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Jean Spies and Brigette Mileson: Behind the Scenes of Olympic Dreams

Episode 19

Jean Spies and Brigette Mileson.

We don’t match, but what are we going to do to match? Can we do it, or is it beyond what we can do?” And we both decided that, actually it would take us a little bit of a plan and a bit of a process, and it’s put a plan in place, but we’ll do it.

-Brigette Mileson



This week on Talk of the T-Town, Joan and Andy sit down with Jean Spies, Olympic hopeful and his manager Brigitte Mileson, as they discuss how Jean and Brigitte came to work together, the road to making Olympic dreams come true and the challenges faced along the way.


Jean Spies


Website: https://insidetrackcentre.weebly.com
Facebook: @JeanSpiestrackcyclist
Instagram: @jean.spies
Twitter: @jeanspies

Brigette Mileson

Instagram: @brigittemileson
Twitter: @brigittemileson



Transcript

Joan Hanscom:

Welcome to the Talk of the T-Town Podcast where we discuss all things track cycling. Broadcasting from the Valley Preferred Cycling Center, I’m your host and executive director, Joan Hanscom, along with my co-host, athletic director Andy Lakatosh. Welcome to the Talk of the T-Town Podcast. I’m Joan Hanscom, executive director, joined by my co-host, Andy Lakatosh. And we are speaking today with Jean Spies, joining us from Switzerland, and Brigette Mileson joining us from Milton Keynes in the UK. And we’re very excited to have them on the pod today, it’s a bit of a different conversation, and it’s one I hope you guys enjoy.

Joan Hanscom:

We’re going to talk about the pathway to becoming an Olympian that runs through T-Town when perhaps you’re not from a robust rich federation like British Cycling or Cycling Australia or New Zealand, and what that struggle is like and how you go about setting yourself on a pathway to Olympic dreams when it’s really a challenge to fund the plan. And I’m really excited to roll into this with the two of them and hear about their team, how they work together, their backgrounds and really dig into the love of the bicycle that’s required to follow this path. And so, welcome to you both. Let’s just jump right in, and we’ll start with you, Brigette. Tell us a little bit about yourself for our listeners who may not know you super well.

Brigette Mileson:

Hi guys, thanks very much for having us. It’s great to be able to chat with you, especially after enjoying T-Town for the last couple of times that we have been there. My background has actually come from hockey and swimming. And I’ve moved into working in cycling through doing sports therapy, so I’m actually a sports therapist by trade, but I’ve studied cycling management and sports management and athlete management. And that’s where Jean and I ended up working together. I fixed his shoulder in treatments, and then we got chatting about what he wanted to do, and it went from there. That’s a brief background for me, but I haven’t been in track cycling for long. I used to be more on road and mountain bike and then jumped in the deep end when Jean asked me to join him at the 2016 World Championships.

Joan Hanscom:

Right, nothing like jumping in right into the deep end, right?

Brigette Mileson:

Very much into the deep end. 2016 was very educational.

Joan Hanscom:

I have no doubt. And Jean, tell us about you, and tell us about how you’ve gotten here today on this podcast with us here in T-Town. What’s the path?

Jean Spies:

Hey Joan and Andy. I guess the love of bicycles got me to this point. We ended up going to T-Town 2017 and just fell in love with the place. We’ve gone back every year since. Unfortunately obviously last year was a bit of a nightmare, but yeah. Just fell in love with T-Town and the environment and the whole family community of what T-Town represents for us as a sport and as a cycling community as a whole. I think that’s been the biggest factor for us. You get to May just before you leave June, and all that excitement builds. And it’s more just the whole package. Yes, racing is fabulous and international racing is top level there, but just the whole thing of okay cool, I’m going to see these people and we’re going to do this, and, and, and it’s the home away from home which you love every piece of [crosstalk 00:04:07].

Joan Hanscom:

But take a step back for us though, because Brigette just talked about 2016 and jumping in the deep end. And I know that you started as an endurance rider and have been making a transition into more sprint type disciplines and the Kilo and some other of the sprinting type disciplines, so tell us about your pathway and your development as a bike racer, and where are we find you today as a bike racer.

Jean Spies:

I was one of those where you go a jack of all trades, but a master of none. I started racing on the BMX at the age of six, then started racing cross country, downhill, went onto the road and basically a friend of my dads was throwing away a track bike, and I got my hands on it. Got my dad to drive me out to the track every Saturday, and basically the love for track cycling grew from there. South African sport, or South African cycling in general is distance based or endurance based. You get these weird races, for example the Munga runs literally from the one end of the country to the other end of the country, or the ABSA Cape Epic, which obviously everyone knows as the biggest mountain bike race in the world. But yeah, our whole cycling community is based on endurance stuff, so sprinting was never a thing.

Jean Spies:

And for me, I was racing on the endurance side of track cycling, and we went to World Championships 2016. Well, Africa Champs is actually the week before, then had to go home, find a little bit more money through crowdfunding and then fly to London to try and get to World Championships, where we didn’t quite swim when we got thrown into the deep end. We sunk like rocks, but no better way to learn than through fear itself. But yeah, I think that was the one point where the transition for me from endurance to sprinting really triggered. And then 2017’s T-Town, it was actually the big trigger. T-Town itself made me realize that decision just needed to be made and needed to be made quickly. I remember that year we… I was still racing endurance races and I was racing the sprint events, but in the endurance races I could, for example in a points race, yes there’s 10 sprint opportunities or points opportunities, and I got to a point where I was only contesting two or three sprints and the rest of the race I was really hanging on for dear life.

Jean Spies:

But then we got to the shorter Pro-Am racing and I’m going, “Okay, we can maybe race here. We can maybe do something.” Jumped into the Keirin events, and it was the same principle. Obviously, my level was not as good as the international riders there, but I could at least get involved and get stuck in. And to me, that was a point of going, “Okay, wait. Something’s not right in a sense of endurance. This is definitely the path that we need to follow.” And yeah, just took it from there. The Kilo, I’m going to blame the Kilo on Brigette because nobody loves the Kilo. It’s a place that you go to see very dark things, but yeah Brigette said to me that I’d be a good Kilo rider, and then one day I ran a 106 Kilo on training bars and I was like, “Okay, hang on. Wait, there’s something going on here.” And it just developed from there to being a Kilo specialist.

Jean Spies:

Not that I ever focused solely on it, because it’s not an Olympic event, but it was, I think, coming from the endurance background, having some sprint legs, it just made that transition to Kilo a lot easier. And then had a go from there through to the sprint events just made it that extra step. Yeah, it came full circle through every single discipline. You’re BMXes are going short and fast are now going to sprint which is short and even faster.

Joan Hanscom:

And I think you touched on something super interesting that I think Andy and I find so rewarding about life here at T-Town, which is it’s a little bit of a crucible, right? Where you can come in and really start to measure yourself consistently, race in, race out against some of the best in the world. And so for some riders, it’s you get the World Champions racing here, but you also get people who are figuring out how to take that next step up in the sport. And it’s just that consistency of the opportunity racing here where you get to do just what you just described.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, I’m doing all these endurance races, I’m doing these sprint races, and I’m starting to see where it all falls out in terms of where my abilities lie and my pathway. And I think we see that happen a lot here at T-Town, so it’s cool to hear you say it. It’s like I came to the Crucible in 2017 and learned a lot about myself as an athlete, and it set you on a path, which is super cool to hear. And we hope that that path is just getting more and more interesting for you since 2017, which it sounds like it certainly is. And so it’s all your fault, Brigette that he’s on this path.

Brigette Mileson:

Pretty much. When omnium used to still be the 6th event, he used to do really well in the shorter events. And he used to be quite highly ranked until the points race, so I just said to him, and he would win the Kilo, and he would be really highly ranked in the 200, and then I just said to him maybe it’s worthwhile investigating actually if those two disciplines would suit him better than the longer distance. And so he started playing around a little bit and yeah, I still think it does. I wouldn’t say he’s a pure, pure sprint specialist, as in the 200 meter pure sprinter, but definitely Kilo and Keirin, he’s got very good strong points in those.

Joan Hanscom:

Tell us a little bit more about how your teamwork works. Is it just the two of you in your organization, or is it more? Tell us about how this partnership is working and on the path you’re on together.

Jean Spies:

Basically, we can start off from scratch in 2016 when I had to go to African champs. A week before African champs our Federation decided to turn around tell us they’re not sending anybody anymore because of funding. And Brigette was like, “Well, let’s raise the money.” And that’s basically where it started. We make a joke of it, and it’s kind of this is team South Africa, the two of us. There’s a couple more that have joined us, and that are striving for the next level, but yeah, this is the team. Brigette takes care of everything, including, I’m going to say babysitting me, because I’m still a six foot three year old. But yeah, it’s been challenging, because we’ve obviously had to raise the funds to race ourselves, but we’ve also had to learn the rules on our own. We’ve had to obviously learn the hard way with that type of stuff. But all the little nitty gritty things that generally most people would take for granted, we’ve had to go and learn ourselves.

Jean Spies:

I know, for example, there’s a couple of South Africans that one of them have been into T-Town, but there’s a couple of South Africans that are now asking for help to go an race overseas. And they’re asking these little questions that I’m going, “But the answer is obvious.” And at the same time, when I was in that situation, the answer wasn’t obvious. It’s just little things that you pinpoint and take for granted. I’m going to use tires as an example. What type of tires do you use on a concrete trap?

Jean Spies:

What type of tires would you use on the wood is two different types, but unless you’re actually in this environment, you don’t know these things. And T-Town is actually one of the perfect places to learn those things, because all the international riders are fitting under the big tents and you go, okay, what has he got on his bike? And then, why? I think the why is always the biggest question with that, but yeah. Sorry, I’ve gone off tangent, here. This is [crosstalk 00:12:46]-

Joan Hanscom:

Tangents are good.

Jean Spies:

I think Brige wants to jump in there. I could see it on her face, but yeah, we take it on as a team. I do, obviously the riding and the the technical side of things where Brige basically handles everything else.

Brigette Mileson:

When it all started in 2016, when I pushed him, I’d worked with a couple of athletes before that and helped them get a bit of sponsorship and funding and to get them to the Olympics for Rio. And then prior to that for London, for 2012. But I will say that my path in this journey with Jean has been vastly different to those. I was more an outsider with them and just helping out where I could, whereas with Jean we took it head on, and my husband’s been incredibly supportive of it as well, and done a family thing, because I’ve got two boys and they absolutely loved Jean to death. And so they’re all behind us on the whole journey and the whole path. And basically, yeah, we took it on 2016, decided we would find sponsorship and decided that after 2016 World Championships we both sat down went, “What are we missing? What happened?”

Brigette Mileson:

I learned a lot. I’ll say it on air, I got my first fine from the UCI. I missed rider confirmation, which if you know, is a very big thing, and it’s a very big fine. I had to deal with that and try not to stress Jean out about the fact that I just received one of the biggest fines that UCI issue, and at my first track event that I’d ever really been at. I was sitting studying on the plane on the way there, but it was very much one of those where we both sat down and went, “What do we do from here?” We took one look at the competition that was going on and everything that was going on around us and we were like, “We don’t match, but what are we going to do to match? Can we do it, or is it beyond what we can do?” And we both decided that, actually it would take us a little bit of a plan and a bit of a process, and it’s put a plan in place, but we’ll do it.

Brigette Mileson:

And that was part of the processes. Unfortunately, we wanted to do T-Town in 2016, but Jean had surgery on his shoulder, so it ended up not being a possibility. We had to push everything back a year and start again in 2017, but 2017 we started the process with T-Town and when we started doing a bit more international racing. And we had a plan of what we wanted to try and achieve, and from my side, sitting in 2017 in T-Town, we sat in the tent, and I started listening to the conversations. The Dutch were there, I think Canadians were there, and then just having general conversations with the people that were there and trying to find out information. We’re both open to learning, we’re both open to absorbing if someone wants to give us advice, we’ll take it, and if it works for us we’ll definitely use it.

Brigette Mileson:

That was our process from that point, as we wanted to try and do as much international as we could to gain the experience, as well as to make the network and the connections, because there was also something else we really identified is that it’s such a tight community. Track cycling itself is it’s own family, and we were definitely the outsiders at that point. And hopefully we’re not that anymore, but we tried to make as many connections and talk to people and learn stuff and ask questions. And I mean, I still do it. I still ask a lot of questions, because Joan, you’ll know, and I’m sure [inaudible 00:16:36] know as well is that being a female in a male dominated sport, it’s very different. And especially being management and not a coach, so I’ve got to [crosstalk 00:16:47]-

Jean Spies:

Can I jump in there? Please go on about the first Keirin in T-Town in 2017 as a female.

Brigette Mileson:

First Keirin of the day, first UCI event of the day, we arrived at T-Town the day before. Jean clips in, and between the two of us, we ended up on the floor. I thought I had him, he thought I had him. I obviously didn’t have him, and we both went over. But thankfully we were on the side, so we weren’t actually on the track. And yeah, that was the introduction. And the other male coaches, all the guys came running. They were like, “Oh, can we help you? Do you want us to take him on the track?” And I was like, “No.” I got to figure this out, I’ve got to learn this and he’s got to trust me. And I’ve got to trust myself holding him, even though he’s not very small.

Brigette Mileson:

He’s six foot three, so it’s not a small guy. But yeah, so from then we have an agreement, Jean and I that I will pretty much hold of him at every event on the track, just because we’ve really walked this path and I’ve already dropped him, and almost dropped [inaudible 00:17:59], so we’ve crossed that bridge, so we can go on from there.

Joan Hanscom:

It’s so funny that you mentioned that though, because we had almost the identical conversation with a different twist on it with Lynn Monroe, when she talked about that particular role that she plays as well. And she talked about being at a World Cup, and essentially, she ended up holding up the whole line, right? She was just like, “Oh my God, I’ve got to hold the whole line.” And it was a really fun conversation with her, and so it’s funny to hear it from you. But yes, I’ve worked in this business now since 2002, so I’m old and fully appreciate what you mean about being female management in a very male sport, and also about learning the nuance of this very niche, niche, niche discipline. Because I started in road cycling, and worked in cyclo-cross, which are both very, I think, straightforward disciplines, right?

Joan Hanscom:

There’s not a lot of nuance to them, at least certainly not in the way that track with so many different events… You really have to learn the ropes, and I’ve been lucky that I’ve had Andy Lakatosh who knows more about UCI track racing than I would hazard a guess most people in the US know, to be my mentor as well. I feel like I jumped into the deep end of the pool as well. When I got to T-Town, I had vast amount of bike riding experience and event experience, but very little track experience. And so I’ve been lucky to have Andy be my track translator for a while, but how am I doing, Andy? How am I doing with my track knowledge now?

Andy Lakatosh:

You are a incredibly quick study. And I have to admit, I think we work so well together because I’m always looking for what’s unwritten in the rules and going, “Okay, so if it’s not written, I can do this, right?” And you’re definitely very much the same, so when I come to you with all my crazy harebrained ideas of like, “Hey, it doesn’t say we can’t do this, so I want to do it.” You’re like, “Oh, yeah, let’s definitely go do that. That sounds fantastic.” And that makes it a lot of fun to work with you and just feel really supported. Because it is a very complex thing. Lining up a month of World Cup level events was absolutely insane, but we went for it full send, and I think it went really well.

Andy Lakatosh:

And honestly, my 2020 was absolutely nuts, but working with Joan and everything that we had planned, and the way that we adapted and moved through everything, really I couldn’t have asked for a better organization to be a part of and a better time to be a part of the organization. Because I think we did some really great stuff. And it’s a bummer what we didn’t get to do in 2020, but I can tell you, we’re just even more excited for what’s coming up in 2021 and beyond. And yeah, our creativity between Joan and I just keeps getting better and better. And yeah, I very much enjoy our collaboration in this messy, nitty gritty world of track cycling and UCI rules.

Joan Hanscom:

And I hope UCI is not listening to our creative programming discussions right now, where Andy and I do… Andy knows the rules so well, and I know the rule so not well, that we do get to that point of, yeah, let’s do it.

Brigette Mileson:

To be fair, it sounds very similar to Jean and I. Jean knows all the track cycling rules incredibly well, so if I’m unsure of something, then I could sit and have a chat with him about it and that does. That definitely has helped. Definitely helped me a lot, because he’s got an incredible memory and he does… Andy, he’s very similar to you in that if that’s not written down, that means it’s not necessarily doesn’t have to be followed. We end up in big discussions about it, because then I’ve got to be able to justify it to the officials if anything happens in an event.

Joan Hanscom:

Exactly. Exactly. This is a really excellent, I think, point to transition to the pathway you were on was focused at 2020. So was ours, right? We had great plans for 2020, you obviously had big plans for 2020. They got a little weird, and so now we’re got a path for 2021. What’s 2021 looking like for you? How is that road to Tokyo looking for you guys right now? Where are you? What’s the plan? What’s happening?

Jean Spies:

I live in a cave basically. It’s the easiest way to explain it. At the beginning of 2020, I was invited to come to the UCI World Cycling Center in Switzerland. For those that don’t know what it is, basically the UCI have a center for athletes that do not have federations that can look after them. The track program is special here, because most of the disciplines that are here are on a development basis, so I’m going to take the road as an example. These riders are developed to send them to pro-continental or World Tour teams. They’re not here to, for example, win the Tour de France. Whereas the track squad that is here right now, every single day training is like trying to win World Championships.

Jean Spies:

We have a world record holder, we are the second fastest time in the world here. We have a World’s medalist here, so we’re six track riders here, five of us, five of the six have been to T-Town in 2019. Four out of the five have been to T-Town the three years prior to that as well, so this is a really strong squad that’s here. But reason why I say we live in a cave is I have my little room that is basically a cell which is… I’m going to say five by five, and then we ride down to the center, train there, have lunch, get into the gym, come back and you’re in your little cave again, and that’s it. This has been happening since July last year, so there’s not much outside of cycling for us.

Jean Spies:

I think for the general person or for most people it would probably drive them absolutely mental, but I don’t know. I quite enjoy this. I love riding bike as much as I possibly can, so I’ll just keep doing it every day. But yeah, from our organization perspective, I think things have been a little difficult for Brige and myself because obviously COVID has had its problems with the financials and stuff. If we take a look at, for example, our sponsors from 2019, I think we had 12 sponsors that year, to this year where we have one. Every other company has closed their doors.

Joan Hanscom:

Wow.

Jean Spies:

It has been quite challenging in a sense of getting funding in, of understanding what is actually needed. The difficulty, which I didn’t actually foresee, especially coming to Switzerland, was not being… It’s not a case of not being at home, I’ve never go home. Well, I haven’t been home since 2017, properly, but it’s more interacting with people from home, just the awareness part of what we’re doing and what we’re trying to do. And it’s easy to make that awareness possible when there is racing, and you can actually send results home or videos or stuff like that, whereas that stuff hasn’t been happening. In that sense, it’s just almost as if we’ve fallen off the planet. I know we’ve done really weird things in order to try and just keep getting in funding.

Jean Spies:

I mean, I’m going to jump in it, but so like for example, Brigette does deliveries, like a Deliveroo, just so that we can keep ticking over with funding in for racing. I did deliveries before I came back during COVID as well, so it’s just it’s created quite a challenging situation for us in that sense. And then obviously, your plans have of, so for example, equipment and stuff that we need for the games, that’s almost all gone out the door as well. If we can find funding for sponsorship or sponsorship of equipment and stuff like that. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll be racing Olympics on a bike that is six years old, on wheels that have been raced for four [inaudible 00:26:53], stuff like that. Which it’s not ideal for the games, but the situation is what the situation is, so we just keep going with it and taking the punches as we come.

Joan Hanscom:

And we’ll certainly, in the show notes, provide any links to folks who are listening who might want to chip in with some of your crowdfunding or support you. We’ll definitely include links for our listeners to say, “Oh, gosh. Let’s help them out. Let’s throw some dollars that way.” I think it’s a hot topic everywhere, right? It’s certainly a hot topic here in the US of how do we fund development riders? And it’s not one without controversy. It’s super challenging, even when you come from maybe a bigger federation than what you guys come from. Even here in the US, it’s a real challenge, and our Federation isn’t like GB, right? Great Britain has the Lottery, helps fund just an incredibly rich budget for British cycling.

Joan Hanscom:

And we are not funded by the government, so everything that we do is funded by memberships or donations or some USOC funding. And our Federation struggles, so I have to imagine when you’re coming from an even smaller federation, there’s almost zero support coming for you guys to chase what you’re chasing, if I’m understanding correctly. It is really what you can drive for yourself.

Brigette Mileson:

Yeah, it is. We basically let the federation know what we’re doing, and that’s pretty much where it starts and end. And we need their assistance for things like entries for World Cups or World Champs and that sort of thing, but other than them really providing the entries, we pretty much have to be self sufficient. Which, as bad as it sounds, it’s also been an incredible thing, because we wouldn’t necessarily have learned what we’ve learned without it. We wouldn’t have necessarily made the friendships without it. And I think that’s been, as much as it’s really a challenge, it’s also provided us with an opportunity to see what we’re made of and how badly we want to achieve this.

Brigette Mileson:

And I say we badly want to achieve this, we do. Jean’s sitting in Switzerland, we’re unsure of when the funding is going to come in to help him to stay there, so he’s just training every day like it’s his last. Which is a great thing, because obviously there’s structure in place and he’s under Craig Maclean, which is fantastic. He’s a brilliant coach, so there’s obviously all the right things in place for him there, but he trains like it’s possibly the last time he’ll be there. And that’s how we do it. And that’s how we did the racing as well, we raced every event that we could in case we couldn’t get to the next one. And that put Jean in a really good placing with his rankings and that sort of thing. I mean, we’re actually going away to Egypt this coming weekend. We’ve got African Championships.

Brigette Mileson:

And as much as it’s not the most ideal place to go right now, we have to do it and we have to race it, and then hope that Jean does well in that and we get the necessary points we need to keep ranking to keep us placing, and that sort of thing. There’s also boxes that we have to tick, and as much as the federation not being so supportive in terms of financial, it’s provided us with the structure that we need, that we know works now in order for him to be able to be competitive at which events. That helped us plan our strategy.

Joan Hanscom:

Right on.

Andy Lakatosh:

Yeah, and you definitely live in a world now where it’s like, you make one plan and then it changes. Then you make another plan, it changes again, and it’s just a constant, evolving thing. I mean, if I kept a diary just from what we do at the track of what we thought was going to happen each week of this year, let alone last year, you would have thought we were changing universes there was so much shifting and adjusting. But one of the big questions that I’ve been wondering since we started talking is there’s definitely a legacy of T-Town and how we attract people. And I know so often from the countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and stuff, there’s a lot of, oh, you have to go to T-Town.

Andy Lakatosh:

There’s a lot of folklore behind it. And we do have a couple of South Africans that have come over on a pretty regular basis, but I was wondering specifically for you guys 2017. Take me back there. How did you guys hear about or find out about and decide, you know what? Let’s go give T-Town a shot. Was it somebody, was it just looking at the UCI calendar? What tipped it over to come to basically a cornfield in Pennsylvania and ride a velodrome?

Jean Spies:

That actually started probably when I was a junior. JP van Zyl mentioned it. I know JP.

Andy Lakatosh:

There’s a name I remember. Sorry, I have to jump in here. I remember JP, because I knew him when I was like 13, 14 years old. He was one of the people in the summers that would shape my young mind, so let that marinate with you, if you know him for how terrifying that may be. And then probably around 15, 16 he stopped. When I was that age, he stopped coming to T-Town. And every now and then you’d think about, Oh, I wonder what JP is up to? Etc. etc. And then, this is one of the cool things about track cycling, right? Because you just never know when you’re going to bump into someone that you know in the most random places. And I guess this wasn’t the most random thing, but it was definitely unexpected on my end. I was at the 2012 Olympics with Njisane Philip from Trinidad, acting as a mechanic slash coach for him. And for whatever reason, we wind up next to the South African pit. And I think Bernard was the guy that was there for that one.

Jean Spies:

Yes, [crosstalk 00:33:17].

Andy Lakatosh:

Yep. And out of nowhere I just hear this, Lakky. And it’s not uncommon for me to hear that inside a track [inaudible 00:33:24]. I was like, “Who the hell…” And I turn around and there’s JP, and I’m like, “Oh, my goodness. What are the odds that you get… And so we just wound up swapping stories and laughing at all that sort of stuff. And it was five days of just seeing him and catching up after 10 years or more of not seeing him. And then poof, it’s all gone again, right? And I could wind up seeing him again somewhere random, I’m sure the same thing would happen. But so you just brought up that name and I thought of so many stories [inaudible 00:33:55]. None of which can be shared here on a public podcast, but…

Jean Spies:

[inaudible 00:34:00] JP.

Andy Lakatosh:

Yeah, so anyway, back to you as a junior and him shaping your mind talking about T-Town.

Jean Spies:

Yeah, JP mentioned it after his racing career. I was also a junior heading into under 23, and I never really thought of it because I had a road focus. And again, I was in endurance stuff, and everyone’s always a case of go to Belgium, go to Belgium. Now I’m like, “Be stupid. Just go to America, even if you’re a road rider, just because of the design of racing and the way that the community is structured in the sport.” But yeah, JP mentioned it, and then… Anyway, long story. 2016 after Worlds, so again, like you say, you bump into people in random places. Brigette’s husband bumped into Kurt Begemann and they trained together when Kurt was living in Zimbabwe. And [Sean 00:35:05] introduced myself to Kurt and we were chatting and then Kurt actually invited me over in 2016. As Brige said, I had surgery in 2016, so I couldn’t go and then we just organized it for the 2017.

Jean Spies:

That surgery was quite a situation, but the last, or the other main reason why I had surgery was because I sneezed and my shoulder fell out of its socket. It had become that bad that it was like, “Okay, that’s it. There is no other thing, you have to have the surgery and you have to have it now.” And that was two weeks before we were supposed to leave for T-Town, so it’s just a side note. But yeah, Kurt introduced us, and that was history. It just we fell in love with the place straightaway.

Andy Lakatosh:

Well, it is definitely a place that… I mean, I personally, I grew up there so I’m biased, but I’ve always loved T-Town and everything about it. But the next follow up… I’m glad you guys found us and got hooked. It’s definitely one of those places. In a certain extent, Joan is like the track cycling drug dealer, right? Once she gets you in and you get a taste of it, you’re like, “Oh, I’m coming back.” Right? We have a product that creates return customers, and that’s definitely been fantastic. But so you guys came in 2017, right? 2018 was a pretty wild year for the track because we were going through a lot of changes.

Andy Lakatosh:

Joan came on end of 2018, and then I came on in a more full-time type basis. And up to 2019, I was wondering if you guys could share from your perspective, because we have a lot of longtime legacy people here locally, and have visited for decades, so we get a lot of comparisons. But you guys came during three very unique and three very different years. And I was wondering if you guys could share some of what you liked, disliked, changes you noticed from your guys visiting athlete perspective, and what you think of us now and how we go about things. If you guys would be willing to share that.

Jean Spies:

I think what’s cool about this was one, is we can actually give it from both sides here. From a rider’s perspective and from a management perspective. But from a rider’s perspective, 2017 was… I know I was in the deep end, but it was rather serious. It was like writers need to know their place and just ride and be over and done with. Whereas 2018 I know, obviously it was chaotic for you guys, but for me as a rider, something just clicked in T-Town that year, and I started just going faster and faster and faster. And I enjoyed the racing a lot more, but it was a lot more chilled for us. And at the same time it was you knew what to expect. It wasn’t a case of there was highs and lows or different… I’m not saying rules or a different organization, it was like, this is what we’ve got. This is our template, please stick to it. We knew as riders exactly what to expect, exactly where to go, how to do it. And that, just for me, because of my OCD, just makes life easy.

Jean Spies:

Just clockwork, it’s easy. That’s it, it’s done. And then 2019 I know for Andy it was chaotic, especially with his screen that [inaudible 00:38:33]. But for us, for me as a rider, that was something special. To see the organization of T-Town have to deal with 55 male sprinters and I think it was 48 female sprinters, plus three rounds of qualifying for an Omnium for the men, and two rounds of qualifying for the women. It’s like that takes some serious doing just to make that flow. And for us it flew by and it just worked, you know? Yes, the Keirin had extra rounds of extra rounds that if you get to the end of the day and you’ve had eight Keirins instead of four, it made a difference, but at the same time for us as a rider, I was loving that. Because it was like every racing opportunity I could get, I would take.

Jean Spies:

Yes, the Keirin is a short race and it is one sprint, but for eight Keirins in a day, it’s priceless. To be in eight situations where yes, your life is hanging on a thread and the guy next to you is leaning on you, or the other one is trying to hold you up and stuff like that, but you’re not going to get that anywhere else in the world. And I think that’s why 2019 was so beautiful. Even in the Pro-Am racing, I remember standing on the side of the track waiting for, I think it was Casey, waiting for Casey to go, “Okay guys, you can get on the track.” And everybody literally running onto the track to make sure that they can actually get a spot in a Pro-Am race. Where in the world are you’re going to get silly little situations like that, that creates camaraderie, that creates relationships and friendships between rider and federations that last and actually take us through to, for example, World Cups, Nations Cups? And it just makes things that much more lasting.

Jean Spies:

I had a good giggle at one of the South Africans that were there as an endurance rider. He had a GoPro on for one of the Pro-Am races. And we came off the track and he was in shock that as he moved out of the sprinter’s lane, four sprinters dove down the inside. And he came off the track, he’s like, “I don’t understand.” That’s racing, that is what T-Town offers, is those little funny situations where you won’t generally catch yourself in unless you’re racing at the top, world level. But T-Town allows you to have that in a Pro-Am race that is not serious, but you’re learning something that you’re going to use in the near future. From a rider’s perspective, yes, each year has been different, but for me personally, it’s just one layer of the cake to the next layer of the cake to the next level cake. It’s just gotten better and better.

Joan Hanscom:

Right on. I like that.

Andy Lakatosh:

I’ll tell you, I mean, listen, there’s no better way, at least for me, I think I’m speaking for Joan too, that to butter up a race promoter director than to go… It was seamless. That was the smoothest event, we had all the information we needed, and it’s like that’s something that we strived for across the board. And yes, if you know me and you know the quantity of gray hair I had, say 2018 versus 2019 at the end, it definitely was not a stress-free summer, I’ll tell you that.

Joan Hanscom:

No it was not.

Andy Lakatosh:

No.

Jean Spies:

I remember seeing a clipboard going flying.

Andy Lakatosh:

That has happened. That has happened from time to time. There’s also my signature look when I get asked one of those questions that’s in the tech guide. I’m just like, “You got to be kidding.”

Brigette Mileson:

Yeah, I got one of those, Andy. Okay? I’ve felt the wrath of that look.

Andy Lakatosh:

I’ll say this, I’ve definitely calmed down a lot in 2020. 2020 was a very calming year for me in a lot of ways, but what I really wanted to say about how you guys perceived 2019 and stuff, yeah, okay, there’s a lot of design, and there’s a lot of work that goes into it, but hands down, that is a testament to Joan, right? We took on a block of racing, and my job, I got to focus on just the stuff that I was really good at, right? And Joan put a team in place to focus on all the other stuff that each one of those people is really good at. And it’s nice to feel so in control and have the freedom to not set a field limit for Keirin at 36 and say, “No, you know what? We’ll let 80 people ride a Keirin, and I’ll change the schedule, and I’ll do it. And we’ll just make it happen.”

Andy Lakatosh:

And to know that my boss has my back to do that craziness, and also that she’s put a team in place to allow us the ability to do it, right? Yeah, I’m not chasing down extra medical staff or the officials or volunteers and that everything’s lined up and in place. Honestly, my biggest regret about not getting 2020 off the ground is I was like, “Oh, this is going to be so much easier this year.” This was going to be-

Joan Hanscom:

[crosstalk 00:43:49]. We were ready.

Andy Lakatosh:

Yeah. And what’s funny is we rolled right off what was the end of our quote, unquote, season in the end of August, September, with our final time trial day. And I think that very next Monday, Joan and I were sitting down and going, “Alright, what’s 2021 look like? What’s the race schedules look like? When’s UCI?” We’ve been so hard at work, because yeah, we do keep making things more complex, but also more seamless, right? And I’m super excited for this year in that respect, but no, that… Thank you, that’s definitely the most tremendous compliment that I know I can get is to hear that wow, that event was great. We loved everything.

Joan Hanscom:

100%. I mean, I mentioned before my background came from cyclo-cross, right? And I ran a national cyclo-cross series here, so we ran events across the country. All UCI C1 cyclo-cross. I ran the world championships in Louisville for cyclo-cross, and one of the things that was the most important to me as the event director, was that when you showed up at my US Grand Prix of cyclo-cross, whether it was in New Jersey or Colorado or Oregon or Kentucky, Wisconsin, that you had that experience that you just described, Jean. That’s my gold medal, is that when you said you showed up and you knew what to do, and you knew there was a template in place, and you knew that the experience was going to be X, that’s exactly what the goal is here.

Joan Hanscom:

And you want to guarantee a quality level of experience that’s consistent, and so to hear you say it out loud just warms the cockles of my cold dead heart, because that’s really the whole thing that I strive to achieve here is, like Andy said, it’s like I play quarterback and I throw the ball to the members of the team that need to catch, right? And I’m super lucky that every time I throw the ball, the team catches, and it’s so nice to hear that it translated to your experience, so thank you. And I can tell you 2021, we took things that we learned in 19, we were ready to implement in 20, which we obviously didn’t get to do. But 2019 taught us some things about process here, things like timing and scoring and electronic timing, and just learning stuff on that front that I think will translate to an even better experience for you the next time you’re here at T-Town.

Joan Hanscom:

Now you can get live race results on your phone as you race instead of… And COVID taught us that too, right? That was a COVID driver. We had to adjust just like you had to adjust in COVID times. We ran racing last summer, but only time trials. Well, what do you really need for time trials? You need timed results, but you also had to be touch-free. We couldn’t have people gathered around pieces of paper, so we changed our whole timing and scoring system because of COVID. But that’s going to translate to a really good evolution for regular racing when it starts back up here, so we try to evolve and we try to adapt, just like you guys have. And I share, by the way, your OCD, so I appreciate that comment. I was like, “Oh yeah, he’s like Andy and I are both reasonably high functioning anxiety people with OCD.” So we’re glad we’re not alone. And with that said, I guess 2021, you’re on a path. Are we going to see you here in 22, is the big question. You going to come back?

Jean Spies:

I’d absolutely love to be there in 2022 if we can get the funding to do so. 2022 is pretty difficult as well, to be honest. Brige and I were actually discussing it the other day. We have Commonwealth Games also in July. I’m assuming that T-Town is going to go back to June, just because we like it in June.

Joan Hanscom:

Andy?

Jean Spies:

[crosstalk 00:48:12], but we have Commonwealth Games in July in London. Well, it’s Birmingham, but the track’s in London, so that does pose a little bit of a challenge for all the riders from the Commonwealth countries. At the same time, my contract here with the center is only until the Olympic Games, so I might actually just come and do my prep for Common Games in T-Town. And then there’s still obviously 23, 24. I don’t know when, but there’s a challenge that I really want to do within the T-Town system. In 2018, Gabe challenged me to see how many laps I could race, so I basically raced every single UCI race I could and every Pro-Am race possible.

Jean Spies:

I can’t remember exact count of laps, but it was over 600 laps that I raced in the four weeks that I was there. It sounds silly, but I’d like to do that over a whole T-Town season just to see how many laps I can get out of it. But yeah, we still have normal racing and all the rest of it, obviously funding dependent. To be brutally honest with you, if and when… If there’s funding, we’ll race. If there’s no funding, I’ll have to hang up my bike, so we’ll see what the future holds for us.

Joan Hanscom:

Well, we certainly hope that that is not the case, because we’d love to see you back here. And I will tell you, because of some of the innovations that Andy has made to the Saturday schedules, there is an opportunity now for you to get extra laps. You can race two days, you can race Fridays, and then every now and then you could also race on Saturdays and even try to set track records, so there’s a lot more laps to be had if you stay the Summer. Just saying. You could put that record so far out to reach that nobody will ever challenge it, so there’s the challenge. Gabe made a challenge in 18, I’m upping it.

Jean Spies:

[crosstalk 00:50:08].

Brigette Mileson:

That escalated quickly.

Joan Hanscom:

Well, you said you could wind Andy up, so I’m doing my best to wind you up.

Jean Spies:

[inaudible 00:50:20]. Honestly, I love riding bikes so much. My passion for the sport is just to get people on bikes and to ride as much as possible. For me, if I could race every weekend, I would. The thing being an endurance rider, or coming from endurance to sprint, the biggest difference for me has been the lack of riding. Some days it does my nuts, I go crazy, because I’d love to spend five, six hours a day on my bike, then I’m sitting on my bum between sets. It’s a bit weird.

Joan Hanscom:

I hear that. Andy, how do you manage that? You know Andy’s staging a comeback, right? Everybody, that Andy is [crosstalk 00:51:03].

Brigette Mileson:

[crosstalk 00:51:03].

Jean Spies:

I’ve heard he’s quite dangerous. I don’t know if I want to race him.

Andy Lakatosh:

Listen, you can’t look at that video from 16 years ago. It’s irrelevant now. I’m a new person.

Jean Spies:

Not the same Andy.

Andy Lakatosh:

No, not the same Andy.

Joan Hanscom:

He’s a [crosstalk 00:51:18] Andy.

Andy Lakatosh:

I mean, I fill my time with all the work for the track, right? I’m doing this till we get off the phone here, then I’m straight into a couple more emails, couple more tech guides to work out, then I’ll hop in the car, bags are already packed, head to the track, do the track, come back from the track and dig right back into it till dinner. And then it’s just a repeating thing like that, but I absolutely love it because every day I feel like we’re getting closer to something really great. And we’re being more creative, and I’m sitting here, and oh, everybody is going to love this. Then reality hits that not everybody’s going to love everything that I have planned.

Andy Lakatosh:

And I will hear about it, I’ll hear about it in spades, but it’s the compliments from the athletes like you, the team managers and stuff that are just like, “Hey that was awesome, that was unheard of. That was something we couldn’t get anywhere else, so thank you.” That’s definitely goes a huge way with us for the value in doing this, because as you guys can attest to, there is not a lot of money in cycling, let alone track cycling. We do this for the love of it across the board. It’s nice to share that love and that appreciation with other people, so thank you guys, as always.

Joan Hanscom:

On that note, I think we’ve kept you a very long time. And I think before we wrap up, just for the listeners, and again, I mentioned it earlier we’d put it in the show notes. But for anybody who’s listening who wants to contribute, how can they help you? This is your moment. Plug. How can people help you who are listening?

Brigette Mileson:

We’ve got a website set up that’s linked to PayPal, so there’s a donate button on PayPal, and then it comes through and they’ll get a notification from us and a thanks from us and-

Joan Hanscom:

And the website is?

Brigette Mileson:

It’s www. Now I’ve going to do it blank. Hold on. Inside the track, inside the track center. I will send it to you. I’ve only recently launched it, so sorry. It’s still [crosstalk 00:53:42].

Joan Hanscom:

No worries. And if-

Brigette Mileson:

[crosstalk 00:53:44].

Joan Hanscom:

… people want to follow you on social media to follow this journey that you’re on, Jean in particular, what’s your social media handles for our listeners? They can follow along.

Jean Spies:

Instagram is Jean.Spies, or Facebook Jean Spies Track Cyclist, and then on Twitter as well, Jean Spies. Pretty straightforward.

Joan Hanscom:

Very, very good. Everybody follow along with the scrappy adventures of this dynamic duo as they head to Tokyo, and we will hope to see you here in 2022 with some renewed energy and hopefully renewed funding. And thank you so much for coming on the Talk of the T-Town Podcast. We’d love to have you back. We can talk to you further along the pathway this season if you’d like. Just pop back in for a follow up, but we’d love to follow along with your journey, so thank you again for joining us. And this has been the Talk of the T-Town Podcast with me Joan Hanscom and my co-host Andy Lakatosh. Follow us wherever you consume your podcasts. Give us a like, subscribe, leave a nice rating if you like what you’re hearing. It all helps us grow and we will be back next week. Thank you.

Joan Hanscom:

This has been the Talk of the T-Town Podcast with host Joan Hanscom and Andy Lakatosh. Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode brought to you by the Braun Medical Inc. Head on over to our website, thevelodrome.com where you can check out the show notes and subscribe so you’ll never miss an episode.