Talking Shop: Time to Move on for Alex Dowsett

After two years learning the ropes with Team Sky, Alex Dowsett feels the time has come to move on to further his career as a professional cyclist and he’s signed for Movistar for two years.

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We’re getting used to seeing British riders succeed at the highest level in cycling and for some, they need to be brave and bold to progress in this exciting sport of ours. One such rider is Alex Dowsett.

Alex, who’s contract with Team Sky was up at the end of this season, has been talking to teams about this move since early on in the season and the unfortunate timing of the release coinciding with Sky’s clamp down on riders leaving due to indiscretions in their past, was out of Alex’s hands.

“There have been quite a few offers and I have been in a nice situation” says Alex . “While Team Sky were keen to keep me, Movistar were also very keen to sign me and it is nice to go to a team where you are really wanted rather than a team which are just interested in you.”

“That was a big factor in my decision.”

“It is a shame that we couldn’t have changed the timing of the announcement because I knew I was going there (to Movistar) a week before the Road Worlds but my contract had to be translated into English and then there was a bit of toing and froing with little bits in the contract and these things take time. We could not formally announce it until I’d put pen to paper which happened in Beijing.”

The double British Time Trial Champion has come a long way since his days as a member of the Glendene CC. Step-by-step, he has made his way in the world of cycling and now, aged just 24, he feels it’s the right time to try and further in his career in the biggest bike races; Grand Tours.

Alex, like Bradley Wiggins, loves the time trial and has his during his whole career always been keen to improve his results in that discipline. He’s just as comfortable in the most grass roots of cycling events, the local 10, as he is fighting for victory in a World Tour event. When it comes to the former, local time trials, Alex is the British Champion and only the very best such as Wiggins, David Millar and Chris Froome can challenge him in the race against the watch.

As for World Tour events though, when you’re in a team packed with possible winners such as Team Sky, there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough, and move on to a team where a talented rider is given the freedom to fight for victories in stage races and a ride in Grand Tours. And that is where the move to Movistar enters Dowsett’s career plan.

It is a move that has caught many unawares even though it’s been many months in the making. Dowsett is not just a talented rider but an intelligent one as well and after a lot of deliberation, has decided to go into the unknown with his eyes wide open.

In short, this isn’t about money or anything else other than Alex wanting the opportunity to ride a Grand Tour and having the backing of a team in stage races that will suit him challenging for an overall victory.

Talking to Ned Boulting at the last Revolution track open a few days before his team made the announcement, Alex said “I’m really excited about it. I’ve really progressed a hell of a lot at Team Sky over the last two years and had more support than I could have ever have dreamed of for which I will be eternally grateful.”

“The reason I am moving is for opportunities.”

Alex explained now was the right time to do this. “I feel this is a natural progression for me after two years of having had my own opportunities as well as doing a lot of work for my teammates. I have learnt a lot from that.”

“With Movistar, and races like the Eneco Tour, I feel I can win those sort of races with the time trial and the hard stages. With my ability as a time trialist, stepping into a team like Movistar, I can be 100 per cent supported for that type of race and really go for it.”

“Eneco is a race I am clearly suited to and I can go to a race like that not just as one of the GC riders but as a fully supported rider. I had opportunities at Sky but often I’d have to ride myself into those opportunities through the time trial and force myself into a protected rider situation and occasionally it would mean working for some one else the first couple of days and then the time trial would come and it would be like, ‘oh, Alex is up there on GC, we’ll work for him.”

“I think that sort of thing is important for the first two years when you are still up and coming and still learning. And I did make mistakes. The good thing about that approach as well is that there was no pressure outside of myself having to put myself into that position which is what a neo pro needs.”

“But, now I think I have come to a stage where I can go into races like that and can handle the pressure of having some guys there from the start to ride for me.”

Dowsett and Chris Froome working over the British pros during the 2011 Road Race Championships.

Grand Tours
Alex also has an eye on competing in Grand Tours too, something he didn’t get the chance to do at Team Sky.

“If I can show myself to be valuable in a team time trial as well, then you never know what they might have planned for me there. They will build teams round the likes of Valverde and if he does the Giro and Vuelta, that may leave the Tour wide open for the rest of us. I do enjoy working for someone who has a good chance of winning and I’d love to be a part of that.”

“It’s just an exciting prospect for me.”

In two years at Sky, Alex hasn’t ridden a Grand Tour although he did explain that this year he was in line for a spot in the Giro but that never happened and then, at the Vuelta, he was again expected to ride before a team was selected to help Chris Froome win the race overall and Alex was not given a spot in that line-up.

At 24, Alex feels his time has come to step up to the line in a Grand Tour. “I’m ready to ride a Grand Tour and I think it’s important to ride one. With Team Sky, it is difficult to get in those teams because where do you go from winning the Tour de France — you now aim for a clean sweep in all three of the Grand Tours and with the signings they have made, I’ll still struggle as a young up and coming rider to get into those Grand Tour teams.”

And who knows, maybe Alex will be a GC contender in the years to come. It is unknown territory for him but in the World Time Trial Champs this year, Alex was eighth and it wasn’t that long ago that Bradley Wiggins was racing to similar positions in the same event. As the sport has become cleaner and Wiggins and his team have learnt how to make the most of marginal gains, Wiggins showed the World he could win the Tour de France clean off the back of hard work. Such hard work that a well known fellow pro told VeloUK that it was something he wasn’t sure he could handle so deep did Wiggins go with his commitment to the training for the three week event.

Does Dowsett think he could follow in Wiggin’s wheelmarks? “I think it is something I can aspire to. In my two years as a pro so far, I have never needed to climb. If there have been stages with climbing, it’s been a case of getting as far as you can and getting in the gruppetto to get to the finish. A few times in Beijing, I had to commit to a climb and get over with them and I could do it. Although it was hard, I could do it.”

“I imagine I will learn a lot about climbing at Movistar because like time trialling, there is an element of technique to it. In Grand Tours, I need to do one and may be target a result in a prologue or time trial but first and foremost, I need to get myself through a Grand Tour because they are a completely different kettle of fish and then look at how I am progressing as a rider.”

“I know Brad did a lot of specific work, lost a lot of weight and it would take a real commitment from me to get to where he is for sure. I don’t see why long term though I can’t transform myself into that sort of rider. I’m not afraid of hard work or afraid of sacrifices as well.”

Alex has long been representing GB at the Worlds in the time trial

Asked if he learned a lot from Team Sky’s win in the Tour de France this year, Alex explained not really because there was the Tour team and then the rest. “They had a high amount of bonding and very specific workloads in their training camps and that showed when it came to the Tour” says Alex.

“They knew each other inside out and that showed at the Tour where everyone was really lean and race fit. They went into that tour with no stone unturned and the results showed that”.

“It was a marginal gains thing. The team looks at all the little things and take nothing for granted. They had a fast skinsuit made in yellow should Brad require it for example. Nutrition too where the riders ate enough but no more than that and that showed in how skinny they were and that counts for a lot.”

Alex then recounted a story from his academy days where Rod Ellingworth explained how being three kilos over weight was the same as taking six full bottles up a climb. It’s thought provoking stuff but does require a rider’s full commitment and not everyone is able to give that but Alex is certain he can go that deep.

It isn’t just the Grand Tours that he may have his eye on though. A classic or two may also be on the race programme which considering it was in the West Flanders stage race this year that Alex broke his elbow, is a little surprising. Or is it?

“For a while I was thinking of avoiding those sort of races but then I have to remember I was quite unlucky with that crash” Alex explained. “The guy just went down in front of me and then there was the freak circumstances with the infection and everything, so it’s mind over matter.”

“I can do the classics but I have no idea though what my programme will be. I go for my first meeting with them at a training camp on the 12th of November. I can imagine not many of the guys putting their hands up saying they want to ride Flanders and I think they’d suit me, so why not.”

Winning at the London Nocturne, Alex explained he’d like to do the British events should his programme allow.

Doing it clean …
Dowsett’s move to such a team can only be good for the sport. A young clean rider going to a foreign team and preparing for races in a way that is both morally and ethically correct can only help during a period when cycling is taking such a big hit with the Armstrong revelations.

“I know I am racing clean and will do as many tests as anyone wants of me and that is all that matters” Alex says to anyone who dares doubt him. “Us and the Aussies are leading the way in it being a clean sport” Alex adds.

“We’re the most tested sport there is. If a sport is not tested, then they don’t produce any positive results whereas we all have to let the UCI know where we are for every hour of every single day and they do come knocking on our door at 6am. It is part of our job.”

To win clean like Alex does, requires a lot of hard graft as he explains. “Training to race at this level is bloody hard. The one thing I noticed when I turned pro was I had to learn to push myself that much harder and hurt that much more.”

“As a pro, you grow accustomed to that and I think it is difficult for the man or woman in the street to understand just how hard we push ourselves.”

“My winter will be fairly simple. Nothing intense until Christmas unless I’m in for the Tour Down Under in which case I’ll add some intensity earlier. Up until Christmas, it’s a lot of four to six hour steady rides to build up the base mileage.”

Winning on the track – Alex finds the Revolution events helpful for his winter training

“Then after Christmas and into the New Year, cutting back the hours a little bit and dropping in some intensity to sharpen myself up for the start of the season. I will do as many Revolutions (track opens) for example as my programme allows.”

“On the road you’re probably doing 90rpm chugging away where as at Revolution, it’s seriously fast racing and you’re pedalling at 120 to 130 rpm and you have to get used to that. So it’s good to inject a bit of speed like that into the programme.”

Alex will continue to base himself in Essex where he has grown up even though he knows he will need to go abroad more to train in the colder months. “I am happy in Essex and being happy is a key ingredient. When I sat down with the manager of the team, I said what is the training camp programme like and he was like ‘well, most of our guys live in warm climates anyway so we don’t really have many.”

The Movistar team says Alex, don’t want to put any unnecessary stress on their riders and forcing them to have any extra time away from home because they spend enough time away from families and loved ones during the season. “We just expect you to turn up fit for racing” he told Alex.

“That means there is more responsibility for me with the training but I like that” says Alex.

The final question though had to be whether we will see Alex racing in time trials here in Britain? “Yes” he says. “Movistar are not employing me to be a climber, they have enough of them and time trialling is my bread and butter. It’s what I have grown up doing and is key to me doing well so I’ll be doing a lot of time trials in between.”

Thanks to Alex for his time and we look forward to seeing him in his Movistar kit come 2013…



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