TalkingShop: Russell Downing out in the cold


Russell Downing disappointed at not getting a contract with Sky for 2012 after giving 110 per cent …

Winner of a stage in the Criterium International and the overall in the Tour de Wallonie in 2010, Russell Downing showed he can win pro races and also help others to win, but that wasn’t enough for Team Sky to renew his contract for 2012, something which has left him very disappointed.

“I don’t think I could have done any more for Sky” he told VeloUK. “Every time I put the leg over the bike, I have given 110 per cent.”

Anyone who has watched Russell race, as I have many times from the back of a motorbike, will know how just much he turns himself inside out but after a year working  for others, results from 2011 are scarce and that isn’t helping in his search for a new team.

It’s another example of how domestiques are perhaps going to have to look at how much they give to their team leaders when the team isn’t intending to renew their contracts. The pros realised according to Russell, that when HTC folded and teams started to merge that it was going to be tough to find a team.

“I’m no further forward in getting a team” he explained this week. “I’m still holding out and waiting but it’s getting to a point where I’m making a few enquires as to what the other options they are.”

“Most people realise that’s bike racing and that is the sport we are in. It’s pretty brutal at times and I’m at the end of the brutal stick at the moment. It’s very disappointing”.

It’s all a far cry from the beginning of the Sky journey in 2010 when he travelled to Australia for the Tour Down Under and made an impression straight away.

“Racing in Oz was pretty impressive” says.  “We won stages in that with Hendy and CJ (Sutton) and I was a key player at the start of the lead out. I remember in a crit (Adelaide), with a lap and half to go, taking the HTC train on.  I just upped the pace even more and got the Sky train in front of them which was a good feeling.”

Asked how felt about his season in 2012 where there were not the big wins he had in 2011, Russell replies “I’m not happy that I didn’t get a win … it’s the first year in a long while I haven’t won a bike race. But it’s not just about me winning. I won races for other people as well as getting  seconds, thirds and so on. My job this year was to work for others.”

The season saw him ride a Grand Tour for the first time, the Tour of Italy, which he says was a highlight for him but breaking some ribs towards the end, whilst not preventing him from finishing, didn’t help his season after that.

What Russell found very difficult though was a lack of racing at the back end of the season when he was coming into form. It was his win in the late season event, the Tour of Ireland in 2009, that helped secure his Sky contract but the stage races weren’t there for him this year and he was left at home.

“Things started to come good for me at the end of the year form wise but I didn’t have much racing so it was hard to be home for five weeks when I wanted to out there racing. I never got a start in the Tour of Britain and didn’t get a start in a stage race in France, that was where it started to go down hill.”

Talking about the difference from going from here in Britain to WorldTour, Russell explained that here, he’d do the odd big race before coming back to do domestic events but in WorldTour, every race was a big race and that it was good having the respect of other riders in the peloton.

“I think I proved to a lot of people that this is where I should have been racing for the last ten years… I feel I have a lot of experience, know when to take things on and have the skills a pro team needs. Especially nowadays with no race radios, I can think on my feet.”

His lack of a contract though shows how riders have to be as brutal as the team bosses are when it’s their futures at stake and that being loyal, as Russell says he has been to Team Sky, doesn’t always work out for the best. Russell explained that during his big year in 2010, he never looked elsewhere even though he knew he was only on a one year contract. Team Sky did renew at the end of that year but not this year.

With winter fast approaching and the time for professionals to start thinking about their winter training, Russell is keen to get a team sorted. He is hoping to stay WorldTour or Pro Continental but is also aware its tough out there.  That means he’s having to look at his options back home in Britain as well.

In the meantime, he’s still working for Sky, doing Revolution tonight (Saturday) as well as some PR events but its 2012 he has his sights on. He has some powerful people in his corner battling for him but as we hear everywhere we look, it is tough job wise for cycling professionals with so many riders looking for contracts. Fingers crossed for Russell, a former British Road Race Champion, he can find a team to take on the next season with… he’s still far too good not to be turning the pedals in anger ..

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