Alex Dowsett interview: 2015 was good, but I can do better

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Alex Dowsett interview: 2015 was good, but I can be even better

British time trial champion refuses to give up on Olympic time trial spot

Alex Dowsett refuses to give up hope on an Olympic time trial berth, as he bids to prove he can do even better than his record-breaking 2015 season.

Dowsett smashed the UCI Hour Record last year, before going on to claim his first ever stage race win at Bayern-Rundfahrt and make his Tour de France debut. Injuries were a constant theme in the year, though, including a broken collarbone which forced the postponement of his original attempt on the Hour, before a crash which curtailed his Tour early.

Alex Dowsett insists he can do better in 2016, despite a successful 2015 on paper (pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix)

The end result was what Dowsett deemed a below-par end to the year – missing out on a top ten spot in the men’s time trial at the UCI Road World Championships, which would have earned Britain a second slot for the Olympics.

As it is, he is competing with the likes of Chris Froome for Britain’s sole entry to the men’s time trial in Rio and the Essex-born ace admits it won’t be easy to earn a place ahead of the two-time Tour de France champion.

“I’ve made no bones about saying I do want to go to the Olympics but then always in the same breath I’ve said it’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination,” he told RCUK.

“Both the road race and the time trial are hilly, and there’s that ridiculous Olympic rule where if you do the time trial you have to do the road race as well. It does leave me, with the quality of climbers we have in the UK at the moment, with my back up against the wall at the moment.

“Certainly Froome can do a hilly time trial, but I’m not going to just sit back and say that’s a done deal because I still want to give it a good crack and hopefully get there.”

When we caught up with Dowsett, he was just back from the Volta ao Algarve, where he had been able to test his early-season form in a race ultimately won by former Team Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas.

The Movistar man, who admits his home roads are his preferred choice of training routes, has used his eagerness to improve on 2015 as motivation for getting more training abroad this winter.

And Dowsett is confident in his condition, as he prepares for his next tests.

Dowsett says he is happy with his form after the Volta ao Algarve (pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com)

“Everything’s going well actually,” he admitted. “It’s always nice coming off a hard stage race because you get a good few days in to live a normal life and not worry too much about the bike!

“I’m pretty good condition-wise, I’d say. It’s the usual story with me, I’m a little heavier than I’d like to be so I’m working on that but the actual numbers I’m happy with.

“I had a knee problem over Christmas and New Year, which knocked me out for two weeks – which was annoying – but everything else around that was really positive. I spent a lot of time in Lanzarote over January and February.

“I tested myself up a climb on one of my last days out there, and the numbers were very good for me, and that reflected in Algarve because of all the climbs we did none of them really troubled me.

“Obviously, I’m not climbing with Contador and that but instead of really suffering to get to a point in the race where I could comfortably join the back group, this time around I’d be sitting in the bunch pretty comfortably and then I’d decide when to join the back group rather than my form dictating it.

“It wouldn’t be last group on the road either. It was nice to be a bit more comfortable on the climbs.”

Ultimately Dowsett’s early-season work is geared around one chief target – the Giro d’Italia – where he was a time trial stage winner back on his debut in 2013.

This time out, he is set to form part of Alejandro Valverde’s supporting cast, as he did at the Tour de France last year, but also target the two time trials again – including the 40.4km Chianti Clasico stage on stage nine.

Dowsett is targetting success at the Giro d’Italia – to add to his time trial stage win in 2013 (pic: Sirotti)

Victory there – though he’s likely to face stiff competition from the likes of Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) – could be the key to earning him a place on the flight to Rio.

“I think if I can win one of the time trials there, that will give the selectors some fairly substantial headaches on who to take to the time trial,” he said.

“I won the time trial stage of the Giro before, so I’ve proved I can do it. I can beat the world’s best on occasion – a rare occasion, but I have proved I can do it. It’s not out of my grasp at all.

“Tom Dumoulin has said he’s targeting the Giro, and Cancellara as well could well be there so I’ll be up against some real contenders in the time trial world.”

Key to any success will be a good build-up, something Dowsett believes was lacking in 2015 due to the injuries he suffered at key points in the year.

While accepting the year was, on paper, a good one, Dowsett wants even more from 2016 and hopes fitness will allow him to prepare properly for his big targets.

“It’s a weird one. Looking back on 2015, I have to tell myself it’s a good season – I broke the UCI Hour Record, I won a stage race, on paper it was a good season,” he explained.

“But I finished badly. I felt last year like I bit off more than I could chew. The collarbone break really pushed everything back and then I felt like I was chasing my tail the whole season. I could never quite – apart from the Hour Record – prepare for anything properly.

Alex Dowsett crashed heavily during the Tour de France, in a year beset by injury troubles (pic: Sirotti)

“Everything was done as best I could in the time I had, which was frustrating because I went to the Worlds and I was pretty unspectacular. I know I’m better than that given the right run in to it. I just didn’t have that.

“Second part of the season, the Tour de France happened then I went to the Tour of Poland and ate something dodgy and got horrendous gastroenteritis which knocked me out of that. When you start to rack up a couple of DNFs it can get quite depressing.

“We had a very good team time trial at the Worlds, and that was something positive to take away from it, but from a personal point of view I wanted more from last year than I got.”

And Dowsett believes his approach to training ahead of this season has reflected his desire to improve further.

“My motivation this winter has been reflected by the amount of time I’ve spent abroad,” he admitted. “I love Essex, I love being in Essex and historically I’ve been quite reluctant to go away from Essex to train but I do understand the need to head to hillier, warmer climates – especially in winter.

“And I can already see so far it has paid dividends. Everyone around me says I’m looking leaner and fitter than I would do normally and the numbers are reflecting that as well. There’s still work to do, and the time trial in Algarve was OK but not brilliant – not a million miles off, but that’s the first time I’d ridden my TT bike since the Worlds in September.

“I just need to spend more time on the TT bike, start doing some really top-end stuff. Hopefully I’ll see a marked improvement next time out and then come the Giro hopefully again I’ll be all guns blazing.”

Alongside targets from a racing point of view, Dowsett – who has spoken publicly about his haemophilia on several occasions before – also has his charity work to spur him on.

And he says the motivation the Little Bleeders charity and the impact his success story has had on others is even more significant.

Dowsett hopes to inspire others with haemophilia through his achievements on the bike (pic: Sirotti)

“I never really gave it the credit I should,” he said. “I was part of the campaign – Miles for Haemophilia. I’m part of it every year, but the first year was the one where I really gave it [my all].

“I spent my off-season, the time where you’re normally off getting really drunk or fat, I spent it travelling around Europe talking to the haemophilia communities. I didn’t realise the impact my story was having on the wider spread community.

“It’s funny – take the Commonwealth Games, for example. I won that and it was great. I represented my country, came out on top – had done everything I wanted to do – and it’s that feeling of relief afterwards, not so much joy. It’s a bit sad, really, because you’ve achieved something pretty substantial.

“Then two days later, you go and do the road race and get your arse absolutely handed to you and you’re back down to earth again. An old coach used to say, if you win or lose enjoy it or think about it because it only lasts until midnight.

“But then to have a mother or a father come up to you and tell you the doctors have been telling them it’s a doom and gloom future for their boy, it gives them this other story of what can be achieved and that gave me more satisfaction – from a selfish point of view, it gave me more than any race win has.”

Dowsett admits he may not even have started cycling had it not been for his haemophilia and the need to keep fit and healthy while not taking part in contact sports.

But he says the message he is keen to push, and the charity, goes far beyond just inspiring people to ride their bikes.

“I think it’s much bigger than me, much bigger than any race,” he said. “I need the racing to keep sending that message out but suddenly there’s a much bigger motivation for doing well.

Dowsett runs the Little Bleeders charity (pic: Roz Jones)

“We’ve made some big steps, and there’s going to be a big dinner at the end of the year. In the UK, because of the NHS, haemophiliacs are very well looked after. That’s great, but within the UK we need to keep sending out that message that they don’t need to be wrapped up in cotton wool so much. They can lead, not so much normal lives, but perhaps more normal lives than they thought.

“In third world countries, though… Medication is not cheap, and in many third world countries they just don’t have it. I get emails quite regularly. I had one guy from the Ukraine ask how he could help his son, and I just said you know keep them active and regular medication – the NHS supply my medication and my fridge is stocked with it, I’ve never had any different – but the one treatment this guy needed, he’d have to drive five hours to hospital and then five hours home for just one of what I have hundreds of in my fridge.

“That’s not fair, so that’s the long-term aim of Little Bleeders. You have to physically take it out there, because if you send money it can be absorbed by governments instead.”

As for his own role in pushing that message, he hopes his experiences on the bike – both good and bad – can continue to serve as inspiration for others.

“Doing well pushes that message,” he said. “I’m not sure what falling off does for that message, but it’s a funny one because my parents were told when I was younger if I broke a bone I’d spend a month in hospital. I’ve broken an elbow, a collarbone, two ribs and a shoulder blade and not spent more than a week in hospital and been back on the back pretty bloody quickly.

“Does me crashing send that message out at all? You don’t want to advise a haemophiliac to go and join a rugby club but it’s just that message that while there is all this doom and gloom there’s another side to it as well.”

Alex has recently been appointed as a PedalSure Ambassador. PedalSure cover you and your bike, uniquely their policies cover personal injury, paying out even if an accident is your fault. They also cover amateur racing including track cycling.

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