My life in sport: Ezra Phillips

By Chris Rattue

Ezra Phillips. Photo / Richard Robinson
Ezra Phillips. Photo / Richard Robinson

Twenty seven-year-old Aucklander Ezra Phillips will carry the hopes and dreams of the nation in his satchel when he competes in the 17th world bicycle courier championships in Tokyo, starting tomorrow.

The event simulates real-life courier work, but will be held over a closed circuit around the Tokyo port area.

Phillips, the country's only competitor, is aiming to qualify for the main race after three unsuccessful bids.

A lack of depth is being blamed for New Zealand's problems in challenging for the coveted title.

Cycle courier numbers in Auckland have dropped from 50 to less than 20 in recent years as faxes and emails take over.

New Zealand's competitive bicycle courier scene is also facing problems similar to those of rugby - the only other Kiwi entered for Tokyo lives overseas.

It is not all bad news however. Phillips' fellow Aucklander Jenna Macgill won the women's world title in Toronto last year.

But in a major blow for the sport, Macgill has quit the bicycle courier big leagues for university life and will not travel to Tokyo.

Phillips - a real life cycle courier by day and just about any other time by the sounds of it - gives the low down on a sport that is determined to forge a bright future, with or without Sparc money.

Is this a legitimate sport?

It is highly unusual but it is also becoming more common ... worldwide it is a legitimate sport. Some organisers don't allow non-couriers to enter but I reckon the more the merrier. We had the Eye in the Sky race around Auckland a few months ago, which was good fun.

Could it be described as orienteering at a faster clip but without the clipboard?

Yeah, it is pretty much city orienteering on a bike. It's like your first day at work. You don't know where you are going unless you knuckle down and study your map. The world championships are held over five days - first day is a practice run and then qualifying.

Qualifying is the hardest part. Some years there are up to 2000 trying to get in and only a total of 50 to 100 males and females qualify.

There are a number of different disciplines apart from the main race such as skills where you do things like backwards circles ... there is another that is like drag racing where you hop on a roller and go up against an opponent to see who does the fastest quarter mile. You are on a stage and the audience is below, cheering you on.

Then there is the alley cats section - I'm not sure if Tokyo will have alley cats because it's a bit of a grey area with the police. It's an actual courier race through the streets. They give you a map with 15 points to get to.

Wouldn't there be too much home advantage in alley cats? If a Japanese person didn't win it in Tokyo that would indicate there is something seriously wrong with their courier riding.

Usually the locals don't race.

I should think not. Moving forward ... what's your best finish?

Last year I missed out by one minute to qualify. I'd better qualify this year or else it's going to get a bit depressing.

Absolutely. There is a lot riding on this. The knives will be sharpened. What about Sparc - can you score any money from that lot or are they too obsessed with the Olympics?

You have to be an association to get Sparc money. Maybe one day.

What got you into courier work?

I saw a documentary on Singapore Airlines about bike couriers riding around Auckland. That gave me the bug so I moved up from Tauranga seven years ago.

So you left sunny Tauranga so you could ride around Auckland on a bike all day. It doesn't get much better than that, but just in case, have you had a worst moment?

A car T-boned me. I've been under a few cars.

Some competitive cyclists have told me that Auckland drivers are the worst in the world. Any comment? Are we that bad?

Yeah, I'd agree with that. They don't indicate for three seconds and they do u-turns left, right and centre. I drive a car after hours and I try to practice what I preach. I'm actually more scared of the other drivers when I'm in my car on the motorway than riding my bike around.

Career ambition?

Become the world champ at least once and maybe get into track racing at some stage.

If you weren't a courier what would you be doing?

Maybe a kayak instructor. Something outdoors.

Proudest competitive achievement?

Coming first equal in the alley cats in 2007 with another Kiwi rider. We were in good form and we worked as a team.

Sounds like that dodgy F1 stuff ... what's the best thing about your job?

The freedom to ride my bike, and meeting lots of different people.

Favourite course?

The Red Bull Eye in the Sky in Auckland.

Hobbies?

Kayaking and rock climbing.

Childhood hero?

A tough one ...

I suppose we've had a dearth of famous courier riders to hero worship over the years?

I know ... the closest I can think of to a childhood hero is Luke Skywalker

Speaking of which, who would play you in a movie?

Ohhh ... someone short and cheeky.

Do you feel your sport gets enough public attention?

No, not really.

Come on. Let's be honest. It doesn't get any public attention, does it?

It does now thanks to you.

How long will you keep pursuing the world title dream?

So long as I can ride. It would be nice to have some fellow competitors. It would be good to go as a team. My girlfriend Melanie Douglas is going to Tokyo to film me although unfortunately cameras are not allowed on the actual course this year. We're hoping to put out a doco film at some stage.

We'll all know a lot more about it then, but what do people say about your sport now?

A lot of people tell me to go hard and don't come back unless I win.

What's the strangest item you've ever had to deliver?

I think it was some body parts from a hospital to a Remuera doctor.

What were the parts and did you ride particularly carefully?

No idea. They were in a chilly bin. I took every precaution.

- NZ Herald

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