Chat with James Gullen , 2017 RAS Winner

We talk to the An Post RAS winner James Gullen about his major achievement of winning one of the most uncontrollable stage races in the world

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Chat with James Gullen , 2017 RAS Winner

Stop Press… James Gullen matches achievement of fellow tester Tony Martin winning An Post RAS!

Okay, that is tongue in cheek but it is also true that a rider more known for his feats in time trials, ie, multi world champion Tony Martin, won the race in 2007 (2nd also in Tour de Avenier the same year) and a decade later, James Gullen, also known as a fearsome rider against the watch, won the RAS.

James joins a long honours list that also includes Stephen Roche (1979) and Lukas Postlberger who won the first stage in the Tour of Italy this year. Another name from the RAS history books is John Degenkolb, a Points winner so the win by James in the race is certainly a huge victory for the JLT Condor rider.

James is currently racing the final stage in Portugal in a 2.1 three stage event which followed a few days at home after returning from Ireland and when asked if the victory in Ireland had sunk in, he replied; “It’s a weird one. If you win a race in a sprint or something, you are all of a sudden getting the emotion as you cross the line but when you’re leading it, you don’t think about the victory until after the race”.

It mirrored in a way the victory of JLT Condor in the Tour Series where the buzz of the victory didn’t really kick in until the podium celebration after the race itself in Stevenage had been won by a Madison Genesis rider in Connor Swift and the team result also went to Madison Genesis. But for James, going for stage wins to get that buzz of crossing the line a winner just wasn’t an option and he had to think of the bigger picture, IE, the yellow jersey. … continued after advert


Before we look at how James came to win the RAS, we delved into what James had done in the race in the years leading up to 2017 and he explained “I did it for the first time in 2012 with Metaltek , and it was my first ever proper stage race, my first UCI race, and I was just there for the experience as it was all quite new to me”.

“So I didn’t go for a result but was top 50 and it was good. Then, I was in teams that either didn’t do it or I never got picked for it for the next four years before I went back last year with Pedal Heaven and got the stage 3 victory and was 9th overall.”

Having won a stage in 2016, it was easy to see why John Herety sent their new signing to the race in 2017 but James wasn’t the first choice for GC. James explained that he went into the event as a back up GC rider to Ian Bibby, winner of the Lincoln GP and Chorley GP this year and clearly a rider in form and favoured to win it.

“He was the main leader” James says “with me sitting there to support him and take over if he had any problems because at the RAS, it’s so unpredictable with luck playing a big part. It’s better to have a few options rather than have all your eggs in one basket”.

James had his first race for JLT Condor at the start of January and has delivered to them a huge victory

James went on to summarise how he got in the position of leading the race by saying “earlier in the race, I’d got in a move with Bibby and that moved him to fifth and me to 12th on GC and there were some good gaps behind us so we were happy getting a good start”.

“Then on the first really hilly stage, when Bibby punctured and he was out of it, I moved up to sixth. Then the day after, Ed (Laverack) and I got in a break that decided the GC and was the big day where I went from being up there to leading the race”.

Being in yellow though is one thing, keeping it is another as the race has loads of teams and just five man ones at that which makes controlling it nigh on impossible. “We took the lead at a point when it was a bit far out but okay” James says.

“If it had been any earlier, we’d have used all our riders up and had nothing left so we were lucky we took the jersey at a good time. If the riders in JLT Condor had not been so strong and winners in their own right, it would have been hard to hold onto yellow though. And we had to sacrifice stage wins then as they were riding for me but it was worth it in the long run”.

A time trial test in Australia in 40 degree heat was no probs for James

The GC win though was never a sure thing because as James says, the RAS is like no other stage race, something some experienced pros like Cameron Meyer (a multi world champion on the track) from Australia had to get their head round. “It is unpredictable, proper racing where you just have to chance your luck and go with things” James says.

“You can’t sit back, relax and control it as it’s not like a break goes and the race is controlled before the break is brought back. It’s more attack and attack and more attacks and there is only so much a five man team can do”.

So did James have any ‘moments’ when the Yellow was in danger? “The following day after I took the yellow, was the queen stage, quite a short stage but a lot of climbs one after the other and we knew I had to come out of that stage with the same gap I had to give me a chance of keeping the GC”.

“So we rode it all day and the Aussies attacked but I’d had such an easy ride all day, all I had to cover was a few moves at the end and they didn’t work out so I was still in yellow”.

“The day after that was a long wet stage which was expected to end in a sprint as it wasn’t too hilly. It was a day when I was more worried about staying safe to be honest. Then the final day was the one where we had the most trouble as the Aussies attacked the second cat climb coming into the finishing circuit and although I had a few minutes on them to play with, they had 40 to 50 seconds and we’d already used up Bibby and Rob McCarthy by then.”

“Tom Moses was up the road in the break so it was just me and Ed Laverack. So Moses dropped back to help out and whilst we weren’t panicking, it wasn’t easy either and we didn’t want to lose it on the last day.”

Ed Laverack leads Tom Moses at the front of the lined  up peloton with James sitting cushty in third

“No –one was helping us so it was just me, Ed and Moses for a bit and we pegged them back before we were lucky that one of them punctured in the front group and that took all the emphasis out of it so it came back.”

The RAS though, is, as we’ve already said, a unique race. Not just because of the five man teams and lack of control but also the fact you have a lot of very good pro bike riders in a peloton of 190 going down single lane roads with lots of attacking creating a lot of fatigue in the peloton.

When I put this to James, it was obviously already a question he’d had as he replied “I was explaining it to someone else by saying it was like the Ride London Sportif being put in with the Ride London Pro race! In the RAS, you have the county guys in there for the experience and it’s almost like a sportif for them and some don’t even make the time cut. There is this big mixed bag of abilities and that makes it difficult especially early on when they have fresh legs and are wanting to get up the road”.

Even by the end of the RAS, there were still 170 riders finishing the final stage giving anyone who’s ridden a stage race an idea of just how difficult winning the event overall can be with five tired riders against 165! But win James and JLT Condor did and whilst James won a stage in a 2.1 stage race in Taiwan, he says the prestige of the RAS (2.2) makes it his biggest win so far.

Last years TT Champs podium, Gullen, Dowsett and Perry and all three are expected to figure in the race this year on the Isle of Man

It’s all a far cry from the start of the season when I first met up with the team in Australia as they had began their year in the Bay Crits. In that, James, was not expected to have been riding but then was given the opportunity as JLT Condor were allowed to put in a second team riding around in flappy white jerseys.

“It’s been amazing” says James. “I would have struggled to do so well without the race programme I have had this year setting me up. In other years, most there have done a lot of stage races before they get to the RAS where as I’ve had the problem of just doing one day events in the UK and you can’t condition yourself like that but this year, I’ve had the Sun Tour, Tour of Taiwan and Tour of Yorkshire; you can’t get that condition in training”.

For James now, there are other goals and one of them, is, unsurprisingly, a time trial! The British Championships on the Isle of Man at the end of June. “I’d like to do well” he says” but it’s hard to plan what I’ll get out of it because the World Tour riders are at another level but it would be good to match what I did last year (silver)”.

“The course looks good for me, not too hilly but enough where it goes in favour of someone who can climb okay and it should be a good experience.”

His stage racing programme and constant outings on his TT bike on a regular basis should help him in that goal of a good performance in the British championship where Alex Dowsett is favourite but until we see the start sheet, knowing who the rivals for James will be is an unknown … more on that to come …



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