Feature Interview: Joey Walker on Crits

The British Circuit Race Champion Joey Walker (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK) talks about crit racing with VeloUK

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Feature Interview: Joey Walker on Crits

Way back in 2012, I met up with Joey Walker and sister Jessie (both riding for what is now Cero Wheels/Cycle Division racing team) at Darley Moor who were being looked after by their dad Chris Walker, a legend of British cycle racing with many a big victory to his name.

Joey and dad Chris at Darley Moor

Joey at the time was a Youth rider and over the years has continued to progress all the way to being the British Criterium Champion, a coveted win in an event that is part and parcel of the British scene.

Back when he started, Jessie was already carving out a career as a successful female racer. Asked about those days, Joey says “I started racing before Jessie and then she came in and was a bit older and started doing well. I looked up to her and what she was achieving but I did want to beat her because you do want to beat your siblings don’t you! She had a good crack at racing and now has a good career in the travel side of cycling”.

Joey meanwhile continued to progress into the Junior ranks where he was a European Champion on the track on his way to being a successful senior. Joey recalls how that victory at the Euros came about. “We had a GB selection camp before the Euros and I never made the Team Pursuit squad and I was fuming because that is the one you want to be part of.”

“They (the GB team) put me in the bunch races so I did the Madison with Ethan Hayter and I then did the Points and Scratch. The Scratch Race went okay but in the Points I was that angry I never got given a ride in the Team Pursuit, I went mental in the race and won it while the lads in the TP were fourth so they were gutted and I was ecstatic so it worked out quite well!”

Looking back, Joey has no regrets on not being part of GB now, saying that he had a great time with the team in Italy where they got their legs kicked in on the road. He has since ridden for the biggest teams in the country and now has the stripes on his back for the Circuit Race Championships.

Talking about circuit racing, we started by discussing the differences between the Tour Series and the Elite Circuit Series. “I think there is a big difference” replied Joey, “and I prefer the Elite Circuit Series style of racing.”

“The Tour Series is all about your finishing time. “You go into a race and want to attack and race hard but you also have to think of your teammate, and ‘who am I putting out the back’, and ‘has some someone crashed. There is too much going on but in the Elite Circuit Series, the first across the line wins.”

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I then broke a crit down into sections to ask Joey about them beginning with the start of a crit race…
The Start: Asked what a typical start is like in a crit, Joey explains, “Pretty much every crit has a sighting lap but I would much prefer the start to be from the line because that sighting lap is literally a big fight because it’s a slower speed and you’re trying to stay behind the motorbike while you’re getting swamped from behind trying to keep 100 riders off your back without being dq’d for passing the motorbike.”

“When the motorbike speeds off, it’s a sprint until it settles down after another a lap in. Then it’s about keeping position. A constant fight and a lot different to Zwift!”

Positioning in a crit: I asked Joey how you can hold position without burning all your matches? “It’s not easy at all but if you are looking at the energy you burn, you are going to burn a lot more being at the back of the chain jumping the elastic band so you need to think ‘I’d rather do this sprint now to stay at the front rather than sprint for 30 seconds or more from the back.’

“I think it was Tim Buckle who said to me once at a training day, if someone over takes you, you have to overtake someone else. That’s something that has stayed with me”.

Cornering: One skill that separates the pros from the wannabees is getting around the corners quickly. I know from my own experience going from easy circuits with fast sweeping bends to those with right angle sharp bends. So I asked Joey, how did he get to be so quick around corners?

“We used to race the White Rose Youth League and it was around a karting circuit. The roads were a single car width with 90 degree bends in them, and the riders then were me, Gabz (Gabz Cullaigh, now with Movistar) and Tom Pidcock and you can imagine how we were railing it around the corners. We used to be fearless and we got our skills from that. There were crashes when you found out where the limits were”.

Tyre pressures: “During my younger days, I let my dad take care of that but now with wider tyres we go lower than we used to. When I was on Wiggins, we were running 65 or 70 psi and it was how low can we go! Everyone has different preferences on the tyre pressure but it’s important to have confidence in your tyre compound.

Young Elites: “A couple of juniors did the Tour Series last year and the level is that good at juniors, and youth, and they are that quick, they can keep up with the elite seniors. They are agile and a lighter too and the crits suit the young rider and the strength in depth is unbelievable.”

Training for crits?: “Before this year was cancelled, I had a good plan with Deano (Dean Downing, former crit champ) with what we were going to do but I never got to it because just as lockdown started, I took a step back with my training.”

Physical Contact in Crits: “I think it was more physical (head butts and so on) in my dad’s day from the stories he tells but I think now everyone is pretty respectful. When you are in a race and some one leans on you, you do push back to hold your space but it’s not aggressive like trying to knock them off. If you give an inch, they will take a mile. So you have stay strong and can’t let other riders push you about. It’s ‘this is my position and I will defend it’.”

Fight for Wheels?: “Definitely! Last year, (Matt) Bostock was the wheel you wanted to be on and you would try and get on that wheel especially as you can tell those who are not as fast on the corners as others so you don’t want to be following them because its puts you off so there are wheels you do want to follow and others you do not want to!”

Dive bombing – what can go wrong? – “Freddie at Sheffield last year was an example of what can go wrong! He committed to that move and went in too hot and crashed. It’s a fine balance and for me, you have to get up the inside of them so they know you are there and you start braking when they do. And once you are past their hip, they can’t push you out of the way”.

Gear changes in a crit: “Depends. Like Otley there aren’t a lot of them but at Abergavenny there is that U bend and so you need to go up the block to get out of that quickly so it depends on the circuit. The U bends are horrible though. A few years ago I was Abergavenny and if you’re doing 50 laps it’s like 50 standing starts. I think back to the training sessions on the track with the GB Academy we’d do five standing starts and go home and now we have to do 50 in a race!

My thanks to Joey for his time for this feature and good luck to the Crit Champ in any racing he may get in 2020.


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