in 2014 with Pro-Continental team, Drapac. The results he chalked up back in January 2013 was enough to land him a genuine pro road contract with the Australian registered squad.
Kerby wanted to be firing for road nationals and he was, as always. He won the under 23 TT in what he describes to be one of his best performances on a bike ever.
With Azerbaijan, Japan, Korea and the USA all stamped in the passport in 2014, attention shifted to under 23 time trial worlds in Spain.
Being Australian champion wasn't enough for automatic qualification, he was in what can only be described as a dogfight for a spot on the start ramp in Ponferrada. He paid his own way from Colorado to Italy to link up with the Australian national team to prepare for the Worlds.
"To qualify for a world champs, you do what you need to do."
The scenario was this; there were three riders going for one, two, maybe three spots. The criteria for worlds selection was awfully loose heading into Chrono Champenois, the selection race for TT worlds. The riders were told if you do a good ride you will fly to Spain, if you do a poor ride, you will drive back to base in Italy. For a lack of a better term, this would be classified as poor athlete management within any sporting organisation.
"I remember before the race, we were told there was one car going back to Italy, one car going to the airport for the flight to Spain, we didn't know which car we would be in at the end of the race."
Kerby was 9th on the day and the 7th fastest under 23. Five seconds faster and he would have been the 3rd fastest under 23, a result that would have probably been enough in the selector's eyes to get the nod to jump in the car heading to the airport. Alas, as it was, Kerby was cooling down on the turbo trainer after his ride, he was told that his Worlds dreams were gone, he was heading back to Italy that night. His 2014 season and time in the u23s was over, just like that.
"I would have paid the hotel bill in Spain. It was a massive kick in the guts. It can be an unforgiving sport this."
"It was the quietest eight hours I've ever spent in a car. I got back to base in Italy and the other boys were shocked to see me."
2015 rolled around, again on the books with Drapac. Kerby said it was the best year of racing in terms of enjoyment he ever had. Nationals, Tour Down Under and then into a full American program, no Europe.
"It was really fun racing, big roads, the race accommodation was good, it was just a really enjoyable season."
The start to 2016 was an exciting one from a travel perspective; Argentina, Qatar, Oman and Norway. But illness struck and Kerby just couldn't get on top of anything from a form point of view. It was here where the end of the line began to become a genuine possibility.
"I just couldn't get the ball rolling, I was just really struggling and just didn't have the level."
During a race in France in June, while staying in a Formula 1 hotel, Kerby was told he wouldn't be receiving a contract for the merger between Drapac and Cannondale for the 2017 season.
"I really struggled after that news, I thought that's me done, I was pretty confident I was going to rack it."
"One thing I wasn't going to do was go back to Europe and ride unpaid. I just wasn't willing to do it, I would have had to win ten races to get a look in for another contract. I just stopped looking."
He was set on this being the last few months of his cycling career. The thoughts of moving back to Queensland to live a normal life grew stronger as the race days in France piled up. However, the time that Kerby thought he was in the twilight of his cycling carer, he was watching the track cycling at the Rio Olympic Games. A spark lit up inside him. He got on the blower and called his old coach Nick Formosa and said,
"I want to jump on the track again, do nationals and finish cycling on a high."
He got home and got straight onto the boards after his road campaign concluded in August. So here he was, back where it all began on the track all those years ago doing what he loved. Just riding for the enjoyment, riding because he wanted to, and guess what, he was moving like you wouldn't believe.
In the early stages of his track renaissance he was training with the QAS for the team pursuit, but for Kerby, the others were just simply "going too slow". So, he went to the other side of the track in a full gas effort and held the rest of the squad on his own. It was at this point where he thought,
"Maybe we're on for an Individual pursuit (IP) here."
In the first proper IP trial, he did on his home track with Formosa he clocked a 4min.20 sec. It's a hot time yes, but it's even hotter after a three-hour endurance ride in the morning, eight hours at The Pedaler (work) on his feet, followed by a drive to the track on a windy, humid, Tuesday night to put yourself to the sword for your own pleasure. Imagine what could be done with full race preparation and a race environment. He was soon to find out.
Formosa put Kerby through his paces over the summer but the flogging could be tolerated. The perfect balance was in place. He was training hard in his hometown, working at The Pedaler, was with friends and family and had also started up his own coaching business. It was all coming together for Kerby as track Nationals were fast approaching.
"Pre-nationals I was thinking if I win the IP and get a look in that's great, but if I don't then that's that, curtains on my career, there is no pathway for me anymore."
"In the back of my mind, there was a voice telling me this could be it, so you better go fucking hard."
In the IP heat at Nationals, he was up against the price of Australian track cycling, Cameron Meyer. At the halfway mark in the heat Kerby was already two seconds down on Meyer and he remembers thinking,
"'What on earth am I doing here', but he blew up a bit in the last kilometre, I rolled around after the finish and saw my time of 4.15.2, I thought it had to be wrong." It wasn't.
The pair faced each other again that evening in the final where Kerby had the better of Meyer, he was crowned the National Champion.
A cycling career that had been on the ropes just months before was suddenly in full swing. Doors were opening, people were wanting to help, the full potential of Kerby was about to be unlocked. An opportunity, a chance is all it took.
"After the race, Cam came up to me and asked what do I want to do, do I want to go to the Worlds and join the track program full time? All of that was in the back of my head before the win, but I never thought I had a pathway in."
The win was enough for Kerby to get a ticket to Hong Kong for the track World Championships. The call from Tim Decker came through that he would be embarking on his first Senior World Championships. For Kerby, the selection was for the IP only, he was given the luxury to head home to train with Formosa and would join the rest of the squad in Adelaide just a week out from the championships.
"I was back on the track training with Formosa in Brisbane and I was creeping big style. I thought I had gone too hard into Nationals. We kept the pressure on to see how I would come out the other side. Those were some of the hardest sessions I did, just suffering like a dog."
He joined the squad in Adelaide and had seemed to have come through the heavy Queensland block in ok shape. The trials in Adelaide were solid, he wasn't setting the world alight but he knew something was brewing.
He arrived on site on Hong Kong feeling fresh. With the added ingredient of being submerged in the race environment, his legs were as good as ever and his flying laps on the boards in Hong Kong were catching the attention of Decker.
"Tim would take me aside after my efforts and tell me to back it off a bit, I didn't think I was even going that fast, I was just feeling unreal, the legs were incredible."
On the start line at the World Championships, nobody would have predicted what a guy who was on the brink of hanging up the bike just a few months before was about to achieve.
During the heat in the IP at worlds, he was put on 4.17 schedule. Given the speed of the track, it was a time that would have been around the mark.
"I remember looking at the lap board every time, .5 up, .5 up, I knew I had to slow down or I would explode, but I just couldn't slow down man."
He finished the heat in a time of 4.12.1, the third fastest time in history. Only Bobridge and Boardman had ever gone quicker.
"At that point, I just went back to the hotel and didn't look at anyone else's time, ‘surely I am riding for a medal tonight.'"
He was. In the final, he went head to head with Italian Filippo Ganna. Kerby shot out of the start like a bull at a gate. After a kilometre, the start gun unexpectedly went off. A monumental cock-up by whoever was wielding the pistol. The riders stopped and regrouped, and after some discussion, it was agreed that a traditional restart was the best course of action.
"The first kilometre of an IP doesn't normally hurt that much, but the second time doing the first kilometre is just unbearable, it was like doing a five-kilometre pursuit, it just felt like slow motion."
He dug deeper than Ganna and won the final after the re-start. He won a senior world title. Only months prior, Kerby, in a filthy Formula 1 in the middle of France, was ready to hang up the bike, yet here he was, in Hong Kong, wearing the Australian colours about to pull on a rainbow jersey.
"That was emotional man, I gave Tim a hug, I could see water in his eyes, I hugged my partner up on the fence. It was actually surreal."
"I'm not the most talented bloke out there but I can work bloody hard."
After the World Championships, Decker allowed Kerby to come into the track program on a full-time basis for preparation for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Tokyo Olympics.
"I had done a very little amount of Team Pursuits, Tim didn't have to let me in but he did, and I'm forever grateful of that."
A 12-month lock-in for Commonwealth Games awaited Kerby and he arrived at the games on the Gold Coast in good shape, but not in his World Title winning form. He rode in the heat where the team rode a 3.52 flat, a searing hot time in which Kerby pulled some huge turns to save the legs of his teammates for the final. In the final, the team rode a 3.49.8, a new World Record. He was now a Commonwealth Games gold medallist. All focus was now towards preparing for the 2020 Olympic Games. However, another hurdle, the biggest hurdle possible popped up from the mist.
The first of June rolled around. The phone rang. A cold call, no notice, nothing.
"'You're not coming back, we are cutting the squad down to seven, you're out' is what they told me."
"I was just in a state of shock man. I was already in the gym, I was back on the track working on my explosiveness to come back into camp."
"I understand these decisions need to be made, but they can be done better."
"I know there are some great kids coming through, but I would have liked to have some targets to reach six months down the track, and then have the selectors to re-evaluate me."
"Two days after the call I had to get my wisdom teeth taken out. That was a really rough week."
This wasn't enough to dash his dreams of competing in an Olympic Games. Kerby, at this point now 25, just saw this as another hurdle along the way. Another problem to overcome, so straight after the phone call about his cutting from the squad, his brain was ticking over on how this problem can be fixed.
"After the phone call, I thought, ‘call Mum to get her to send me her (New Zealand) passport.'"
His mother was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia in her teens, and Kerby saw this as the ticket to continuing the Tokyo dream. The wheels were now firmly in motion for Kerby to be donning the black kit of New Zealand at the 2020 Olympic Games. After hours and hours of phone calls, paperwork, waiting in lines and weeks of general admin, he was now a fully-fledged New Zealander.
"I'm a Kiwi now for the rest of my career in the eyes of the UCI. I'm a Proud Kiwi now."
"The other spanner in the works was that Cycling Australia had to allow me to change countries. While they did get rid of me, they did allow me to move to New Zealand, which I'm very grateful for, they could have easily said no."
"My relationship with Cycling Australia is still good, there is no animosity there, these decisions have to be made."
If ever there was a story to keep doing what you want in life it's this one. Roadblock after roadblock, Jordan Kerby kept finding ways to get where he wanted to be, and this incredible tale is still not over. There is still plenty left in this story. No doubt more barriers to overcome but if there was an Individual to jump these barriers, its Jordan Kerby.
"It's not over yet. I'll only stop when I've had enough, and until that time I'll use all the resources I have to get to Tokyo."
We wish him all the best on his road to Tokyo.
See you back at the social club,