I first met Nigel Gray in the mid 90’s when we had a small Rip N Hammer shop in the front of our warehouse just before he was headed off to race Powerman in Switzerland. I didn’t really know Nigel all that well, but liked his easy going vibe and he reminded me more of a pro surfer than a pro duathlete. At the time, Nigel had really long hair circa 1970’s David Gilmour which was also not the norm in pro cycling or multi-sport. He became one of our very first brand ambassadors at Rip N Hammer and over the years, we were able to have Nigel in a lot of our photography when we ran print ads and had catalogues for “mail order".
From 1996 to 2009, I stayed away from triathlon as I was growing Dunning Golf at a rapid pace and didn’t get a chance to see Nigel much. In 2009 I got into the Ironman World Championships in Kona through the lottery and had 6 months to train for it. I hadn’t raced in 13 years and barely run that entire time. During the mid to late 2000s though I was riding a Cervelo Prodigy as I had done a lot of work with them and Nigel suggested I ride the Hell route with his crew on it. A steel road bike with cross tires and road shoes in snow.
Nigel has coached me since 2009 with his company NRG Performance Training and over the last two years in particular has really helped me turn into a respectable cyclist through driving home the message of being consistent. He also got me heavily into gravel riding as he has been doing some version of gravel for 20 years before gravel was even a thing.
Every winter, he puts on Hell Week in early December which consists of 4 rides (they are full on ruler out races) and the conditions are always magically horrendous making the days very challenging…but awesome.
Nigel has changed the way I look at riding and guided me into a 3T Exploro a few years back which I could use for both road and gravel by switching the wheels.
Always ahead of the curve in cycling, Nigel is a renaissance man in the sport and it's always been a huge part of his life.
Nigel is now 50 and can still boogie on the bike and in Ironman races. Look his results up - quite amazing.
He also built the two routes for the FR. Friendly 100. We wanted to build a course that could be enjoyed by people who are new to gravel, but also put in enough climbing in the first 15k that it will make you think about that first 15km...70k into the ride. It's not technical, it's just a fun course to enjoy a day of riding with people who love where riding is headed.
Hope you enjoy this FR. Footprints with someone who has been deeply rooted in all aspects of cycling and athletics for decades...and Nigel, thanks for building the route for October 9th.
Thanks for reading.
Follow Nigel on Instagram
1. What made you get into the entrepreneurial space of setting up your own coaching business?
It’s one of those things that almost happened on its own. I was racing as a pro back in the 90’s and as I was racing well I had more and more interest from athletes looking for help with their training. So I started working with just a few athletes and found that I really enjoyed coaching and saw the opportunity to turn it into a career. And the timing was lucky as it was so long ago that the internet and email and things like that were only just starting to become widely available and that was a huge part of allowing the business to grow in the beginning.
2. You are one of the few coaches out there who can not only provide specialized coaching, but also still be super competitive as an athlete. How important is this to your mindset as both a coach and athlete?
I am actually very passionate about both, I really love working with athletes and making them faster and helping them achieve their goals. But I also enjoy being fit and fast myself and I feel like I want to lead by example for the athletes that we work with.
3. You have always been at the forefront of technology when it comes to equipment and probably understand the advantage of technology more than most people out there. How do you stay on top of the constant evolution taking place in cycling?
I am a gear head (well for bikes anyway!). I just really enjoy it, so it’s not a case of it being work, I am always actively seeking new gear options and trying out new things that I can pass on to my athletes. We are always looking to make people faster.
4. Pro cycling is going through a huge change right now. Some riders are good at every aspect of cycling and can also jump from discipline to discipline making it look easy. Do you see that continuing to happen in the future ?
I think that the guys like Van Der Poel, Van Aert and Pidcock are all incredible and they are some of my favourite riders to watch right now, but I do think it will be limited the number of guys who can have the success across the spectrum that these guys do. I think you will see guys trying different disciplines more and switching disciplines as they see where their strengths and motivations lie but to actually race at the level these guys do in each I think will be very limited.
5. You have been an advocate for Cervelo and 3T for as long as I have known you. You have probably been more responsible for more sales of those two brands than most bike shops out there. Obviously, Gerard Vroomen has played a huge role in both of these brands and is one of the most innovative guys in the history of the sport. What are some of the other brands in cycling that you have respect for?
There has been a lot of innovation in cycling over the years, but in the recent past I think it’s been components that have really made a big difference in the sport. The advent of disc brakes, this really helped make gravel a category in the sport, braking on gravel/cyclocross bikes before disc brakes was sketchy at best and it limited the size of tires you could use. But with the advent of disc brakes its completely changed what you can do on gravel as you can have full confidence in your brakes but also run much bigger tires that allow you to do so much more stuff on your bike. Then adding in much better gearing options has been huge as well. When I first started riding all bikes where 53x39 and 11-21, now you have such a bigger range, my TT bike is 52x36 and 11-30 while my gravel bike is 46x30 and 11-36 so the range of gearing is huge now and this again opens up a lot more terrain to the rider.
6. You had us doing gravel races over 20 years ago on steel bikes with cross tires well before gravel was even a thing. This kept us riding through the winter and also played a factor in bike handling skills. How important do you think it is for athletes to try new aspects of the sport or new things in general to avoid boredom and monotonous day-to-day training?
This is a significant part of why I am still a 9 hour IM athlete at age 50+! It’s not that gravel is some secret training regime, it’s the fact that it keeps me motivated and riding more. I would never ride as much right now if it wasn’t for the variety of riding my TT, road and gravel bikes, I enjoy riding them all at different times and this helps keep things fresh and motivating for me. Indoor riding like Zwift has been a huge thing for many people but I don’t personally ride inside anymore (its been 15 years), I just enjoy being outside that’s a huge part of why I work out is to get outside so having all these different bike options allows me to ride outside in pretty much any weather.
7. What's your take on the state of gravel now with how technical courses are becoming where they are borderline mountain bike courses?
This is part of the evolution of the sport and some races will get more technical, but some races will also stay quite achievable for the average rider. There is such a mix in gravel now you can do so many things with these bikes that it opens up so many different options to the rider.
8. You have been racing Ironman branded events for as long as I can remember and you also were one of the few people I know who raced Powerman in Zofingen. The Challenge Family seems to be making in roads with the PTO and producing interesting races, but also really good social media films and content. There is a lot of talk out there on how Ironman has managed its way through the pandemic leaving people til the last minute with flights and hotels. What is your opinion on what they should consider doing moving forward when there is such negativity brewing towards them, but knowing they have brand power with the M dot?
Ironman is definitely the leader of the sport in triathlon and they do a very good job at putting on races. They have a great product, but they need work on their interaction with athletes outside of races. They did a number of really tone deaf announcements over this past year and a half with Covid and I think if they were more in touch with the athletes themselves these things could have been easily avoided. They just need to reach out to a few key people in the sport who are in touch with the athletes more directly who can help direct them on how to handle certain situations. Much of their screw ups could easily have been avoided with better communication I think.
9. You built the two ride courses for the FR. Friendly Rooster knowing there were a number of people riding who were just discovering gravel. There seems to be a level of intimidation out there still on gravel from those who ride road - what tips and advice would you give to people who are thinking making a move to riding gravel?
A great description of gravel riding is that it’s like Mullet, business in the front and party in the back! The front end of gravel racing is real racing, but you only have to slide back a little and it’s a lot more fun oriented and people are out there to enjoy the riding and experience something new so it’s not nearly as competition focused once you get outside of the front group.
From an actual technical stand point one of the best things you can do is ride bigger tires. Bigger tires and lower tire pressure make a huge difference in terms of the bikes comfort and handling, too many people think that skinny tires and high pressure are faster and they aren’t. On gravel it’s an advantage to have bigger tires run at lower pressure, it will roll better on the bumpy stuff, never mind being more comfortable and have better handling.
10. The pro side of triathlon is evolving very quickly because of youtube and social media. Some athletes are understated and have done a great job at showing the inner workings of being a pro athlete. Paula Findlay and Eric Lagerstrom have built an incredible following and they are now in a position where you are seeing the potential of That Triathlon Life being the most worn brand at races etc. Then you have chirpy athletes with the exact opposite approach who throw a saying on a t-shirt and think they have a brand...or you will see athletes saying they are going to destroy a field that may happen in local races, but you know when they get to Kona...they will get their asses handed to them because of the sheer world class talent of athletes who don't chirp. What is your take on social media now in cycling and triathlon?
The reality is these days you need to have a social media presence in order to give value back to your sponsors. Covid has made this even more important as the lack of racing means without a social media presence you are limited in what your able to offer your sponsors in terms of publicity
You get both sides of the coin with this though, the personalities that you like and those you don’t but this is a good thing! The sport needs a mix of personalities and different takes on things. You don’t want to see endless video’s about how varying your recovery between intervals by 20sec will give you a 1% boost in your FTP. Sometimes you just want to go out and see the train wreck that you know is coming.
11. Who are the professional athletes you have respect for and admire how they conduct themselves?
I have never personally been a good self-promoter so I tend to admire the guys who aren’t as boasting and are very professional. Jan Frodeno and Crowie are two obvious ones that handle themselves in a very professional manner both on and off the bike and I really respect that.
12. Athletes tend to ebb and flow through a year due to work commitments or many other factors. I have struggled myself with that but over the last few years found that even if I squeezed in an hour the payback over the course of a year was incredible. What advice would you give to athletes on remaining consistent throughout a year to never allow themselves to really lose all their fitness?
The key is to fit in what you can!! The trouble athletes tend to get into is that they feel like if they can’t train optimally they don’t train at all and that’s a huge mistake. Taking those long breaks can really impact your fitness long term. It’s been one of my secrets for being able to race/train at such a high level for so long is that I am very consistent and don’t take many extended breaks. So in times when life gets in the way you still need to try to fit in that 30min easy spin/run or swim, it doesn’t seem like a lot but a month of 30min of training a day vs nothing makes a huge difference.
13. You have incredible camps where you have all levels of athletes attend and its always a great group of people. What got you started in building these camps and what plans do you have for camps coming up next year?
It started from me loving to travel and train in news places myself! In my early days as a duathlete I went to Europe for the summers to race the PowerMan series so I spent a couple of months at a time over there and just loved it. Once I switched my focus over to triathlons and raced more at home I thought it would be fun to do camps overseas to be able to show people what kind of great training venues there are around the world
Fingers crossed that Covid doesn’t get in the way but we are planning on our regular winter training camps down in Florida to get away from the cold and snowy Canadian winter in February and then we are planning on heading to Nerja, Spain at the end of April for our Europe destination.
14. Any plans for gravel camps??
Hoping to be able to run our first Gravel camp in Mont Tremblant in May next year. I have been to Tremblant many times now as it’s such a great Ironman location but I think it’s almost a better gravel spot. There are so many different options and it’s been really fun exploring around the area and I can’t wait to show others
15. Fave place in the world to ride?
Hard to say, I really appreciate so many different kinds of riding, but for overall vibe it's Europe in general, the variety of roads, climbs and the little towns you get to ride through are hard to beat!
16. Where are some places you haven't ridden but want to ?
I haven’t ridden in Africa before so that would be one on my list for sure.