He’s a World Champion team sprinter, a former Keirin Track World Champion and an Olympic and Commonwealth Games Bronze medallist… 28 year old Shane ‘Perko’ Perkins is one of Australia’s track cycling luminaries and an all-round nice guy. That said, he’s had one heck of a year. We caught up with Perko to find out how he manages to consume 4,500 calories a day, why the Japanese adore the Keirin, the unexpected beauty of back injuries and more.
Tell us about the year you’ve had to date
It’s been a busy one with a few new challenges. Due to surgery on my shoulder I missed the World Championships. I got a new coach (Gary West). There was a lot going on for a while there as I found my feet with the changes.
For the last four years I’ve lived part of my year in Japan to race, and 2014 was no different. I headed over there in April and started off with three wins in a row – a great sign as it was the best start I’d ever had in Japan.
I returned to South Australia in May to fulfil some commitments ahead of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Things were going well at the time; it felt like we (editor - Shane will always talk about him and his support team, versus himself only) were onto something good, and then suddenly I came down with a nasty back injury whilst doing strength work in the gym.
What happened following the injury?
I couldn’t get out of my contract in Japan, where I still had another five races. There was no choice – I had to go back and race with the injury. There wasn’t time for medication and I just had to race through the pain. Two weeks later I returned to Australia and had an MRI, which confirmed bulging disks. I got seven cortisone injections to try and settle it down. The best medication would have been rest, but with everything ahead that was not an option. The Comm Games were coming like a freight train and the closer we got, the more I wondered if I was going to be able to commit.
My coach staff had confidence in my training history and my ability to perform when a number is pinned on my back. Four weeks out from the Comm Games things started to look up. I was back in Japan and racing my final competition there and things were looking good. I’d made the finals, where I was in second position and looking a strong contender to get into first. About 50 metres from the finish line, my back gave way again.
So tell us what your condition was just prior to Glasgow
I went back to South Australia and this time had an epidural to settle the pain. A few days later and it appeared as thought this was working. Two days before I was due to fly out to Glasgow, my team and I decided I should get the legs moving, so we put a bike on rollers and off I went. I got off the bike and couldn’t walk. It was pretty scary. We made the decision to fly over, get to the Race Village and basically just rest up until heats. My team had so much confidence in me – it was great to have them believing in me so much. It was without question the toughest injury I’ve ever had in my career.
So you’re in Glasgow at the Comm Games Race Village. What unfolded?
I found myself walking to lunch or dinner and getting a really nasty pinch in my back, so I took to riding my roadie around the Village. As luck would have it, the only time my back didn’t hurt was when I was on the bike. We (Matthew Glaetzer, Nathan Hart and Shane) came away with a bronze medal, and I just missed a medal place for the Keirin.
Let’s go back now… What was the first bike you remember riding?
A very, very tiny BMX. I have fond memories of it and recall falling off many a time as dad tried to teach me how to ride.
And your bike these days?
Glad to say it’s a lot more sophisticated than the one I started on! It’s a Bicycle Technologies Australia carbon fibre – a BT Stealth. This was made for me in Australia for the London Olympics and I’ve been on it ever since.
You mention BT, what other sponsors look after you so you can maintain your profession in cycling?
I have terrific sponsors – BT, Musashi, Subaru and Huon salmon. I’ve been a part of the Jayco Pro Track Team for almost seven years now, and have been really grateful for their support over that time as well.
Your dad represented Australia in track cycling. As a kid it looks like you weren’t too taken by the bike until your teens.
Yes – growing up I was surrounded by cycling. Dad used to build bikes back then as well as mentor a lot of riders. They were always coming over to the house and I learned a lot from just soaking up what was around me – but I never really had the fire to ride. I was heavily involved in basketball and playing at a decent level. I was serious about that but at the same time I knew in order for sport to play a role in my life, there always had to be an element of enjoyment. I still believe in that. The basketball coach started to get pretty serious about my training and although I didn’t mind the hard work, enjoyment started to wane.
So how does a basketballer suddenly turn to bikes?
I borrowed a bike from a mate at the local Carnegie Cycling Club and hit the track. I loved the freedom of it – even though the bike was essentially stuck on a track there was still a level of freedom that was addictive. Someone could be yelling orders at you from across the track, but you’d hardly hear a thing with the wind in your ears. I fell for it and haven’t looked back.
You fell for it big time. You weren’t riding for more than three months before you took out two gold medals and broke two Aussie records at the U15 Nationals!
Yeah I suppose I just found my niche. Sure I got some genetics from mum and dad, but I think it was more that I really enjoyed what I was doing. I got so much out of the whole process that there was a huge and instant leap in my performance. I remember that period – in the State titles I came second and third, and then a month later I broke those records at the Nationals. I think the fire had been lit during the titles – I wanted to win.
Parents and advice go hand-in-hand. When it comes to your dad and your profession, does he have many words of wisdom to offer? And do you listen?
Dad and mum have both played a huge part in my life and my career. They are always offering a lot of support. When I am willing to listen they also offer words of wisdom. Dad and I have a close bond through cycling, but mum and I have a close bond I think through family. She is really proud of who we are as a family and that my wife and I lead a really healthy life and lifestyle with our kids. Whether it’s to do with sport or daily life, mum and dad have been on the planet a lot longer than me so I’d be silly not to listen.
What about your children? Do they show signs of continuing the family sporting prowess?
At the end of the day my wife and I are proud of our kids no matter what they do. Whatever path they choose we will support them. My wife (Kristine Bayley) used to race bikes on the track as well. They’ve seen pictures of her racing and they see me racing – that might spark their passion. What’s important to me is they get to see me living my dreams. I am enjoying what I am doing and living a healthy lifestyle. I hope they look at me and want to love, enjoy and have a huge passion. This is one of my dreams for them if I can pass that on.
Your wife Kristine used to race track competitively. Has this helped you in your profession?
I am definitely grateful for having met someone in the sport who understands what it takes in terms or recovery, nutrition, time spent away racing/ qualifying and how draining it can be. So that is fantastic to be with someone in whom you can confide and who gets it.
Do you have any rituals you perform before a big race?
Nothing that stands out. Although I have always been a left before right man. Left shoe, left glove, cleat in left first.
Can you give us an idea of your training schedule at the pointy end of the programme?
Generally Mon, Tues, Thurs and Fri we’re generally gym from 9am – lunch time.
Afternoon is track from 2 – 5.30pm. They are big, long days.
Then the days in between will be lighter, but when I say this we’re generally seeing physios and massage therapists, which sounds nice but is quite brutal. There’s a lot of tightness and knots in the muscles – they’re painful to have treated out. Weekends are generally what I call coffee rides – more for the head and to tick the legs over, enjoy the sunshine, enjoy a chat with the mates. Rest day with family is Sunday. It’s a chockers week – they go by fast.
What about your nutrition? Can you give us an indication of the volume and types of food you would consume during peak training?
I’ll generally consume between 3,500 – 4,500 calories per day depending on the sessions. It’s quite hard to eat that much food when you have those big training days, especially when it’s quality food you need to consume – much easier if you’re just planning to eat crap! So I’ll eat oats, berries, eggs etc for brekkie.
Post training I’ll take in a Musashi protein shake (Musashi has been looking after me for ten years). I’ve got to be careful not to hit the next session with a heavy stomach, so I’ll usually turn to juices at this point. I am not a massive fan of them but I’ve now got a juicer at home and will blend veggies and fruit.
Dinners are usually fish or lean meats and veggies. I am fortunate to be sponsored by Huon salmon so they look after the whole family with sensational fish. Then just before bed I will take in more oats to meet the needs of recovery and make sure I get in all those calories.
Where are you based?
When I am in Australia, Adelaide is now home. When I am in Japan I am usually down in the South in a fairly remote location at a Keirin school, although this year I was fortunate enough to be based quite a bit in Tokyo for racing.
Do you speak Japanese?
A little bit – I can get by. It’s a challenging but beautiful language. A lot of the riders there are English speakers, or English is our common language. We have an interpreter but I have been challenging myself to try and get by with less and less assistance. A lot of the Japanese riders want to speak English though, so it’s hard to practice.
Give us an idea of Keirin racing in Japan – why does it have such a strong following in Japan?
The top riders in Japan are definitely absolute superstars. They also make a lot of money from what they do. They are on billboards around the country and are essentially celebrities. We (foreign riders) are strongly promoted as well – I have even been asked for my autograph walking down the street.
I think one of the reasons is the excitement it brings – it is one of those sports where every time there is a race, there is always drama. There are not many rules so there’s heat butting, hooking, and crashes in pretty much every race. There’s also an adrenaline rush for the crowd watching the speed the riders reach.
There is also serious betting around the sport but what is interesting is the fact something like 20 – 30% of money raised through betting has to be invested into the communities surrounding the velodromes. I think there’s something like 45 of these around Japan, so that’s a lot of money going back into local infrastructure, parkland, community welfare projects and the like. We could learn a lot from what they are doing!
What’s your most satisfying professional goal to date?
Winning my first world championship in 2011 – in the Keirin. It was fitting given I had been racing the Keirin for so long in Japan. I had had a rough ride the day before in the sprint and the year before had won a silver medal. I said I wasn’t leaving without a medal. I willed myself to win. My coach (at the time) Sean Eadie and I had a lot of trust, bond and work put into that win. It was a great moment for us to share and enjoy. It was unforgettable.
What is the ingredient – or combination of ingredients – that have made you the champion track cyclist you are?
I think I’ve figured out that there are never just highs and there are never just lows; there is a combination. You have to give something to get something. You have to work your bum off in training so you can get the return in physiology. You have a challenge – be it sporting, your kids, an injury, finance – you get through it and you get stronger and eventually there is a high. It’s how you balance yourself and work through all these.
What about your biggest challenge to date?
For sure this year’s back injury. So much out of that experience gave me greater mental toughness and showed me what the body can do when it’s not in good shape. It opened my eyes. Maybe at the time I’d lost some of the fire in my belly; the injury lit it back up again and showed me just what I’d miss out on. At the time I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to me. Strangely it’s become one of the valuable things that could have happened.
You say you learnt what the body can do when it’s not in shape. What about the mind? How much of your success is delivered by your mind versus your body?
I think your mind is everything. You get out of bed in the morning and even the most motivated athlete says I don’t feel like getting up. You’re telling yourself no – I am getting up because I want to be the best and this is my goal. Mind constantly has to work over matter. Sometimes the biggest thing we overlook is the effect your mind can have on your body and where it’s going. We get stuck on the view that says physiology is of utmost importance – you have to be better, faster, and stronger.
I disagree - more important is the muscle in your mind. That’s what gets you over the line. You train most of your waking day for a race like the Olympic Games. You’re in the form of your life. You crash in the semis. You’re bruised and battered. How do you deal with that when your competitors remain flawless? You have to convince yourself that you’re still in form. You have to believe you’re the best. That’s how you win. It’s about pushing out all those negative thoughts.
It’s important to work on brain skills – these help you succeed with the rest of your life.
Do you ride at all during your down time?
Yeah I am a bit hopeless when I have a break. I like to play golf but when we are not training hard it’s hard. I climb the walls during down-time and love to get out.
What’s your one indulgence?
I love my sweets. That gets hard especially when I am preparing for a big event and trying to keep body fat levels down. I really enjoy the food that I eat anyway.
Do you have any mentors or people you admire?
My old coach Sean Eadie I still confide in him and chat to him for advice. He is always there for me even though we no longer have a professional relationship.
If you weren’t a pro rider, you’d be…
A pro golfer. I wouldn’t say I am pretty good but I enjoy a hit and would love to play it.