Exclusive: Talking Shop with Steve Cummings

After two years with Team Sky, the Wirral’s Stephen Cummings is moving on to BMC’s ‘Super Team’

Steve Cummings is one remarkable athlete. Over the years he has had his professional victories but in February of this year, the 30 year old won a stage of the UCI 2.1 Tour of Algarve and on a mountain top finish he beat riders such as Alberto Contador and Tejay Van Garderen. He took the overall lead of the race with that stage victory but after a few days in yellow, ended up seventh on GC after losing time in the race against the watch.

On Caerphilly Mountain, Cummings is up with the contenders for the overall despite injuries from a crash earlier in the race.

Then, a few months later he found himself coughing up blood. It was at this time he found out who his friends were and unsurprisingly, it was the Wirral rider’s mentor, Max Sciandri, who came to his aid.

Steve explained that he has worked with Max since he moved to Italy when he was with the Discovery team and has worked with Sciandri, a director sportif at BMC, for five years or more. “He understand me as a rider” says Steve. “How I work and the engine I have and I have learnt a lot from him in every aspect of the sport. I feel he’s like a master of it all to be honest.”

Recalling the time he fell ill at the end of April, he says “I was coughing up blood and Max came round and got the doctor and took me to hospital. He was always there for me and you can’t put a price on that friendship.”

Steve had bronchial pneumonia and as well as a week in hospital, he then had to spend seven and half weeks off the bike. “I started to retrain about six weeks before Poland, maybe bit longer, so it was a good comeback really. I was pretty tired when I first got on my bike and I could barely ride for an hour.”

“Max rode with me the first time I went out and I was dropped. He stopped and waited for me but it was very tough to come back to be honest.”

“To put it into perspective, when I did the first bit of specific work (intervals), I did 290 watts for ten minutes and at the Worlds I did 290 watts for five hours so that shows how far I came… It was serious what happened to me and I am quite proud with the way I came back. It was very very difficult period to get through but Max was great in keeping me going”.

Steve Cummings working to split the race wide open in Wales in this Year’s Tour of Britain.

In Steve’s first event back, the Tour of Poland, he was 9th overall and on stage 6, on the toughest stage, he made a bid for freedom in the finale but admits his legs gave out in the closing metres of the uphill finish and he finished twelfth on the stage.

It was a remarkable come back nevertheless and a month later he was finishing second in the Tour of Britain after working for others during the race. Perhaps, had he been the team’s leader from the get go, he may have won the race he had already finished second in.

Asked how he came to sign for BMC, Steve simply replied, “Max Sciandri asked if I was interested and I told him I was because Sky had not made an offer or anything. So I signed when I was allowed to sign by the UCI.”

Going back over the year and highlights, Algarve was certainly one he remembers fondly. “There were a lot of very good riders there … it was a like a WorldTour race and when you win up a climb it shows how strong you are. It was fantastic”.

Another highlight understandably was his comeback in Poland. “I was close to winning a stage with a late attack but my legs gave way with a few metres to go and then the Worlds were just incredible with the way the whole team rode that day.”

Steve admits it was such a special day, that while he doesn’t like to abandon an race, after his work was done on the front, he did just that to see Cavendish finish off the work his team had done. I remember watching the race all day and had to ask did Steve know how long he was going to be able to ride on the front at 45k an hour?

“We just tried to go as long as we could” he replied. “We were hoping we would get more help from other nation like maybe the US. Germany helped early on but they sort of blew up together so it was up to ‘Froomey’ (Chris) and me.

“We were under a lot of pressure and other countries were attacking quite a lot. They wanted to attack but not ride with us. If the attack was a big group, our orders were to close it down immediately, but if it was just a few riders, we had to keep it within sight.”

“It was important that we all stayed together as a unit and Dave Millar was very good at keeping everyone in control of the situation.  We were just so strong as a unit all day, it was a text book way of doing it. When you have the fastest sprinter which we had, the team needed the engines to control it and such a performance has been coming for a while.”

Looking ahead to the winter, Steve reckons after the late season classic, the Tour of Lombardy, he’ll take up to three weeks off and then ride his bike for ten days before a test. After that, comes the more specific training for the 2012 season.  His experience has shown that he doesn’t need to race to be race fit and he points to this top 10 (9th) in the Tour of Med in February as proof of that.

In a rare race in Britain, Steve Cummings races to a close second behind Alex Dowsett in the British Time Trial Championships.

Discussing 2012, Steve Cummings admits that riding the road race at the London Olympics is certainly a goal next year and in his thoughts.

“The Olympic test event was incredible and the course for the Olympic Road Race is going to be hard especially as you only have five man teams which will make it difficult to control. It won’t be possible to ride the way we did in Copenhagen. With only five riders, we may need to follow a bit more and be in moves and things like that”.

Steve goes on to add that with the right racing programme, he is hoping to lift himself up a level in the cycling world.  As you will have read above, Steve has finished in the top ten this year in small stages races but with BMC having become a ‘Super Team’ with a raft of top signings to add to its already star riders such as Cadel Evans, he isn’t sure what race programme he will get.

Ideally, he admits that his programme would include events like Paris Nice (or Tirreno-Adriatico) as well as the Tour of Algarve.  The Ardennes Classics, a break and then the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de France would be ideal he says.

“I am adaptable though and will do the Giro if they want me to but that’s the programme I’d like to do”.

A fair question seemed to be whether Steve at 31 in 2012, is ready to be a GC contender in major stage races? Bradley Wiggins, who Steve rode the Athens Olympics with (Silver in the Team Pursuit) and Chris Froome, have both shown they can be relied on to carry a team’s hopes. Does Steve feel he can step up to being a team leader?

Steve back home in Liverpool for the Tour of Britain and his supporters club …

“Not at the moment” was the reply. “I can time trial and climb but BMC has the best stage racer in the World (Cadel Evans), so I am going there to support him. I’m in team where we go to win the race and not follow an individual rider’s aims.”

“Unless it becomes blatantly obvious I can win a race and that I am better than the rider who I am riding for … I just don’t think that is the case right now and so I am more than happy to play a supporting role. I may get opportunities and I’ll be looking to take those when I can but I’m there to support Cadel in the mountains.”

And after the way Cummings rode for Cavendish at the Road Worlds, he is for sure a teammate worth having on your side. He’s also a bloody nice guy and deserves a share of the limelight even though it’s probably something he feels a little awkward being in.

For now though, he rides for Team Sky and has a few races to finish off the season with before heading back to the Wirral to catch up with friends and family.  A place a far cry for the chaos of being at major bike races and one no doubt where Steve will get a welcome fit for a local boy doing good with the World’s best.

Thanks to Steve for his time.

Flashback: Steve (left) on the podium at the British Road Race Championships with Russell Downing and Yanto Barker…

LINK: Steve Cummings signs for BMC

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