TalkingShop: King of the Crits – Dean Downing!

One of the best circuit race riders for over a decade, a former British champion no less, Dean Downing at 37 today and is preparing for another season with Rapha Condor Sharp.

As I saw on Twitter this morning, Dean is a Halfords Tour Series legend having taken more individual Tour Series victories than any other rider. Why am I not surprised at that stat – because I have seen Dean winning crits and big road races for so many years I know what a class act he is on the bike!

Dean has just returned from a ten day training camp in Lanzarote where he got to train with the many young riders who have joined the team after a big shake up at the end of 2011.  The team is now left with only a handful of experienced senior riders such as Dean and in the place of those who have left are nine new riders with some fresh out of the junior ranks. Dean says that the camp was great to get to know riders he knew little about. He recalled a moment on day two when they were all relaxed and having lunch when London’s Oliver Rossi came out and suddenly said ‘wow, Dean, you’re double my age!’

Dean Downing may be twice the age of some of his teammates but he is still one quick son of a b… in a sprint

Dean’s response was swift as you can imagine but the Rotherham rider and someone who likes a caramel slice, has nothing but praise for them all. “The youngsters are like cheeky funny and there was a lot camaraderie going on. It helped us to all relax and helped get me through the week with my injuries. The lads also looked after me on the climbs and no egos came out. It was really good to ride as a team and get that bond straight away.”

Dean explained that the young riders would have to be special just to have impressed the team manager John Herety and they also impressed him too during the camp. “They listened and were not afraid to ask questions” Dean says. “They showed a lot of maturity and realise it’s not going to be easy as first year seniors racing against older riders who are still getting stronger and who are also very race savy. Jimmy Mac and me were teaching them things about racing in the peloton you don’t read in books. The riding was more about technique than being hard and they all got better each day.”

The camp saw the youngsters doing all sorts of drills including sprinting and Dean says he felt good out there despite having had time off after his crash in training before Christmas and having been restricted to a Watt bike for the weeks leading up to the camp. He then had to deal with a second ‘freak’ crash on day 3 of the camp that could have been far worse than it ended up.

“I had no time to react to what happened and didn’t scare myself that much at the time” says Dean. “I sat down afterwards, or tried to sit down, and spoke to John and he saw it all from the car behind us and it was then that I learned it was more serious than I thought. I was out with Jimmy Mac and the lads and it was really really windy; cross winds where ever we went. We were all riding further apart because we were being blown into each other and we turned a corner and then had a rocketing tailwind. Me and Jimmy were at the back and I got out of the saddle and as I got out of the saddle, I had a blow out on the rear tyre and it just spun my bike.”

“I just fell off the back of my bike basically and slowed down with my ass on the tarmac.”

Dean Downing full gas in 2011 on the Rotherham chain gang with younger brother aand WorldTour rider Russell Downing behind him and grimacing!

“If I had had a chance to re-correct,  I may have gone over the handlebars again and that would have been a bad one. Andy Evans, soigneur and osteopath was with the team and it was great to have him there, to have him patching me up morning and night so I could ride. I was finding the wounds would heal overnight and then crack on the bike so that made it painful for the first half an hour each day”.

At least his sore ass took his mind off the collarbone break he suffered in December. The hospital (Claremont) had set him exercises to do during the week which he continued to do and Dean says that despite all the climbing on the bike, the shoulder and collarbone held up really well. On the last two days, they were doing over five hours each day and that included 5,000 metres of climbing.

For Dean, coming from a period of having been off the bike and then training on a stationary bike at home, it had not been perfect preparation for a camp where the riders in Dean’s words, ‘did the hours’. The camp saw them training in three day blocks and as well as some hard but not full gas riding, they were given various drills to do to help the young guys to learn to work together as a unit. That is a key to success on the road says Dean. Having a team that isn’t necessarily full of top riders any more but working as a unit to support the riders capable of winning which Rapha still have many in their line up.

Training in Lanzarote was tough says Dean but the conditions were ideal. It was windy, very windy he explained but then it’s been like that here as well. What we don’t have in Britain are near empty roads and warm temperatures. It was 20 degrees out there says Dean which felt very nice indeed whilst the strong winds just made the rides harder. “I have been to  Lanzarote a lot” says Dean, “and it’s not that busy traffic wise which is the beauty of it. It’s always up and down and always windy so you get a great training effort. You do a four hour ride and it feels like a five hour ride back home. It’s perfect for riding.”

Dean will have a new bike for the Halfords Tour Series and is looking forward to throwing it quickly into corners.

Looking ahead to the season that lies ahead in February, racing in Britain is no push over for any rider coming here especially as more and more teams get the racing in Europe to give them the depth to their training that the European pros have. Riders in Britain are training better, the teams more organised and WorldTour riders says Dean have come here and commented on how the British riders have hurt them. That ‘hurt locker’ will probably be more painful this year as more imported riders come in and create more strength in depth in the British races.

Rapha are said to be running a programme where at times, they will have two teams on the go. Not quite a dual programme explained Dean but one which will see them racing in Britain as well as in other places like Asia and Europe at races they have competed in before. The younger riders will also be encouraged to go out and win bike races, National B events for example, and that will be a great learning experience for when they are racing with the more experienced riders in the bigger events.

Dean’s racing programme meanwhile begins with the Northern Classic, the Clayton Spring Classic Handicap which having seen it when Dan Craven (now racing for IG Sigma Sport) won it, can confirm whilst it’s a handicap, there are plenty of pros there and when the race comes together, it’s a proper battle for the win.

After the Clayton, Dean is then off to an Alan Rushton special in Singapore, the OCBC Cycle Singapore international criterium which will include a few other Brits from other teams. Dean is then off to a race where he has tasted success, the Tour of Taiwan (UCI 2.1).  “It’s great for our team to get an invite for that” says Dean. “It was previously a UCI 2.2 and I won a stage during the first year I did it and last year was second and a third on stages. I’d love to get some podiums this year especially as it’s a 2.1.”

That takes Dean into the middle of March where it’s back to Britain and Dean is one of the riders down to do the Maldon Dengie Tour.  After that, the following week is a two day in the Tour of DoonHame. Dean has won a Premier in Scotland before and may well repeat that there before he heads to Korea for a stage race. That takes him up to the first of the two Premier Calendars; the Tour of the Reservoir and the Lincoln Grand Prix. The latter is a classic that Dean and most other riders love racing but with the Tour Series starting two days later, Dean is in a quandary as to whether he can race the Lincoln and then back up with the Tour Series on the Tuesday.

Brothers… Dean and Russell, in different teams in 2012 but it won’t only be the Rotherham chain gang where they will get to kick each other’s legs in as their race programme will surely come together as Russell is brought here by Endura Racing.

“We’re undecided how to approach them” he says. “None of the races on the calendar here are little races; they are all massive to the teams and I have found over the years, if you try and spread yourself too thinly, you end up being very average. I might be 15th in the Lincoln and then 10th in the first Tour Series. We’ll see…”

As a ‘Tour Series legend’, Dean knows he has a responsibility to be the best he can be for that series which will see him flat out for six weeks, racing at least twice a week. As a former winner of the Lincoln GP as well, he knows how huge that race is too so the team have a lot of thinking to do. On one hand, Dean is a very fit athlete and after the stage races he will have done, he should have good powers of recovery despite being in the second half of his 30s! That part of the year says Dean is very busy and he’s thankful to have the experience of John Herety on his side to help him plan the racing and resting so he knows exactly what is what in his programme.

The Halfords Tour Series will also see Dean and Jimmy Mac (James McCallum) riding  bikes specially made for the crits. Dean takes up the story on how that came about. “Dan Craven tested this bike, not specifically a crit one but a steel bike, a few years ago and he really liked it and preferred it to the carbon bike. It has very similar characteristics but the steel is a lot thinner than back in the day so weight wise, it’s only just above the weight of the carbon bikes we ride. So it’s not massively heavy or anything but as a crit bike, it will be more of an aggressive ride, one I can throw round the corners a bit faster and sprint harder. It’s made in Italy and I’m really looking forward to getting mine”.

We’ll probably have a wait before we see Dean on that bike but you can be sure, VeloUK will be never far away when Dean and the team are racing in Britain. Just one thing Dean, and I know I speak for everyone, stay upright!

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