The final flight of the flying mullet

A sideways move to the team car for the 34-year-old who has only taken the DS job because he will be tasked with supporting Bora-Hansgrohe's young riders.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 17.10.2023 Photography by
Jonny Long & Cor Vos
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While the likes of Zdenek Štybar and Antwan Tolhoek – both keen to continue racing but without contracts for 2024 – ride the Tour of Guangxi with the uncertainty that this could be their last professional road race, Shane Archbold knows for certain these will be his last moments in a WorldTour peloton.

The 34-year-old is retiring after nearly two decades since arriving in Europe to begin his career, year upon year where it’s been “non-stop.”

He won’t be grinding to a halt, however. Bora-Hansgrohe manager Ralph Denk has offered him the opportunity to become a sports director at the team the New Zealander originally joined in 2015 and returned to twice after various stints with Aqua Blue Sport and then Deceuninck Quick-Step.

Despite the fact he won’t have to say goodbye to the circus completely, Archbold says it still took him two weeks to write the social media message announcing he was hanging up his wheels.

“Last week when I announced it it was hard, it took me about two weeks to actually be like, ‘Okay, I have to do a post because the team wanted to announce the new role,'” he told Escape Collective at Guangxi. “It’s not easy. I thought it would just be like most things, a piece of cake. Just chuck it out there and it’s done, but it’s more difficult than it seems. Just because you have all of the memories and it’s hard to say goodbye to that part of the career. It’s the same for anyone in any career, though. If you make a decision like that it’s never easy.

“I think no-one’s fully content with it 100%; maybe they say they are, but I wouldn’t believe that anyway because especially if you’ve had a decent-length career, 10 years is a long time.”

Indeed, for Archbold the decision was made easier by the fact that Bora-Hansgrohe told him they wouldn’t be offering him a rider contract for 2024, CyclingNews has reported. An understandable decision with the leadout man’s sprinter Sam Bennett most likely off to Ag2r Citroën next year, but the German squad said he could stay on as a sports director.

“With the new position I have it’s been made pretty simple, I’m still going to be involved in all of this, the pre-, the post-, and the racing. I just won’t be out there suffering,” Archbold says of the decision to move sideways from the saddle into the car seat. His role will be one geared towards helping the younger riders on the team as well as the traditional duties of a DS.

“For me it’s helping the young guys,” he said of the thing he’s most looking forward to about his new job. “I’m not going to be the normal sports director; well, at the races I’ll be a normal sports director, but then [outside of that] I’ll only be dealing with the neo-pros. I’ll be helping Bora’s future over the years and that’s the most exciting thing. I wouldn’t accept the job if I didn’t have a position like that because I wouldn’t want to just be a standard sports director dealing with a global team.

Shane Archbold in profile at the start of a stage at the Tour of Guangxi. He's at sign-in, with a baseball cap instead of helmet, and sunglasses perched on top. His glorious mullet flows luxuriantly out from underneath the hat.

“I’d like to have my own projects and it’s yet to be decided because I haven’t actually spoken to Ralph [Denk – Bora-Hansgrohe general manager] about the exact ins and outs of my career, because they said, ‘Just focus on being a rider and we’ll sort all of that out in the winter,’ so in the next months [we will].

“I mean even watching races here, watching guys from other teams and from my team, they just make so many mistakes because they never get taught. They never go through stagiaire roles, they never go through the young parts of their careers. In my opinion the sport is changing in that way. They don’t have to learn the basics, there’s guys out there that can’t take musettes and bottles, for example; that’s definitely embarrassing.”

In terms of career highlights, going to the Olympics is one, as well as winning gold in the scratch race on the track at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. On the road, his national championships win in 2020 is a highlight, even though he didn’t get to wear his jersey as much as he normally would have thanks to the pandemic. “That was the year I really went all in,” Archbold said, “and that’s the year I won’t forget.”

Retirement from professional sport – even a sideways retirement like Archbold’s – means time for other things you’ve been missing out on. What’s he got planned for post-racing life?

“Ralph doesn’t know that I’m actually getting pretty good at golf. I’m not sure if it’s going to be PGA-level but they’re definitely both calling me at the moment. A couple of tournaments just to put a bit of money in the back pocket …” he jokes.

“Nah, you can’t say you’re looking forward to beers but I’m looking forward to going home, obviously there’s still work to do but being able to plan in advance that in two weeks’ time I’ve got five days off and I can do something … because I’ve been travelling since I was basically first came to Europe when I was 16, it’s been non-stop.

“It’s been something like, ‘I’d love to go here,’ for example stay in China and check someplace out, but then it’s like, ‘In two weeks’ time I’ve got to be at this camp,’ and it’s been like that for basically 15 years now. So it’s nice to be like, ‘Right, I’ve got this race, this program, and this week I can have completely off and this week I’ll do my planning and stuff like that.’ And then the beers in the evening are definitely a must.”

After the main thrust of the peloton has rushed past the finish line in Guilin on the final stage 6, there is no sign of Archbold. Olav Kooij wins a second sprint and his Jumbo-Visma teammate Milan Vader secures the overall, hugs are shared and photos are taken. The other riders don’t waste much time in making their way back to their hotel that’s two minutes down the road.

Soon, the area is cleared where just moments ago dozens of riders stood around drinking Fantas and beers. Half a kilometer back up the road, Archbold rounds the corner with Sam Bennett, the man he’s helped to many victories on countless occasions over the years.

There’s a slap on the back as they cross the line and then silence as they stop next to the two Bora-Hansgrohe soigneurs who’ve been waiting for them. The emotion is palpable. With a few final pedal strokes, the end of Shane Archbold’s professional career has been sealed. Archbold rests his head on his arms which are hanging over his handlebars, gathering himself for a moment. Soon, they set off side-by-side but still quiet. Archbold will be back, but this chapter of his life is now closed.

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