Talkingshop: Alex Dowsett’s New Challenge


This weekend Movistar Pro Cycling’s Alex Dowsett will start the 96th edition of the Giro d’Italia – the biggest challenge thus far of his professional bike racing career

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Gordon Wiseman writes … Experiences Past – Expectations Future



This weekend Movistar Pro Cycling’s Alex Dowsett will start the 96th edition of the Giro d’Italia – the biggest challenge thus far of his professional bike racing career – and in doing so achieves the dream race start he’d hoped for since leaving Team Sky at the end of 2012.

The opportunity to race in one of cycling’s three week Grand Tours in 2013 was a significant factor in Dowsett’s decision to leave Britain’s premier racing team, explaining at the time that “having competed in a three week Grand Tour is something I think I should now have on my palmares at this stage of my career”. And now he can achieve that goal.

He talked to having just returned from a two week training camp in Majorca. “I had the opportunity of going to Sierra Nevada to train for the Giro but decided to go to Majorca because I could test myself on roads and in conditions I got used to from the camps I attended with Sky.

“I also had the chance to link up with Dave Le Grys at his Legros Training Camp, he sold the idea to me really. He’s a great coach and these camps are a bit of an institution in Essex racing circles. I knew I could properly stretch myself and, as I said, test myself against known markers.”



“It was a really good two weeks and, of course, off the bike we were able to really enjoy the facilities at Puerto Pollensa, relax after riding and chill out by the pool.”

That two week training period came at the end of a very busy early season for Alex that saw him take in 23 race days in just nine weeks with that block including him competing in all the top cobbled Classics in Northern Europe.

But even that wasn’t the whole picture. “In the week between Gent – Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, the team arranged a short training camp for us to concentrate on our Team Time Trial drills. We’d done well as a squad at Tirreno – Adriatico” – Movistar came second to the Omega Pharma Quick Step team of Mark Cavendish – “but with the Giro in mind, those few days together really proved to be very productive.”

“We were training around a motor racing circuit in Spain and we were sharing the track with Jaguar who were doing some testing and press rides. Fortunately not at the same time! But it hammered home the point that racing circuits are great in a car but not when you’re pushing yourself on a bike!”

In the Classics, Alex found out a great deal about himself as a rider and the whole experience hammered home the importance of training with a specific goal in mind.

2013_Movistar_TT _Racing

Always easy to pick out, Alex in the British champion’s jersey in a TTT with Movistar. Photo:

“I always knew that riding the Classics, riding the cobbles, requires a great deal of power. But in the run up to all those races, I’d been pretty much focusing on my time trial efforts and within the first hour of Dwars door Vlaanderen I was reminded that you need an ability to execute your power in short bursts and repeat, repeat and repeat that time and again throughout the whole race.”

“As a team, we went to the Classics to do the best that we could but the truth is, as we knew when we went there, Movistar is not a Classics team. So my job was always to try to get into a break at the start to see what we could do. And I did that. It may not have got much coverage but I was in a break with Andreas Klier and another rider for the first two hours at Flanders.

“Overall, I’m disappointed that I only finished the one race” – the Scheldeprijs where Dowsett was in a group of riders that finished just 1m 57s behind the winner Marcel Kittel – “but I know what I have to do for next year. Assuming I’m given the same sort of programme, I’ll change my whole approach. I need less TT pace and need to be more “jumpy”, more “warp speed.”

“If I could have said to the team ‘can I go home to train for the Giro’, I think I’d have been happier but I’m a professional rider and I knew what I had to do for the team. In a professional set-up that’s what you’re there to do, what the team wants and that doesn’t always include finishing the race. But I know what I have to do for next year and in the Classics, experience counts for so much”.



But even during Paris – Roubaix, Alex had the Giro on his mind. “Roubaix was something else. I remember sitting in my hotel the night before the race thinking ‘wow, tomorrow it’s Paris – Roubaix’, with the Worlds and the Tour, one of the top three races in the world.”

“But with 70kms to go, I was thinking ‘I’m flying out to Majorca on Tuesday for a two week training camp to prepare for the Giro. I can ride the final 70kms, finish the race, get to use those famous showers but then I’ll be dead for a week’ so that was really my decision made up for me. Everything was building up to the Giro so I knew I had to pack”.

Apart from the Mallorca Challenge that started his 2013 racing campaign, in terms of stage racing, Alex has only competed in one stage race so far this year, at Tirreno – Adriatico. But he and Movistar were more than pleased with his and the team’s results there.

“Tirreno was very, very hard but also very rewarding. We got second in the team time trial which was really good as it was our first competitive ride together as a team. Then in the final stage” – a 9.2km individual time trial – “I got 10th overall. That was really good after what had been some hellish days”.

Dowsett was particularly referring to the three climbs of the Muro di Sant’Elpidio on the sixth stage, the day before the closing time trial, where the road included stretches of climbing at nearly 30%.

“… And it was raining” he added! “That climb was bloody steep, I think that was the steepest thing I’ve ever ridden up. But you know? I never really felt that I was in serious trouble or that I wouldn’t finish. I think knowing I had the time trial the next day kept me gritting my teeth and really helped keep me focussed.”

“With about 50km to go, I found myself alongside Tyler Farrah and we sort of gave each other a double take as if to say “wow, you’re still here as well”! But we were still in that group. OK, within a few more kilometres the whole thing exploded as the GC contenders pulled out the pin but it was great knowing I’d done so well in those sort of conditions”.

Other time trial experts were not so fortunate with Taylor Phinney, a former team-mate of Dowsett at Trek-Livestrong in 2010, finishing outside the time limit on that now infamous stage. “To me, Taylor was a hero that day. He really gave it a go but just missed out by 4 or 5 minutes. But he really put in one hell of a ride.”

“Then, in the next day’s time trial, I got everything out on the road. I’d learned at last year’s World Time Trial championships how to ride on power and although at Tirreno I possibly put too much out too early, overall I was pleased with my ride”.


Even though he’s considered to be a time trial ‘expert’, with two senior National titles to his name already, Alex fully accepts that he’s still learning how to ride in this tricky discipline every time he gets out on his bike.

“Even now riding a time trial is difficult to gauge. I did some training the other day with my dad as time-keeper and I was able to change my approach as I wanted to do. I guess I’m lucky that I can do that when I enter a TT in the UK because it’s pretty much ‘behind closed doors’ to the rest of the Continent. But once I’m in a stage race for Movistar, then I know every time it counts.”

So that’s the 24 year old’s season thus far. But now the racing moves up a few gears with Alex flying out to meet his Movistar team-mates on Wednesday and the reason he joined the oldest team in the WorldTour; to race a Grand Tour.

“Home” interest in the Giro d’Italia is likely to be huge this year with Sir Bradley Wiggins riding to win the coveted pink jersey once the race finishes in Brescia on 26 May.

But before then, Wiggins, Dowsett and their fellow Brits have 21 days racing to deal with as they race a total of 3405kms the length and breadth of Italy. The parcours includes three races against the clock, five mountain top finishes and nine climbs that peak out at over 2000m.

Oh, and three of those climbs top out at over 2500kms including the highest, the legendary Passo dello Stelvio where it’s not uncommon even at this stage of the year for the Stelvio still to be covered in snow. So how does Alex feel now he’s face-to-face with what he’s always wanted to do?

“The training has gone well and the fitness is there. I’ve got the two weeks in Majorca and Dave Le Grys to thank for that. And I think I’m personally in really good shape. I’m possibly carrying a little too much weight, just a couple of kilos, but at this stage before a three week race I don’t see that as a problem.”

“Anyway, I’ve no idea where I’d lose any more weight from. My body mass is down to 5 – 7% fat and I’m pleased with that. And I know that when I came back from Majorca, my mum said I was too skinny and gaunt. If my mum says I look healthy it means I’m too fat to be a cyclist” Alex laughed.

So what are Dowsett’s hopes, fears and expectations?

“First of all, I just want to finish. To ride my first three week Grand Tour and get to the end. As ever I’ll have a job to do for the team but this time it’s a bigger job than I’ve ever had to do before in my life”.

There’ll be plenty of opportunity for Alex to use his prowess against the clock. Stage 2 is a 17.4km team time trial, stage 8 is a solo 55.5km test that’ll require Alex to use all his skills with the course being bumpy and finishing up a difficult ramp for the final 3kms with stage 18 providing a further 19.4kms test of man v the minute hand.

“Mainly, I’ll be riding for our GC riders” – the 2011 Vuelta a Espana winner Juan Jose Cobo and rising star Benat Intxausti – “and our sprinter on the flatter stages” – Fran Ventoso – “but I’ll be there as one of our time trial specialists so I’ve got to think about that in every stage as well. I won’t mind always finishing in last place on every stage if I can then get a top ten placing in one of the time trials.”

One of Alex’s biggest challenges will be dealing with the mountains, particularly the number of climbs over 2000m. Again, at the start of the year he spoke about both wanting and needing to improve his climbing and the Giro will be an opportunity for him to see how he’s progressing on that front.


“In the mountains, I’ll be in damage limitation mode once I have done all I can for the team. This will mean simply getting to the finish within the time cut and saving as much energy as I can. On these kind of days, the bunch splits into two, guys who are racing to win and the guys that are there to help and finish. As a heavier set rider, I fall into the latter category, for now”.

And how will Alex cope with racing over three long weeks for the very first time?

“It’s 21 days of full on racing with most stages covering over 100 miles and some Very Big Mountains so the whole race will be huge. I remember reading an interview with Peter Kennaugh and he was talking about the way you can scare yourself thinking too much about what you’ve got to do the next day, the next day and then the next day again. That’ll be something I’ll have to overcome as well.”

“But I know that’s the case. I’m a pro bike rider, it’s what we do. It’ll be the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s where I want to be. What I want to do”.


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