Interview – Russell Downing off & Racing


Britain’s Russell Downing (Cult Energy Pro Cycling) already has a top 10 to his name in 2015 with some big races to come

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Interview – Russell Downing off & Racing

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Whilst the British season takes a little longer to get going, for the riders in the European pro teams, the season is upon us already and Russell Downing of Cult Energy Pro Cycling has two races under his wheels already.


A content looking rider is ‘Fonzy’ after the Mallorca Challenge. Pic: Richard Bennett

Russell, like Adam Blythe, spent last year in Britain racing for NFTO and for 2015 is back with the ‘family’ that is the pro peloton. “It’s very nice” he told VeloUK on arriving back in Yorkshire. “As soon as we were in the team hotel, I was bumping into old teammates, people I know and it felt good to be back. A lot of people were asking about the team and it was a good feeling.”

Russell explained he’s had a good solid month of training before the season kicked off on the weekend where he did the first and last day of racing. “I’ve had a really strong winter and was ready for it. I’m especially happy and relaxed now to be home knowing I have done the winter and I’m in good shape and ready to race”.

“The first day was good on the flatlands with plenty of wind about. It was as bit fresh but the sun shone so that was nice. The last day started in sunshine but halfway through we had a massive snow and sleet cloud coming at us and we had that weather all the way into Palma.”

Russell explained how with the sleet being blown into them by a strong wind along with hail, all he could hear behind him in the peloton were the cries of pain of riders being hit by the weather. So much for escaping the weather in Britain!


From Twitter and a pic of Rus (left) battling for the win in the final race at Challenge Majora

Asked how he felt about 7th in the final race, Russell replied “I was happy with that. I was disappointed on the first day when I was in the mix. On that day, we had a plan that when we got to a big roundabout with 5k to go, that we would go as a team (train) and see how it went.”

“Michael Reihs took the train up and we were alongside the Sky train for a good two k but then we ran out of men at the end. The team were really good though. I was in the right hand gutter and the surge went from the left and I lost ten places into the last corner so didn’t really sprint.”

“The legs were good though and we felt good as a team. That was the first time we’d ever done a race together and we did well.”

Insight into the sprints
“If it is a flat straight sprint like that, you have got to be on a train although I have done it with and without. It is nice to be on the back of train taking control of the peloton so you can relax. But it is quite a knack to bounce from train to train and pick the one that is moving fast enough”.

“If you are using other people’s trains, you have to be confident you are on the right one but it is miles easier being on your own train”.

“A twisty finish does suit me better but on the last day it was a straight finish. It was that fast a sprint that no-one really changed position much in the last 50 metres. It was a blanket finish and I think there were only 20 guys or so guys left in the bunch after it went that fast out of the last corner.”

“There was a hotdog corner with 2.5k to go and then it was flat stick. But the legs were good in the sprint so I was definitely happy with that.”


Winning at the Velo29 Stockton Grand Prix in 2014 for NFTO.

Getting your train together
Asked to give us an insight into the sprint trains, Russell explained “In a lead out you have a guy who will start it and put the train in the right direction. In our team, that’s Michael Reihs, so he’s the pilot of the train”.

“If you are the sprinter on the back, you have to have faith he’s going to put you in the right direction but you also have to send some calls down the line as to where you want to go and if you want to the train to move forward”.

“If you are doing 60-65k an hour, and the wind is there, it can be hard to get that message across! So you have to rely on the front guy who is making the call. All we had ever done before the racing were some lead outs in the training camp so I don’t think we did bad considering we are a new set of riders in this team.”

Early season racing to end of season races
There was a time when races like the Tour Down Under and others were a big early season party but the races now are just as hard as any. “At one time, everyone thought early season races were training races, warm up races, easy points races but there is no such thing anymore” Russell says.

“Everyone comes out of winter raring to go and looking to get some points on the board early so it can be crazy. There were a few times when it could have split in the wind as the race changed direction a few times.”

“As soon as a team went to the front with four guys, everyone got so nervous; is it going to split, or is it going to do something else? You have to have your wits about you. There are riders who try to do things they can’t because they are not going quite well enough to go that fast but it all makes for an exciting race”.


Russell back in the pro peloton where he feels at home. Pic: Richard Bennett

It was a long time ago when I remember a young Russell Downing in classics that no longer exist in Britain and I almost fell off my chair when I saw his brother Dean had just turned 40. That’s what age is like, creeping up on you but as Ian Wilkinson said in his interview, age is no barrier when it comes to performing with the very best on two wheels.

“I’m not getting any younger but I still feel good” Russell says. “You never know in a new team where you are going to slot in even though I have a lot of experience on the bike and off the bike. There are young guns coming into the sport but what’s good about this team is that nobody is a Prima Dona thinking he’s better than anyone else which can happen in some teams”.

“It’s really relaxed and everyone respects each other for what they have done and what they can still do. We have a really good mix including the DS’s like Luke Roberts who I used to race with and has only just finished racing”.

“I don’t feel 36 but more like Peter Pan where the boy never grows up. It is quite funny because the guy I room with, Mads Pedersen, is 19 and I was like I don’t feel a million miles away from him. He’s a fast boy and has been up there in Paris-Roubaix juniors and has some big talent. He said to me ‘I think you could be my dad!’ It’s scary if you think about how old you are but you just get on with it and not think of it”.

“Cycling does keep you young mixing with lots of different ages and it is just a number.”

Russell agreed that his career has helped him keep the enthusiasm for racing which is great because it is always sad when a ‘legend’ of the time retires as his brother did at the end of last season.

“I haven’t ridden 15 Grand Tours or anything. I have gone in and out of big teams and into small teams and if you do a good ride in a small team, you feel you can go back up to a new bigger team and get a fresh start all the time.”

“I am still really keen doing five and six hour training rides in the UK so the enthusiasm is there and I have proved I can be up there with some of the best guys in the world”.


Back with former teammates Zak Dempster (left) and Scott Thwaites (right). Pic: Richard Bennett

What Next?
Russell’s next race is the GP Costa degli Etruschi, a race won by riders like Vivani and Pettachi and his final race before a few weeks getting into ‘classics’ form for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Het Volk) at the end of February. That used to be the race kicking off the pro season but now racing starts in early January.

Russell has a lot of experience in Belgium having ridden the semi classics along with the Monuments such as Roubaix and Tour of Flanders. “I have done the base work for five or six weeks and am now tweaking the effort to ride the semi classics which will be on the rivet”.

“Scott Sunderland told me the first year I was in team Sky, never give up in a classic because if you are in the second group you never know if that group is going to come back if the front group relaxes. Never give up all day unless you’re twenty minutes down”.

“Those races are so all over the place that you never settle into a rhythm and I kind of like that”.

Russell’s programme is pretty roughly laid out all the way to the British Road Race Championships in Lincoln (which he has won 4 times) but he is aware that invites to some races may come in quite late so his programme could change.

“The team are on the map now and hopefully organisers will look at us and see we are a good outfit with good riders and results” says the rider known as Fonzy. The one race he hasn’t heard about yet and is at the forefront of his mind is the Tour of Yorkshire which he is really keen to get in.

Perhaps we need to start a petition! Fonzy for Tour de Yorkshire … come on ASO!

GP Costa Degli Etruschi Team Preview
Sunday, 8th of February, Cult Energy Pro Cycling participate in the Italian season opener, GP Costa Degli Etruschi covering 190.6 kilometers with a hilly finale but concluded with a flat run-in to the finish line. The race is launched in San Vincenzo and brings the peloton north to Donoratico.

Cult Energy Pro Cycling DS, André Steensen says: “The race has developed from being a sprinter treat into being a classical Italian one-day race where the finale is fierce with two consecutive ascents on the same climb so traditionally, a small group will be fighting it out on the finish line. I think we have several cards to play in this type of race so we will try to stick to front and wait for the right moment to move”.

“However, the race is the Italian season opener, which means that the Italian teams will be hugely motivated and we have to pay attention from the gun and join in on the fun. Based on our training camp and last week’s races, I’m pretty confident. We will take our chances to be an active part of the race.”

The riders are: Fabian Wegmann, Rasmus Guldhammer, Alex Kirsch, Russell Downing, Joel Zangerle, Romain Lemarchand, Mads Pedersen and Michael Carbel.

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