Feature Interview: Jonny McEvoy (Genesis Ambassador)

From cyclocross to the road including the madness of Paris Roubaix to crits in Britain, one of the country’s top cyclists Jonny McEvoy is now taking to gravel riding as an ambassador for Genesis bikes – we chat about his 2020 year ahead and the career that preceded being a gravel rider…

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Feature Interview: Jonny McEvoy (Genesis Ambassador)

A big part of the British cycling scene for many a year, Jonny McEvoy had a successful career on two wheels, in cyclocross and then the road. Jonny was a talented and consistent rider who was often on the podium and rode everything from crits to Paris – Roubaix!

Jonny was part of the very successful Madison Genesis team for the last three years of its run in the British domestic scene and is now an Ambassador for bike company Genesis. In 2020, Jonny will be taking to the gravel in some of the biggest events of the year. At Madison UK’s trade show, Icebike, I sat down with Jonny and we spoke about what he’s doing now and looked back at his past racing achievements as well.

The former Madison Genesis rider is in 2020, an ambassador for Genesis bikes and looking forward to a fun year of adventures on two wheels which will be a far cry from the routine of the road races he was doing on the road. Whilst I’m reading about his former Madison Genesis teammates going into other trades on social media, Jonny is still on two wheels thanks to Genesis and Madison UK.

“I am really lucky to be able to do this and a big thanks to Dom and Kellie at Madison UK. Like it was in the team, the support they provide is fantastic and this is great to do; a totally different thing to do than racing. It’s more like an adventure for me.”

Jonny on Gravel riding “the bikes are brilliant, taking everything on your bike and going on an adventure; how cool is that.”

It’s a muddy form of riding that Jonny is into now LoL and a family affair as well with a bike for George

Full Circle
I remember many years ago when Jonny was doing cyclocross, representing his country at World Championships and he says it feels like he’s gone full circle from off road (cyclocross here and in Belgium etc) to road racing as a career and job and now back to off roading.

Jonny, who has been cycling since he was a teenager says of the new career change, “I have been cycling since I was 13 and now, having a different sort of bike (the gravel Genesis Datum bike) which is like a cross bike in a way, I’m finding now you can be riding on the road, see an off road trail and go down it with less risk of puncturing than you would when on road tyres, and on a bike made for off road riding. You can be ten miles away from where you live and never have seen this path and this has happened to me already. So it’s more of an exploring adventure for sure.”

“I did bit of it when training for the Tour of Britain at the end of last season and because it feels different, there’s an element of excitement to it as well. It’s certainly more fun after having been doing the road for so long.”

On the safety aspect, getting away from traffic, Jonny agreed it feels safer as well even though it has its own dangers (the slippery surface that is gravel). “Recently I have been driving on the roads I was riding my bike on before and thinking, bloody ‘ell this is dangerous. On the bike, I’ve always felt in control and safe but when you come to overtake a cyclist, that is something drivers really have to think about especially getting past kids and people who are not as relaxed on a bike on the road as pro riders are.”

Jonny racing the 2006 Junior Cyclo-Cross Worlds in the Netherlands

“So going off road is safer and more relaxed and while you may have to go on the road to get to an off road path, being off road opens more doors for cyclists”.

What Jonny was finding was the same as a rider I also heard about at the Icebike show who competes in closed circuit crits and after an accident on the road, does his training on gravel and is finding no shortage of roads to do this on.

Jonny explained that on the road, his gravel bike is not slow either and he can push on at a reasonable speed before hitting some gravel tracks giving riders the best of both worlds. “The gravel bike is not a road racing bike so may be slower on the road than a (Genesis) Zero etc, but off road you can go quicker than you would on a road bike. Mine has gravel bars which are wider at the bottom which gives you more control. At first it felt strange but after one ride, it felt right and before long I was practicing pulling wheelies.”

One of the events Jonny mentioned he would be doing is the ‘Dirty Reiver’ gravel race and said he was also looking forward to an event in the Scottish Highlands near Ben Nevis where the multiday gravel ride would be a proper adventure, kipping in Scottish stone huts (Bothies) and carrying everything he needs on the bike. Life by the campfire was going to be great he says.

“I’ve always liked that sort of stuff but you don’t tend to do it when you are racing because it’s so all consuming and all you think about as it’s your job. Like normally at this time of the year, I’d have done a few training camps already and would probably be racing this weekend. For me, I’m happy to have stopped racing because when you have done it for so long, it’s all you think about and you get into that routine and it’s only when you step away, you start to see other fantastic things you can do in life”.

2009, and another worlds for Jonny McEvoy, this time on the road

Jonny admits back in the day as a young rider he had his dreams which he chased flat stick but that was before his life changed, became more family orientated. It became a balancing act with a lovely wife (Charlie), son George and of course, a mortgage which is the big killer of a pro rider’s career when the paid rides stop coming a rider’s way.

“It felt weird going into bike shops and saying ‘I’m stopping racing’ and they’d say ‘you’ll find another team’ but I’m over it. I have a little boy, mortgage and family life which can be hard to balance with training. This is the next chapter and I get this, doing these different things for Genesis is brilliant”.

Jonny has a list of events to do for Genesis among the many other things in his role as an Ambassador. That includes testing things, promoting the brand, photo and video shoots. The routine of training, more training and then racing is now in the past.

Jonny has been riding Genesis bikes for over three years now. His weapon on the road was the Genesis Zero but he also had a cross bike for some off roading before he became a gravel rider. Now he has a Datum which unlike a dedicated cross bike, allows him to fit pannier racks etc for the endurance rides he’ll do.

And unlike a road bike, which he would take off road from time to time, he doesn’t puncture all the time. “I have ridden a road bike on gravel but you tend to puncture all the time and that takes the fun out of it. Gravel bikes handle the gravel better than the other bikes too and you also have a comfort element on them as well for the endurance rides.”

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Jonny’s road career
Way before Jonny was a married man with a young son, he was representing the country. Going back through my archives there are images of Jonny representing GB in the Junior Men’s Cyclocross World Championship race. Later that year, he was riding Junior National Series Men’s road races. Jonny takes up the story.

“I came out of the junior ranks and then was on the Great Britain Academy in Italy in the summer and Manchester in the winter. That was good but I don’t think when you’re young you appreciate it at the time. Living in Tuscany doing the most brilliant races along with Adam Blyth, Peter Kennaugh and Mark McNally who were also in that group. Out of those four, we all stopped racing within six months of each other 30.”

After his time in the Academy, Jonny found himself riding for one of the sport’s biggest characters and supporters, Phil Griffiths who was a former rider on the big stage himself. One of my abiding memories of Jonny was winning a stage of Doonhame (former Girvan stage race) in a bunch kick in 2011 (below). He then went on to ride for Endura in 2012 and went from stage winner to race winner with an overall victory in the race.

Fun and exciting back then I asked? “Definitely” was the reply. “I have always loved the off the bike side of it as well, having a laugh with the lads and that makes racing more fun. It’s important for me to be happy off the bike as well as on it.”

“You spend so much time together at a training camp and on the road and when you’re knackered and everyone is a little niggly, if you can have laugh on and off the bike it’s a lot better”.

In 2013, Jonny signed a two year contract with German team Netapp which was sponsored by Endura. It gave Jonny the opportunity to do the biggest races in the world. “At that age, you think you are going to always be doing it” he explained.

One of the races he got to do was Paris Roubaix which is a huge achievement just to get selected for the race. “You don’t realise at the time what an achievement that is. When you are doing it, you think it’s the norm and you’ll carry on doing it.”

“I remember it was the year Wiggins was trying to win it and there was a big crash before the cobbles and there a big slam on and I’m skidding behind Wiggins and I was thinking, ‘don’t knock him off’ and I skidded for ever. In the end, the bike had turned round and ended up pointing the other way!”

Overall winner at Doonhame in Scotland

“I didn’t crash and just looked back and thought I was so close to knocking Bradley off. I put the foot in and started sprinting to get back and then another almighty crash and I’m skidding to stop again and it’s on the first cobbled section. A bottle flew out and hit me in the head. The top came off as well and covered me with what was in it, and it was like being punched. It was so crazy! You watch the race on tele and it looks calm and fine but in the race it’s utter chaos. Madness. It is the craziest race I have done that, it was mental. Brilliant”.

Anyone who has seen the build up to the races and the close up photos of the cobbles will wonder how a cyclist can ride over them? Jonny said of them, “I’d never been to the Forest of Arenberg but if you were riding towards it, you’d get there and stop and say ‘we can’t go down there lads’. They are so extreme. I can remember the lads screaming in the race … it was a fantastic hell, like being in a fight. A memorable experience”.

Asked for other memories, Jonny says in one classic, the race was trickling along slowly and Cancellera fell off and there was all this laughter. And then in Het Nieuwsblad when Ian Stannard won, the weather was so extreme Jonny was so cold but he can remember the experience of seeing how fast the riders raced up the cobbled bergs. “It was brilliant and a wake-up call as well” he added.

I asked Jonny if he felt intimated going to race in the pro peloton? “It is very different to here but in the bunch in Europe, when you are young, you want to get stuck in and I wasn’t afraid or intimidated by the racing. I never felt lost at all over there.”

Jonny and Tom Last get some advice from Simon Burney at the cross worlds in 2006

“I remember races like Tour of Normandy with the smaller teams and when the sprints came up, it was so dangerous but you got used it and by day three or four, with 25k to go, the chopping started and it was getting manic but you were used to it. There were people trying to get past you, elbows were out, the speed of it, road furniture to avoid, people skidding… the danger of crashing at 50 or 60k an hour was a constant and when you’re tired you make mistakes too”.

Jonny’s adventure in Europe though came to an end and he returned to British domestic racing. He was sad to leave it behind but at the same, was also looking ahead to the next thing which was racing for NFTO. “I had two good years there and I met lot of people that I am still mates with now which is cool and then I went to Madison Genesis”.

Looking through Jonny’s palmeres on Cycling Archives, his time at Madison Genesis saw him winning the Spring Cup series through being a consistent rider with many a podium and top five or top 10. One of the challenges was getting the balance right between his work as a pro cyclist and a family man.

“The last few years, the challenge was trying to get the balance right between training, resting and time with the family. Like I would take George to the park and I’d be thinking ‘I am racing the next day, I should be resting’ and so you end up not enjoying that play time with George like you should be but also not resting right so you’d not be doing anything right! It can be like that being a bike rider, thinking some things matter when they don’t”.

For those who think that coming back from Europe to race in Britain would be an easy step, think again. “No, not at all” Jonny says. “I think it got faster every year here and some of the crits now are flipping fast and you see that with the lads who go into the World Tour. When you have a bad day it can make a normal race feel so fast as the standard has gone up especially in the crits. Fantastic races to be in and when you’ve been in them, you know about being in a proper bike race”.

2019 and the Isle of Man and the stage 1 crit ….

Are the crits dangerous in their own way? “Definitely” says Jonny. “There are barriers everywhere and with it being a team thing, every position matters. It’s not like you can help someone get up the road, it mattered where you were as well so they are dangerous but you tend to be in the position that matches the ability you are. If you’re at the back, you tend so stay there and if you’re at the front, you stay there.”

“I’ve spent 17 years of being told get to the front! You can’t afford to get caught out at the back because if it’s wet, you have no chance because the distance between the first rider and the back riders, it will take a lot for them to come back to the front. So as a team on the front, the aim was to catch the others out and hold position”.

Those days of seeing Madison Genesis do lap after lap on the front led to some great battles during the glory days of the sport a few years ago. As mentioned above, Jonny was known for his consistency and that paid dividends during the years when Tour of Britain qualification was a major headache for teams and that was passed onto the riders.

“I have always been consistent, so while I may not have won a lot in the last few years, I did come second or third and then the way the system changed with the Tour of Britain qualification coming in, teams needed a rider to always get a result to keep that consistency and hopefully also have a lad winning some of the other counting events.”

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“Tour of Britain qualification was definitely the talking point” Jonny added. “Going back a few years, it was like, ‘the team will continue if you qualify for the Tour of Britain’ and at times it was like sprinting for your job, it was chaos.”

“That was the way it was whether it was right or wrong, that was our job. It changed the racing for sure. You were racing scared some times. Like you would come into a finish in a hilly premier calendar event, like Lincoln, and you’re the only one from your team in a group of 10. You can’t afford to come 10th and be the last qualifier point for the Tour of Britain”.

“One year (2017), I think there was Matt Holmes and me in the front group. After the little kicker after the feed, I attacked and I was caught on the finish hill but if there hadn’t been two of us, you just could not have done that and you had to make sure you were in the big points for Tour of Britain qualification. You were racing for an average result which you needed for the Tour of Britain. It definitely changed the racing but there had to be a system to qualify a place but whether that system was fair, I’m not sure”.

2006 and the Junior RR championships with Peter Kennaugh (3rd), Russell Hampton (1st) and Jonny McEvoy (2nd)

The pressure the teams were under was extreme and tempers flared many a time simply because the teams could not afford to miss out on qualifying on the Tour of Britain and that pressure was certainly a hot topic of conversation says Jonny.

“It is massive to be in the big races like the Tour de Yorkshire and that’s got bigger every year I have done it. I think the Tour of Britain though being at the end of the season and on tele, everyone is talking about it and being in it made a difference and if you weren’t, teams budgets were affected…..”

Finally, after 40 minutes of chat with this champion rider, I asked would he race again? “I will probably miss it when races like the Eddie Soens are on but I have that option of racing. I don’t think I am ready to do that right now though but maybe in the future.”

Thank you Jonny for the chat, it was a pleasure to watch you race through out your career and good luck on the gravel… sounds awesome and takes me full circle too back to the days in the 70s when I’d race my bike round the forests of South Nowra … very cool indeed.

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