Interview: Alex Dowsett reflects on the Giro d’Italia, Instagram and life at Katusha-Alpecin
Katusha-Alpecin rider reveals the inspiration behind the social media posts that lift the lid on life as a pro cyclist
“I got my phone stolen.” Alex Dowsett is recalling some of the low points of his ride at this year’s Giro d’Italia, and the moment when someone broke into his room to steal his mobile while he slept is definitely the thing that gets the 29-year-old most animated. “It was next to my head on my pillow. Someone came in, found the charging cable, pulled the phone up, took it and left. That wasn’t a good time.”
Other testing moments included arriving at the base of the Colle delle Finestre ‘absolutely cooked’ after a gruelling and frantic 50km start of the stage where he found it hard to take any food on board, and a cobble-heavy final stage in Rome that, as Dowsett wrote on Instagram, caused ‘a Grand Tour’s worth of gooch damage in 100km’.
But otherwise, the Katusha-Alpecin time trial specialist doesn’t have any complaints about his second stab at Italy’s premier race. In fact, you get the feeling he really enjoyed pitting himself against the world’s best once again.
“It was good to be back in a Grand Tour and to be solid within it,” Dowsett tells RCUK. “It was slightly better than 2013 [when he made his Grand Tour debut at the Giro, winning the stage eight time trial] and in 2015 I wasn’t fully ready for the Tour de France. I’m not sure if you’re ever ready for you first Tour de France - but I definitely wasn’t.”
Riding for Nairo Quintana’s Movistar team, Dowsett battled on to stage 12 following a crash on the fourth day which had left him requiring six stitches to an elbow: “That finished me, so the race ended up being quite an unpleasant fight to survive.”
This year’s Giro was different though, Dowsett says, having been given a new lease of life having joined Katusha-Alpecin in January. “There weren’t really any moments where I thought ‘this is destroying me, I’m not going to finish’. I suffered obviously as much as anyone else did, but it was nice to do a solid ride.”
“The numbers were quite mediocre compared to a normal TT, but I was disregarded the fact that I’d come off of the back of two weeks of racing. I came in, clocked the fastest time, and thought ‘OK, maybe everyone else is 20 watts down as well’”
And a solid ride he did. Dowsett had been targeting the race’s two time trials from the minute he started talking to Katusha-Alpecin towards the end of last year, and he repaid the team’s support on the Giro’s very first stage, coming in fifth and just 16 seconds off Tom Dumoulin’s winning time in the opening nine kilometre time trial. However, it was the second time trial of the race - a technical 34km route on stage 16 - that he was most proud of.
“Even though the result was slightly better in the first [Dowsett placed sixth in the second], I was slightly happier,” he says. “That deep into a Grand Tour, it’s tough. The day after a rest day makes it really unpleasant as well. But above all, the nature of the TT is one that will out you if you’re not fit and haven’t prepared, or if you’re not backing up well during a stage race - it was just long stretches of laying power down. If you weren’t good enough, you were going to be well down the pecking order.
“When I was doing it, the numbers were quite mediocre compared to a normal TT, but I was disregarded the fact that I’d come off of the back of two weeks of racing. I came in, clocked the fastest time, and thought ‘OK, maybe everyone else is 20 watts down as well’.”
Did he think this could be a repeat of 2013, when he pipped Bradley Wiggins to win his first Grand Tour stage “Nah, not on that course. I knew it was good, and obviously I’d put [Victor] Campenaerts away, who I had down as one of the favourites, but I knew the big boys were coming in. Once they’d penalised Aru [for drafting a police motorcycle], it became quite a strong looking top ten - I was just happy to be in there, amongst it and competitive.”
Of course, you’d know all of this already if you follow Dowsett on social media. The Essex-based rider has become something of a prolific blogger on Instagram and YouTube, using both platforms to lift the lid on what goes on behind-the-scenes in the peloton – giving fans an insight into the life of a professional cyclist.
“One day I just rambled about the race and people seemed to really like it,” Dowsett explains. “It was quite well received – the same with posting my stats on Strava. People like seeing inside the pro peloton from a different perspective. They like hearing that we suffer, that we’re finding it tough and that we’re not robots.
“It’s like you’re conducting an interview with yourself each day and saying what you want rather than being put on the spot to give an answer immediately. I have time to think about what I actually feel, and think about what that day was like and how hard it was.”
The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Thousands have shown their appreciation for Dowsett’s insight by liking his posts, while countless others have wished him well in the comments. There is still the odd negative reaction though.
"One day I just rambled about the race and people seemed to really like it. They like hearing that we suffer, that we’re finding it tough and that we’re not robots"
“You do get some dickheads popping up - I wouldn’t like to see Froome’s Twitter feed on a daily basis - but we all get our share,” says Dowsett. “It’s sometimes tough to ignore them, but in the most part it’s just interacting with people like you would do on the street. Sometimes I can give some time to it, but then there are other times when you’ve got to put your phone down and race.”
And that’s something that he has been doing a lot more of since joining Katusha-Alpecin at the start of the year. “Movistar was great, but I definitely feel that I’m more useful than I was in my last couple of years there. Towards the end, I was just going to races to finish, and that’s no fun - for them or me.”
Now, Dowsett feels like he has a purpose again, having been establishing a spot in Marcel Kittel’s leadout train.
“The leadout and working with a sprinter is something I’ve always done quite well – I just haven’t had a sprinter to work with for the last five years [since leaving Team Sky],” says Dowsett. “To come back and have a specific goal of being there at 3km to go and ready, and to do your job properly, is really good again.”
“Movistar was great, but I definitely feel that I’m more useful than I was in my last couple of years there. Towards the end, I was just going to races to finish, and that’s no fun - for them or me”
Although the team came away with no stage wins from the Giro, Dowsett was a part of Kittel’s lead-out train during his two victories at Tirreno-Adriatico – the German’s sole triumphs this year. It’s a role Dowsett will be reprising at this weekend’s Rund um Köln and next week at the Tour of Slovenia. All of this is shaping up nicely for a second attempt at the Tour de France, although Dowsett is realistic about his prospects: “It’s a possibility,” he says. “I threw my name in the mix, but it’s a difficult one to get selected for so we’ll see.”
Before the Tour, Dowsett has one significant target on his mind - the British National Time Trial Championships on June 28. Dowsett is a five-time British champion, having won the race in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. Dowsett finished second to Steve Cummings last year but if the TT specialist returns to the top step of the podium this time out, he will equal Stuart Dangerfield’s record of six victories.
“I’m not really after the record as such,” Dowsett reveals. “I just enjoy being in the stripes and representing them on the WorldTour. I guess if I do equal or beat Dangerfield’s record then I’ll have a couple more years of it, which would be pleasant.”
Whatever the result, one thing’s for sure - you’ll be able to read what Dowsett really thought about the race on Instagram.
Alex Dowsett is a professional cyclist for Team Katusha-Alpecin. For more information on Alpecin caffeine shampoo, visit www.alpecin.com