Feature Interview: Joey Walker (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK)

A 2020 new signing for Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK is the British circuit race champion Joey Walker from Yorkshire who is three weeks away from his first race in the Vitus colours

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Feature Interview: Joey Walker (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK)

A 2020 new signing for Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK is the British circuit race champion Joey Walker from Yorkshire. A winner at Sheffield and Colne in the Elite Circuit Series, Joey, a former European Champion when racing for GB on the track, is looking to make the most of having the British champion’s jersey on his back this season as well as tackling new challenges here and abroad.

I spoke to Joey this week and asked about his goals to expand his winning repertoire. “I have won crits and proved to myself I can do that. Now, I just want to prove to myself that I can go well in the road races too and in the Prems go for the win”.

Joey in the stripes in 2019 when riding for Madison Genesis – in 2020 the team name on the skinsuit will be Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK.

It is part and parcel of racing in the UK that the riders racing here for the major teams have to be able to do both the crits and the road races which includes major stage races like the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain. And when you are wearing the Circuit Race champion’s jersey, the pressure is on to perform in the crits.

So, I asked Joey, is it tough to train for road races and focus on them when you also know, down the line, as the British crit champ, there will be pressure to perform in the circuit races too?

“That’s the thing as I want to be going well in longer races like the Tour of Yorkshire, but then immediately after, the Tour Series starts. I spoke to Dean (Downing) about it and we think it’s doable. The longer road races will take the zip out of your legs for the crits but I think even if I struggle in the first few crits, I’ll soon come round after that”.

“British riders are known for being able to flick from one type of race to another so I’m not worried about it even through there is the pressure of being the British champion and I have the jersey on my back. I’ve told myself that a crit eliminates the weaker riders anyway so it should not be a problem”.

His new team’s early season races are expected to be abroad this year, events like Le Samyn (UCI 1.1), GP Lillers and a favourite for British teams, the Tour of Normandy. This race programme says Joey will be really good for the team and for the riders. “It’s going to be exciting to get stuck in even though it may well be grim!”

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One race that has a reputation for being grim is the Tour of Normandy. Last year, riding for Madison Genesis, Joey says Normandy was not its usual self in being sunny every day, something he’s hoping for in 2020 again because the weather can affect how a rider finishes the race.

Joey explained “Last year we did the Tour of Normandy in shorts and jersey and whilst it was hard, and it did take it out of you, speaking to Jonny McEvoy, he was saying some years it snowed and you came out of the race in a shell so it depends on the weather. Rainy days certainly take more energy out of you than a sunny day”.

Before Joey gets to race his new Vitus Vitesse Evo Team bike in his new kit, there’s the training and that’s reaching a peak now so he’s ready for the efforts to be made in a race. So what better chain gang to train with than one with the 2018 (Connor Swift) and 2019 (Ben Swift) British road race champions as well as riders who, like Joey, have won the British circuit race championship and in the case of Russell Downing, both the crit championship and the road race championship.

Joey’s new bike for 2020, the Vitus Vitesse Evo Team (Pic Alex Duffill) 

Joey is based in Doncaster, not far from Connor Swift and his cousin Ben as well as other ‘hitters’ like double Lincoln GP winner Tom Stewart. “You can’t beat it” says Joey. “It’s weird early season where until that first race, you don’t really know how well the winter has been for you but with the chain gang here being so hard, you have quite a good gauge of where you are at so it is good”.

Asked how his winter has been, Joey replied “it has been really good actually. During the off season, I started working with Dean Downing as my coach. I never really had a coach in the two years following the time I left the GB academy and I thought now was the time to get some more structure into my training.”

“It’s been good with Dean and I’m adapting to a new training style and it must be working as my power is going up” Joey added. It’s a long time since Joey used to travel to Lincoln with his parents Chris and Lynne to watch close family friends, Russell and Dean Downing race the event, something that inspired him to get into racing the push bike. Now, it’s gone full circuit and it’s Joey who is racing and his coaches Dean and Russ will be watching him.

“I have Dean as a coach and Russell is a race mentor. It’s good that we have had this family friendship with them both for a long time and I can talk to them as a friend and as a coach”.

Joey’s new coach, Dean Downing winning the Lincoln Grand Prix

Joey’s racing success is a long way from a day I spent with him and his family at Darley Moor back in the day (2012) when his sister Jessie was doing great things on a bike and Joey was still a youth rider. Jessie has retired from racing but Joey is still looking to ‘making it’ as a bike rider.

“When you are growing up, you think there is a time limit of making it and getting into the World Tour. But now we can see that there is still hope even if you’re not an under 23 rider with the likes of Matt Holmes (Joey’s teammate in 2019) and other riders like that who they have proved that all it takes is a break through result and the dream can be realised by going WorldTour.”

“All I can do is keep training and if I get the break through result, I get it, but if it’s meant to be I’m at the British level for ten years, then so be it as I know I have tried my best”.

Being in a UCI team however will see Joey get the chance to impress team scouts in mainland Europe with Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK as team boss Cherie Pridham is actively looking at racing there. Getting in races isn’t always easy but hopefully the success of British riders in the World Tour will entice organisers to give British teams a chance.

It’s certainly something the riders are looking forward to says Joey. “It’s a big thing for us to get the opportunity to race in mainland Europe” says Joey. “Everyone knows the British scene is struggling at the moment race wise so it gives us the opportunity to go to (mainland) Europe and compete. The UCI races are so much different in how they are raced so its gives us some variety and it’s good to get these races early season so we get some racing in the legs before Klondike and so on”.

Going to Europe also gives the riders in a UCI team the opportunity to ride events where the race has more of a ‘big race atmosphere’ than that when racing local Nat Bs. “They are well organised, you’re on closed roads not having to worry about cars coming towards you so there is better safety and everyone races hard too”.

Circuit Racing
Away from road racing, we switch our attention to crit racing which has been a big part of the British staple diet in the racing calendar for many a decade. As Joey is the British Circuit Race Champion, it was time to get an insight into what is the key thing about being successful in a ‘crit’. Was it the legs or was it a rider’s ability to get round corners for instance?

Joey replied “The main key is positioning. You can be the strongest man in the race but if you are sat at the back of the line when it’s kicking out of U bends and stuff, you have no chance. I saw that in Abergavenny two years ago when I was flying. It was the year I won Sheffield but I got dropped in Abergavenny because I was at the back”.

“So positioning is the key but you have to have race tactics too. You need to know when to start your sprint; is it two corners before the finish and so on. So it’s a bit of everything but positioning is the main one”.

It is easy to say what the key skill is in a crit but surely, it is quite something else to be able to do it I put to Joey? “It is a fight, for sure” says Joey. Every lap, there’s that washing machine effect in the bunch but the way I see it, if some one comes past you, you have to go past some one else and so for an hour, it’s a constant fight to move up”.

“You can’t relax and if you get too far back, there is a panic because you need to get back up there as soon as you can so it’s a big fight for an hour which is what makes it so exciting”.

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Looking ahead
The racing is now only weeks away with the first big race for Joey’s team being the third of March in Belgium, Le Samyn, a UCI 1.1. The team’s racing the event include Arkea Samsic, Trek Segafredo, NTT, Alpecin-Fenix, Canyon DHB and Deceuninck-Quickstep. Whilst Joey will miss that event, he says his teammates in Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK are well up for that challenge.

“I think this year we have got a good group of lads” says Joey. “I met everyone at a get together about two months ago and we’re all keen to get stuck in. I think the new riders coming in has boosted the morale for the riders who have stayed on from other years so it should be a good year”.

Joey is going to miss Le Samyn as he’ll be in Spain on an eight day training block but says he’ll be ready for the other races in Europe. His Spanish trip to his parents place will be all work as he explained. “I’ll be doing two blocks of three days with an easy day in the middle” Joey explained. The three day blocks will be really hard doing stuff you can’t do at home because of the longer climbs which means longer efforts. My dad (legend racing cyclist Chris Walker) has a scooter there so I’ll be doing some motor pacing and getting the leg speed up and sharpening up before my first races”.

Joey will be racing a new Vitus (Vitesse Evo Team ) bike which he says is really good and he can’t wait to race it. Joey added that changing bikes isn’t generally a big problem for pro riders when changing teams. “It’s not a big jump because you have a known position which you send to the mechanics and it can be easy to replicate.”

It’s when you have to change something like your shoes and so on that you can get problems adds Joey. “Luckily I can use what I want this year so I’ll stick to the Shimano ones I have. I remember going from one team to another where I had to change shoes and I had a month of knee pain preventing me from riding well because of the big difference between them. But that is what the sponsors wanted so it can be hard changing teams and having to make changes to some of the kit. You soon adapt though”.

And on that note, that was the end of our first chat in 2020. My thanks to Joey for his time and good luck in 2020. See you on the road… 


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