The 22-year-old Cumbrian neo-pro talks about settling into World Tour racing, life in Girona and Quick-Step Floors Cycling Team.
Time flies! Saturday I rounded off my third stage race with Quick-Step Floors. I started in Abu Dhabi, went then to Catalunya and most recently I had a quite successful week of racing with the team in Pais Vasco.
I won't lie, the level of the last two races has been significantly higher than in Abu Dhabi. I mean, it is obviously many of the same riders but the style of racing, the terrain, the difficulty of the race itself, has just been so much higher. I was expecting it, so I wasn't going into it with pretend ideas I was to come here and have an easy time.
I was pretty floored after Catalunya and with Pais Vasco in the legs I am well done now – an empty vessel to give you a picture. But obviously both races gave me a huge boost. I am still high on ambitions, imagining one day it going to be me up there winning with the guys helping me but for the moment I'm not strong enough. It has been really satisfying just to know that I am able to help, even if that is not easy. Some of the days I have been riding on my limit just to stay in the front covering moves and doing a bit of riding in the front.
It is a bit like rediscovering how racing is from being a junior to become a U23 rider. But when I made that step up, I couldn't even finish the races so I have been able to make this step, kicking my head in from the beginning and being able to do my job. At the end of the day, if I am able to do that, I will get stronger, which is satisfying to know.
My next race is Flèche Wallonne, my first ever real classic, which I am really excited about – and to be honest, a bit scared about too. I imagine it will be a crazy, crazy race in many ways with a lot of stress, giving the team is going there determined to get a good result. And after that is the Tour de Romandie, which I look forward to!
Early life in Cumbria
I have a couple of days off after Pais Vasco and instead of going back to Girona, where I am based since the past two years, I went with my mom and dad – who came to support me last week – to stay a few days to relax at my aunt and uncle's house in the hills between Tarragona and Valencia.
My mom and dad live in a small village south of Kendal, in the north-western part of England, within the county of Cumbria. I am born and raised there. It is a lovely place with a beautiful scenery and great outdoor activities to do! Awesome hiking opportunities, for instance, around the Lake District National Park. I am only 10-15 kilometers away from Lake Windermere, the largest of its kind in England.
However, the last few years I have not been around that much. I did a few years riding for team Zappi, in 2014 and 2015, who were based in Italy during the season. We had a basic house where we were all staying, like a small family. I spent periods at home, but most of the time I was with the team. At that time, I had just left school and it felt like an adventure really, chasing the pro dream. It was a bit of a reality shock at times too, being away from home for such a long time, trying to adjust to a new lifestyle completely different from what I knew before, without mom and dad, friends and so on, but we had a nice a team. I did some great races that I wanted to do and had a really good time there.
Settling into Girona
For the last couple of years, I have been based in Girona, first sharing a flat with some teammates of Team Wiggins, my previous team; now I have got two friends as roomies, one of them riding for Wiggins now and a girl riding for Trek-Drops, so very family-like environment.
Girona has started to feel like home, although I need to learn the language a bit better. I have a lot of good friends there, we have a nice cycling community and there are always people to train with, relax with or whatever you are in the mood for. It gives you a kind of a support network, you know that there are people you can rely on, which is really nice when you are far away from home.
If you need to get your head down for two-three weeks and just train flat out, it is pretty easy to lock yourself away to do the hard work but then, when you want to relax, there are different people around to go grab a coffee or have dinner with.
In the past, I loved to go to concerts. Today, I have less and less time, I guess. I mean, I could always look into what is going on in Spain but it was usually something I did with friends in the UK, growing up. We went down to Manchester, to local gigs in Blackpool or Lancaster. That is something I like to do when I am at home for Christmas or my birthday, which is in November, so often a good time for rounding off the off-season. Last couple of years, I took a holiday instead though, which makes it harder to slot in a concert.
Last year in November, I went with some friends down to Barcelona to see a DJ duo from Northern Ireland called Bicep. That was super great! I love to do this kind of things out of the season. However, now the season is full on and I am just keen on racing as much as possible!
Part of something unique
I was meant to start my season in the Tour of Oman but due to a bit of pain in the knees I didn't get into business before Abu Dhabi. Sort of seems irrelevant now when my season is on. I don't think starting in Oman would have made much difference to my condition. It basically meant I started racing two weeks later than I was supposed to and by August or September I will probably be quite happy I didn't start earlier.
Settling into the team has been going really well. Obviously, it is exciting to start for the first time with a truly international team. At Wiggins, we had a couple of international riders – a French and an Italian rider – so definitely not the same as here, where I am the only native English speaker on the team. You get to see so many different cultures and it is really interesting how everybody learns to get along and communicates together as a team. I am lucky that the spoken language is English, though.
Everybody has been extremely welcoming. On a personal note, it has been incredibly enjoyable to become part of a team with so many big names; the guys you are sort of worried about meeting for the first time, anxious to see how they think of you, have been really welcoming, making me feel part of the team, instantly. On the first training camp and races, the big stars like Gilbert, Stybar, Julian and Bob have been super friendly, helping me settle in. We are a lot of new guys on the team this year, but they have really been kind in helping us aboard, which has been a big factor in feeling good at the team.
Even after only three races, I feel I am part of something. On top of that, you have all the staff, most of whom have been around here for many, many years. The team has almost become some sort of an institution, the Quick-Step Floors Team. Staff just doesn't come and go, they stay here as a family. It is quite unique and indeed very special to be part of!
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images