Feature: Scott Thwaites Talks Classics

A rider who has been at the sharp end in the Spring Classics, Scott Thwaites, who rides for Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK in 2019, talks about his time in the Classics

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Feature: Scott Thwaites Talks Classics

Last Sunday, at an early season British classic road race, was a rider who fully deserves to be competing in the World Tour level Spring Classics in 2019, but because of a crash in 2018, then a big cull in his team of staff and riders, Scott Thwaites instead is one of a few WorldTour riders back racing the domestic programme.

Talking to Scott at the Clayton Spring Classic (above), where he was giving his new bike from Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK a shake down in a race where he was the only UCI team pro competing, we chatted about his time in the Spring Classics in races we the outsiders, only get to watch on TV.

It was quite an honour to speak to a rider who was in the mix with the stars of the day like Tom Boonen and others and I started by asking Scott what was the highlight for him in racing such events. “For me, it was seeing how good I could be and how far I could go in the sport. When I first started in this sport, I was a young rider racing for a local bike shop doing mountain biking and crits.”

“I then stepped up to race for Endura Racing in a Continental team which was a big thing for me but even at that stage, I never really thought I would be lining up at the Tour de France (2017) or riding the classics.”
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Scott added that even after winning the UK monument, the Lincoln Grand Prix at 21, he still didn’t have those thoughts as the domestic scene was all he ever knew. “I would watch these races on TV but just assumed the World Tour and everything was almost a different sport to what I was doing in the UK.”

“It wasn’t until the last year of Endura that I was thinking maybe there was a chance I would do bigger races because we had a great calendar racing with a lot of the UCI teams on a regular basis. It was then, I was hoping to do more and the Spring Classics really interested me. It was nice to get the chance when I finally moved up to ride for Netapp and Bora. It has been a nice a journey!”

As mentioned, Scott won the Lincoln GP at 21 and when asked the difference between riding it and the ‘proper’ monuments in Europe, he replied “the style of racing is completely different. In the WorldTour, the racing is controlled and there are guys paid just to ride on the front or put some body in the right place at the right time, and although there is a little of that now in the British racing, in general here, it’s about putting numbers in the moves rather than controlling the race.”

Scott Thwaites on his way to 10th in Strade Bianche in 2017 – Pic: Getty Images

“The distance is also a big difference. A lot of riders can ride a 200km race, but they can’t ride a 270k race and it’s in that crucial bit after 200k, where even some top class riders, they completely fold and can’t sustain that extra effort. That was perhaps one of the things, because I come from a background of triathlon and running, – endurance sports – I always had that bit extra and could hang on and hang on and deep into the race, I was still there in the mix.”

“I probably couldn’t go with the massive moves from the super stars but I could always be there and grovel back into the groups and that’s how I ended up getting the results I did because I was one of only ten or twenty guys left. I loved the classics which was a different style of racing and exciting to do.”

For those of us on the side line, we only get to watch the races either on the road side or on the TV but Scott has done both. I asked what it was like and what did he see we don’t? He replied “on TV, you only ever see it from the front. You don’t see the chaos in the middle of the bunch. You only see the guys riding real smooth up the cobbles on the front, like your Boonens and Cancellaras. It looks easy but you don’t realise how hard they have had to go and all the skill they used to put themselves into that position.”

“So you get to appreciate it from a different perspective and get to see why some guys who you think are really good riders, are almost lost in these races and stuck in the big fight in the group and you never really see them do anything.”

Scott (left) racing up the Muur in 2017  – Getty Images

In these races, Scott explainedhis role by saying “occasionally I had a free role, certainly the last year at Bora there was two or three of us on a similar level and once I made it clear I wanted to have a really good go at the classics, and I’d been on the team for four years with the same manager, and they respected me and really gave me that opportunity.”

“So I did have support there and the freedom to really go for it. Of course, we were a ProConti team so didn’t necessarily have the strength in depth that some of the World Tour teams had in terms of that support. So that was a good opportunity for me and I was really grateful to get that opportunity in a German dominated team. They were really good to me.”

“Then Dimension Data was another step up. I had some good results but you can’t go into a top 20 WorldTour team with such a set of results and demand leadership. You need to have had regular top 10s and top 5s to go asking for a leadership role so I was always going in as a support rider at Dimension Data.”

“The first year though I had a fantastic year. I was going into races as a support rider but ending up last minute in the middle of the race being told ‘you have earnt your chance so give it a good go’. Roger (Hammond) was good with me and gave me the support. If one of the leaders was having a bad day, he’d call it out in the radio and give me the opportunity. The only difficulty with that was your set up in a support role for the majority of the race and all of a sudden you have to go ‘I am now going to try and win’ and by then, you’ve probably burnt a few matches that you shouldn’t have done!”

“But I was very happy with my performances in that first year at Dimension Data despite a lot of bad luck. I think I punctured in every classic I rode and had a crash in a few of them too so to get the results like the one in Strade Bianche, in my first attempt in that race and to go top 10, I was very very happy.”

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Asked what the key skill is to be there at the end of these brutal tests of endurance, Scott replied “it is knowing the races. It took me a few years and I think it takes the young guys two or three years to learn where the races start to light up.”

“Where that golden moment is where you have to be in the right place because there are a lot of times when riders are fighting, fighting, fighting but the majority of time the moves are going to come back because the riders are fresh enough to bring them back as there will always be some one caught out and a team will bring it back for their leader so you can almost do an educated gamble and take that risk to not use too much energy early on but then equally, there are those key moments in every race which are all different when you know that once it does split there, nothing is coming back so you have to be in the right place at the right time”.

“And each race is different so it’s about learning over the years where that point is and a lot of the time, the difficulty is where you may know the key point but there maybe a 10k section before that when nobody is able to move up because it’s on narrow roads or the peloton is lined out so then then you need to work back from that knowing you need to be in position 10k before that golden moment and all this is a learning moment and people can tell you in the team bus you have to be at the front at this point but it is never as easy as that. Very easy to say and hard to do especially when everyone else knows the same thing!”

Winning the Lincoln GP at 21…. 

“So it takes time to learn and build up your strength to be there at these golden moments and once you have made that selection, it’s like a second race. You are racing in a group of thirty guys that are left and ultimately, if you are a top level rider, you make your moves and go away and win and the other guys, like me, I wasn’t the race maker at that point, but I was able to follow a few and take a few chances and hit out and try and get in the right move or the right attack and try and get a result”.

Listening to Scott, you can’t help but feel proud of him when you marry up the images from these races which I expect many of you will have seen, to what he is saying and when asked, is he proud of what he has achieved in a very brutal and exciting style of racing, he replies “I think so”.

“I have more left in me and if I hadn’t had the accident (in 2018) , knowing my power data was better than it had ever been before then, so I think having the experience I have, I could have probably gone and done even better but that’s bike riding where you need some luck.”

“I’m just grateful I am able to race at a level and am proud of what I have achieved. That’s why I was able to sign for Cherie knowing I could enjoy my racing back in here in the UK. What I have achieved, no one can take that away from me. I still have that Commonwealth Games bronze medal hanging up in the kitchen. I still have the Tour de France jersey signed by all my teammates when we finished in Paris and things like that.”

Tour of Yorkshire 2019
One of the biggest races of the year for the British team is the Tour of Yorkshire. When I asked Scott will he, if the team is selected, be after a result here in a big shop window, he replied “Definitely. It’s got to be my main focus. I’m a local rider, it comes pretty close to my house on the last stage when it comes through my home town and I was devastated to miss it with injury and the year before we (Dimension Data) won it and went 1-2.”

“I love the race, it’s brilliant. For the team (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK) it’s massive being a home race so if we get a ride in it, that will be one of my big focuses of the year to try and do something and show off the jersey. As a small team, it can be difficult to get that jersey out there apart from the breakaways, but I’d like to think I can do the jersey proud in it.”

“The young guys, if they get the nod, it’s all about getting that race experience, learn how races are ridden at that level because like I said, it’s a different style of racing to the Premier calendars. You have to accept how well the UCI races are controlled compared to the attacking nature of a Premier, and the relentless speed the UCI races go at. Its all a good learning curve for the young riders and at the end of the day, you can line up against Greg van Avermaet who is an incredible bike rider but he’s just a man on the bike and I think that was something someone said to me when I was with Endura, they are just men on bikes and nobody is any different to what you are. It’s about learning, putting in the work at home and then there is nothing to say you can’t be that good.”

Scott (right) gets bronze at the Commonwealth Games with Jack Bauer (Second) and Tour winner Geraint Thomas winner. Pic: Getty Images

Battles in the WorldTour
One thing we never see on TV, are battles riders like Scott have in the chaos behind the leaders so it was good to have the opportunity to ask were there any memorable moments for him in the classics?

Scott replies “in Flanders, at the crunch moments on the Paterberg and Koppenberg, I have been riding around Boonen like last year when I rode around him and closed the gap to the group and it was like a weird feeling to do that to a guy who was an absolute idol of mine and had won so many classics. He was getting dropped by me who’s just a young British rider wanting to be a classics rider. It was nice and quite touching too in that I think he knew his time was done and it was one last hurrah and it’s those things I look back on as a great experience”.

Scott’s Favourite Classic
When asked what his favourite classic was (is), Scott replies, after a little think, “I think Flanders was my favourite race. It was one I slowly got better and better in and the last two years I rode it, I finished top 20 which was nice and it was one that had me wondering how far can I go in because in 2017, the last time I rode it, I was sprinting for 5th and although I messed the sprint up, to be racing for 5th, you’re up there and not too far from the winner and that had me thinking, maybe, maybe … as a dream you never know.”

“For the Belgians, it’s the queen of the classics so I think Flanders”.

And his favourite parts of Flanders… “that’s a hard one” Scott replies. “I hated the Oude Kwaremont because there are a lot of big strong guys so I was always better on the steeper climbs and the Kwaremont was always more of a sit down power climb. I did it three times and I always suffered there and it was a case of hanging in there and not losing too much and getting back on over the top. But when I got onto the Koppenberg and Paterberg, which are really steep, they were the ones I enjoyed because I was able to match the other guys if not go better”.

We had to leave the chat there as Scott had more miles to put in the tank after the Clayton Spring Classic race but I am sure I am not alone in hoping Scott can do himself proud in 2019, get the hands in the air and find a way back to battling for the win in a Spring Classic which will dominate our TV screens for the next month or so … It was a pleasure to get an insiders view of these great races …


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