Two years after joining Omega Pharma-Quickstep, and with a first Grand Tour start now under his belt, rising British star Andy Fenn insists he is still on a steep learning curve.
Fenn, 23, joined the Belgian super team, home to Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, and world time trial champion, Tony Martin, last year after having capped his first professional year with AN Post-Chain Reaction by finishing third in the world under-23 road race.
And having fulfilled a career goal when he was selected to start this year’s Vuelta a Espana, the Hertfordshire-born Scottish rider hopes he can continue to improve in 2013.
“This year’s been pretty good,” he told RCUK. “Being in my second year now it was obviously a bit different.
“Results-wise it wasn’t great if I’m honest, but the year as a whole was OK.
“I’ve had enough time to settle in now. I’m starting to feel a bigger part of the team. There were quite a few different races, and starting the Vuelta was quite a big thing.
I really wanted to get through the Vuelta a Espana, but it was a real eye-opener
“I’m slowly starting to do high-level races and I’m just trying to find my place in the team really, that’s the main thing and hopefully next year will be even better.”
Fenn’s debut at the Vuelta was cut short when he was disqualified for holding on to a car for too long during stage ten.
But while he admits he found the step up to Grand Tour level to be a bridge too far, he hopes his experience this year will stand him in good stead for selection in 2014.
“I really wanted to get through it – that was the goal – but it was a real eye-opener,” he admitted.
“It was another level up, especially with the climbers, and you also have to last that much longer in the sprint too.
“Being at the end of the season, a lot of those riders are on the top of their form and it’s a lot harder just to get through a stage, never mind the whole race.
“I didn’t realise how difficult it was going to be until I was actually there but next year I’d like to have another and take on those sort of climbs again. It was definitely a learning curve.
“I now feel a bit stronger and a little bit better for next year.”
It was another level up, especially with the climbers, and you also have to last that much longer in the sprint too
Fenn ended 2012 with a narrow defeat in the sprint finish to Cannondale’s Elia Viviani in the opening stage of the Tour of Beijing.
And he added more WorldTour experience to his CV this year when he took on the Tour Down Under for the second time and the Volta a Catalunya.
He also won the Gullegem Koerse kermesse race and was part of the initial six-man escape which ultimately led to team mate Mark Cavendish winning the national championship.
And Fenn admits being part of such a strong team – which alongside the Manx Missile also boast Classics ace Tom Boonen and time trial king Tony Martin – has been vital for his experience.
He said: “You can learn a lot from the guys here, it’s very important.”
Fenn will also be joined at Omega Pharma-Quickstep by a host of star signings including Thomas de Gendt, Mark Renshaw, Rigoberto Uran and Jan Bakelants.
And having met his new team mates for the first time earlier this month, he is raring to join them on the road in 2014.
“We’ve brought in a good group of people and I think it’s always good to have a change now and again,” he said. “It brings people on and it motivates you to continue improving too.
We’re just trying to win as many races as possible, so bringing new guys in to fulfil those roles can only be a good thing
“Everyone has got on really well. It gives everyone new goals with the different guys who have come in. It adds different specialties to the team and it means you can go for different results and be riding with different riders now.
“It makes your job change a bit but at the end of the day we’re just trying to win as many races as possible so bringing new guys in to fulfil those roles can only be a good thing.”
On a personal level, 2014 is also shaping to be an important year for Fenn with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games road race looming large.
But Fenn, who qualifies for Scotland through his mother and raced in Scottish colours in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, insists the race is just one small part of his ambitions for next year.
“The Commonwealth Games will be a big goal next year,” he explained. “Being a Scottish rider up in Scotland, that’s going to be great.
“But it is only one race in the year, so while it will be a big goal, generally I’m just looking at improving and obviously trying out some different races this year.
“I’ll receive my programme for next year soon and then we’ll get back out on the road and get going.”