Russell Downing has one thing on his mind after signing for British team, Endura Racing – winning.
Downing, 33, will target the podium’s top step in 2012 having agreed a deal with the UCI Continental squad after finding himself out of contract with Team Sky.
The former National Road Race Champion told RCUK that two years of riding largely in the service of teammates at Dave Brailsford’s WorldTour team had left him hungry for victory.
“The main goal is to win races again. I was working for other people at Team Sky. Endura have a good European and international programme. That was the big attraction. My main interest was to stay at the top level. It’s good to be part of that and maybe win a few races. I used to win quite a few races in the UK and hopefully I can do that again,” he said.
Downing joined Team Sky in 2010 after an impressive victory in the Tour of Ireland the year before, taking overall victory in the Tour de Wallonie, and stages in the Tour of Quatar and the Critérium International in his first year with the WorldTour squad.
But a season riding for others in 2011, which included a gutsy performance to finish the Giro d’Italia after careering over a crash barrier into a 20-metre drop on the 19th stage, drew little personal success.
Downing told RCUK: “Last year I did the same – I worked for other people, but I got a couple of chances and took those.
“But this year, I have not had many chances for myself. At the end of the year, you’ve done what Team Sky have asked, and sometimes more, and there’s no points on the table. It’s a tough old sport, but that’s behind us now,” he said.
Downing is the latest in a series of mostly British signings by Endura Racing’s General Manager, Brian Smith. Jonny McEvoy and Ian Bibby have joined the team from the Motorpoint squad, while Zak Dempster and Dean Windsor have transferred from Rapha Condor Sharp.
Downing’s experience at pro cycling’s highest level could play a key role in Smith’s ambitious goal to develop his squad from a “Scottish club team to a UCI Professional Continental team.”
“I’d been in contact with Brian for the last few months. We’ve managed to agree a deal and I’m pretty relieved it’s going ahead,” said Downing.
“Hopefully, I’m a pretty down to earth, grounded guy who can talk about most things, and pass my knowledge from Team Sky and the top level down to the youngsters. More so nowadays without race radio, you’ve got to be able to think on your feet. I will relay stuff back and give some input and not just be a rider in a big squad.”
High profile signing
Meanwhile, Smith, himself a former National Road Race Champion, believes the high profile signing of the former Team Sky sprinter and other riders from the cream of the UK circuit could help push the team to new heights.
In an exclusive interview with RCUK, Smith said the addition of Downing, Premier Calendar Series winner Ian Bibby and Jonny McEvoy to Endura Racing’s roster made victory in Britain’s biggest stage race a realistic goal for his UCI Continental team in 2012.
“We would like to think we could win the Tour of Britain and the National Road Race Championship, and that’s a huge intent when you consider Team Sky have been trying to win it for the last couple of years. With Bibby, and McEvoy, and now Russell, we’ve got a huge chance of winning the Tour of Britain,” he said.
Smith revealed to RCUK that he and Downing had agreed their deal at the Braveheart dinner to promote Scottish cycling on November 5, less than two weeks before the team’s official announcement on Monday (14).
“It was getting late in the day for Russ so he decided to shake hands on it then and there. It was very simple. I wouldn’t have shaken his hand even a month ago because I thought he deserved another chance at WorldTour level.
“Russell Downing will win more races next year. He’s a born winner. You very, very rarely get born winners. He’s tried to be a domestique and helper over the last couple of years, but I don’t think that’s totally his role,” said Smith.
“I have known Russell for a long period of time. To work together like this is the final link in the chain. At the end of August, I thought Sky wanted to keep him. He deserves to be at WorldTour level.
“But I knew after our first chat that if he didn’t get a WorldTour ride, he would come back and talk to me. The only British team racing at 2.1 and 1.1 level is Endura,” he said.
Smith, backed by the Scottish cycle clothing firm, is targeting elevation to world cycling’s second tier. His ambitious targets are the central pillars in his vision to turn a “Scottish club team to a UCI Professional Continental team.”
The former National Road Race Champion said the team’s grass roots approach had proved popular with domestic cycling fans.
“We’re doing it the working class way, which the Brits love. We haven’t been given tens of millions of pounds. We’ve gone from being a Scottish club team to a pro team. No-one has done that before. That’s a lot of dedication. We’re doing this the hard way and that comes through,” he said.
The team will compete in UCI Continental 1.1 category one day races and 2.1 category stage races in 2012, as well as key events from the domestic calendar.
Endura owner, Jim McFarlane, told RCUK that Downing’s ambitions to continue international racing fitted with the team’s stated goal of raising its profile on the world stage, a strategy, he pointed out, that had already delivered success with a stage victory in this year’s Tour of Utah.
McFarlane said that victory in next year’s Tour of Britain was a realistic target, adding that the team had earned a place in the event “on merit rather than patriotism”.
But he warned that additional sponsors would be needed to establish Endura Racing at Pro Continental level.
“It is unlikely we will take the step up to Pro Continental solely funded by Endura. We have already invested substantial seven figure sums since the start of the project,” he said.
McFarlane pledged to continue the team’s goal of raising its profile on cycling’s world stage, and said Downing would appear in a mix of international and domestic races.