Rider Chat: Steve Cummings

A double British champion in 2017, VeloUK spoke to Steve Cummings recently about his season and what’s ahead for him ….

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Rider Chat: Steve Cummings

A winner of the Tour of Britain in 2016, and winner of stages in the Tour de France and Tour of Spain as well as the overall in the Tour Méditerranéen and stage winner at Criterium du Dauphiné, the Wirral rider based in Italy, Steve Cummings is quite a hero in pro cycling.

No surprise that Steve has re-signed for Team Dimension Data. He said of that in a team press release, “I’ve spent three of my best years with this team. I love the whole project and the way it has progressed and continues to progress.”

But for Steve, there is frustration also of the injuries he has had this year. One in the Tour of the Basque Country, another in the Tour de France. The latter was still affecting him when we spoke when he was visiting his home on the Wirral and to a place where we both share a place to live, West Kirby.

So the obvious place to start our chat was to ask how the champion was? “I fractured two vertebra and that limits how hard I can push on the bike” he explained a few days after he knocked out a win in the Birkenhead NE club time trial.

“I didn’t realise until two days after the Tour when I went for a scan. I didn’t know I had fractured them, I was just getting more pain and it was getting more difficult to race properly. So I had eight days off after the Tour and then started on the trainer a little bit and have been trying to train as much as possible.”

“It’s only been the last few days (a week ago) that I have been on the road because when I’d ridden on the road before, it had been too painful. It’s been a bit frustrating.”

Talking about the time trial with the Birkenhead NE club, he agreed it was a good little test. “I’d done one last year before the Tour of Britain and I was surprised this year that I wasn’t a million miles away from what I did last year.”

And wearing the stripes in a local race in front of friends? “It was really cool. It’s really nice to put that jersey on every day.”

Steve says he comes back to West Kirby a few times a year for a week and added that “I always like coming home and seeing people and seeing the club and the young bike riders. It is refreshing and a break for me. Here, I can do all the quality training on the turbo trainer in the morning and then go for a road ride with who ever is around.”

He is rightly proud of how far he has come since those early days when he was supported by the local club as well as others like Terry Dolan and his double victory on the Isle of Man holds a special place for him too.

“The championship wins were special because you get the jersey and because I don’t normally ride the nationals; so it’s really good. It is more difficult to win a Tour de France stage than a national championship but the championship wins are also special because of the circumstances.”

“I’d had a long break after a difficult injury from the crash in the Basque country, some may say it that could have been career threatening crash, so under the circumstances, those wins were as good as anything I’ve done.”

Looking back at the race which for us on the outside was quite exciting as so many were in the mix for it, for Steve, he says “I never felt like I was going to get dropped in that race or have anyone ride away from me.”

2005, and Steve was on the podium at the British Road Race Championships held in Yorkshire with Russell Downing and Yanto Barker

“At the same time, I knew that for me to win, I had to be on my own as everyone was faster than me so I didn’t know whether I’d get the opportunity to go. At that stage of the race, everyone is so tired so it’s difficult to force something but fortunately I was able to do something and once I was on my own, I was okay.”

Season over or….
Having broken his back, another injury on top of the one in the Basque country, it is a surprise to see Steve riding at all. Asked is his season over, he explained, “It is that type of situation where it would be easy to say season over because I broke my back but I’m still determined to get something out of the season”.

“I just want to get a good result at that level again. I am not sure what I am doing; maybe the Tour of Britain, but I don’t think so. Maybe I’ll go to Canada as that gives me a few more days. A lot will depend on this week in Italy. If I can train fully this week, it gives me a much better idea of where I am. I don’t want to return to racing if I am not close to my best.”

In a quick text asking how he was before publishing this, Steve replied “I’m doing much better. I’m still not sure of my race programme but hope to race much more now.”

“I’d like to do a good World Champs, in the road race in particular, as one of my long term goals is to win a big one day race so I may switch focus to doing that. My programme may be the Worlds, Canada and some Italian one day races. Obviously you need to be 100 per cent to do anything at the Worlds so that is what I’d like to do.”

During the Tour de France, Steve kept us on the edge of our seats waiting for the day he went for the stage win, one many of us expected he’d get as he had before. For what ever reason, that never came but one reason wasn’t to do with trying because he certainly did that.

On his way to the first British Championship, the Time Trial, on the Isle of Man in 2017

Was the Tour de France a disappointment? “No, not at all” he replied. “I could never be disappointed after the preparation I’d had and on one day least, my form was as good as ever. The last week of the Tour, which I thought was going to be my best week, I was compromised by the back injury. So the last week was frustrating especially in the time trial and another breakaway stage where I just couldn’t do it as it was like having a limiter on with the back problem”.

On how the loss of Cavendish affected things for his team, Steve replied, “sure, that changed a lot but the team did really well to stick together and keep fighting and believing and eventually, and no one deserved to win a stage more than Edvald (Boasson Hagen) did (Stage 19).

Riding at the back….
During the big races like the Tour de France, there are TV cameras front and back and so anyone lurking at the back, or front, is going to get on tele. I asked Steve is his sitting at the back to chill out and stay safe?

“I think you nailed it there. I don’t think there is anywhere safe in the peloton now but you have two options. Ride with your team at the front like Sky when you commit every rider to that one GC rider. Or, as we’re after stages so we don’t need to do that, I choose where I am comfortable riding and I like to ride at the back where there is no fighting and it’s relatively stress free. Generally, you see the crashes happening and you can stop although I did crash!”

“The majority of riders though have a crash during the Tour and it’s more about how bad you’re going to get hurt not whether you’re going to crash. The classics are as bad if not worse and I think all racing is bad for it. I don’t think people realise how dangerous this sport is. It’s one of the most dangerous because of that”.

The Road Race Championship win

Keeping the hunger to win
Steve was British Junior road race champion back in 1999 when racing seemed so much simpler, so has been racing for quite a while. When asked how does he stay hungry to win races these days, he replies “there are still things I want to do and I like performing well.”

“I’m a professional so it’s the job you’re paid to do and its second nature. I don’t question why I do it, you just go through the process. I’m quite philosophical because I have had good results and I am calm these days.”

“I am not desperate for them. All I have to do is work as hard as I can and when I am in top shape, I know I can win at the highest level. Then it is just down to circumstances. If you crash or get sick, you can’t be in top form but if you keep going year after year, everything falls into place and you get your victory”.

Going back to the beginning of the season, I asked what the goals were? “I target March and April and then June and July. In March, I was strong at Tirreno–Adriatico, I was 4th in the time trial which is an indication the form was good and also in the breakaway but the breakaway didn’t arrive at the finish and that’s bike racing”.

“Sometimes you have the legs and it just doesn’t happen because that is the way it is and that is how it was in March and then I crashed and was out until the Tour de France”. … continued after advert


“I was then physically good in the Tour, a little race rusty as you would be but during the Tour I got better and it was frustrating to crash again as I was looking to kick on and doing the Vuelta or the one day races. If I hadn’t of broken my back, I probably would have done the Vuelta and had a good end to the season but I haven’t given up on that”.

“The only question is can I get into top shape for the best races that are left”.

Finally, one of the outstanding things about Steve is his ability to come back after some pretty tough crashes and injuries. So I asked about training and his philosophy behind it.

“I think training has changed for me since I started. The Italian way of doing things has been the best approach for me. It’s difficult to describe, more philosophical I guess. The British system is too rigid where as the way I have done things in Italy, you have the basic work to do but you have that element of working on feel; if you feel good, you do a bit more, and if you don’t feel so good, you do a bit less”.

“Then you learn what is best for yourself because you can associate feelings and stuff with how you felt at other times and you learn, even if you feel good, when it’s good to not push on and when you can.”

Steve added it’s about looking after the ‘engine’. “After years of endurance work, one thing I am good at is always working. In November, I am working, in December and January I am working. I have three weeks off sure, maybe a month, but if you do all that work, if you have an injury, it is so much easier to come back because of that depth of fitness. And that is my secret, the consistency that gives me the base work to come back …”

Steve was then off to Italy to a place where he can do that work, and then come home and chill. Well away from the bubble of the pro racing scene and his young family. Fingers crossed Steve has some luck he so deserves and achieves the goals he’s chasing …. Thanks Stevo!



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