Stephen Barrett will join the coaching staff of World Tour cycling team AG2R-La Mondiale for 2019. The Fermoy native will assume the role of Performance Scientist with the French squad while also continuing in his role as Strength and Conditioning coach for the Waterford senior hurling team.
One of his key tasks in his new role in France will be to form part of the coaching staff supporting the team’s leader and 2016 Tour de France runner-up, Romain Bardet.
“I was very impressed with meeting Bardet and we clicked straight away. At the first team training camp in November he came over to me and the first thing we talked about was Ireland’s win over the All Blacks - he’s a massive fan of Irish rugby,” says Barrett.
Bardet was also keen to tap into Barrett’s training expertise from the offset.
“He is an extremely progressive character. He’s just so hungry for knowledge, he is a guy who is always looking to improve as an athlete. For someone who has been so successful I was amazed at how curious he was for new training information. He wants to get better, he wants to develop and improve. I was really struck by that.”
“As a coach I don’t care if it’s Romain Bardet or an under-12 from Fermoy cycling club, if they ask me a question and you can see that they are interested that’s all that matters.”
Having spent the past two years as Head of Performance at Aqua Blue Sport he will now begin to adapt to life in a new country, a new language and being tasked with coaching future contenders for the Tour de France.
Returning to professional cycling so soon was not originally on the cards for Barrett.
This changed dramatically when he was offered a multi-year contract by AG2R which came off-the-back of a highly-acclaimed presentation he delivered at a leading sports science conference in Nantes ahead of the Tour de France last July.
“I wasn’t expecting it. When Aqua Blue ended around the end of August I had no real ambitions to get back into pro cycling so fast. My focus was on helping the riders find new contracts and just taking a step back for a while .” he explains.
“Before AG2R came knocking I was very happy - I had a secure job as a lecturer in Sports Science in WIT and I also worked with the Waterford hurlers and I always intended to go back to that.”
Barrett, himself a former Irish international level cyclist, held a post as a college lecturer in sports science at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) up until December. However, a bigger team brings greater demands and in the end he was forced to chose between AG2R and lecturing.
“Balancing the two jobs would have been impossible this year, so I had to decide I was either a lecturer or a sports science practitioner. It was a difficult decision because teaching students is something I love, but opportunities like this don’t come around very often. I’m 33 years old - lecturing wilI always be there.”
Despite some initial apprehensions about transitioning into French life, Barrett is embracing the new challenge and is optimistic about the years ahead.
“For me personally it’s very exciting. To be able to learn a new language, a new culture but also feel very part of what the team is trying to achieve. I was brought in to help Bardet to win the Tour de France. I feel very privileged that they see me as part of the team to do that.”
While the lecturing will take a backseat for now, he will continue working with the Waterford senior hurling team and says working with a range of different athletes across different sports is an aspect of his work that he loves.
“You would be surprised how many similarities there are between them. Whether they are hurlers or cyclists - no two athletes are the same and part of your job as a coach is to figure out how to deal with the nuances and idiosyncrasies of each individual athlete and build a strong relationship with them. You can create the smartest most scientific training and nutrition plan but if your athletes don’t adhere to it or if they don’t trust you, then you have a serious problem.
“When I first started with the Waterford lads it was amazing. I never met a bunch of guys absorb so much information as what I was giving them - they just all wanted to learn and get better.”