Who do you turn to when you need a bit of inspiration? A little pick me up to help you get back on the bike when motivation is low. We’ve all had those times, but thankfully we probably all know someone we can message to arrange a ride, or get a date in the diary to give us something to aim for.
For the Australian triathlon community, that person is Craig Needham, the winner of our 2021 Indoor Inspiration Award. Since Covid hit last year he has been the driving force behind a Zwift based group that has grown from single figures to a 4,000 rider community.
He hosts regular rides from his home in Cairns, Northern Queensland that bring together not just Aussie triathletes, but now people from all over the world. He was nominated for this award by multiple riders who although have never met him IRL (in real life) have become a firm part of this supportive and welcoming community.
“It just started as a simple meetup.” He tells us after we join him for one of his early Tuesday morning group rides on Zwift’s Tempus Fugit course. “Then Triathlon Australia needed someone to lead their rides. I knew a few people in the triathlon world and apparently, they’d said ‘Craig is probably the best man for the job.’”
He then started ride leading for the Zwift Academy, but to add some entertainment ran a quiz during the slower recovery rides. Points were tallied by rider’s nationality in a lighthearted bid to find the smartest cycling country.
He was soon running two Zwift rides a week for Triathlon Australia and introduced a ‘hot segment’ where one rider would be shepherded over the 8km segment on the Tempus Fugit course before a final sprint to get a PB.
The aim is always to get everyone working together as a team, helping one person to achieve a result and get their name on the Top Gear inspired leaderboard. Ride leaders give instructions to help keep the algorithm friendly ‘blob’ together while, Needham gives words of encouragement.
“The rides have kept our membership engaged during a difficult period.” Explained Michelle Cooper, president of Triathlon Australia. “They’ve allowed our brand to flourish in a new environment and gave us a head start on Zwift. Overall it was a critical component of our year.”
From his spare room in his house, on an old bike which no longer has a working rear wheel, Needham, a pilot with Australian airline Jetstar, added an occasional group ride that pulled in celebrities from the triathlon world. With the few contacts he had, plus running events in the name of Triathlon Australia, he has managed to bring former world champions to current para athletes and big names from the world of Ironman into these rides. While riding they’re being interviewed by Needham via Zoom as regular riders watch.
Their honesty and openness as they talk about their lives is telling. Needham effortlessly gets them to open up about any struggles they’ve had in life and how that brought them into the sport. “I'm not a high performance coach or anyone special, but just a regular guy.” He says. “And maybe that's what gives me credibility, that we might have chewed the same dirt. I just do this for the love of it. And I think if you do something with honesty and integrity then people will get involved,” he says.
For a full account of Needham's story, pick up a copy of Cycling Weekly magazine, in stores from Thursday, December 9. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week. (opens in new tab)
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Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, World Championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the Middle East. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.
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