Interview: Damien Clayton (Ribble Pro Cycling)

After second in the Perfs Pedal Road Race at the very start of the 2019 road season, Damien Clayton has had eight victories, signed for a UCI team and already won his first UCI race… we chat

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Interview: Damien Clayton (Ribble Pro Cycling)

It seems a lifetime ago but way back in February, Yorkshire rider Damien Clayton was second in the race that kicks off the British road season, the Perfs Pedal. Other riders I spoke to about Damien at the time, were telling me of how strong he was out training but little did we know what Damien was going to achieve in 2019.

Photo: Craig Zadoroznyj

It has been quite a journey for him this season when he has gone from an Elite team and into a UCI one (Ribble Pro Cycling) which has given him the opportunity to ride the pro kermesses recently which he has really enjoyed. But Damien, even after his win at Marbriers had his feet on the ground and when asked about the race at Bourne (Lincolnshire), said before that race he didn’t see himself as a favourite even though tactically, he did play his cards ever so well in it and had the legs to back them up to take the win solo.

There have been many other highlights for Damien, including a third in the Beaumont Trophy prem in a group finish but it was the race at Marbriers which stood out achievement wise being a UCI 1.2 race in Europe where the strength in depth at the races is high.

Prior to that race, Damien was comfortable in his new team, Ribble Pro Cycling having got to know the other riders during the season and he’d told me on the Isle of Man how he was enjoying racing his new team bike, the Ribble Endurance SL R Series in sparkling blue. But prior to the race at Marbriers, Damien had no idea how that race was going to pan out for him and the team.

Damien outsprints his teamate to be Dan Bigham at the Beaumont Trophy

“I was told to be in the early moves so I was and then it stuck with a few coming across to us. I then just took my chance a couple of laps out and manged to get a 30 second gap and held them off for the last 20 minutes.”

“They were fighting a little bit in the group, Zappi had two riders and there were riders from the AG2R and Lotto development teams and they didn’t want to work together. I felt good and was listening to the guys in the team when I went past them and they were telling me to keep drinking and to keep fighting on and see what happens”.

“I was trying to ride the course the way it would suit me but I didn’t fancy my chances up the climb to the finish. As soon I got away and was out of sight, that’s when I just tried to hit it. I still don’t think the win has sunk in. I was mega happy… It was similar to the courses in UK racing and Jon Mould had won it the year before so I was happy to carry that on for the UK. It was a tough course but compared to some in this country, it was like a walk in the park”.

What surprised me was how Damien had the win only days after the race at Ryedale where he was 10th. That race is known for being really tough on the legs but Damien’s recovered and he solo’d to the win at Marbriers.

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“Doing Ryedale probably benefited me. My coach and I knew that the Belgium trip was coming up and I had done a lot of volume two weeks before and then the week before Ryedale, hardly did anything so it probably did me good and I was still a little annoyed at the tenth at Ryedale when I raced Marbriers”.

The French victory came before a block of racing in Belgium which Damien really enjoyed where he had some top tens and met some pros who he’d only ever seen on TV before. Damien explained he was looking forward to the pro kermesses to see what it was like there. “A lot of people were saying it might suit me and that I would enjoy it and everything they said was true.”

“It was aggressive and the terrain suits me a lot more. I was happier doing those sort of efforts than the longer harder efforts up the hills here. It just suits me more. I think the courses in the prems are harder but the pro kermesses are ridden harder, it’s full on and there is little time to recover.”

“I wanted to go there and build on what I have been learning this year. Tactically, how those races pan out and learn how to play my cards better in the final stages.

At Stadprijs Geraardsbergen I was 5th but annoyed at how I played it on that final lap. I felt I was one of the strongest there but four people beat me to the line. It is hard racing because every move seems like ‘the’ move whereas here it’s more formulaic where an early moves goes and teams will ride it back and then someone will go over the top like at Beaumont.”

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“Over there you never know what is going to happen. You put in a massive effort to get in a move and then find it’s not the one”.

Damien was also surprised by the respect he got there. “Oliver Naesen (Ag2R) had messaged me on instagram and started following me and then talked to me on the day. Here, you see certain teams ignoring you like one team hasn’t said hello to me all season. There is a lot of snobbery here and no need for it whereas there, these are guys you see on TV, and it’s unreal. Nauesen was talking to me in the race about tactics and you can’t help but want to listen to him”.

“I feel they give you as much respect as I’m giving them and you can use that to your advantage as well. All in all, the biggest thing I have taken from it is I want to go back there and will do that for a few weeks (which is now) and hopefully go back next season.”

Damien says they feel safer racing there too. “The pro kermesses and the lower cat races are on closed roads and you feel safer. Not sure if that’s the quality of the riding or the speed as it’s so strung out, you feel safer. Where as at Mendips we came round the corner and there is a car on the opposite of the road and you know that’s not going to happen in Belgium or at least not while I was there it didn’t”.

Damien gets his money from the organiser Mick Waite at the first race of the season, the Perfs Pedal

“People just love the sport and you wonder if they work as it’s five deep on a Wednesday afternoon. The culture resolves around it and it’s so easy to get into the racing. Turn up, chuck a number on and set off with riders you usually only see on TV where as here, it is so bureaucratic getting into races. Over there, you get start money and there is a five grand win fee so why would you not go over there and try and make a living from it!”

Finally, as the Tour of Britain has just finished, I asked after the success he has had, does he miss not getting a ride in the home Tour? “I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be doing the Tour of Britain even if the team had been selected” he replied. “I have always said my biggest goal is to be in the Tour de Yorkshire because I’m from Yorkshire and I still feel I lack confidence. I need to believe that I can be in these bigger races.”

“I just hope I can keep on progressing and learning and see how far I can take it in the sport. I’m not a dreamer as I know I can’t take it to the Tour de France but I still want to take it as far as I can and learn and try and get better”.

Good luck to Damien during the off season and look forward to seeing him return in the Ribble Pro Cycling colours, stronger, wiser and a better rider in 2020.

Thanks for the chat.


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