Tour de France debutant Luke Rowe is relishing the opportunity to chaperone Chris Froome and fly the Welsh flag alongside Geraint Thomas at cycling’s biggest race.
A strong season to date for the 25-year-old has been rewarded with a first ever Tour start, and Rowe believes the race will be like nothing he has competed in before.
Despite starting the last two editions of the Vuelta a Espana, Rowe admits the Tour de France, which starts in Utrecht on Saturday July 4, will be another step up.
“I think there’s just that extra level,” he told RCUK. “In the cycling circle the Vuelta is a massive race, but in the mind of the general public there’s just not the same appreciation for it and knowledge of it.
“Everything is ramped up. It is all blown up. Every day is like one big circus and it’s extra pressure on your shoulders but you’ve just got to deal with it day by day, tick each one off and do what you can – that’s all I can ask of myself.”
Rowe’s selection – though fully deserved on his showings so far this season – meant some stellar names missed the cut for Sky, and the Welshman admitted it was never certain he would go until he got the official nod.
His selection his indicative of the balance Sky have tried to achieve in the squad, with his powerful engine on the flats, on the lower slopes of the mountain and – most pertinently – on the cobbles, set to be called into use.
Everything is ramped up at the Tour. Every day is like one big circus and it’s extra pressure on your shoulders.
Rowe, alongside countryman Thomas and fellow Brit Ian Stannard are all strong riders on the cobbles – Rowe was eighth at Paris-Roubaix this year – but he is expecting a different kind of challenge when it comes to protecting Froome on the pave.
“Throughout the season, I always thought at the back of my mind I was in with a shout but when you’re with a team like Team Sky there’s just so much strength in depth that you’re never quite sure about the final decision,” he confessed. “To get that nod was a bit of a relief and I’m looking forward to the trip ahead.
“I’m not sure whether looking forward to the cobbles is quite the right term. A race like Paris-Roubaix, sure, I look forward to that for months but it’s going to be a real battle at the Tour.
“Obviously I’m not racing for myself, it’s purely racing for Chris Froome and trying to get him in the best position possible so it’s going to be a different angle; it’s not your typical day at the Classics.
“That will be one day where I’m in to do my thing though, along with G and Stannard just to name two. Between the three of us, it will be our responsibility to look after Froome that day for sure.”
Having enjoyed a strong spring campaign, Rowe’s return to the cobbles will also him return in very different shape to that which he was in earlier this year.
Rowe and London 2012 gold medallist Dani King, his brother’s partner, have set up a coaching service called Rowe & King since then.
Offering training advice garnered from their professional experiences, the two hope to pass on the hints, tips and training skills they have picked up in their careers so far.
It was a complete momentum shift [after Roubaix], aiming towards turning myself round as a rider, losing some weight and getting used to the longer climbs
So, how do you go from a powerful cobble-battering machine to a man ready to climb some of France’s biggest mountain passes in support of one of the Tour de France favourites.
The key is volume, according to Rowe. “As soon as I finished Roubaix, it was a complete momentum shift aiming towards turning myself round as a rider, losing some weight and getting used to the longer climbs,” he said.
“I’ve done two warm-up races, Romandie and the Dauphine, and also a training camp in Tenerife. That was pretty epic – two weeks up there, with no distractions and seven of us riding, all of whom have made the Tour, and Tim Kerrison as a coach.
“The attention to detail up there, and the way everything was set out, was perfect for us. That was a big part of the preparation for the Tour. It’s nothing that we don’t do day-to-day at home, there’s just more of it and in a controlled environment.
“We were getting up to 30 hours a week, and you feel those long hours. There were a lot of efforts included, both individually and as a team – going through and off on a climb, for example – so there was a big variety in the stuff we were doing.
“It’s all geared up to being able to climb well and last the distance at the Tour.”
The new venture with King will allow Rowe to pass on his experiences to the new generation, but one of his own inspirations – he admits – is much closer to home.
When he and Thomas – an usher at Rowe’s wedding – roll out for the Tour de France, it will be the first time there has ever been two Welshmen on the startline.
It’s quite an iconic moment having two Welshmen in the race. To be going to the biggest race in the world alongside Geraint Thomas is a pretty special opportunity.
In fact, Rowe is only the third of their countrymen to take on the Tour de France – Colin Lewis, in 1967, was the last Welshman before Thomas to do so.
And Rowe admits seeing what Thomas has achieved on the bike has only served to inspire his own career.
“It’s massive,” he said. “The Welsh media and the Welsh public have really taken it to heart and I’ve got a lot of respect for that.
“It’s quite an iconic moment I guess, and with it being with Geraint, who’s such a good mate, to make it through the ranks and be going to the biggest race in the world alongside him is a pretty special opportunity.
“Geraint is four years older than me, so he was always one step ahead of me. It’s been quite an adventure trying to follow in his footsteps and if I could achieve what he has – or even half of it – then it’s going to be a pretty special career.”
Thomas’ next steps will be to establish himself as the team leader, something he has taken to strongly in recent months, as proven by his second place at the Tour de Suisse.
Whether Rowe can follow in his footsteps remains to be seen, but until then the Welsh duo are a valuable part of Froome’s Team Sky team – Thomas already has one Tour assist, when he defied a fractured pelvis in 2013 to help lead Froome to victory. Over to you, Luke…
Team Sky’s Luke Rowe has helped to found Rowe & King, a new cycling coaching service which uses Rowe and Dani King’s own professional experiences to pass on training advice and coaching services.