Feature: Stuart Balfour (new Ribble Weldtite Signing)

Feature interview with Swiss Racing Academy rider, Stuart Balfour from Scotland who in 2022 will race in the Ribble Weldtite colours

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Feature: Stuart Balfour (new Ribble Weldtite Signing)

This week, after his signing to Ribble Weldtite was announced, we spoke to Stuart Balfour who for sure, is a very experienced racer on a bicycle. We haven’t seen a lot of Stuart over the years since he left to go abroad but in those years before he went to live and breathe cycling, a quick look at his races and he’s certainly had a taste of some of the events he’ll probably be racing in 2022.

As a senior rider, Stuart, who hails from Scotland around half an hour from Edinburgh, he has certainly had some big events pass under his wheels in recent years. He rode the Nationals in 2019 and the Under 23 Worlds in Harrogate in Britain before the pandemic. Other events that he has raced include Tour de l’Avenir, Giro Ciclistico d’Italia (Baby Giro), Circuit Ardennes, Tour de Bretagne, TD Savoir Mont Blanc and Tour of Alsace.

After six years based abroad, Stuart says he’s glad to be back home in Scotland. When asked about signing for the Ribble Weldtite team who had their best season yet in 2021, Stuart explained “I’ve given racing in Europe a good shot and spent six years kind of away from everything and I just wanted to start afresh. I wanted a new team where I could live at home and have a life around the bike. Living abroad is like being at a training camp for 10 months!”

“Racing here will take a wee bit of getting used to at the start for sure. There will still be the chances to race in Europe, so it will be a case of adapting to the British ones but also using the experience I’ve had in the European races as well”.

Photo: Cassandra Donne

The beginning in this great sport …
Stuart has been involved in the sport for a long time as he explained. “I started in a local club in Peebles doing time trials aged around eight or nine. I didn’t get into criterium racing until I was about 12. When I was younger though, I did a full mix of the different disciplines; mountain biking, road, track and dabbled in cyclo cross which up here is pretty cold so I preferred the track. I did a lot with Scottish Cycling in the youth ranks and Edinburgh Road Club too.”

“I was with the Spokes team as a first year junior until I went down south to race with the HMT junior team as a second year junior and that is when things started to get a bit serious. I did my last year as a junior with them and learned a huge amount. That was my first time with trainSharp Coaching as well and I got to know them well. Mark (Barry) and others pushed for me to go abroad to France or Belgium which I think is a pretty good route to take”.

Being given a taste of European racing by the HMT team was massive for the young guys like Stuart. “I think a lot of junior teams have seen that” says Stuart “and have headed off abroad a lot. If you want to make it as a cyclist, you have to be doing these races or you will never learn what you need to or show yourself to the bigger teams”.

Listening to guys like Stuart also puts the whole debate about ‘developing riders’ into perspective. If riders want to make it as pros then the learning process has to include European races. And that is what Stuart did by moving abroad to France when he went from the Junior ranks and into the Under 23 ones.

Photo: Tyler Haab

The experiences he had were not all good and after he signed for a UCI Continental team, that fell apart before it got started which was a bit of a ’mare for him before Stuart managed to find a DN3 team in France, UC Aubenas thanks to a guy called Matt Green. “I went there for a year and then stepped up to DN1 with Côtes d’Armor-Marie Morin for a few years before going to a new team Bourg-en-Bresse Ain Cyclisme and then the Swiss Academy (UCI Continental) this year”.

That amounted to six seasons in Europe for Stuart where he was eating, living, breathing bike racing. “Maybe not everyone is the same but for me when we were with the team, living in the team house, constantly around the team, it was eat, sleep, race and train. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, and I loved it at the time and it wasn’t until a few years into it, that I realised that perhaps it wasn’t the healthiest thing and I needed this change.”

This year, 2021, Stuart says his UCI Conti team Swiss Academy, provided him with a solid race programme with some top end races and they were a great experience for the Scottish rider. “Having raced at DN1 level” he says, “it was a natural progression to move up to the pro races a level above and when things kicked off in them, they really kicked off and they were tough. I struggled a bit with the step up at the start of the season but found my feet in the second half of the season.”

“The racing was massively enjoyable. We did some fantastic races. I have raced ‘TD Savoir Mont Blanc’ which is unreal. Racing up the cols is one of the most enjoyable things I have done.”

Stuart also provided an interesting insight into the racing at Under 23 level. Anyone who follows pro racing will know that even at Under 23 level, there are pro teams but that doesn’t always mean the racing is the same as controlled racing as with the over 23s.

“I spent time with the national team (GB) racing l’ Avenier, Baby Giro and Under 23 Worlds and some of them are absolute carnage. As the stage races progress, they were a little bit controlled as the GC started to form but when it’s a group of under 23s, it can be pretty wild at times. They all know this is their shot to prove themselves and they will take what ever risks necessary to make things happen so it can be pretty unpredictable as well as stupidly dangerous at times.”

Photo: Cassandra Donne

After six years abroad, Stuart is bringing that experience home to race with Ribble Weldtite where he expects to continue learning. “The way the team is shaping up is pretty strong with mature guys who are already well established in the team. I am hoping to take a wee bit of the French race craft and bring it into the races here and see how it works. It may not do so and I may have to adapt a lot which will probably be the case.”

As those who have been watching the new signings for Ribble Weldtite unfold, the team in 2022 is looking like a very strong unit. “There are a lot of guys bringing a lot to the team so I am kind of looking forward to learning a few things from different guys like Harry and Charlie (Tanfield) and a lot from Colin (Sturgess). He was the guy I initially contacted about the team and he has a great reputation so I was keen to work with him.”

The teams expertise in getting aero is also something Stuart is looking forward to. “Having been based in France, aero is not the most talked about thing and still being discovered out there so I am looking forward to learning more about that with Ribble Weldtite”.

trainSharp Coaching
Returning to Scotland will also see Stuart return to being helped out by the coaches at trainSharp who he worked with as a junior. “I had spoken to Paul a few times during the year and I’d worked with him before as a junior and remember really enjoying having those quite specific, well thought out training efforts.”

“Knowing I was coming back to the UK, it made sense to come back to coaches who know the racing and teams and trainSharp was my first port of call as I have a lot of confidence in them. That is half the battle with a coach, you have to have confidence in what they are saying and their methods and I have that confidence in trainSharp.”

Asked what coaching brings to a rider, Stuart replied “they can bring a huge amount to a rider to be honest. I’d like to think I have built up a wealth of knowledge in racing, but there are lots of things I still don’t know when it comes to training methods. I am still very much learning them so having Paul with his specific training methods and how it affects everything is great.”

“For a rider, it’s good to have that wealth of knowledge about racing but when you want to take that next step up, a rider needs some one who knows this area of the sport inside out so the rider can put a lot of trust in them and learn from them. Paul was that guy for me.”

“It is also good to have some one to bounce ideas off because sometimes you think you are doing it right and then some one looks through it with a fresh set of eyes and says ‘wait on, these need tweaking and that needs tweaking’. Riders need to avoid going down that rabbit hole and need someone to guide you out of it by tweaking things.”

Stuart is now basing himself in Scotland but does say that if the opportunity arises to go some where sunny to train, he’ll do that too. “I will end up doing the majority of it in Scotland” he adds. “Indoor training is not too much of a problem but when ever possible, I do prefer to be outdoors. There is nothing like riding outdoors and living in Scotland, sometimes you have no choice and you have to suck it up (the rain and cold). I love being on home roads after being away for so long”.

The final question was about the Commonwealth Games. I’d seen his new 2022 teammate Finn Crockett riding in the Scottish colours and so asked Stuart, would the Commonwealth Games be a target event racing for Scotland? “100 per cent. I’d love to do the Commonwealth Games especially being down in Birmingham. I met the selection criteria during the 2021 season but I need some solid results early season so that is big objective. It would nice to pick up some results early season to show I can be an asset to the team. There is always a lot of pride in wearing in the Scottish jersey”.

Thank you to Stuart and good luck for 2022…


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