Barrett's journey from Castlelyons to coaching elite Tour de France cyclists

Barrett's journey from Castlelyons to coaching elite Tour de France cyclists
Pro cycling trainer and sports scientist Stephen Barrett

STEPHEN Barrett must surely have one of the most-fascinating jobs in the world of sport.

The Castlelyons native is a trainer and performance scientist, with the French professional cycling team, AG2R La Mondiale.

From adjustments made to the team’s technology, to its riders’ physical preparations, the 35 year old’s duties within the World Tour team see him helping riders to maximise their potential.

Essentially, Barrett has one aim; to help AG2R La Mondiale gain an edge over its rivals in the peloton.

‘‘My predominant role is as a coach or trainer. I will specifically coach eight of the guys, on what they do on a day-to-day basis.

“I then oversee a lot of the product development. There is a big emphasis on equipment and aerodynamics.

“I will spend a lot of my time in wind tunnels, working with our clothing manufacturers, our bike manufacturers, and our helmet manufacturers; trying to optimise performance through all these pieces of equipment.

“It’s not too dissimilar to Formula One. Cycling has changed in the last few years, where a massive amount of resources have gone in to improving equipment.

“You are always trying to extract small gains in these areas. That’s where I would spend a lot of my research and development,’’ Barrett said.

The opportunity with AG2R came about after Barrett wooed an audience of World Tour teams with his impressive sports science presentation, at the 2018 Tour de France conference.

When the Corkman’s previous team, Aqua Blue Sport, which had its roots here in Cork, folded later that year, he grabbed the chance to link-up with one of the biggest teams in the world of cycling.

A former lecturer at WIT, and strength and conditioning coach with the Waterford senior hurlers, Barrett brings a wealth of experience to the team, with his background in sports science.

An elite level athlete in his own right, having raced in the Rás with the Irish team, he has been tasked with working on the off-the-bike performance of the riders at AG2R, along with continuing the development of their biking equipment.

AG2R has a 28-strong roster of cyclists, which includes its poster boy, Romain Bardet, along with other well-known names such as Tony Gallopin, Oliver Naesen and Larry Warbasse.

The team recorded 14 wins across the 2019 season, while its emerging prospect, Benoit Cosnefroy, won a brace of races in the spring, before the shutdown of sport around the world.

Over the last 18 months, Barrett’s skills have been utilised more and more.

Now, with the racing calendar brought to a halt, he is faced with the challenge of keeping the riders from ‘detraining’ during the shutdown.

‘‘We are in the midst of the coronavirus crisis and none of the French guys can leave their home.

“We have implemented a pretty robust programme that those guys will follow. That’s quite novel within cycling, getting yourself fit off the bike.

“It has been an awesome challenge for me. From my time working in GAA, and working with a medium level cycling team in Aqua Blue Sport, to working with some of the top cyclists in the world.

“They race the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta a España every year and it’s a pretty cool circus to be involved in. There are also some races when I will become directeur sportif. You’re in the car, you’re shouting at guys in the race radio.

“I’ve been slowly exposed to that in my first year, as my French improved, as it is quite different. I was assistant director at the Tour de France and the Giro, which is just a mad, mad learning curve,’’ he said.

Castlelyons-native Stephen Barrett with Lasse Norman Hansen of AQBS
Castlelyons-native Stephen Barrett with Lasse Norman Hansen of AQBS

Barrett’s career has already been an extraordinary one, with his much-sought-after set of skills taking him to some of the biggest stages in world sport, such as an All-Ireland final and the Tour de France.

But what makes him tick? What continues to motivate him on a day-to-day basis?

Mentality:

‘‘My mentality has changed. I want to give as much as I can.

“When I was working in different jobs, I always felt that I was working at maybe 50% of my capacity.

“I felt that I could give more, offer more. I don’t want to waste everything I’ve learned. What makes me tick now is seeing somebody, whether they are a professional or not, either realise their potential or just improve.

“I have learned lots and I want to give what I have learned back to people. It gives me a buzz to see young lads who are mad to learn, who want to play GAA for Cork when they are older.

“I have a passion for helping people. I just want to help people improve. That’s led me to where I am now.

“I get to try and help people achieve what they think they can’t do or what they want to do. That is very rewarding.

‘‘What I have learned from my time in diverse jobs and being exposed to all those different environments (as a lecturer in sports science, as S & C coach with a GAA team, and as a cycling coach), is how to communicate to different people.

“When it comes to being an effective person in sport, and having longevity in sport, being an effective communicator of information (is the most important thing), ’’ he said.

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