Nick Flyger wasn’t interested in cycling when he was a student at Waimea College, but 18 years later it’s become his life after he was appointed as the national sprint coach for the Australian track cycling team.
Nick, who was back in New Zealand last week with the Australian track team at the Oceania champs, played rugby and softball when he was at Waimea College. Although he had no interest in cycling, all that changed when he went to Otago University to study physical education and biomechanics.
“I became interested in adventure racing so, as part of that, I started doing a fair bit of mountainbiking,” Nick says. “Then, when I did my Masters degree in biomechanics, I started playing around with coaching and worked with a few students who were cycling to find things out.
“I made a pretty good start because one of them was (Tour de France rider) Jack Bauer and I told him to forget mountainbiking and start racing on the road. He had such a big engine that you knew he would be a top road cyclist if he made the switch.”
After completing his Masters, Nick got as job at the Malaysian Institute of Sport where he started to coach track cyclists. One of his star pupils was Azizulhasni Awang, who became the first Malaysian to win a track cycling medal at the Olympics when he finished third in the keirin final at Rio.
Nick also started a PhD in Malaysia aimed at “understanding the physiology of maximal repeated muscular contractions”, which is the fundamental sports science behind competitive sprint cycling. But Nick’s studies were “put on hold” when he secured a coaching job at the Australian Institute of Sport in Adelaide where he worked with the late Gary West who coached Australian cycling legend Anna Meares.
Nick was appointed caretaker coach when Gary became ill last year and in May this year was named as national sprint coach. The appointment was made by the new Australian cycling high-performance boss Simon Jones who has adopted a sports science approach to the sport.
However, Nick says that science is just one part of the coaching equation which he says is remarkably uncomplicated.
“I have a very simple coaching philosophy – it’s based on four things – culture, psychology, training and science. I believe you need the first three before worrying about the one per cent gains you can get from science.”
Although Nick still regards himself as a New Zealander, he has no reservations about coaching an Australian sports team.
“It’s the nature of professional sport so I don’t have any worries about that. But I still look forward to coming home to Nelson at Christmas and this year I can’t wait to see the new velodrome – that’s really exciting.”