Talkingshop: Russell Downing – Dream Come True

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Moving up to ProConti level a dream come true for Russell Downing as he looks forward to a season riding the big races again.

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For too many years, Russell Downing was dominating racing in Britain before overall victory in the Tour of Ireland gave him the chance to race the biggest events for Team Sky. More wins came his way but Sky decided not to renew his contract and the South Yorkshire rider was unable to find a new WorldTour team. Instead, he rode for Endura Racing and there the wins continued in Europe and in Britain before he was signed for two years by NetApp-Endura.

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Russell Downing and Jonny McEvoy in the British Madison Championships

The rider known as Fonzy is now back in the Game and what a game he has in front of him for 2013 with the German team. Surprisingly, it’s the first time he’s signed a two year contract with a team but it does allow him the opportunity to concentrate on getting results for his new team and seeing where that leads.

His first hit out for 2013 was the Madison Championships on Saturday where with Jonny McEvoy, he finished with a Bronze medal to go with the title he won way back in 2003 with Brother Dean. Go back through the records and Russell won a Bronze medal way back in 1999 and he and brother Dean represented Great Britain in the Madison a handful of years ago.

Afterwards, Russell said “I really enjoyed the race. We weren’t riding the event until three days ago but I spoke to Westy (Phil West of BC) and said I’d ride. I’d forgotten you have to fill pieces of paper out! When the start list came out, I thought I’d sign up for Revolution and Madison so Jonny and I talked it out and we said lets do it.”

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Spotted! Russell Downing hams it up for the camera during the warmup for the Madison Championships.

“It was good training and we had a few efforts in there. The strength we have came in handy when we were in no-man’s land for a while but never gave in. There were three strong teams in the race and it was good to be one of them. I saw one of the riders from the top teams attack and we were a little bit out of position. I knew we had to go with it though and it hurt to go across to it. We knew that was where the medals were going to come from so it had to be done.”

With three teams on the same lap, it was the sprints that were going make the difference and Russell explained “I got in position quite a few times and then it was a matter of timing. When you’re out of the race, you need to time it so you can get into the race a lap and three quarters out from the sprint but a few times we missed that timing. It was brilliant though considering it was only Jonny’s second Madison and it’s been a whilst since I have ridden one!”

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Russell full gas as his rivals sit on the wheel 

“Even the crowd was good. I heard stories in the past when the Madison has been in the afternoon and no-one has come to watch but that was exciting. You could hear the vibe when teams were changing a lap and half out and the crowd were going at it so it was exciting and great training”.

In the second half of the race, lying in third and down on points, Downing and McEvoy made a move that really got the crowd going. “I was watching the race and saw Blythey or Pete had swung up fifth or six wheels back and could see that Jon (Mould) was on their wheel and had followed them.”

“I knew then just how much they are watching each other and that if we could get half a lap, maybe they’d pause again. We had the strength out there but not the speed and we knew we’d not lose third even if we blew a gasket so it was a do or die effort and if we’d taken the lap, we’d have won the race!”

Unfortunately for Russell and Jonny, they were chased down as the sprint for the points began and they finished the championship in third. It was though a good hit out for them both and they can now concentrate on the road season ahead. Talking about 2013 with NetApp-Endura, Russell says “I could not be more excited about the season if I tried.”

“I’d been there and done that with Sky and that was great and just when I thought that racing at that level was on the back burner, it all comes back again. I start in Qatar and Oman and then on to Het Volk Kuurne and hopefully onto the big Classics. You never know!”

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Full gas as Russell goes for it to take a lap during the Madison Championships.

Russell has a training camp coming up with his team and before long will be in Qatar and Oman where he hopes to go well before smashing it up the cobbled bergs in Belgium. “It’s a dream come true to be doing that” he says.

“I have been up there in Kuurne before and done jobs for Flecha and others in Het Volk so know those races. Because there is 40k less of them (compared to the ‘Monuments’) more people think they can win. It’s when they get over 240k riders will say I’ll be cooked and they do their job but in the 200k ones, its balls to the walls and everyone wants to win.”

“its balls to the walls and everyone wants to win.”

Russell explained that the races like that are not just won on the Bergs but on the roads before they are reached where on the flat, descents and in the twists and turns, riders are wanting to ride where it’s not possible to ride. “You have got to hold your position because if you’re out of position at the bottom of the bergs, you’re out the back at the top. The thing about the classics though is not to give up.”

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With a new team comes a new bike and Russell says he is starting to feel decent on it after getting the position right ahead of the important training camp next week. That’s where they’ll be swamping basket balls for balls of another type on the Spanish roads as the training camp gets tasty on the road.

Riders will be aiming to impress team selectors as well as find their racing legs and Russell says after the first camp, the most relaxed one he’s been on, he’s looking forward to getting stuck in. Asked if it’s disconcerting being a rider and at the mercy of getting wildcards to ride the big races, Russell replied, “that’s more on the management side of things. Now we are in the league where you can get the wild cards, all we can do now is do the races and see what results we can get.”

One thing is for sure, Russell will be out there gritting his teeth for all he is worth in those races, and after numerous wins in 2012, lets cross our fingers for the rider known as ‘Fonzy’ and see what he can do in Europe again… it’s sure to be special!

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First podium of many no doubt for Russell (right) with Jonny McEvoy.

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