Climbing to new heights
WHEN the Sunshine Coast’s Alastair MacKellar stood atop the Australian Junior Hill Climb Championships dais and Mat Hayman did the same at this year’s Paris-Roubaix they were worlds apart. But they had one thing in common – Merv McDonald.
The 82-year-old has played a pivotal role in coaching the region’s junior cyclists.
Merv may not have been the wind beneath their wings, but has certainly put air in the tyres of countless youngsters for decades.
Awarded an OAM for cycling two decades ago, his most recent success stories have been the likes of Shara Hillow, Dan Fitter and Ryan Cavanagh.
He currently has a squad of 10 in his development program, and charges no money for his time. While these days he needs the aid of a walking frame to get around following a stroke, he continues to help develop the next wave of Australian and Queensland champions.
Among those showing great promise is Alastair. Last weekend he won the under-15 Junior Canberra Tour after finishing with a 2:32:57 lead on the general classification over four stages.
Alastair got an early lead courtesy of the time trial and the first road race, and was never headed.
Before that there was victory at the Anzac 25 staged at Lakeside raceway, as well as winning the Cycling Australia Junior Mountain Climb Championship in Victoria where he took the title for the individual time trial, road race and general classification.
“Merv said it would take 12 months to get him up to speed,” Alastair’s father Duncan said.
“He has gone from being dropped in races to a national champion. To get to that level in 12 months…it’s amazing.
“It’s got to the point where I can’t keep up with him.”
Getting up between 4.30-5am each day, Alastair rides about 250-300km a week. That would include an easy session on the Monday, hill repeats up Crosby Hill Road on Tuesdays, stationary trainer sessions with Merv on Wednesdays, the fast Grind on Thursdays, an easy ride on Fridays before racing or group rides on Saturdays and Sundays.
While racing go-karts ad hoc and surfing, the Matthew Flinders student said it was riding with his dad which inspired the cycling interest.
“I only started the last couple of months doing alright,” the modest 14-year-old said.
“The first win was the national hill climb. That was a big surprise. There was also some good results at local races with the Brisbane and Gold Coast riders and then Canberra.
“I’ve just been doing lots of training and listening to what the coach says to do. It’s not easier (racing) but because the training is in my legs I have more strength and am able to do it.”
His sessions with Merv on the stationary trainer involve power measurements with intervals and sprints.
“Merv is very much about monitoring the kids’ heart rate. If they are going through a growth phase he backs off the training,” Duncan said.
When it comes to the future, Alastair isn’t setting any lofty goals just yet. Next on the agenda is the state titles next month, and if successful there it will be off to nationals in Bendigo during September.
“I just want to keep training, racing and see where it takes me from there,” he said.
Alastair MacKellar during his Australian Junior Hill Climb Championships success.
Dedicated cycling coach Merv McDonald.