Feature Interview: Rory Townsend (Canyon DHB)

A feature interview with another rider who had a brilliant season, winning no less than three prems and on the podium of UCI races abroad as well as racing the World Road champs – Rory Townsend of Canyon DHB

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Feature Interview: Rory Townsend (Canyon DHB)

The first prem of the season and he beats some seriously good riders for the win – Klondike GP

1. Best season ever for you Rory?
Rory: Yes, without doubt. 2017 was a bit of a breakthrough year for me, but this exceeded my expectations. With last year’s injury plagued season, combined with the situation of the domestic scene currently, I felt fortunate to still be riding at this level. I have to thank Tim for that, for keeping faith in me where other managers might not have done the same.

2. Tell us how it all began with Tim’s team, how you got to know him and get a place on his team – you have been with them since the beginning?
Rory: I first met Tim when I was racing up with the men in the E, 1, 2 category at Eelmore, aged 14. He was one of the guys I really wanted to beat! It was the organiser, Craig, who first spoke to me about the team. He liked the way that I raced, even though I wasn’t getting results every week. He bought me on board what was Pedal Heaven at the time when I was a second year Junior. The next couple of years I raced alongside Tim until Pedal Heaven turned Conti and Tim turned DS in 2016.

3. Has your role in the team changed since the first year – ie, helper to leader?
Rory: The nice thing I’ve had over the years with this team is that, as I’ve grown as a rider, the team has too. When I first joined, I had my opportunities, all be it at national B and local level, but I learnt early what it was to be a key part of a team. There were points in the 2017 season where I found it hard to deal with the pressure of having guys give up their race for me, but confidence in that role built as results came in.

4. With so many victories in 2019, what were the highlights for you personally?
Rory: Right back at one of the first races of the year, the Classic Loire Atlantique 1.1 in France. This was a big moment for me, I had been up the road most of the day, then attacked before the end with one other. We were joined by a select group of sprinters and puncheurs with a few kilometres to go. I managed to sprint to third, which felt like a win at the time. I had a bad start to the year, fracturing my radius in the very first race of the year at Challenge Mallorca, and I had feelings of déjà vu from the year before, so to bounce back with a podium surrounded by World Tour riders was actually quite emotional at the time.

5. What was the most fun/enjoyable race to do in 2019 regardless of result?
Rory: I think Rutland Cicle Classic was the most fun this year. It’s always a great race as many guys will say, but this year, we were so strong as a team and just felt like we were in charge, it was exciting. A lot of disappointment that day not to get the win of course, but we weren’t far off! Tour Series was also a lot of fun. I always enjoy travelling around the country to the different cities to race with the lads, its good craic.

6. We talk of cycling being a team sport, how does a team support you during a race Rory? What sort of things do they do and what are you doing differently to a few years ago?
Rory: It’s so important to recognise the work others put in for individual results, and I certainly couldn’t have done what I have this year without my teammates support both on and off the bike. We have a great training group that gets us out on the worst days of winter, and I think it’s really bought us on as riders this year. In the races, our team is all about strength in numbers, we like to come into the closing stages of the race with multiple cards to play, we have a lot of guys that can win races and it can often take the pressure of the ‘designated leader’.

7. Is it difficult for a young guy like you to look to teammates to help you or does the boss make that easy and you let him lay out the race plan for all the riders?
Rory: I think it’s important to back yourself in the races. It gives the other guys belief that you’re the man for the job and then you can all pull together a bit more cohesively. It doesn’t always come off of course, and that’s hard to deal with, but then it’s about assessing what went wrong, learning and moving forward. It sounds a cliché but learning from the mistakes is so important at this level. If you aren’t self-critical in that way, then it’s hard to improve.

8. Were there any disappointments in 2019?
Rory: I was so low after Challenge Mallorca as I mentioned earlier. But the biggest one was at the Tour de Yorkshire. I became ill after the second stage, couldn’t keep any food down and had to abandon the race. I was going well for that race and felt it was big opportunity for me to potentially win a stage, so it was hard being at home watching.

An unlucky Tour de Yorkshire for Rory in 2017 and this year too. Photo: Getty Images

9. You have been part of a double programme – has that been difficult mentally to go from the comfy slippers of home races you know to Conti races you don’t know with riders you don’t know?
Rory: It’s been really refreshing. We have had a good European calendar the last couple of years now, and it’s nice being able to mix up the same domestic races with new places and new faces to contend with.

10. What was the biggest difference between the British races and the Conti races abroad?
Rory: I think cycling runs a lot deeper for people on the continent. Races at a lower level still have massive support. There’s also a huge strength in depth in the teams. A strong breakaway can go up the road, and it only takes one team to miss it and it can come back.

12. Do the European based UCI races compare to races like the Yorkshire/Tour of Britain or is that a level above again…
Rory: Yorkshire and Tour of Britain are another level up. We haven’t ridden HC races on the continent, so that it one thing to note, but there is a general feeling, even among the top riders that Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain are particularly tough races. I think it’s because of the roads we have in the UK. It’s never usually a totally flat day, nor a completely mountainous day, basically, there’s never an easy day! Every stage is raced.

13. Was their a plan for the season with target races or was it take each race as it comes?
Rory: In pre-season, my whole plan was simply to be injury free and fit again! I was moving well at our team camp in Calpe, so I started to formulate a plan there, targeting the nationals in Derry, Northern Ireland. I had two UCI podiums in the weekends building up to the race, so I was in good shape, and I had real desires to challenge for the win. I had even thought about a way to try and beat Sam in the sprint (!) no matter how unlikely that would have been! I dug so deep but finished fourth in the end.

Sprinting to his third Prem win of the year  at the Beaumont Trophy

14. With so much racing here and abroad, and the travel that goes with that, how much actual training can you do between races?
Rory: At our level, with so many races coming each week, you generally keep a good level of fitness all season long, baring injury or illness. The way I see my year is that winter is where I try and take myself from one level to the next, then the season itself is about maintaining and developing the race craft. The travelling does become tiresome and sometimes its nice just to stay in one place for a week or so, refresh, and go again.

15. Are you one for long miles or specific drills with a lot of intensity?
Rory: Last winter I was mostly taking care of my own training with the help of Simon Holt (Grinta Coaching/Team DS). When I came back from my shoulder operation, I did a bit of rehab on that and extra work in the gym with the help of Paul Roberts (Tribal MSP) to just make myself a little more robust. I paired the gym work with speed work on the road, a lot of high capacity, short efforts. I wanted to improve my sprint for this year, and it was important to do that when I was fresh off a long break. Further into winter, I moved into more long miles to help me drop a bit of weight before the season.

16. How do you get to races when with a pro team like Canyon DHB? Is there a set routine?
Rory: Thankfully it’s easy for me! We have our service course in Fleet, Hampshire, and generally the team will collect me en route to any race as I live not far from the M25. Then I just have to contend with the battle for the top bunk in the camper with Tom Stewart!

17. Which of the Canyon bikes has been your weapon? The Aero one…
Rory: I’ve been on the Aeroad CF SLX since they begun supporting the team. I was training on the Ultimate at one point, and that is a lovely bike, so comfortable and easy to handle, I can see why so many guys use it in the World Tour peloton, but for me, it’s all about speed with the Aeroad.

18. The Worlds in Yorkshire – how hard was that day on the bike compared to anything you have done before?
Rory: It’s been quite a few years since I went into a race, feeling like the weakest man in the bunch. But nevertheless, it was a phenomenal experience. I think if I had been there trying to compete for the win, it’d have been without doubt one of the hardest days of my life, but instead, my role in the team meant I had a much shorter race, shorter than I would have liked of course, but hopefully with more experiences at that level, I will become better adapted for it.

19. What was the hardest part of the worlds – the weather?
Rory: I think just the weather in the end yes. Once the break was gone, the race calmed down a lot, and it became more about fending off the elements and staying warm. As we came to the finish circuit in Harrogate, the race was on once more, with full leadout trains to gain positioning onto the circuit.

20. With a lot of racing under your wheels, were you able to prepare for that weather and if so, what sort of things helped keep the wet and cold at bay?
Rory: I had the full complement of my dhb kit at my disposal. I had waterproof arm warmers, and rain defence jersey over my Ireland kit. One little trick I have employed before for weather like that is to put Vaseline on the front of my legs and around my knees to stop them getting cold from the spray. I find that leg warmers are only good for a short period until they become saturated and then they make the problem worse.

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Tour of Britain

21. How important was winning a jersey in the Tour of Britain?
Rory: For a British continental team, in our home race, it’s huge opportunity to gain exposure and show off our sponsors, so being up the road and involved at the sharp end are so important. I had two targets before the race, to podium on a stage, and to win a jersey. The sprints jersey suited my attributes and it’s also sponsored by Eisberg, a company that has supported us a lot over the years, so that was a nice touch also.

22. Do you have a favourite day in the Tour of Britain
Rory: The first day was great. The Scottish scenery was epic. I was relieved to be going into the race with what turned out to be decent legs. Then taking the sprints, combative and being second on GC felt like a perfect start. Bostock also managed to roll a top ten in the sprint at the end which was a really strong finish in the company for a young guy.

23. There’s a pic of you chatting with Van der Poel – is it easy to chat to these house hold names, perhaps more so than riders in Britain?
Rory: There’s always plenty of chat in the bunch when the race isn’t full on. We’re all in the same race, even if we’re there with different aims, there is a common ground. I think you definitely have to respect the talent of these guys, but you also have to race them, so being too intimidated is as much of a weakness as underestimating them.

Getty Images

24. Getting in one break is tough enough, getting in multiple breaks must be way harder – is there a strategy over the seven road stages on which breaks to go for?
Rory: I think I’ve found a bit of a knack for getting in the break now. I have a philosophy of committing to the right break instead of following all of them. When we’ve been doing 1.1s on the continent, I say to the younger lads not to follow the moves that the pro conti or world tour teams go in, because when one of those teams go, the rest follow.

It’s equally important that when you’re in ‘the right move’ that you fully commit to establish that gap, before knocking it off. At the tour this year, we made a bit of an error because on stage 5 in Birkenhead, I wanted to go for the finish instead of getting up the road. Had I gone and got the intermediates that day, I could have sewn up the jersey then and there. Instead I was chasing back onto the bunch after a crash that caused me to crack a rib, the rest of the race was an uphill struggle from there!

25. Being quite an experienced rider, are you still learning things in races and if so, what would be the one thing in 2019 you have learnt that is a key moment?
Rory: I don’t think you ever stop learning. It’s been good riding with Tom this year. He’s a very smart, experienced guy, so he’s a good head to have in the race when I’m losing mine! There was one race in Belgium we did that really stuck out to me, Circuit Wallone.

The race had been on all day, with no rest period to get good fuel in. We ended up having four of us in the selection, all on our knees with a good 70km to go. One by one, Ollie, Bostock and I were all dropped but Tom managed to hang on and came out with a great result. He said after that he decided that he needed to eat something, even if it meant getting dropped to do it. Eating in a race isn’t anything new, but knowing that under fuelling, being too cold, having a mechanical issue, whatever is holding you back, is worth addressing at the cost of using a little extra energy, because there is still a race to be won, and you can’t do that when you’re out of it!

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26. How is it looking for you in 2020 moving on to a new level?
Rory: Conversations are still being carried out by my agent with a few teams for next year. I am really hoping for the opportunity to show what I can do at the next level.

27. Do you relish the challenge of racing in Europe?
Rory: It’s an absolute buzz. I love how open the racing is. You can be going flat stick for the full 200km of races out there.

28. Would it feel like you are starting all over again going into Europe or would it feel comfortable having raced there quite often?
Rory: I feel like I know my way around these races now. As I’ve said, we’ve been so lucky on our team to be exposed to these races on the continent, and full credit to Tim and Simon for putting together such a great calendar.

29. Finally, what result would be extra special to acehive in 2020 after all the victories in 2019?
Rory: I still haven’t had a clean run at Yorkshire, so I hope to go back there and give that another go, at least for a stage. I’ll again have one eye on the national’s route in Ireland when that’s released, and that will be a big target for me.

Thank you to Rory and fingers crossed that big team comes along – you sure deserve to be in the pro peloton in Europe. 


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