Episode 38 - Toby Keegan

   

  

In this episode, we are joined by Toby Keegan, Race Director at Iron Man as we talk about his journey to working for Iron Man and the 3-day Velothon Sunshine Coast cycling event happening in July 2019.

Toby has had an extensive background in events, management and coaching in the industry of cycling. He has also worked with numerous companies like Whistler’s Bike Guide, Whistler Blackcomb, 99 Bikes, Ride to Conquer Cancer and SBR Triathlon before working for the prestigious Iron Man.

In this episode we cover: 

  • How Toby's love for cycling has taken him from Canada to Australia, working for different companies and initiatives in the cycling industry and eventually for Iron Man.
  • Toby shares more about the 3-day Velothon Sunshine Coast cycling event happening in July.
  • The course races that participants should expect in the one-day and three-day Velo.
  • What it takes to organise a multi-day event.
  • The inspiration for the Velo atmosphere during race days.
  • Who are the target racers of the Velo?
  • Toby shares his stories about cycling.

Links

Transcript:

FELICITY:

This is episode 38. Welcome to the All Torque podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I'm your host, Felicity Dales, managing director of Body Torque.

I have here today Toby Keegan, the race director at Iron Man. Toby studied Bachelor of Business on the Sunshine Coast and started as event coordinator at Whistler Blackcomb, then as an operations manager at Whistler's Bike Guide, product and accounts manager and assistant store manager with 99 Bikes for three years. Then as a business develop manager with Ride to Conquer Cancer, a triathlon coach with SBR Triathlon and now as a race director with Iron Man. Welcome, Toby.

TOBY:

Thanks for having me, Felicity. I'm pretty honored to be chatting to you, especially given the previous people that you've had on your show, especially I liked the John Trevorrow podcast.

FELICITY:

Yeah, thank you. You're welcome. It's great to have you. Tell us about your story from working at Whistler in Canada to cycling and triathlon back in Australia. How did it evolve to where you are now?

TOBY:

I used to.. I grew up sort of in a small town north of the Sunshine Coast but have always really enjoyed cycling and triathlon, even from a young age, so I moved to the Sunshine Coast after I finished high school because I used to come down here on the weekend and see everyone out riding and running and enjoying the Sunshine Coast. So I moved down here, studied at the Sunshine Coast University but also just continued on with my love for cycling and triathlon while I was doing that. Then once I'd finished high school, I was given the opportunity to go over on a six month work experience trip to Whistler Blackcomb in their events department.

FELICITY:

Okay.

TOBY:

And enjoyed it so much, I stayed for three years.

FELICITY:

Oh lovely.

TOBY:

Yeah, it was..

FELICITY:

Must say it's a great environment there, isn't it? I mean, everyone wants to go to Whistler, I think, being an Aussie so that would have been a great foundation for you.

TOBY:

Yeah well, I'd never seen snow before so it was a interesting experience for a hick from Queensland to see snow.

FELICITY:

That's right.

TOBY:

But it was great 'cause I got to.. as part of working for the Whistler Blackcomb operations team, I got to be a part of the Winter Olympics there in 2010.

FELICITY:

Oh yeah.

TOBY:

So I worked within the logistics and for the Alpine skiing, so that was an awesome experience for doing that and then yeah, came home, took up some work in the cycling industry through a company called 99 Bikes which is a retail outlet, and was their product manager for four years with those guys. They're doing really well, I think. When I was there, they started off with eight stores and now they're up to 22.

FELICITY:

Wow.

TOBY:

That was.. I quite enjoyed that but I couldn't escape the itch that I had for events and biking events, so an opportunity came to work with a pretty cool initiative called the Ride to Conquer Cancer, so I got onboard with those guys and was lucky enough to be tapped on the shoulder by Iron Man and offered a role with Iron Man and so I've been here now for about five years.

FELICITY:

Oh, fantastic. Well, it's lovely to be sought out.

TOBY:

Yeah, I was just very lucky. I've continued to stay in the triathlon scene for a number of years. I still don't coach as much as I'd like to but yeah, I still do a bit of triathlon coaching and I think.. I haven't raced for a very long time but I've just always been around the sport and around events so yeah, I was very lucky that Iron Man's given me that opportunity to now become a race director and look after my own events.

FELICITY:

And Whistler didn't convert you to the snow at all, obviously. You prefer the warmer weather and triathlon rather than skiing and winter sports.

TOBY:

I did enjoy it but yeah, I think I'm a summer person at heart so I was really excited to be home surfing and riding all year round. I enjoyed the seasons for a couple of years but I'm quite enjoying living back on the Sunshine Coast and being able to ride my bike 12 months of the year.

FELICITY:

I bet. So as part of your role with Iron Man, you organised the Velothon Sunshine Coast event, and that's on the 19th to the 21st of July, which is midwinter for us Victorians, and also it's a great time of year for a midwinter escape. Let's talk about that.

TOBY:

Yeah, Velothon's one of our newest events. It's coming into its third year for 2019. It's a three-day cycling event which is held here on the Sunshine Coast. The benefit for us or for the Victorians and the southern States is the fact that in July up here on the Sunshine Coast, we have highs of 23 degrees and lows of only 9 degrees, so it's a great winter escape for anyone that still wants to keep riding and not having to rug up to get out on the bike.

TOBY:

But yeah, it's a great event. It's three days of riding. Each day covers anywhere from 80 kilometres to about 130 kilometre rides, and we take in all areas of the Sunshine Coast, so rolling along beside the ocean up into Noosa. We've also got some great riding through the hinterland and then climbing up onto the Blackall Range which has some really amazing views all the way through to the coastline.

TOBY:

So basically, the event.. We just kind of wanted to give everyone a taste of riding on the Sunshine Coast. I'm a little bit biased myself. I think it's some of the best riding going around up here and we're very lucky to have some really quiet back roads that we can use. We just wanted to highlight the riding here on the Sunshine Coast and be able to share that with everyone.

FELICITY:

Well, you've got the three day Velo and the one day Velo and I see that the three day has 5,340 metres of climbing, and the one day has 2,073 metres of climbing so that's some epic uphill going on there, but I also know that you got feedback from your participants and you've actually changed the course for this year, so let's talk about that.

TOBY:

We're still working on the courses and we're working with the Government stakeholders to get approval for those courses, but based on feedback from the riders, they kind of felt that we blew them to pieces on the first day and they struggled through the second and the third day, so what we've done or what we're trying to achieve is to restructure the courses to make it more of a gradual build up, so we're still working on those courses and we're hoping to have them released in the coming months for everyone.

TOBY:

But I'm really excited with the changes that we've made and the best part is we're still keeping all those key elements of the Sunshine Coast for everyone to enjoy, but we're also making it, I guess a more rideable experience to cover all levels and abilities of cyclist.

FELICITY:

Yes, absolutely. What does it take to organise a multi-day event, Toby?

TOBY:

Takes a lot of time.

FELICITY:

Yeah.

TOBY:

As my partner would most probably tell you, but I think.. I usually use a great analogy of organising an event is like trying to herd cats.

You think you've got them all together and next minute, something.. another kitten's running off into one way and another one's running the other way, so you've definitely got to think laterally when it comes to these events but the biggest thing for me when organising an event is firstly safety and risk management. We put a lot of time and effort into making sure that all our riders are going to be safe, and then the second part of that is the customer experience. So not only making it safe but also making it enjoyable.

I always hope that people come away from my events with great stories and a sense of wonder around that, so it takes a lot of time. We work with a lot of Government agencies as well to get it up and running- local council, police, main roads authority. It's a collaborative effort and we're very lucky here on the Sunshine Coast that all of those Government entities are really events focused, and they also put in a lot of time and effort to give us the roads and the opportunities to really put on a first class event.

FELICITY:

Fantastic. Being on at the same time as the Tour de France, you've created like a village atmosphere where riders and their families can chill out around the Velo club house, watching the tour highlights and enjoy happy hour. How did that get inspired and how did you come about that?

TOBY:

I think the real inspiration came from when I was just sitting around in a café after a ride with a couple of mates. My favourite part of a ride is usually when I finish it these days. I'm not as fit as I used to be and I'm definitely carrying a couple of extra kegs, so I enjoy the post-ride sort of park up at a coffee shop and sharing the war stories and having a bit of a banter with my mates.

TOBY:

A lot of other events kind of have that option. You finish the race, you go into the recovery area, you get some electrolyte, maybe a banana or something like that and then you're kind of left to your own devices or you go your separate way. So what we try to do is just make this a sort of a main hub for everyone that's coming to participate but also family and friends. That it's.. The day before you come down, hang out, register for the event, check out- We've got a little bit of an expo as well there but yeah, we've got the big screen. We have the tour highlights running, a couple of bike documentaries and stuff like that, so it's really trying to make it just a real culture, I guess around that.

FELICITY:

Yeah.

TOBY:

It's an all-inclusive experience which I really enjoy, especially in winter. We've got the heaters out and a few blankets and some picnic tables and stuff. We could bring in a couple of food vans, we've got a great local coffee company that's there with the coffee and also a local micro brewer that brings their kegs there down to us, so it's a great atmosphere. The thing I really love is hearing these stories when I walk through the venue and meeting the different cyclists of, "Oh yeah, come over and meet Ben and Matt. I met these guys today out on the ride. We're just having a few beers afterwards and talking about Obi Obi and how difficult that climb was, or how scenic riding along the David Low Way is with the ocean and stuff."

It's an idea that we pulled from multi-day mountain biking events. They usually have those type of hub areas and yeah, we've tried to bring it over to the road cycling and I think it's worked really well.

FELICITY:

Yeah, that's great. I mean, it's really nice to socialise with like-minded people and when you've experienced the course together or not even together, but just having that camaraderie. It's fantastic that you can hang around and have a focal point together afterwards.

TOBY:

Yeah definitely, and I think it's well received and I know everyone always, we always have a daily highlights video that we run as well after the award ceremony. I know everyone really enjoys that.

FELICITY:

Enjoys that. Yeah, that's lovely. It's open to solo riders and teams with categories for Under 23, Open, Masters, Grand Master and for both men and women, and you also award the King Of Mountain sprint then leader's jerseys and then the overall winner's jersey. Is it only for the super competitive, or does it appeal to anyone who loves riding and events and loves a challenge?

TOBY:

We've tried to make it appeal to everyone, and part of changing the course is to also make it even more appealing to people that just want to get out there and ride, or are looking for a winter escape and want to, and enjoy cycling but we've also obviously added those racing elements too for those people that want to go out there and ride hard and have a crack and see if they can take home a jersey. So we have jerseys for all the category winners as well as KOM jerseys, sprint jerseys and then trophies for the overall winners.

A lot of people like that racing element but there's definitely sort of 50 / 50 split where people are just really happy to be out there. We ride them on some roads that maybe they haven't ridden before, even if they're local, so we consult with a lot of local cyclists. We're really lucky with the Sunshine Coast Cycling Academy, Ben Kersten and those guys. We consult with them quite a lot and they give us some inside tips as to a few rides that they like to ride out and the few roads they like to head out to on the Sunshine Coast.

It's challenging enough that if you're not at the front of the pack, you're going to enjoy it. You're going to get a sense of achievement at the end but I think it is open to everyone and hopefully, it's a great experience.

FELICITY:

Yeah, well it's great that you've got that competitive element and that you cater for that, but also encourage other riders that want to extend themselves or just want a challenge. I don't race, so let's say it could appeal to me but it could also appeal to people that do race, so that's great 'cause then you've got both camps covered and everyone can enjoy the experience.

TOBY:

Yeah, definitely and I guess it's all fully catered for as well during the ride. We've got aid stations out there. We've got signage, traffic management, police so it's a safe way to get out there and experience the Sunshine Coast.

FELICITY:

Have fun. Yeah. Is there a funny story that you'd like to share with us, Toby? Is there something that comes to mind?

TOBY:

Nothing quite off the top of my head at the moment. I think Obi Obi is a classic climb that has become a key part of our event, so it's a very steep climb that happens on the third day of the ride.

FELICITY:

Okay.

TOBY:

And when we first did it, we weren't sure if anyone would like it, or if anyone would be interested in supporting that. Our first year, we set up the course and we had it as a KOM climb and it's quite steep so a few people were walking it but we were so surprised by how many people and supporters drove out to this remote road and climb and cheered people on.

FELICITY:

Oh really?

TOBY:

Yeah, it was a really great experience so the following year, we ramped it up so when we went through their prize, the first athlete, we gave everyone cowbells and..

FELICITY:

Oh nice.

TOBY:

Then there was people dressed up and you do get.. I guess a lot of people know me from doing my pre-race briefing so when they see me at the top of the hill, there's been some expletives sort of mentioned to me. They've gone, "Are you the race director?" And I say yes and they go, "Bugger you, why'd you put that hill in?" But there's also some great stories where a gentleman the first year walked the whole thing, and really hated it but that was his goal, to come back and he trained to ride that hill  so he came up to me the second year, last year and was like, "Toby, I did it. I've conquered it. I got up Obi Obi without unclipping," and I'm like..

FELICITY:

That's awesome.

TOBY:

That was a really great experience.

FELICITY:

Yeah, that's a really nice story. And how far, or long, distance wise and also the gradient for Obi Obi, what is that?

TOBY:

It's about a three kilometre climb but it is a pinch. It starts out quite nice and quite mild but there's a serious pinch sort of halfway up which is about 15 and I think there is about a 200 metre section that sort of pitches up to about 17 degrees in incline. It's definitely a solid climb.

FELICITY:

Yeah, right. So that's something that our listeners need to train for if they choose to fly up and come out up for a winter's break.

TOBY:

Yeah, definitely train for that one.

FELICITY:

Nice.

TOBY:

But it is still achievable. I copped a lot of slack from the office so I went out and rode it and managed to get up it, so there's hope for others.

FELICITY:

That's right, exactly, and it's a good carrot dangler as well. If you can't do it, then come back next year like that guy.

TOBY:

Yeah, exactly.

FELICITY:

Well, I'd like to thank you for joining us today, Toby. Our listeners can find out more about the event by visiting the website www.velothonsunshinecoast.com.au and we'll have the link and those details in our show notes. They can also check up on what you're doing on Instagram which is Velothon Aus, A-U-S and Facebook is Velothon Sunshine Coast. So we'll have all those links in our show notes and there also could be an offer that you're offering our listeners, so we'll put those in the show notes as well.

So yeah, we'd like to thank you for joining us today. It's been really interesting to learn about Velothon and the website looks great. It's quite an exciting event to.. I'd encourage our listeners to go 'cause I think it looks fantastic, so thank you for joining us today.

TOBY:

Yeah, no problem Felicity. Thank you very much for your time.

FELICITY:

Thanks for listening to the All Torque podcast. We'd love it if you would leave us a rating and review on iTunes. This helps us to deliver content you want to hear about. Please take a moment to share it with your friends and family on Instagram and Facebook. I'm Felicity Dales, see you next episode for another story of inspiration and motivation on the All Torque podcast.

 

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