One of the most popular riders in Britain, Russell Downing (Endura Racing) is ready to get stuck in on Sunday chasing stage wins for his team
‘Fonzy’ as he’s known (lets see the banners out there people!) did not get a ride in the race last year with Team Sky despite some good performances in the race over the years and even this year with Endura Racing, he’s had to fight for a spot in the team.
That’s our boy! UCI 2.1 Tour of Norway with GreenEdge, Lotto, Sky, Garmin … no matter; Zak Dempster is fourth and Russell Downing gets his arms in the air to win in a brilliant day for the team. They’ll be hoping for more of that in the Tour of Britain.
That’s cycling he says and whilst the big push for the Endura Racing team will be to support the likes of for Jon Tiernan-Locke for the overall, Russell is hoping to race it like has in the past looking for a stage win. Only five British riders in the past have won a stage in the Tour of Britain but Russell has certainly shown he is there or thereabouts in being a contender for a stage win. Take 2009 for example.
Two third places, two fourth places and two sixth places as well as fifth overall. Now that’s consistent! In all, Russell has finished on the podium four times on a stage since the race started and has worn the Green jersey as well. After being let down by Team Sky last year, the race has been a big aim for Russell and with only a few days to go to the race, it’s all about resting up and having fresh legs for the first battle on stage 1 on Sunday.
Russell and other Tour of Britain hopefuls in the Endura Racing team have just come back from a training camp in the Pyrenees where riders were looking to impress the selectors and be included in the six man team. You only have to look out who they have left out to see how strong the team is. Ian Wilkinson, second on a stage in 2011 for example and third overall in a recent stage race in the Baltics.
Selection for the team seems to have revolved around riders capable of supporting for Jon Tiernan-Locke for the overall and Russell Downing for stage wins. Whilst most of that team support is for Jon Tiernan-Locke, Russell explained that Zak Dempster will also be there to help him in the sprints, something Zak has a lot of experience in. Like Russell, Zak has worn the Sprinter’s jersey in the Tour of Britain a few years ago.
“I can go into the Tour with Zak fully on my side and we work great together” says Russell, adding “we know each other pretty well by now and I’m more than happy with that support for the sprints.”
What ever the weather, Russell is ready for it in this years race.
Talking about the preparation for the Tour, Britain’s biggest professional cycle race, Russell explains “the last two weeks have been a bit of a blur”. A race in France saw Russell racing in the heat and doing okay before getting held up behind a crash before he went to Belgium where he was ticking over nicely but suffered some bad luck with punctures. On the up side, he left the racing knowing his legs were coming into shape again for the big one.
After the races in France and Belgium, Russell went to train at altitude for eight hard days of hard graft with the riders who were in the running for the Tour of Britain as well as Scott Thwaites who was there to get some experience on the long climbs. “We did all sorts in the camp” says Russell. “Climbing, a few efforts, lead outs and it was a very varied camp”.
“Alex Sans Vega (DS) does most of the training and they were longish days, four and half to five hours and they seemed to go pretty quick. You’d ride for an hour, do some specifics, then ride again, and I felt it was a pretty good way of training. I enjoyed it even though it was quite hard because we were at altitude for a lot of the efforts.”
Russell explained the mountains gave them the opportunity to do various types of long efforts on the climbs which they couldn’t do here in Britain and he’d already been able to do some racing on the sharp climbs he’ll face in the Tour of Britain when racing in Belgium.
With all the racing and training done, it’s time for Russell to get some rest and recovery in before the big one. There aren’t any specific stages he’s looking at because Russell is an all-rounder who is able to ride all day in a break and sprint for the win as well as get stuck in to the bunch kicks.
From South Yorkshire, Russell’s first podium in the Tour of Britain was appropriately in 2005 in the stage from Leeds to Sheffield but in 2012, the most local of the stages for him is the one from Stoke to Stoke.
Oh look, he’s got those arms in the air again — Russell Downing! How about this - First stage 1 then 4th, second and second .. hmm. not bad consistency from the Rotherham rider in the Ardennes in 2012.
The second half of the stage is very lumpy over terrain he knows very well in the Derbyshire hills. “Normally I go well there” he says and for sure, he’s been third there in 2009 behind Edvald Boassan Hagen. “There is more climbing on the run in to the finish this year which will suit me having got my racing weight down in the camp in Spain.”
The first stage though will probably be a bunch kick and he says “I’ll want to get stuck in and see how I go and then on the day the race splits, I might have a chance to get in a break and go for a stage win. I’m a racer and don’t like losing time so I’ll just keep plugging away and see what happens.”
Having worn the green jersey before and also been very consistent day after day with top ten finishes, Russell knows too that if all goes well, the Points jersey may be an option. It ‘fell’ onto his back in a previous edition of the race and Russell says that should that happen again, he’ll take it that too!
“It’s going to be a manic tour with Brad and Cav riding and we may well be able to bounce off what Sky does. Me and Zak did really well in Norway (UCI 2.1 – same as Tour of Britain) doing that (Russell won stage 5) and I just want to stay relaxed and go into it and race it the way I like to race and not change anything.”
And that goes for the days leading up to the race. Coffee runs with the lads before heading into the hills for a little bit of work to get the legs going before the big day on Sunday in Ipswich. Russell will certainly be a rider to watch out for and with his ‘fan club’ sure to be at the roadside on the Stoke Stage, that one might well be the ‘one’. Good luck to Fonzy next week.
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