Interview: Alex Dowsett dispels hour record talk and reiterates focus on Giro d'Italia
Time trial ace outlines 2017 targets
by Joe Robinson
Alex Dowsett’s has outlined his chief target for the 2017 season as May’s Giro d’Italia, dispelling suggestions he will be focusing on re-taking the UCI Hour Record.
Speaking to RCUK, Dowsett insists an attempt to break Sir Bradley Wiggins’ record remains in his sights but says the chances of such a challenge happening in 2017 are slim; Dowsett’s focus instead is on tackling the time trial at the Giro and riding in support of team leader Nairo Quintana.
Dowsett held the UCI Hour Record in 2015, after posting a distance of 52.937km in Manchester, but Wiggins broke the record himself just weeks later, with his mark of 54.526km yet to be beaten. Recent reports suggested Dowsett could be back on the boards this season, but – despite his own desire to reclaim the record – the Essex-born rider says ‘nothing is set in stone’.
“The stakes are high and it’s a massive distance," he said. "Once you get to the 54km territory, few riders are capable of reaching near that. I want to do it again but nothing is set in stone and I am focusing solely on being picked for the Giro."
Dowsett’s biggest win on the road came at the Giro d’Italia, when we won the stage eight time trial at the 2013 Corsa Rosa, but was frustrated last year when – despite being in what he believed was the form of his life – injury ruled him out of the 2016 race.
The 28-year-old was on Movistar’s 11-strong longlist for the Giro and heavily fancied to take victory in at least one of the time trials, but collarbone surgery denied him a place on the Apeldoorn start line and heavily disrupted his season.
"I want to do [the hour record] again but nothing is set in stone and I am focusing solely on being picked for the Giro"
Ultimately, he did not start any of the season’s three Grand Tours in 2016 and Dowsett says he has ‘unfinished business’ at the Giro as a result as he targets the 67 kilometres of time trials in this year’s route.
“After missing the Giro last year through injury, I feel like I want to prove what I can do," said Dowsett. "I will ride my usual race programme of Dubai Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta a Algarve and then hopefully I will be picked for the Giro d’Italia."
Dowsett says he wishes to go ‘simply for the good time trials on offer and the chance to potentially help Nairo Quintana win the general classification’.
Hour record - take two
While the Giro will take centre stage through the first half of the year, Dowsett does however remain determined to hit the boards of Manchester once again to reclaim the UCI Hour Record.
In retrospect, Dowsett has described his previous attempt at the hour as ‘conservative’, insisting he was slightly frustrated with his performance. In fear of suffering the same fate as Australian Jack Bobridge, who attempted the record earlier in 2015 but fell short by 500m after a pacing error, Dowsett rode solely to beat Rohan Dennis’ record.
"I didn't train for longer than 25 minutes for my first hour attempt so the full hour was an unknown and I did not want to risk anything," said Dowsett. "My power output in the hour was significantly lower than training and that left me a little frustrated."
British success, nationals failure
Besides the Giro d’Italia and a continued attraction to the hour, Dowsett is also eyeing an unprecedented sixth national time trial victory in June. But while Dowsett says adorning the national bands is a privilege, he does acknowledge the lack of WorldTour opposition at the nationals can be disappointing.
"It's a double-edged sword because I want to win the jersey," he said. "When I lost the title in 2014 to Bradley Wiggins I wasn't fond of wearing a plain skinsuit, yet for the past two years I have been the only WorldTour rider to race and it would be good to test myself against other WorldTour pros."
"For the past two years I have been the only WorldTour rider to race [the nationals TT] and it would be good to test myself against other WorldTour pros"
The lack of WorldTour opposition in the time trial isn't Dowsett’s only concern with the National Championships. Due to the traditional late-June position of the race on the calendar, many of Britain’s WorldTour professionals also skip the road race in order to focus on preparing for the Tour de France. Noticeable omissions from the 2016 sprinter-friendly road race included Team Sky’s Chris Froome, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe, as well as Simon and Adam Yates of Orica-Scott. Dowsett believes the growing success of British riders at the Tour de France has led to a weakened field in the national road race.
"With the stakes being so high for so many British riders at the Tour de France these days, the National Championships isn't the right race to prepare with because it is a seriously difficult race," said Dowsett.
"It's raced completely differently from the WorldTour. It's full on from start to finish, almost like amateur or junior racing. I remember Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard saying that after Lincoln in 2015, they could still feel the national race in their legs at the Tour."
Dowsett also believes it is the right time for the under-23 race to be raced separately from the elite field. Historically, both races have taken place simultaneously, which has led to less than five under-23 riders finishing the race in previous years - however, with the rising talent of young British riders, Dowsett feels a separate would find a fairer winner.
“If the route is brutal like Lincoln in 2015, then it can be a case of which under-23 can hold on the longest rather which under-23 raced best, which is a bit of a shame," said the Essex rider. However, Dowsett was also optimistic about the future of the race, citing the quality and quantity of riders at the esteemed Junior Tour of Wales as evidence the national under-23 race could be held on its own.
"Pretty soon we will have the numbers for a separate race and that is good for British cycling," he added.
The local ten - A British institution
Dowsett’s domination of the national time trial championship has also been coupled with record-breaking success on the local scene. Until last year, Dowsett held the British ten mile time trial record until former One Pro Cycling rider Marcin Bialoblocki slashed Dowsett’s record by 45 seconds, lowering the mark to 16.35 minutes.
Dowsett, who can often be found racing his local club ten in Malden during the summer, admits he would love to regain the record, but admits a new record may be out of his reach for now.
"Bialoblocki had a good day and a quick course but he also punched out 450 watts for ten miles and I don’t know if I am capable of that"
"When Wiggins went for my original record, [he] came up 38 seconds short. In no way is Wiggins 38 seconds slower than me and if he had perfect conditions then he would have shelved the record forever more," Dowsett laughed.
"Yeah, Bialoblocki had a good day and a quick course but he also punched out 450 watts for ten miles and I don’t know if I am capable of that. To get it back, I would have to race every week and my priority is the WorldTour, however much I would love the record."
For Dowsett, it was the club ten where his cycling career started having regularly raced the Malden ten before breaking into the British Cycling Academy setup. It is in the simplicity and thrill of racing against the clock over this short distance that Dowsett finds his pleasures as a cyclist and he hopes his presence at his local ten inspires young cyclists to take up bike racing.
"The club time trial was Strava before Strava," said Dowsett. "The course was the segment and you would turn up to beat your personal best. I have been banging my head against a wall to go under 19 minutes at the Malden course but I really get a kick out of it.
"At the end of the day, I love sitting at 35mph for ten miles on a push bike and if that influences youngsters to ride their bikes then that’s better than any race you can win."
Nevertheless, as a WorldTour pro, winning is the currency Dowsett trades in and be it in Malden, at the nationals, at the Giro d’Italia or maybe even in the Manchester velodrome, the 28-year-old has a big season ahead – and he will be itching to prove himself once again.