The start list for this Sunday’s Maldon Dengie Tour is being discussed as the strongest ever for a Premier Calendar race.
With representation from all six British UCI Continental teams, including a former national road race champion, and the next generation of home grown talent, it boasts a line up of potential winners that spans the generations.
While Endura Racing’s Erick Rowsell, another impressive product of the British Cycling academy, is very much in the latter category, he has made an early start to fulfilling his potential with a squad seemingly able to deliver results at will. Far from being daunted by debuting with a team laden with riders who have consistently delivered at Premier Calendar level and above, Rowsell has seized his chance with both hands, winning stage five of the Tour of Normandie less than a fortnight ago.
“We literally turn up at any race and we’re getting a result. If we’re not winning, we’re on the podium. Everyone in the team has got great morale and that builds momentum,” he says. Rowsell’s measured analysis, delivered in calm, confident tones that belie his 21 years, is perhaps a reflection of the greater part of a short career spent among the sport’s upper echelons. As a recent graduate of British Cycling’s highly respected academy, the weight of expectation that accompanies a berth on the ambitious Endura Racing squad will not have come as a new experience. Rowsell’s coach at British Cycling, Chris Newton, clearly aware of his charge’s potential, contacted Endura’s directeur sportif, Julian Wynn, last year “and it went from there”.
Rowsell raced last year’s Maldon Dengie Tour and is “looking forward to getting stuck in” on Sunday (1) to a race he describes as a lot of fun. Confident in his own abilities, he is under no illusions about the strength of the opposition that will face an Endura squad that has already notched up nine victories this season. “It’s going to be a really interesting race. There is going to be everyone who is anyone within racing in Britain. When I rode it [the Dengie Maldon Tour] last year, there were some good teams and good riders, but it wasn’t a Premier Calendar race so you didn’t have all the top teams. This year, all the big hitters will be there. Each team has got someone there who can win the race,” he says.
Asked if he numbers himself among the potential winners, Rowsell is clear but considered: “Definitely. If everything goes right, I think I’ve got the form to win the race.” He puts his recent form down to a busy programme of racing begun with his earliest start to any season at the Challenge Ciclista Mallorca on February 5. Life with Endura Racing has allowed him to focus solely on road racing, and given time away from the track, results on the tarmac have followed, he says.
It’s worth repeating that there is nothing brash or boastful about Rowsell, no trace of the arrogance often found in other sports among young men whose ability has placed them on the fast track to success. He concedes that the additional sections of dirt road will leave Sunday’s winner in need of fortune as well as form, but insists that positioning will also play a role. “You need to be lucky, but you need to get yourself in a position to win and ride at the front for the whole of the race,” he says.
Endura Racing’s squad for the Dengie Maldon Tour includes defending champion, Zak Dempster, and last year’s Premier Calendar series winner and runner-up, Ian Bibby and Jonny McEvoy, a line-up Rowsell says gives the team “plenty of options to play with”. Add to their number fellow Tour de Normandie stage winner, Ian Wilkinson, and stage winners from last year’s Halfords Tour Series, Scott Thwaites and Rob Partridge, and it can be argued that Endura will start with the strongest squad of any in Maldon. Such a line-up has offered the neo-pro Rowsell plenty of experience to draw upon. “There’s lots of people on the team I can get advice from. I can learn so much from them. Some of them have ridden Grand Tours. When I left the academy I was one of the oldest riders, now I’m one of the youngest again,” he says.