Feature Interview: Dean Downing (Holdsworth Pro Racing) DS

After a glittering career on the bike, Dean Downing is doing just as well away from riding the races and for 2018 joins his brother Russell at Holdsworth Pro Racing as the team’s DS

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Feature Interview: Dean Downing (Holdsworth Pro Racing) DS

Dean (Left) with most of the Holdsworth Pro Racing team last Thursday at a media day for the squad.

After a glittering career on the bike, Dean Downing is doing just as well away from riding the races and for 2018 joins his brother Russell at Holdsworth Pro Racing as the team’s DS

At a media day in Rotherham, we sat down with Deano and spoke about his new role at the team and what lays ahead for them. He explained how he was DS for a smaller team, Polypipe, where Tom Mazzone was also riding before moving to JLT Condor to be an assistant DS to John Herety. “I learned a lot off from John which was great and that was a great season for me” says Dean.

In 2017, Dean concentrated on his coaching but something new and big was on the horizon as he explained. “Coaching worked really well for me with the riders I was working with and then towards the end of 2017, Russell was working hard with Dave Loughran to get the Holdsworth team off the ground and I said, ‘if you need any help, let me know’. I was happy concentrating on coaching and around December time I was talking about to Rus and Dave about the coaching aspect of the team”.
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“Nearly all the riders have their own personal coaches so my job was going to be to overseeing the training of the riders over the winter while looking ahead to the big races mid season that we are trying to get selected for. So that was my first initial role and that worked really well for me. Then, after Christmas, a few things changed in the team and Dave said to me, ‘we’re looking to have a new manager and DS, would I be interested?”

“Because I have a lot going on besides my coaching, I said I’d have to have a think about it so I went home to the wife and said to her, ‘can I fit this extra work in?’ It is a great opportunity for me to work with my brother Rus, Dave and the new brand Holdsworth so it had to be ‘let’s do it’.”

No-one in the sport will know his brother Russell better than Dean and the four time winner of the Lincoln Grand Prix is, says Dean (also a former winner of the Lincoln GP), a different rider to what he used to be; still a winner but also more dangerous as a team captain as well.

“Rus has changed his thought process in racing and I can see that” says Dean. “Rus has always been a winner like when we raced together and he was a winner at Pinarello, Endura and the other teams and then when he went to ride for John Herety, he stepped back a bit and worked with the other riders to become road captain where he was leading out in sprints someone like Brenton Jones or Briggsy (Graham Briggs).”

Russell Downing – 3rd at the Tour of the Wolds – and playing a team role

“He’s brought that to the Holdsworth team where he’s still able to win races because he trains so bloody hard, and he’s also a very good road captain with a lot of experience which puts Rus at the forefront of the team.”

Going through the other riders, Dean explains “We don’t only have Rus with international experience. We have Björn Thurau who’s raced at Europcar, Wanty Gobert and Bora–Argon so he’s done some big races and last year did well and got UCI points.”

“We have the two Italians (Seid Lidze and Mattia Viel) who are very young and raced at a good level all over the world and we also have the Mazzone brothers (Tom and Leon) who will go to the Commonwealth Games to race for Mark Cavendish.”
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“Then we have the Irish guys where the young guys are chomping at the bit and training so well and Damien Shaw is another of the very experienced riders, a former Irish champion who rode with AN Post. Sean Mckenna is a good friend of Damien’s who will be racing mostly in the Irish domestic programme and then there’s young Jake from Yorkshire.”

The team even have an Australian, Nick Yallouris, who is expected to join the team after the Commonwealth Games. “It’s a great squad and a diverse one” explains Dean “and we’re all getting on very well. It will take time to gel for the races so it was good to go into the Peaks today on one of Rus’s favourite rides and go alongside the riders in the car and see they were all cracking on, getting it done, laughing and joking and there didn’t seem to be struggling faces.”

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I put it to Dean that the team’s experience will count for a lot? “As a rider, I was never the strongest but I was able think correctly on my bike and sometimes be the smartest to win bike races” Dean explained.

“Rus can do that too. I know some of the riders in the team have phenomenal power; one minute, three minute, five minute and so on, and their power to weight is good as well for a young professional and that is great to have. But if they can’t use it correctly, then they won’t win races, plain and simple.”

Deano (centre) celebrating with his ‘boys’ at the Tour Series in 2016

“For me, as the DS, it’s up to me to talk about the tactics of using that power to weight correctly and when to make that attack and Rus is good at that and Bjarne too”. Dean then explains it’s about the riders talking to each other when out on the road.

“They need to say to each other who is feeling the best, who isn’t feeling the best, and someone may go in as team leader but find they aren’t feeling the best so they swap it up, and they can all do that. In the road races where I don’t have the radio, I’m just driving a car. We’ll talk tactics beforehand but on the road, they are on their own so having that experience in the team is very exciting”.

Season starting in memory of a former manager
With the Prems not starting until midway through April, there isn’t a lot of high level British racing for them to get their teeth stuck into but it is appropriate the first race is one with a connection to the team; Roy Thame.

Thame established and managed the dominant professional cycling team that Holdsworth co-sponsored with Campagnolo and for many years there has been the Roy Thame Trophy race organised by the Hemel Hempstead club in memory of Roy.

“There isn’t much racing to get stuck into early season, so we’re looking to do a simple weekend of racing in the UK on March 10 and 11” says Dean. “We have contacted the organisers of the Roy Thame Trophy. Roy was the original manager of the Holdsworth team so we think that is a fitting start for the Holdsworth Pro Racing team to take six riders there and see how we fare”.

“We are then looking to do the Jock Wadley the day after as that is a classic weekend of racing that riders have done over the years and I’ve done that as a rider”.

Dean winning the Lincoln GP, one of the highlights of his career

Asked how much racing they will need before the first prem, Dean replies “That depends on what the riders need and their coaches are getting the riders to do in the way of racing efforts which is sometimes all you need for the first prem. But racing is so different to training and it may be a shock to some of the riders where others will feel fine on the day.”

That first prem, the Chorley Grand Prix, is one Dean knows well too. “Chorley is tough where the riders are on the power all day, even on the descent, so that will be the first big test. I am happy with the riders work load with the coaches though and it is a still a month away and a lot of preparation can be done in that month.”

And Dean also confirmed the Tour of Yorkshire is a big goal should they get selected? “It is one of the World’s biggest races now and is also now four days, a tough four days too. The first three days are tough and that last day is savage for everybody.”

“The British pro teams have shown they can race it by getting good places on stages and overall so we want to be in that race and it would be great being a Yorkshire based team in a Yorkshire race. We have applied to ride and we feel we have a good enough squad and as a UCI team, our riders have a good amount of points so we have the quality to compete at the Tour of Yorkshire; it’s just a matter of a getting the nod. Fingers crossed!”

And finally, I had to mention his cyclo-cross worlds experience where a coached rider of his came away with a rainbow jersey – Ben Tulett. “That was one of the best days I have had for a long time” Dean says.

Ben Tulett – World champion –  and coached by Dean who was there to see the junior rider do the deed

“I was crapping myself before the race knowing how hard he had worked to get himself into the best possible shape and thinking, Ben could be the world champion this weekend. I didn’t tell anyone but he did it and it’s phenomenal for young Ben and for me personally.”

That was an example of how Dean gets just as much from being a coach or DS as he did from riding. And that buzz continues driving the team car and looking after the Holdsworth riders. “You have everything to do like getting the riders to the line as well looking after the other staff members like the mechanics and soigneurs.”

“Once I have brought the riders who have trained well to the start to do their job, if they win, great. Then I’m looking after them in some form or another, booking hotels, driving and it’s a hard role for everyone and tiring with the long hours and if you don’t love it, you get out but I love it.”

Good luck to Dean for the coming season and see you on the road…



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