Interview: Alex Dowsett on bouncing back from disappointment
"I sat on a hospital bed and an operating table with Grand Tour form in my legs. There’s nothing more frustrating than that"
Alex Dowsett is in contemplative mood. This is unusual. Chipper is his default setting; determined his natural state. Proving people wrong has been his métier since diagnosed with hemophilia at 18 months.
When we speak, it is less than a week since the Movistar rider added another WorldTour victory to his palmares by winning the final stage time trial of the Tour of Poland, but he seems to be struggling to overcome the disappointment of a season disrupted by injury when in peak form.
Consider this. Dowsett smashed the British 25-mile TT record out of sight in May, by recording a time of 44’29” on his ‘local’ E2 course near Newmarket. He did so by travelling at an average speed of nearly 34mph, faster than the legal limit for a car in built-up areas, never mind for a cyclist. For a rider of Dowsett’s class, however, the record holds no greater significance than personal satisfaction.
“[The record] is something I grew up with, but the team [Movistar] don’t even know I do these races,” Dowsett tells RoadCyclingUK. “I just go away and do them. There’s no secret to the fact that I do them for training. I’m lucky that I’ve got a fast course near me and can have some fun. But the 25 record was like a club time-trial.
“It’s nice for me personally to have that record, and it means a lot to me, but to Movistar and any other ProTeam, it doesn’t mean much at all. Maybe someone like Sean Yates [Tinkoff sports director] will know the significance, but what stands out in time trials is when you beat people, like at Tirreno-Adriatico, when I finished on the same second as [three-time world champion] Tony Martin.”
In other circumstances, Dowsett’s performance at Tirreno might have been cause for reflective celebration, but viewed through the prism of a missed Giro d’Italia, where he was widely fancied to add to his first Grand Tour victory at the 2013 corsa rosa, he regards his form in San Benedetto as evidence of opportunity missed six weeks later, when he was deprived of a still more significant Italian job.
“I knew the signs were good and I knew everything was falling into place for the Giro,” he says, his tone falling. “It was right up my street; just a bit of bad luck with my collarbone; the metal plate coming through. I basically sat on a hospital bed and an operating table with Grand Tour form in my legs. There’s nothing more frustrating than that.
“I said to my Dad that the form I was in, and the nature of the course and the competition, that it’s going to be one of biggest missed opportunities of my career”
“I said to my Dad that the form I was in, and the nature of the course and the competition, that it’s going to be one of biggest missed opportunities of my career. When I got sick for the Tour de France [in 2014], I came back and won the Commonwealth Games, but there’s no silver lining to this and nothing positive has come from it.”
Dowsett’s disappointment is palpable, but fleeting. Asked to reflect on his most recent time trial performance – victory against WorldTour opposition, in a WorldTour race – and he rallies. Unlike the 25 record, this was no mere consolation, but a victory achieved against a world class field, notably at the expense of his colleague Jonathan Castroviejo, twice the time-trial champion of Spain.
“It’s always great sharing the podium with a team-mate, but [the time-trial] is an individual sport. ‘Castro’, like me, has not had an easy season, and he’s on the road to recovery. It was a decent time trial for him and a very good time trial from me. It’s great that we could get the one-two, and I’m even happier that I was the one and he was the two. The other marker was [Primož] Roglič, who won a TT stage at the Giro.”
It’s easy to understand Dowsett’s frustration. Roglič (LottoNL-Jumbo) finished behind both him and his team-mate in the time-trial in Poland, but was good enough to win the Giro’s ninth stage. Dowsett makes a convincing case for what might have been for his own chances in Italy. Consider also that the Chianti time-trial was one of three tests offered at the Giro this year.
Still, there is little point looking backwards and Dowsett is not given to dwelling on failure. He expects to race often in the second half of the season, starting with the RideLondon-Surrey Classic this Sunday, where he will be part of a composite Great Britain team with, among others, Tinkoff’s Adam Blythe. The prospect of the British road race and time trial champions swapping their team colours and donning the red, white and blue to take on their WorldTour colleagues is enticing, and Dowsett expects it to be “good fun”.
The Vuelta a Espana or the Tour of Britain represent greater tests, but Dowsett is not certain yet where the team will send him. The Vuelta would complete his Grand Tour set, but, given the choice, he would head to his home tour. This year’s course, with a time-trial and just one hilltop finish, could offer him a golden opportunity.
Dowsett has tasted success before in his home race and wore the leader’s jersey in the 2014 race. After winning the overall at Bayern-Rundfahrt last year, another 2.HC race, the Tour of Britain is certainly within his capability.
“It’s a sign for me that there’s only one hill top finish,” he says. “What I could potentially lose there, I could make up in the time trial. I’m prepared to give it a really good crack.”
It’s taken only a little more than 20 minutes for Dowsett to talk himself round from the disappointments of May to what might be a glorious September, but he’s like that. Upbeat. Determined. A Grand Tour stage winner who retains the hunger of the underdog. For his rivals, it’s a dangerous combination. Dowsett might just meet his own expectations in 2016 after all.
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