Interview: Matt Holmes (Lotto Soudal)

In a series of interviews with British pros stuck at home whilst their teams are training in Spain, we chat to Matt Holmes (Lotto Soudal) who a year ago was celebrating his maiden UCI professional victory

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Interview: Matt Holmes (Lotto Soudal)

In a series of interviews with British pros stuck at home whilst their teams are training in Spain, we chat to Matt Holmes who a year ago was celebrating his maiden UCI professional victory.

Getty Images

Unfortunately, Matt could not travel to Spain to join his Lotto Soudal teammates at the January training camp but this hasn’t prevented him from training hard and staying motivated for the upcoming season.

Matt explained on his team’s website, “at the moment, Britain is again in full lockdown and sadly, the Spanish government decided that British people are not allowed to enter Spain”.

“Luckily, I am able to train outside, but the weather conditions are quite harsh with a lot of snow and ice. I am also training hard, but it is obviously not the same compared to being able to train under the Spanish sun. The only positive thing is that there’s some time to work on the house we bought last year”, concludes Matthew Holmes with a wink.

Matt explained to VeloUK that even though he is stuck in Britain training, he did see his team at the end of 2020. “I went in December for a couple of days to do the health checks you have to do, heart scans and so on as well as a team photo. It wasn’t the same as last year with everyone there at once as the riders were spaced out so I never really saw the team, just the staff”.

Matt explained that he came out of the tests nice and healthy. “It was thorough thing based on a study they are doing in Belgium looking into why certain sports people die of cardiac arrest. So the team are trying to find anyone with damage on the heart and then taking all your training data and looking for patterns that can prevent such issues with their riders. It’s a good thing to have done.”

Asked how his programme is looking for 2021, “the plan is to start in Spain with two stage races (at least one has now been cancelled) and then the Basque Country tour and Ardennes Classics before the Giro” Matt explained. He added that he’s 3 kilos lighter now and will hopefully avoid the kicking he got last year in the early season European races despite that historic stage win in the Tour Down Under ahead of Aussie Richie Porte.

Getty Images – Matt dances on the pedals and gets his first WorldTour win in his first WorldTour race with his first ride ina  WorldTour team!

That memorable day was a year ago in the colours of Lotto Soudal where Matt took his first ever WorldTour race victory. On January 26 (Australia day) 2020, the now 27-year-old Brit conquered Willunga Hill and won the queen stage of the Santos Tour Down Under. It was a fairy tale beginning to his start with Lotto Soudal, although at the time, Holmes wasn’t all too sure of being suited to racing at the highest level a few days into the Australian stage race.

Matt explained to his team “Winning the queen stage of the Tour Down Under was something really special. During the first days of racing, I was really struggling and I wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I even thought of giving up on it. The day before the final stage, I went out to eat a little something together with my parents, when I told them that I doubted if I was good enough for WorldTour level. It really was a coincidence that they were both there, as they had planned the trip to Australia even before I signed with Lotto Soudal.”

“The final stage to Willunga Hill wasn’t something for Caleb Ewan, so we (his team) tried to go on the offensive. I felt quite good and I got in a big breakaway quite easily. We had to climb Willunga Hill twice and during the first ascent, I still thought I was going to get dropped. During the second time up the climb, I suddenly realised I was the strongest of the breakaway.”

“At that moment, I knew that if we could stay away, I would have a chance of winning the stage. I knew Richie Porte would be catching us quickly and luckily, I got over the most difficult part of the climb before he caught me. When I was told Richie was coming, I was quite sure I was able to win as I got on his wheel and I knew he didn’t have anything left for the sprint as he had closed down a big gap to get to me.”

“It was just a really good day when I was in the right place at the right time. And to have my parents at the finish line, was another big highlight of course”, says Matt. It was a perfect start to his first season at the Lotto Soudal WorldTour team, but Matt has kept both feet solid on the ground and continued to work hard for the races to come.

Anyone thinking, as the first race of the season, it (Tour Down Under ) was easy, think again as Matt says it was pretty intense for him and very different to Pimbo (near Liverpool) which is normally his first race of a season. “It was a proper WorldTour race which was a shock” he says.

“Apart from boosting my confidence, winning the queen stage at the Tour Down Under didn’t change much. I obviously made a name for myself straight away, but I kept on training just as hard and I tried my best in every single race.”

“The 2020 season was quite perfect for me. Although the racing calendar was heavily reduced, it was still more than I had ever done before when I raced in Britain. In a way, that worked out really well and it was a good introduction to the harder races. I only regret not having won the Giro stage (Holmes finished 3rd on the eighth stage of the 2020 Giro d’Italia) but still, I won a race, so I have to be satisfied with that. I got my first taste of riding a Grand Tour and I really look forward to going for that stage win this season.”

Fast forward to January 2021 and Matt, like so many British pros, is training hard in the difficult winter conditions at home. “I’m more confident and know what I am going into now which is good. I feel part of the team so it should be easier hopefully with less stress.” The staff at the team he says, like their riders to ‘race’ and he admits that pretty much all the races he’s done so far, he’s been free to do what he wants and to race the race which he says has been good.

The weather for this victory was pretty grim on the Isle of Man so Matt isn’t having issues with training in a British winter even if he’d rather have the sun on his back in Spain

“Hopefully, they are happy with what I have done” says Matt which with a World Tour stage win and a Grand Tour Podium, I expect they should be. Asked how his training is going now with his usual coach, Matt says, “my training has changed a little bit this winter. After the Giro, where I was quite good in the third week, that sort of changed our approach to the amount of hours. I’m probably not doing as much as your average WorldTour professional in terms of hours but I am doing more.”

“I’m putting in some four and five hour rides which would have been quite rare in the past.”

Matt is based in Macclesfield (south of Manchester) and he says it’s been okay there. “With lockdown, I’ve been able to ride on the bigger gritted roads and its felt safe enough. I only had one day where I set off and came straight back because it was too cold and cars were not overtaking safely in the icy conditions with a lot of ‘slush’ on the roads.”

On whether he feels any pressure being selected for a Grand Tour, Matt replies “I don’t feel pressure and Caleb (Ewan) is down to ride all three Grand Tours if they go ahead so the race will be totally different for me if he is riding. For me, on days when I can go for breakaways, it’s no different to last time and so I’m not nervous about that.”

Going back to his third on a stage in the Giro, he says it’s the hardest way to win from a breakaway because it is such a long effort. “You race flat out for an hour, get in the break and are like, ‘right, only 180km to go! and you have to ride and ride and ride and then race again at the end.”

It is quite a different way of racing for Matt who has been racing at the top level in the Junior ranks and then senior ranks here in Britain for a decade or more. “Racing abroad is very different to home. It’s really extreme with the mountains and so on compared to what I got used to at home, the climbs and descents are so crazy.”

Not so long ago, Matt was in the colours of Madison Genesis and says he misses the home cooking from the team’s Jane Wood.

Matt says life on the road though isn’t a great deal different in the WorldTour except for the bigger bus but he does miss Steve and Jane Wood (swanny’s) from his days at Madison Genesis. “Jane would bring in home-made flap jacks and make a big buffet after the race which was really good.”

Talking about the routine postrace, Matt says “I just have a shower and get going and sometimes there’s a debrief on the bus”. Matt though isn’t able to relax on the bus as much as he’d like. “I feel (car) sick some times and have to get in the car if it’s a long drive”. For those, like me, who have experienced car sickness, it’s the head down (reading, on the phone etc etc) and not seeing the road ahead that can affect you and that seems to be what Matt suffers with which is why in a car you can avoid it by being able to watch the road.

To finish, we talked about what he’s up to now. “I’m starting to do some top end stuff and doing a lot of gym actually and making the most of what I can do here at home. I’m not 100 per cent fit but I’m sure I can race in a few weeks if I need to.”

For Matt, racing at this level is a fresh motivation. After his British team Madison Genesis stopped in 2019, a lot of riders of his age group retired but Matt is still keen to race. “The more I spoke to Lotto at the start, it was WorldTour or nothing really. I didn’t really want to do many more years of Continental racing so the move happened at the right time for me.”

“To win anything this season would be good. The races people care about most though are the Grand Tours and I’d also like to have a go at riding the World Championships for Great Britain just to make the most of my time racing at this level because I’m 27 and feel I’m competitive at this level at the moment.”

His results form 2020 certainly seem to confirm he definitely is able to ride at WorldTour level and get results. Thanks to Matt for the chat and good luck in 2021.

Note: Some of this article is based on one on the Lotto Soudal website to celebrate Matts win a year ago in the Tour Down Under.


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