Feature Interview: Russell Downing


Four time a winner at Lincoln and second in 2016, Russell Downing is stronger than ever and looks forward to another year with the men in black

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Feature Interview: Russell Downing

In 2016, after only ever having worked with John Herety when riding for Great Britain, Russell Downing donned the black colours of JLT Condor to start yet another season on the road.


Speaking after his fastest ever race up Monsal Head in the Hill Climb there, Russell said it has been a stress free season working with John who sorts everything for his riders and how there’s mutual respect for each other after so long in the sport.

When asked about his season highlights, Russell explained “I have been doing a lot for Chris Lawless this year moving it up to the next level so I’ve been good. I had a good Tour du Loir-et-Cher where I was leading Chris out. On stage 1, he couldn’t hold my wheel and I ended up winning the stage which put me up there on GC”.

“I ended up third overall so that was good. I enjoyed the crit champs too, doing a job there with Chris winning and me second after coming out of the last corner in about sixth. So it’s been a solid year and I’m ready now to hang it up for the year”.

I put it to Rus that for me, two races stood out where he showed he hasn’t lost anything despite the years having passed for us all – Lincoln GP and RideLondon Classic.


At Lincoln, Russell, a four time winner and needing one more to become the outright most winning rider in the history of the British monument, was second to a rider he trains with, Tom Stewart.

“I’m still disappointed at that but if it been anyone else than Tom, I’d have been really pissed off but I know Tom is a good bike handler and he saw a gap and went for it and that was it. He got his bars in there at the right point just as I was relaxing to get round the corner. I feel as though I messed up there but that’s bike racing. I wanted it so much though.”

“There is that much pressure on me getting the fifth win and all that malarkey, it over complicated it.”

Russell’s last win at Lincoln was fourth in 2012 which equalled the record with Paul Curran. But after a spell in Europe, he returned and showed that he still knows how to pull a result there. “Lincoln is one of those races I know how to ride to the book and if the race goes well, I’m alright.”

“I was out numbered a few times this year and was ready to stretch the legs to thin the numbers out and found I had (Ian) Bibby there to help me. I was ready to launch one with two to go and Bibby did it for me so it was all good. It’s a numbers game and you can get caught out there but I did all right”.


“Tom (Stewart, of Madison Genesis) has had a cracking year and I think we’ve been training too hard together!”

The other race that Russell stood out in (for me) was the UCI HC RideLondon Classic. He’s been in the mix at the finish before like the year Adam Blythe won but in 2016 was working for Chris Lawless. Aas luck would have it, as he opened the sprint for Chris, the TV pics had him on screen showing just how much in the mix Russell was.

“I was 10th I think there when Blythey won and coming into the mall in the Tour of Britain, I think I was fifth or sixth with Boonen and the like were racing so I know the finish. This year I was holding fifth or sixth wheel but I knew I had lost Chris through the Arch and was waiting for him to get back to me.”

“Then I had to go again and so I’d used two bullets there in the final. I wish Chris had been a bit more honest and said he was maybe not feeling as good as he needed after he’d had a good race. I’d sat there waiting for the final in the wheels while Chris had been in splits and so on, so it would have been nice to have had a pop myself.”

“I think, as it was a fast sprint and I was fifth or sixth coming in, that’s probably where I would have stayed.”


Russell also had a good Tour of Britain. “I was up there in 22nd overall and I wasn’t going for GC. My role was to help Lamps (Steve Lampier) and go for sprints. I was always in a good position with 500 to go and then the team’s trains would come past and I’d be in 12th”.

“Doing it alone is quite hard! We went into the race with a solid team and we got in breaks and that and by the end, everyone was gassed. It was a shame to lose Graham (Briggs, another fast man) halfway through after his good ride early on (second on a stage). And if Chris hadn’t injured himself in the lead up to the race, I’d have really been looking after him there and think we’d have got some good results with him”.

Looking ahead, Russell says he’s staying with the team for 2017. “Yes, I’m riding for John next year so it’s good to be able to relax over the winter knowing I have that. We are already talking about the season next year. I don’t think a lot will change”.

“Chris is moving on and there are a few new riders coming in but the majority of the team is staying together so it should be a good crack again and I’m looking forward to looking after the boys when I can and taking my chances when I get them”.

I put it to Russell that it wasn’t that long ago when I was on the back of a motorbike watching him ride away off the front of races (Prems) and winning how he liked. Now, that seems a lot harder to do? “The scene has definitely got better” he says.

“I don’t think I’ve changed a lot as a rider, probably stronger now, but back then teams were not as organised and there were a lot of solo riders. Now, every team take five or six good riders to a race and they work together like a professional team and so they should as it’s a massive sport in the UK”.

“So you can’t just ride away in races even if you are strong enough because there are now a lot of strong riders in the races!”

As I write this, Russell is on holiday, relaxing and the bike is firmly put away. So what about his winter, what does he have planned and has his approach changed over the years?

“Not really changed it, no. I sort of relax in October and November, still riding my bike because if ‘m not riding my bike what else would I be doing! Sometimes I’ve gone to Australia and you have to do a bit more earlier but this year I’m staying at home, and will drop in and out of Europe.”

“I’m looking forward to enjoying bike riding because I think you can still do the solid hours back home, you just get a bit cold and wet! But you can go to Majorca to fine tune it with efforts on the climbs so it’s all good”.

“One thing I have learnt over the years is listen to your body like one day I might have five hours on the clock but if you wake up and feel you need some more sleep, then knock it back and let it run. And if you ever feel a bit run down or ill, better to lose a day or two than lose a week or two.”

Russell added that it isn’t all on the road either and the mountain bike or ‘cross bike will come out to have some fun on two wheels off road. He adds it’s not just about riding and riding but efforts as well and when asked if he goes into the gym, he smiled and said his gym work is chopping wood, cutting the grass and taking the small horse (dog) for a walk.

For now though, it’s time to do the things that he has not been doing during a season when he was the lightest he’s been for a while and that’s having a beer and eating the food he’s been avoiding. He’s certainly earnt that after doing 25,000k this season and that alone show’s he’s still loving the sport.

That love is evident in his doing the Monsal Hill Climb. “I think I will come back again” he said after finishing third. “I think I said somewhere I’ll keep coming back as long as I ride a bike but I probably won’t be smashing it like I do every other year! Marc and the guys at Sheffrec put on a great show so how can I not be here.”

Rus himself put on a good show, racing up Monsal Head the fastest he’s ever managed to do which for a discipline that legends like Malcolm Elliott admit is a young man’s game, that is some performance by Russell.

“I thought that time I did was perhaps good enough to win it when I heard it but then the specialists rocked up and went faster. I’m still pretty chuffed”.

For the last few years, Rus has ridden a fixed gear but this year, was on his team bike including a lot of gears at his disposal. “I think I changed two times and had it in too smaller gear in the middle section but then I gained at the top”.

“Road bikes have come on so much. That bike I was on was probably lighter than my fixie was. It definitely ran smoother and as it’s a bike you ride all year, you feel comfortable on it.”


Russell on his fixie at Monsal … 

Asked finally if he feels pressure going into the race as one of the ‘star’ names? “All through my career, no one has put as much pressure on me as I do on myself. I do try and relax coming into this but the last week I knew how hard it was going to be so I had to go and do some efforts on home roads. I always want to get close to Malc’s record!” he finished with as the two of them stood together on top of a climb they both know very well, chatting.

Thanks Rus!




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