Feature – Alex Dowsett on Le Tour


Alex Dowsett talks about one of the biggest sporting disappointments of his professional racing career, having to abandon the Tour

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Feature – Alex Dowsett on Le Tour
from – Gordon Wiseman

Dowsett – “I’m disappointed but already I’m moving on”

Despite having experienced one of the sporting disaapointments of his professional racing career, Alex Dowsett (Movistar Team) has started to move on from his enforced retirement from this year’s Tour de France that came to an abrupt end last Thursday.

As the race slipped past the half way mark, the 195km stage to the top of Plateau de Beille proved to be a day’s racing too far with the 26 year old still suffering and struggling from the dibillitating side effects of the deep cut to his arm that nearly brought his race to an end as early as stage 4.

“I got back home on the night of my leaving the race but since then all I’ve been doing is resting and recuperating, trying to give my battered body a chance to put itself back together” he explained. “I’ve got to take time to relax and chill and that’s literally all I’ve been doing”.

Much has already been written about the accident Alex experienced on stage 4 with the cut to his arm initially needing six stitches on the day of his crash and even nearly a week later, after it was reopened and washed again and another 4 stitches put in, his body still wasn’t coping with the trauma he’d endured.

“On the day after my accident, I couldn’t get my heart rate going at all. I only averaged 115 bpm having hit a peak as low as 150bpm. My body simply wasn’t coping and was using all its energy just to work at trying to repair itself, certainly not to race in the world’s hardest bike race” he later mused.

Summing up his feelings about his immediate post-accident form Alex said “I think it would have been better if I’d just had some road rash, I’ve got over that before. It’s really uncomfortable but you work through it. Or, I’d hurt myself so badly, I’d been forced to retired there and then. But as I could still ride, I was determined to do whatever I could but my body wouldn’t let me”.

Alex had his injury redressed during last week’s rest day and when racing restarted he felt better than he had done for a week. “When we first started I felt awful but that quickly cleared and I thought ‘hey, maybe things are starting to turn round’”. That was a fairly flat stage for most of its 167kms but with an important climb at the very end. Dowsett’s job was to protect his team leaders – Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde – until that climb.


“The team said that was the job they wanted me to do and it was just great that, for the first time since my crash, I was able to do so. And that in itself made me feel happy. I’d been brought into the race to do a certain job and that was what I was doing, it was just so good to be doing stuff for the team.”

“It had been hard mentally not being able to do that job, I felt a bit like a spare part. But the team were just awesome. They’d put a lot of faith in me when giving me my slot in the team. I knew what I was capable of and they recognised that. That’s what hurt so much when I wasn’t able to perform”.

But were things brighter after his ride on the first day after the rest day? “Tuesday night I was tired and still knew I had to take every day as I came to it but I really did hope things were turning for me”.

But a glance at the road book would have told Alex just how hard things were going to get, two successive days with multiple climbs in the Pyrenees over such iconic cols as the d’Aspin, Tourmalet – at 2115m the highest point of the Tour – and to the top of the Plateau de Beille were certainly going to test him and his resolved even further.

Equipment wise Alex would be using exactly the same frame and wheels as his team leaders, “the only difference being that I chose to use a compact groupset” giving Dowsett smaller gears to spin up the climbs. He would be using the same Canyon Aeroad frame as Quintana and Valverde. “The guys at Canyon had told us there’d be no advantage to be had using a lighter ‘mountain only’ frames and we completely trust their advice”.

On Wednesday’s stage that included the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet, Alex found that his renewed form the previous day had not been carried over. “The first 50kms was run off at a very high pace. I found that I could chug along but I had no top end power that I needed to cope with the three and four minute intensity bursts that were being repeated as the race hit the day’s climbs.


“When we got to the d’Aspin, I was all on my own. There were about half a dozen riders behind me but all bar one of those climbed off before the end of the stage. I got back to within about 400m of the ‘gruppetto’ but couldn’t make that final junction to get into their wheels. That was really frustrating”. Alex lost a further 33 minutes on that stage alone.

The gruppetto is a group of riders who combine to work together to make sure they get to the end of the day’s racing within a percentage time limit of the stage winner. The logic is along the lines of; if the gruppetto is big enough, the race organisers wouldn’t be able to disqualify so many riders all at the same time.

“The gruppetto this year is pretty much based around Cav’ Alex explained. “He knows everything there is about staying in the Tour de France and conserving energy. It doesn’t really matter to Mark if he loses 20, 30 or maybe even 40 minutes on the leaders in the mountains, as long as he’s still in the race when it comes to the sprints. I spent a couple of days in the gruppetto this year and with Mark driving things along, we always knew we’d be safe”.

Come last Thursday’s dramatic last day for Alex, things didn’t get off to a good start for him. “Let’s just say I had stomach issues” he diplomatically explained. “It was a combination of the heat and stress I was going through. Even as early as the neutral zone, I knew things were bad for me, I was just empty”.

“When we got to the first climb, I was straight out the back. The team car came alongside me, took one look and very sympathetically told me to pull the pin once I got to the top of that climb. I managed to get there but then got straight into the team car that was waiting for me”.

So that was Dowsett’s first Tour de France, over before he’d hoped. How did he cope with that disappointment? “To be quite honest, I was kind of relieved it was all over. I’d been suffering so much just to stay in the race. But when I tried watching the race on Friday back home I was really gutted, knowing the race was still going on, I’d been a part of it but wasn’t anymore”.


“Short of crashing out of the race, I don’t think there was any more I actually could do. My preparation hadn’t been all that ideal – most guys who race the Tour start their training the previous October. I was still training for the Hour through to the end of April and once I’d broken that record, I only had a few weeks to burn off the extra muscle and weight I’d put on for the Hour.

“So really, for the days when I was able to do so, I think I’d done a really good job. On the flat stages, I had very good power and was positioning myself well to protect Nairo and Valverde. And really, I crashed on stage 4 doing exactly what I’d been brought into the race to do, protect and lead out my team leaders”.

Alex has now had his cut arm reassessed and been told that there’s no infection. “But it’s such a deep cut it’s taking time to heal from within. So it’s healing but very slowly”.

His next race might be the week long Eneco Tour in the middle of August, “but that’s got a time trial so whether I’ll be able to go there and use TT bars by then, I just don’t know”.

But Alex does know where his next engagement is. “I’ll be going to Paris to see the end of the race this weekend and to join the end of the race team party. I know the team want me to be there as I have played my part in the team’s results in the race. Yes I’m gutted I won’t be there already having finished the race on my bike but that’s now on my list for next year. I know what I’ve got to do and I know I can do it”.

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