Feature: Welsh Road Race Academy

Over a decade after Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas was part of GB’s Academy under the guiding hand of Rod Ellingworth, this season, the Wales Academy for riders 18-20 with former pro Rob Partridge in charge, is helping Welsh talent on the road.

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Feature: Welsh Road Race Academy

Over a decade after Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas was part of GB’s Academy under the guiding hand of Rod Ellingworth, this season, the Wales Academy for riders 18-20 with former pro Rob Partridge in charge, is helping Welsh talent on the road.

The riders are not difficult to see on the road kitted out in their bright red Primal Europe clothing and at Leicester (August 12), I caught up with Rob to find out more about the Academy. When I put it to Rob that the Academy was his first gig after retiring from the racing, he replied he was busier than he ever was as a rider in his new role.

After nearly a full season on the road with his Academy, Rob explained “we are certainly on the way to meeting our goals. The aim is to help develop these Welsh riders and hopefully push them on to bigger and better things. That is the end goal and it is more an academy than team. Sure, at races we ride as a team but the lads are also in the gym a lot and it’s very similar to the GB academy”.

“We’re a small operation with only six riders but we will grow the academy next season and we’re looking at the women’s side of things too but it all depends on the finance side of things growing as well to fund two race programmes.”

Watching him look after the Academy riders reminded me of Rob as a teenager riding the Tour of Britain in the Welsh colours in 2004 so I asked was there a development process in place for him as a teenager?

“There wasn’t really anything at all and I was fortunate enough to have Julian Winn take me under his wing and show me the ropes until he retired. Then I went to Italy, and there, with Rod Ellingworth’s help, copied what the Great Britain Academy riders were doing so my development from when I was a junior and into the senior ranks, I didn’t really have anything”.

Rob explained he likes to run a tight ship and have it running like a pro team would be run and for that he can all upon many years of experience racing for British pro teams. “I got handed the project and told these are the sponsors we have and was asked to create a race programme as well as structure around that so that was my task at the back end of last year. Then from January and February, we had a training camp and I looked at what races we could do.”

The team is not UCI registered and more like a club team in some respects which allows them to go abroad and do amateur kermesses where his riders learn to race rather than sitting in the gutter and getting a kicking. It is a tough learning curve for his riders who’s age range is between 18 and 20 but then, as Rob says, riders going from the Junior ranks and into the senior ranks will all generally find it tough.

Rob then admitted, saying it may sound bonkers, but success by his riders is more rewarding than the success when he was when he was a rider. “As a rider, you kind of know what the outcome will be and you do your preparation and so on but when you put a lot of time and effort into these riders and see them achieve success…. like we had a couple of wins in Belgium – amateur kermesses which are still not easy to win – and those days were perhaps the most rewarding I’ve had.”

“Learning to win is the first lesson in this sport and you see a lot of organisations/teams skipping that step. We want to create something that is structured, stable and a safe environment for these riders to learn in and it’s something that Sport Wales and Welsh Cycling have really got behind and we have our private sponsors so it is exciting and I am really enjoying it”.

Rob and Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas go way back as riders and as such are good friends. When asked what effect Geraint’s success has had on the sport and his riders, Rob replied “everyone in Welsh cycling is buzzing right now. I don’t think I did any of my day job last week as I was organising Geraint’s home coming with his friends and family and they say about 15,000 turned out for it and it shows. ‘G’ gave a brilliant speech and he has shown what you can achieve through hard work and that’s the philosophy we try and get the guys to buy into.”

When asked if during the early days of them racing together, anyone thought riders like Geraint would go on to win the Tour de France, Rob replied “I don’t think anyone thought any rider from GB would go on to win the Tour, never mind a rider from Birch Grove in Cardiff! It’s funny, I had my stag do a couple of months ago and G couldn’t come because he was training and so on and so I said to him he better finish on the podium. He only went and then won it!”

“Geraint is kind of an ambassador for our academy. He supports it and the boys of course find that all very motivating. They see him on the road, go training with him, stop in cafes and it is nice to have someone that successful on the door step who can show them what they can achieve with hard graft.”

Finally in our chat as Rob had to head off to sign his riders on, we spoke about one of the sponsors of the team, Primal Europe who supply their kit.

Rob says the fit of the kit is a big factor in what riders need these days. “You can now get jerseys that fit like skinsuits and so they do not have to stress about flappy jerseys and so on. The boys have everything they need to get the job done kit wise whether it’s a rainy day or a hot one.”

“Today, (Leicester) they’ll be in skin suits but the weather has been changeable in the last few days and they’ve been going out in shorts and jersey with some arm warmers but they also have some real nice rain jackets and rain gilets which fit real nice. They want for nothing with race kit and training kit including jackets, bib tights. They have enough to get the job done and look smart”.

Rob then picked out a few pieces of the kit that he likes a lot. “I have noticed that the gilets have mesh pockets which is real nice so if they are racing in them, they can pop a bar in there or what ever. Primal Europe have also developed a rain jersey which is nice bit of kit whether it’s a chilly dry day or you have 160k of racing in the rain. The kit lasts well too so we have been really happy with it. James (from Primal Europe) loves getting involved too and visits us often getting the feedback to make it better”.

Our thanks to Rob for his time and we wish the Academy well and hope they can play a part in the next Welsh Tour de France winner …..




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