Second at the inaugural Dubai Tour and overall winner of the Tour Mediterannéen, Britain’s Stephen Cummings (BMC Racing) is certainly the man of the moment.
The Wirral-born former Team Sky man is enjoying a new lease of life in his third year with BMC Racing, and has responded to greater backing from the team’s management with an impressive start to the year.
And the 32-year-old agrees that his 2014 season has got off to the perfect start, after suffering a frustrating 2013.
He told RCUK: “I couldn’t really have started this season much better to be honest. Dubai was great, and then to go and win in the Med as well was really good.
“To win there was pretty big. It wasn’t the biggest race I’ve won, but it is certainly up there.
“It’s given me more confidence, and I’m much more relaxed in what I’m doing as a result – I’m obviously doing something right.”
Cummings attributes his upturn in form to an injury-free winter, but also to a clear focus for the season ahead – something he has found to be lacking in recent years.
The Tour Mediteranéen win has given me more confidence, and I’m much more relaxed about what I’m doing as a result
“I’ve had this sort of shape before, and then I’ve lost it because I’ve had a crash or my programme’s changed,” he explained.
“If your programme changes then you’re always on the back foot a bit. But this year I’ve had a great winter, I didn’t get sick and I didn’t get injured and then the programme hasn’t changed in that time so you can really drive on then.
“Last year I had a problem in December. I crashed on ice and hurt my knee and then I didn’t ride much for the rest of the month.
“Also, I never really knew where I would be riding all year, whereas this year I knew in October.
“And I think the new management has recognised that we can be strong in time trials. They’ve put me in more races with time trials and I’ve gone on from there.”
Cummings ability against the clock is certainly nothing new: his team pursuit background – in which he won gold at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games and Olympic silver in Athens – undoubtedly stands him in good stead.
This year Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) are among the riders Cummings has already beaten.
It is still early in the season, of course – a fact not lost on Cummings – but he admitted his two efforts in Dubai and the Med have filled him with confidence going forward.
I always want to win the time trials. It’s the race of truth, isn’t it? You can’t hide
He said: “I was delighted with both of my time trials to be honest – more so the one in the Med because it was quite a technical course really.
“Sometimes it can be quite hard to get your effort right but I did it really well and I was really happy with that.
“In Dubai I actually felt a little bit off. Though I gave a really big time trial, I was still a bit off and I wasn’t super happy. I felt I could have done a little bit better – not won, but certainly done a bit better.
“I always want to win the time trials. It’s the race of truth, isn’t it? You can’t hide. I know it’s really early and people are perhaps not going as well as they can go, but perhaps I’ve got a bit more to go as well. It’s very good for my confidence.”
Cummings attracted widespread praise for his efforts in support of Cadel Evans at last year’s Giro d’Italia, helping the Australian veteran to finish third despite battling illness and the torrid weather conditions.
However, Cummings told RCUK he had not intended to be a part of the squad in Italy – with the Tour de France having initially been the focus of his race programme.
And this year, with the Grand Depart taking place in England, Cummings – whose programme now includes Paris-Nice and Liege-Bastogne-Liege prior to the Tour – is determined to be on the startline in Leeds.
“I think the Tour de France Grand Depart will be huge,” he said. “If you look at how many people turned out for the Olympics it will be a similar thing for the Tour – maybe even more. It will be crazy, I’m sure.
Last year they changed my programme in March, which is very difficult to react to. You’re reacting more than responding to a plan. You’re just trying to cope with changes
“I really want to be on the start line of the Tour, that’s for sure.
“Last year it was supposed to be the same but then they changed the programme in March, which is very difficult to react to. You’re reacting more than responding to a plan. You’re just trying to cope with changes, and it’s different.”
Should his bid for Tour inclusion fail however, there is also the small matter of the Commonwealth Games to contend with – another big target for the Englishman.
He explained: “The Commonwealth Games are there too, and this is the thing – if you miss the Tour you may open up a bigger opportunity to prepare for the Commonwealth Games.
“If you’re in the Tour too then you could be in really good shape or not so much. You might be a bit tired, for example.”
However, it is clear the biggest target for the 32-year-old remains a place at the Tour – and no changes to his planned programme for the season ahead.
Such confusion appears to have been eradicated at BMC Racing this year however, something which has seen the team enjoy a successful start to the year.
Cummings’ Tour Mediterranéen victory followed Taylor Phinney’s success in Dubai and Cadel Evans’ stage win and second place overall at the Tour Down Under.
The biggest change is that every rider in the team now has a plan; they’ve got a goal. It’s not just about one or two riders. It’s about the team
And the Wirral ace believes the whole team is reaping the rewards of such greater clarity.
He said: “I think the biggest change is that every rider in the team now has a plan; they’ve got a goal. It’s not just about one or two or three riders. It’s about the team.
“And I think it’s not just me who has benefitted from that. All the riders in the Med were really good.
“It’s just having that clarity, knowing what you are doing and being able to add that little bit of focus. Without that, you can just be almost drifting around and just wondering which race you’ll be doing next.”
With changes happening behind the scenes, Cummings has also found the American team’s approach bears more than a passing resemblance to his former employers.
“Compared to the Team Sky I was in – of course it might be different now – BMC Racing has gone more and more towards being like them,” he explained.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint differences – at BMC we’ve had more training camps this year, which is a lot like Team Sky, the structure is better this year – and I think that’s also a bit like Sky. There are certainly a lot more similarities now than when I first signed for them.”
Despite such changes however, Cummings insists the way to get the best form out of him is much simpler.
All I need is a race programme that plays to my strengths and suits my talents – that’s the way to get the best out of me personally
He said: “All I need is a race programme that plays to my strengths and suits my talents – that’s the way to get the best out of me personally.
“I don’t need much help, I’m in a good place. I don’t need to go to a training camp particularly – although it’s good to go with the team.
“It’s not like I live somewhere where I can’t train. I train every day, the weather’s good, the food’s good. I don’t really have a problem with weight.
“It’s just having the team believe in you and give a programme that’s right for you and an opportunity really.
“They do seem to support us a lot more now – making sure you’ve got a TT bike at time and little things like that, you would think it is a given but it’s not always the case.”
The proof, of course, is in the performance however – but on his early season form, Cummings is certainly justifying a new approach.
Britain is enjoying unprecedented success on the WorldTour scene, with Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins now household names.
Should he continue on his current upward trajectory when the bigger races return next month, and Steve Cummings may be the next name to add to that list.