Feature Interview: Alex Richardson

Against the odds, a former stockbroker turned full time cyclist, Alex Richardson, riding solo (no team) won the biggest classic of the season, the Lincoln Grand Prix – we chat …

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Feature Interview: Alex Richardson

Against the odds, a former stockbroker turned full time cyclist, Alex Richardson, riding solo (no team) won the biggest classic of the season, the Lincoln Grand Prix – we chat … We chatted to find out more about this rider going places…

London based rider and former stockbroker with a wife and two childen, Alex Richardson has come a long way in three years in the sport. The twenty eight year old stunned the cycling world with a solo victory in the Lincoln Grand Prix in May. The event is the one and only classic race left with a long long heritage and so is a much sought after victory.

During the interview, Alex describes himself as a student of the sport, and says it has been a big year of learning for him. He’s based near Richmond Park in the West of London along with a group of other Elite riders and with winter on the horizon, says that when the season is done, the routine of a chain gang on the weekend with the likes of Rory Townsend (Canyon Eisberg) will resume.

There is however so much about Alex that is interesting to delve into. Talking to him, especially when we get onto training and learning about the science of the sport and getting the most from his body on a bike, you quickly see what a determined, focused and even extreme attitude he has about this sport that has a tight grip on him.
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A famous cyclist turned commentator and cycling lobbyist once said to me at a world championship, when talking about a rider winning his first World title, that you have to have a unhealthy attitude to succeed at that level and perhaps that is Alex to a T. In an interview a few years ago, he is quoted as saying about his new found sport “it (cycle racing) offers me freedom, endless adrenaline, excitement and that sleepless feeling, like when you are young the night before Christmas, and I just didn’t care, I was almost reckless.”

Which is why Alex made the decision to risk it all, quit his well paid but demanding job and become a full-time cyclist. “I am very much the believer that you only live once and you should always follow your dreams. You should never let routine and life dictate who you are.” said Alex when he was with the Pedal Heaven Academy.

Alex started cycle racing very late in life, for a cyclist anyway, and it was in the second half of the season in 2015 he began and what a start. The former tennis player at a high level as a teenager, got a bike in May 2015 and soon found himself getting up at 3.30am to train three hours before going to work. No less than nineteen top tens, a couple of victories, and eleven podiums followed. In half a season or less. Like wow!

Tour of Reservoir and Alex was third on the second stage

“I wanted to get my elite licence within a year and then I wanted to ride for a conti team” Alex explained. Unsurprisingly, his talent was noticed by Tim Elverson (Pedal Heaven at that point) and in 2016, coached by Tim, he was in the Academy team for the Pedal Heaven squad (UCI conti). Three victories and twelve podium finishes that season showed he was progressing and in 2017, he rode for the UCI registered Bike Channel Canyon squad that superseded Pedal Heaven.

Ten more podium places in 2017 and for 2018, he signed for One Pro and that only lasted four months because the student of the sport was perhaps a little OCD when it came to weight loss which was an example of how far he takes things to be the best he can be.

“I went for a Dexa scan which are very accurate and that came back as 3.9 % body fat in February and then the wheels came off at the end of February” Alex explained. “My power in January was still looking good and it was going up all the time and I was like, I can rail this at both ends and hand it to everyone, that’s what I wanted. But shortly after that, it went to pot and it took four weeks to recover from that”.
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His season was not over though despite leaving One Pro and going solo. On being outside of a team, he says, “in some teams, it is not fun for some athletes but a happy athlete is a very good athlete and a happy athlete wants to train” and train he did – his way.

Talking about his training this year, I started by asking does he train alone? “Yes” was the reply. Quality structured training I asked again? “Yes” was again the reply.

“It is always structured training unless it’s a spin to the café which is once or twice a week and only an hour. I will never train with anyone unless it’s completely structured. I literally won’t get on my bike if the average power is less than 250 watts as I think that would be a waste of time.”

He has followed a similar programme all season and tested himself every week. The key to the success I asked? – “motor pacing” was the reply. Not an hour here or there but race simulations once a week. “The key for me has been training behind a motorbike for four hours once a week. There is no race I have got to within 40 or 50 watts that I am averaging behind the motorbike” he explained.

“This is the single most important thing this year” he adds. “I treat it like a race, gels and bars, eat breakfast as if I am going to a race and it’s a proper dress rehearsal for a race. I even freshen up for the session and do a similar route, one of two different routes I have set out in Surrey and I also test different equipment”.

When I put it to Alex it must have been a big learning year especially after the weight loss debacle, going solo and so on, he replied “it has been a huge learning year” he replied. “I’m a student of the sport now, this is my university”.

Alex and Tobyn Horton chasing the win at Leicester Castle

Whilst he picked out motor pacing as a key reason for his success, another was not to get too tired. “You can get tired but not permanently tired. At any point, if you don’t want to ride the bike, you have to watch that carefully. There are times when it’s fine to overload the body but it needs to be controlled and it takes a lot of discipline for me to do that.”

Asked about a highlight in 2018, Alex says it was the progress he has made physically this season. “Steve Benton at One Pro taught me a huge amount. He said the first two years I raced I was chronically over training and in a permanent state of fatigue so I could not access the top end. He told me ‘you will always be there at the end because you are strong enough but you won’t be in a race winning position at the end’.

It was that realisation that has helped temper Alex’s enthusiasm to over train his body. Another highlight he says was being given space on the road. “Being respected is huge for an athlete and the sky is the limit” he says.

We then moved the conversation on to his bike which I was always hearing comments about on how aero Alex and his bike were. Was that the case I asked him?

“Before Lincoln, I was not that fussed about it. I just bought a few ceramic bearings and at Lincoln I wasn’t that aero but after that, I was quite sold on it and being obsessive, I went to the other extreme. At Lincoln, I was wearing different kit to what I had post Lincoln. I had the bike in a wind tunnel after Lincoln which is why it and the equipment looks different in the second half of the season.”

“The bike I bought, I did so because it looked nice but it terms of the bike, there are faster ones out there. I bought all sorts of equipment and marginal things. I don’t think it’s the difference of being at the front of the race and not, but it can be as much as 10 or 15 watts and make a difference. If you make a solo move and get a gap, you’re likely to stay away, but if you have average equipment, it can be hit and miss”.

Besides Lincoln, his year in 2018 was mixed. Eleven wins in E/1/2/3 races including Lincoln and in all, 23 podiums. That is some season and shows he knows how to win a bike race whether it is national A or B. In the national A events, Alex as a solo rider was not at them all but was third on a stage of the Tour of Reservoir and went close at Leicester too, leading into the last lap with Tobyn Horton (Madison Genesis) despite a crash.

Asked about the National B’s he says “trying to get away in them is such hard work but is great training. Some of the National Bs are harder than the Prems for that reason”.

There were disappointments too despite all the success and victories. Twentieth in the British Road Race Championship was one but as he says, that was a funny old race with riders at the front you didn’t expect there and riders behind (like those from Sky) who were expected to be at the front.

Still racing in 2018 …
And you know what, his season is still ongoing as he chases the top spot in the BC rankings, lying fourth as I write this. Last weekend he won one of the races he was in (Leicester) after a solo attack 7k from the finish. Then, the next day, when he was in a front group of five riders and about to launch a move, he was DQ’d for dangerous and overly aggressive riding! Hmmmm …

And then today (Wednesday), Alex went to Belgium and won a kermesse in the home of cycling!

Looking ahead, next season he has a UCI Conti team lined up and has plenty of ambition for 2019. He says he’ll do some time trials for fun but the big aim is a win in a UCI race because he really does have lofty ambitions.

“If you are good enough, you should be able to go World Tour, no matter what your age. At 28 though, you would need to be stand out good to do it…” he explained. So next season, whilst he’ll ride the races his team want him too, the big aim is a UCI victory.

Finally, the winter lies ahead so does he intend to escape abroad? “I will do a week or two abroad but doing that, I’ll just be doing longer hours riding in Zone two which is a waste of time but here, I have the Watt bike and access to these different things like motor pacing etc.”

Alex says he’ll also ride the track and make use of the tech out there like Zwift. Over the three years, he’s made big gains, especially this year, and says “I can take a lot from this year” and he admits he’s reading a lot about the sport and how to be better”.

With only a few years in the sport, there is a strong chance Alex will continue to improve and it will be very interesting to see how he builds on the success of 2018 in what looks like being a very strong UCI Conti team in 2019… thanks to Alex and good luck for the remaining races of 2018 …


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