Feature Interview: Ian Wilkinson (Team Raleigh)

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Talking to superman Ian Wilkinson (Team Raleigh) about an exciting start to the 2014 season and much more for the British team with a French twist …

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About to begin his sixth season as a pro roadman is Lancashire superman, Ian Wilkinson. Winner last year of the CiCLE Classic for the second time and the Stockton Grand Prix in July, Ian will be in some exciting new colours in 2014 which will be revealed at the Raleigh Team launch in a few weeks time.

This year will see a lot of changes for the Raleigh sponsored team. It is now owned by manager Cherie Pridham and she explained that there have been a lot of eighteen hour days putting everything together. New sponsors are due to be revealed as well as the new bike already tested in the Tour of Britain last year, and for riders like Ian, a chance to ride abroad more when the team isn’t racing in Britain.

Talking to the manager, the program of racing will be a mix of events here in Britain and France where it’s said the French are mad for the Raleigh brand. On top of that, they have a monument of a patron in Bernard Hinault and more exciting news will be released shortly about further support for the team.

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Ian is looking forward to racing in France and getting the chance to wear some colourful jerseys ;-)

The racing will begin in the Tour Méditerranéen in a few weeks where Alex Blain, George Atkins, Morgan Kniesky, Ian Wilkinson, Matthieu Boulo, Yanto Barker, Evan Oliphant and Mark Christian will be looking to step up and show themselves at the front of the race. After that, the team will have a mix of races including Haut Var and Tour of Normandy in France as well as races like the Eddie Soens and Severn Bridge in Britain.

All the races the team are doing are about supporting the calendars in both countries leading up to the first major goal of the year, the Tour Series. It’s a difficult juggling act especially for the riders like Ian Wilkinson who know there’s a lot to be had from winning in France but also knowing they need to be in top form in May and June for the Tour Series.

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2009 and the first year for the Tour Series and part of the winning team was Ian Wilkinson (2nd from left). L-R Andy Tennant, Ed Clancy, Mark McNally, Ian and Rob Hayles.

Ian explains that he has been quietly ramping up the training in January adding he was going to do some ‘cross but as it’s not stopped raining, he decided not to. When we spoke to Ian, he had just come back from Lanzarote with wife Jayne. Eight days out there in the strong winds saw Ian get in some valuable miles ahead of the big events to come.

Steady days mixed with some more intensity and motor pacing help bring the form on but condition isn’t everything as Ian explained. “I am an up and down rider but if I have goals and things I want to do well in, I’m the sort of rider who can lift himself for events. I follow the principles I know that have worked for me in the past before Rutland and so on, and whether it’s a one day race or a stage race, I’ve been able to get myself in shape.”

The Tour of Britain last year was an example of that where on a par cours that didn’t suit the stocky road sprinter, he did get around including two days in long breaks which was no easy feat as getting in those breaks was a hard fought battle every day especially between the home based pros.

Since Ian got back from Lanzarote, he’s had to adjust from training in 20 degrees to 5 degrees but admits it hasn’t been too bad. “You get wrapped up, put the mud guards on and get on with it” he says.

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It was ‘epic’ last year at the Jock Wadley, freezing cold, very wet and very windy … A nice day for a bike race in Britain then!

“The thing is you have to go out and race in these conditions. In the Jock Wadley last year, it was really cold and wet; it was a horrific and if you don’t train in these conditions, you’re not going to be able race in them.”

“Training in those conditions also teaches you to know what kit works in those conditions”.

Ian explained how he prepares for his ride with shoes and socks and neoprene overshoes, then shorts and tights with some warm up balm on the knees and then a long sleeve undervest, long sleeved top and then a thick winter gilet. He’ll put a rain cape on as well if it rains. A multi-tube around the neck, is, says Ian, one of the best devices for keeping the chill out from your neck and to finish it all off, a woolly hat under the helmet.

Ian has tasted success in France before in stage races and in other countries as well and when asked was he looking forward to the Tour of Med, he replied “the race has been in the back of my mind but then it’s also a long season and the major goals are more into Easter and Tour Series time and we have to bear that in mind.”

“I have done it a couple of times and have some of idea of what to expect. We’re going there to race and compete and see what we can come out of it with.”

Ian explained “I do believe the format will be different this year with a new organiser who’s making them longer stages of 170k plus that will hopefully calm it down a bit because with the shorter stages it had before, everyone was at it out of the blocks.”

“The usual terrain is stuff I can cope with quite well, up and down and hopefully I can get a sniff of the line in some finishes. I’m just keen and excited to get into some foreign racing”.

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In the Tour of Med, Ian will be aboard a new bike, the Raleigh Militis which was debuted in last year’s Tour of Britain by one of the team’s riders. Ian has been spending the winter getting to know last year’s bike and is full of praise for it. “I’m really really pleased with the bike.”

“It’s completely different to the Cervelo in a really good way. The Militis is very comfortable but very very fast and nice and light. I’d rather this than an aero monster that doesn’t have any tyre clearance.” Ian’s training bike at the moment is SRAM 10 speed with Schwalbe tyres and tubs on Cole wheels.

“It looks really great. I can’t wait to race it” Ian says. “I dropped some good wheels in the other day for a training ride for some morale and hell it just wanted to go fast so I can’t wait to get it in a race.”

The new race bikes will feature SRAM 11 speed with Schwalbe tyres & tubs on Cole wheels as per last season.

It’s all a long way from the end of last year when the future of Team UK Youth was in the balance and riders like Ian weren’t sure whether they had jobs. Ian then signed for Raleigh in October saying that he’d had a few offers on the table. 2014 will be his sixth year on the road after a career in mountain biking and superman admits he still enjoys the road especially as he knows he is capable of winning big bike races.

Ian says that his first bike was a Raleigh and he was impressed by how the team has kept growing in a similar way to Endura Racing who went out into Europe and had their share of success which included victories for Ian.

It is though very early days and D day for the British/French team will be in May when the Tour Series kicks off. Raleigh got off to a good start in 2013 with two wins but after that the wheels fell off a bit and a crash in the final round lost them a lot of points and as Ian said, showed how important it is to be consistent and not make mistakes which can be very costly with so many top teams all having strong teams.

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Attacking off the front of the lead group with teammate and eventual winner, Alex Blain following the chase for superman.

“I expect we’ll be strong there with the likes of Alex Blain, Yanto Barker, me and Evan Oliphant where there’s a lot of experience combined with riders like George Atkins and others. We should have as strong a squad there as any other team who has been waving the cheque book around”.

Ian has ridden and worked well with Alex Blain when at Endura Racing and is looking forward to renewing that partnership as well as the one with Yanto Barker who did so well for UK Youth in 2013.

Looking back at last season, Ian, who has been part of winning teams three times in the Tour Series, says it was a learning year for him. “You always learn. Like at Halfords with Rob (Hayles) and Ed Clancy. There are always different ideas coming out and in 2013 we had a great mix of riders and they all showed what they were capable of.”

After the success of UK Youth, Ian says both himself and Yanto will be taking what they have learnt to Raleigh and adding that to the knowledge base in the new team which has other very experienced people involved like Alex Blain and DS Eric Bertou. The team also has some outstanding young talent with George Atkins, Joe Perrett and Mark Christian as well as the Frenchmen Morgan Kniesky and Matthieu Boulo. Liam Stones is another young rider signed by the team.

The 2013 Season
Whilst Ian had two big wins, and impressed in the Tour of Britain getting into two breaks, he says a highlight for him was racing around London in the Tour of Britain with an aim to deliver Chris Opie in the best place possible for the sprint. “That was great. There were massive crowds and it was a great day for us. We did well, all for one and one for all!”

The year kicked off in style with a sensational win in the CiCLE Classic, his second victory in the event. “Rutland was a major goal of mine and to get in there and in the move and have Yanto there, was awesome. We rode so well together the whole year, and that set it off. Without having to speak, we did what needing doing.”

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Ian raises his arm in victory as Yanto Barker in the background raises both! A team win … Ian’s new DS, Eric Berthou was 3rd!

“I felt I was on a good day but at the end of the 200k, my legs were friggin hurting! Sure I had the legs to win but I had to dig really deep. The punctures took the sting out of me. The first time I was with Scully and we got back on after the Somerberg. A slow puncture followed and with Continental Revo sealant in the tub, that bought him some time to get to a spare wheel. The chase afterwards was a real bitch says Ian.

“That was a tough chase so winning that event was great because I really had to work for it.”

Another of the wins was the Stockton GP in the North East. “From the second I got on the bike I felt good and I thought if I get in the mix, I can win again. You probably only get one day a year like that. If I hadn’t a won, I’d been kicking my ass! That ranks high and the Tour of Britain was really good too.”

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Ian winning the Stockton GP.

“I’d been a bit rough the month before the Tour in Ride London and disappointed to miss that but I got down to it and did some good training and was in the best shape I’d been all season. Even better than Rutland I think and it paid off.”

“I’d have had a good chance of winning into Llanberis (Stage 4). After being in the break all day, I was 12th in the bunch sprint after we’d been caught. After I made the break, I ducked and dived and saved it for the finish and as it happens, if I’d gone for the sprints, I might have had a chance in the Sprint jersey after winning them down to Haytor in another break but that’s bike racing.”

“The course was tough but that was part of the motivation while preparing for it. I knew the terrain wasn’t a major strength of mine but it forced me to look at myself closer and see what I could do to improve for it. A race like that though is raced differently to a Premier Calendar where everyone batters the crap out of each other for four hours.”

“There is a structure to the Tour of Britain stages and that enables riders to compete and race on courses that are not necessarily suited to their strengths. So you see a bigger guy getting into the break as the race is controlled.”

Ian then explained that the CiCLE Classic is no push over. Many think it’s fairly flat but Ian says otherwise. “In Rutland, there are no long climbs but it’s a brute of a race. You finish that, and you know you have done some climbing.”

“It’s constantly up and down. Around the lake is fairly flat but as soon as you turn left into those lanes, you have to be on the ball and that’s what grinds you down.”

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Climbing in the CiCLE Classic … no flat in this race!

Ian is hoping for more of that success in 2014 saying 2013 was an improvement on other years but there is more to give.

“It was much more of a season that I’d expect of myself. I’d had a good winter and refound myself and was more consistent at a higher level which is what I’d I expect; to win a race or two and place well as well as help others to win. So it was a very good feeling to be in the mix and in good shape”.

After another good winter, and with some top class pro racing to come in France, an even better year is on the cards so look out for Superman in 2014, he’ll be flying for sure when the team race in Britain in their striking new kit …

Thanks to Ian for the chat and also to team manager Cherie Pridham for the info … 2014 looks like being some season for the squad …

 


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