Feature Interview: Joey Walker

Racing for a leading Elite team in 2021, Joey Walker is also being supported by some personal sponsorship like that from Cero Wheels

RST Cycle Clothing & Trigon Bikes

Feature Interview: Joey Walker

The world of racing is seeing a lot of young riders coming to the forefront of cycle racing abroad and here in the UK, one of the young stars is British Circuit Race Champion, Joey Walker. After riding for UCI Conti teams Wiggins, Madison Genesis and Vitus Pro Cycling, Joey has chosen what he feels is the best option for him in 2021, a British Elite based team.

I met up with Joey at a sponsor of VeloUK, Cycle Division, who through Cero Wheels, are a personal sponsor of Joeys. “Jonny (Towers) has always been a close family friend” says Joey “and I have grown up going to Jonnys and doing some motorcrossing and stuff so I really appreciate him sponsoring me this year and helping me. I can’t wait to be racing on his wheels.”

Joey’s search for a team began during 2020 when his then team, Vitus Pro Cycling, were aware they were not going to be part of the racing scene in 2021. “Towards the back end of last year, it was common knowledge that a lot of teams were struggling and Vitus was one of them” says Joey.

“Chez (Cherie Pridham, DS now at Israel Startup Nation) was very kind and open by saying ‘you need to start looking for a team’ before it was announced the team was closing. So the process started then and it wasn’t successful straight away. Even after the announcement the team was closing, I still didn’t have a team.”

“It was getting towards December and there was still nothing. I was chatting to three teams and then I got a good opportunity with another team where I could bring in my own sponsors as well which is why I am here at the shop for the Cero Wheels today.”

Joey’s journey with Cero Wheels began many years ago as a Youth rider. His dad, a legend in the sport in his own right, Chris Walker, takes up the story. “It is good he is being supported by Cycle Division/Cero Wheels because Joey and the Youth team were part of the development of Cero Wheels”.

The team that Joey was part of, was called the RST team (after the world leading motorcycle (and cycling) clothing brand RST and it was a star studded Youth team with Juniors and some up and coming seniors too.

Chris with Joey in his Youth days and Jessie Walker when she was racing and winning

“There was a Youth focus in the beginning” says Chris who was looking after the team at that time. “Budget wise, we didn’t have a massive one as Cycle Division was in its infancy and we were trying to promote it and Cero Wheels and we wanted to get involved in the grass roots of the sport. At their age, we knew we could make a difference.”

“We had the same riders going from the Youth ranks and into the Junior ranks and we saw them evolve. It was a good team back then which got good results and the philosophy was just about trying to give them the right advice so they could learn whilst also enjoying their racing. We didn’t focus on results. It was about teaching them how to race and then they put that into practice and their results showed they wanted to win.”

“There was never any pressure from the RST Racing Team for them to get results – all we did was give them the guidance. After races, we’d go through what they were doing right and wrong in races and it was a really good environment”.

“It is amazing to see all those names from the past having had the success they have had” says Chris. Those riders who raced in the RST colours include Joey Walker, Tom Stewart, Gabz Cullaigh, Nathan Draper, Jess Roberts, Abby-Mae Parkinson, Jessie Walker, Grace Garner, Ellie Dickinson, Josie Nelson, Joe Fry, Lizzie Holden and Annasley Park. “I can’t say I played a big part in that success but to even had a small part in it and watch their careers develop, has been brilliant”.

“Even those who have left the sport, I’m still friends with them and the good thing about cycling is it helps set them up for life because you have the hard work, the disappointments to deal with, glory as well, and that is what life is about so it is a good way for a rider to be set up for their life ahead”.

Chris in his racing days …

Peaks and Troughs
One thing a lot of racing cyclists have to deal with is trying to make a career out of the sport. Some are lucky and spend years of their career when there is plenty of money to be earnt. Others are not so lucky like Joey whose time in the sport coincides with a big downturn in the amount of money available for riders and their teams.

So I asked Chris about the ‘scene’ in his day (1980/90s). “Back in my day, there had been a bit of a lull before I turned pro and then there was a bit of a resurgence. I ended up on a team with Keith Lambert and Sid Barras and those were guys who’d had good years and then experienced a flat spot in the sport as well.”

“When I joined, we had the Kellogg’s Tour of Britain at a time when riders could make a living. Not a great one, but an average working man’s wage. There was no big money but it was a good lifestyle. It was like that a few years ago, probably better as some of the guys were earning decent money but it’s gone flat again and I don’t how or when it will come back.”

So for 2021, Joey Walker has chosen a team that he feels suits him best and that includes having sponsorship to keep him in the sport and fingers crossed, still here when better sponsorship flows back into it.

Little photo op with Joey during 2020 wearing the stripes 

“It’s an exciting team and a team that wants to grow so it was a good opportunity and I took it” says Joey. “I am very happy where I am with the team and hope to grow with the team and see where things end up. I just want to get racing this year now.”

Despite being a British champion in a part of the sport (Crit Racing) that is extremely important to the British cycle racing scene, having those stripes didn’t help Joey a great deal sadly when looking for a team.

“There were a lot of riders looking for contracts last year and even with the Crit jersey, which is obviously an asset, but it doesn’t necessarily make finding a team any easier. There are a lot of teams nowadays where the value of a rider doesn’t necessarily come from their wins but more from their social media presence and it is a big part of what a team looks for now.”

Joey however does enjoy wearing the jersey and is keen to race for it again. “I would love for there to be a crit champs this year. The rumour was it was going to be in Barnsley last year and I really like the course in Barnsley which is a tough one. A bit like Rochester where I won it. But I just want to get racing and a big target will be the crits and it would be nice if BC can let us know what is happening so we can prepare.”

Criteria for the right team
The racing scene here for a long time, has been one where the Elite teams and the UCI Conti teams go head to head in races and as Saint Piran showed with some talent in their team in 2019, it is possible for the Elite teams to battle their way to the sharp end of races and get results. As the budgets for the UCI teams have struggled, so the gap between the Elite teams and the UCI ones has narrowed. So I asked Joey what was his criteria for choosing the right team?

“There isn’t a lot of difference between a top Elite team and a Conti team because it’s common knowledge the money in teams isn’t what it was in the NFTO and JLT era. So the race programme was important and how it suited my style of racing.”

“A big thing for me joining my team was I had the pick of the races where if I had joined a Conti team, you are fighting to get into a squad. I thought it was better to be one of the leaders in the team and have the choice of the races to try and win them. We all know we are going to be struggling for races this year so to be in a team struggling to get in a race and also fighting to be in the team for that race, wasn’t ideal.”

The only thing that Joey will be denied unless chosen to ride for GB of course, is a ride in UCI races like the Tour of Britain but as he explains, getting in UCI races is getting harder. “It is hard to go abroad these days, so there isn’t a big difference between the levels and I also feel good being part of an elite team that is growing and if it has an ambition of going Conti in the future, then to be part of that growth towards that goal would be good.”

The racing in 2021 is still being affected by the pandemic and the late start will see the season condensed again into the latter months of the year. Is that a good thing for Joey I asked? “I think so” he says. “Over the last few years, the season is getting earlier and earlier and you are racing in sleet and snow and that’s not good and then it dies down in August when we have great weather”.

Joey with Ben Swift and Jake Stewart in GB colours

“So it might be a good thing to have races in the latter months where a lot of races are rescheduled for and then perhaps they’ll stick there which will get more crowds as it’s not raining and cold. It may be a blessing in disguise and definitely better for the riders”.

Asked how much notice do riders need for the racing to get ‘race ready’, he says “For me, I have basically kept a base fitness over the winter and base miles and I find I can get race fit in a month so if we get a month’s notice on the racing we are doing, then I should be ready and a month’s notice isn’t too much to ask for is it!”

It is probably an obvious answer but when I asked Joey when they know what racing they will have, will that help the motivation in training leading up to those races, he replies “there will be a lot of excitement knowing when we have our first race and a lot of nerves more than anything. There has been a massive gap between when we last raced so none of us really know where we are because there have been no races to judge ourselves on.”

Joey coaches himself these days so I asked where the benchmark is for him to know how the form is? “I use my ‘numbers’ as a guide but I feel I can only tell how I am when I am in a race. I gauge my form better on how it is in a chain gang too against the likes of Connor (Swift) for example. So in the past, I’ve been out on the chain gang and Connor has battered me so I know I need to pick it up a bit or sometimes I’ll go out and be matching him turn for turn and I know I have good form.”

“It’s probably an old school way I have got from my dad (Chris) but I find it works because at the end of the day, it’s like a race simulation.”

As the Crit champion, it is obvious that the pressure and expectation will be on him for those races but for Joey, where does he think the goals will lie? “If they do all go ahead, I’ll sit down with the team’s boss and we’ll go through the plan of what he wants to me to be, ie, be good for all races or really good for one.”

“If you are going full gas for crits, it is not good for the road races. Matt Bostock and me had a joke when we’d done the crits and then we went straight into the Peace Race with GB and we were both absolutely flying for the first hour, following every move and we were unbeatable for the first hour and then we both blew our doors off at the same time about an hour and half in and we were just out the back having a laugh about it. So it’s true, that is what happens and it’s a difficult balance.”

On the podium after winning Gold in the European Championships

Lockdown Training
For Joey, living where he does in South Yorkshire, lockdown may have prevented him from racing but he can still get a good kicking lol. “No doubt lockdown was tough and a lot of people found it tough” explains Joey. “Over the last few months, we have been able to train with one other, and it’s not bad round my area as there is Connor (Swift) or other local lads who are strong.”

“As racers, we train to race and whilst I enjoy training, I don’t go four hours in the rain to enjoy it. So without a target race, it was tough. We just had to keep it ticking over and remember there are people in worse situations out there.”

Another rider wearing the stripes in South Yorkshire is Connor Swift’s cousin Ben who won the title the year after Connor did. So are both the British champions Joey and Ben training together? “I have in the past and that’s a hard day out” says Joey.

“There have been some epic rides with Ben because he doesn’t take any prisoners. If you are swinging, he’ll carry on and you get dropped and that’s it, you’ll never see him again. I think Connor too is getting really strong. We see him in the big races and it’s just good to go out with the likes of them because they are racing a level above and that brings you on at the end of the day and they are good laugh to be around as well!”

One of the worries for riders like Joey, is what the racing will be like skills wise when racing resumes. “It has been over a year now and you do forget that feeling of being in a race and it isn’t a worry for me, but you do wonder how sketchy the racing will be. Like whether there will be more crashes because no-one has ridden in groups for that long? I think it will be interesting in the first big races like the Beaumont Trophy.”

Cero Wheels
In his races and training, Joey will be sporting Cero Wheels, award winning wheels developed by riders who know what is needed for a wheel to be fast. Riders like Joey who was giving feedback on them as a Youth and Junior rider when racing for RST Racing sponsored by Cero Wheels and Cycle Division.

“I have a training pair which are the alloy AR30s (rim brake)” explained Joey. “I have been on disc brake bikes for the last two years and they have their benefits but they also have their negatives. I prefer the rim brake bike for their simplicity. I can fix them for example if something goes wrong but if the hydraulics go wrong on a disc brake one, I have to take it to a bike shop so I am excited to go back to racing on a rim brake bike.”

“I will be racing on the RC50 carbon wheels which are the deeper carbons. It has come full circle because as a youth and junior, I rode for Cycle Division/Cero Wheels and along with my dad (Chris) we were testing the prototypes so it will be good to be back on them after a few years away.”

Asked about the deep section wheels he’ll be racing on, Joey explains “for the UK scene, I think you can get away with a deep section all year round because even if it is windy, unless you are riding an 80mm deep section, then you should be fine. But if there is a choice of deep section widths, you do look at the weather and choose the appropriate one.”

Does he notice the difference going from the AR30 to the RC50? “Definitely, a big difference. You will feel that in the first few pedal strokes and I’d say as a general rule of thumb, if you did a four hour training ride on alloys (AR30), you will be two to three k an hour quicker on the RC50s (carbon deep section). At least that is what I find. You can’t beat a fresh pair of carbon deep section wheels!”

Thanks to Joey for the chat and good luck with his new team in 2021! We look forward to the big reveal on the team in the coming weeks.


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