Talkingshop: Alex Dowsett returns to racing

Thirteen weeks after a season defining accident in Belgium, Alex Dowsett (Team Sky) returned to racing at last weekend’s Tour of Luxembourg  …

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Gordon Wiseman writes …  Thirteen weeks after a season defining accident in Belgium, Alex Dowsett (Team Sky) returned to racing at last weekend’s Tour of Luxembourg and still hopes that’s he’s done enough to secure a place in cycling’s Team GB line-up for the summer’s Olympic Games.

After what seemed like a bruising but innocuous crash on the cobbles of West Flanders in March, the 23 year old has endured surgery on a number of occasions and a difficult post-operative infection that proved to be the biggest obstacle for the youngster to overcome.

Eight weeks after having pins removed from his elbow, Dowsett finally got the call to return to racing duty mid-way through a week’s training camp in the Swiss high mountains. “The lesson I learned there was not to try riding 7500 ft up the Eiger on a road bike” he recalled painfully.

Alex was nearly slotted into Team Sky’s squad for the recent Tour of Norway. “I wanted to go” he explained “as I was hoping that an early return to racing would boost my chances for Olympic selection but the Team doctor sensibly said that I should be looking at my long-term health and safety”.

But a chance to again pin back on a race number came when Dowsett’s team-mate Lars-Petter Nordhaug was unable to fill his place for Luxembourg and by then Alex was ready to go.

“It was great to be back with the boys racing, on the team bus and all that goes with that. But what you’re quickly reminded is that whilst training is great, without regular racing you lose that final 5% of your fitness and when the hammer goes down, that’s what really counts”.

The final result sheet will show that Alex didn’t finish the five day race but he explained that there’s more to racing than being included on that final list of riders.

“Because I hadn’t raced for so long I just didn’t have all the fitness required to be able to do what I’d been doing – what I’m capable of – before the crash. The team knew that so my job was to sit at the front and drive the bunch along in the early stages of each day’s racing. I just didn’t have the top end speed required to play a part in the lead out train for our two sprinters in Luxembourg”.

Alex got through the first four days racing – in fact his finishing time for the opening 2.7km prologue was quicker than last year’s corresponding stage – and that included the 205km Queen stage, stage three, that covered 7 categorised climbs.

“That day was always going to be about damage limitation for me and that was always going to be where I really missed the top end of my fitness. If I’d predicted where I’d have struggled and where I would have done well I would have been right on every occasion. The good thing was that I’d done a training ride of 205kms just before the race so I knew I had the distance in my legs. Just not at racing speed!”

But it was in the final stage that the decision to climb off was taken. “We knew that the stage finished with 7 laps around town but the rain was horrendous, I don’t think I’ve ever raced in rain like that before. And as I’d have been racing over wet cobbles again for the first time since my accident, as I’d done my work for the team earlier in the day I didn’t mind the decision to climb off the bike”.

So how does Alex judge his return to racing? “It was good and certainly a case of lessons learned. I’ve never had to struggle like I did in Luxembourg but that was good for me and puts me in good stead for races later in the year like the three week Vuelta a Espana. I know I can survive no matter how much of a battering I take”.

Dowsett next lines up for Team Sky at the Ster ZLM Toer in Holland later this month where he’ll be teamed up with World Champion Mark Cavendish and Chelmsford born Ian Stannard but he’ll be racing in the UK this coming weekend at the National 25 time trial championships.

“It’ll be great to return to that event as I’ve not ridden the National 25 for some years. It’s a shame that it clashes with the London Nocturne” – where Alex so dramatically won the floodlit race last year – “but riding time trials is where I began my racing career”.

But before that Alex has to hold his breath as it should be this week that the long list of Team GB riders is cut down to a short list of 8 before the final places are chosen later.

“I know I’m still improving and I know I can get to the level of fitness required for the Games. The team know what work I’m capable of doing from my races earlier in the year such as at Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne.

“Being involved in someone else’s accident couldn’t have come at a worse time but I know that, in the circumstances I’ve done everything I can do so I guess the decision is really in the hands of the gods. I just hope I’m given the benefit of the doubt”.
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