Owain Doull interview: "When I joined the Academy I wrote a four-year plan - to turn pro and win Olympic gold" - Road Cycling UK

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Owain Doull interview: “When I joined the Academy I wrote a four-year plan – to turn pro and win Olympic gold”

Owain Doull talks to RoadCyclingUK about the team pursuit, Rio 2016 and joining Team Sky

Back in 2012, upon joining British Cycling’s Academy programme, Owain Doull wrote a four-year plan. His goals for 2016? To turn professional and win Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro. Now, with Doull set to join Team Sky after the Games, the Welshman is focussed solely on striking gold in Brazil.

“When I first got accepted onto the Academy, I had to write a four-year plan,” Doull tells RoadCyclingUK. “I got on the programme in 2012 so it was looking ahead to 2016 and I remember writing down that I wanted to turn professional and win Olympic gold. One’s done and hopefully I’ll tick the other off this summer.”

Doull is part of a talented group of up-and-coming British riders which includes the likes of Tao Geoghegan Hart, Jon Dibben, Scott Davies and Alex Peters, and leaves the under-23 ranks with a string of impressive results to his name, not least third overall in the 2015 Tour of Britain.

Those results have earned Doull a two-year contract with Team Sky from 2017 – though he says he will join immediately after the Olympics to “immerse” himself with the team as quickly as possible – but before then, Rio looms large.

Owain Doull is the latest talented rider to emerge from the British Cycling Academy (Pic: SWPix.com)

In or out

Selection for the team pursuit squad will be made in the next ten days, Doull says, and it’s a decision which leaves him feeling “nervous but excited”. Seven riders are in immediate contention for places in Great Britain’s endurance squad for the Games: Doull, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Andy Tennant and Chris Latham, while Jon Dibben faces a race to be fit having fractured his elbow in April.

With Wiggins, Clancy and Dibben, Doull was part of the quartet narrowly defeat by Australia at the World Championships in March, and while he acknowledges that result may see Great Britain arrive in Rio as underdogs, Olympic history tells a different story.

“What Great Britain are good at is planning when to be in peak condition at the right time,” says the 23-year-old. “If you look at the last two Olympic cycles, they’ve always come good at the Games.”

Great Britain have proved untouchable in the team pursuit at Olympic level since 2008 and while that success brings with it a level of expectation, Doull says, it adds experience, too.

While a dejected team pursuit squad finished second behind Australia at the World Championships earlier this year, Doull believe they’re in good shape heading to Rio (Pic: SWPix.com)

“There’s a bit of pressure,” says the Team Wiggins rider, “but if anything you take confidence from it, knowing the track record we have. Ed Clancy, Brad, Burkey; they’re all former Olympic champions. That’s the advantage of having such a good record – you’ve still got a lot of the guys who broke those world records and won those gold medals. They’re still involved in the team and going as fast as ever.”

The squad combines youth and experience and as the Games approaches, Doull says the team’s elder statesmen have begun to pass on snippets of advice on what to expert in Rio. Wiggins is an approachable leader, Doull says, “but he also lets his legs do the talking”, while Clancy, whose return to the fold at this year’s World Championships came only three months after career-saving back surgery, is “probably the greatest team pursuiter that’s ever lived.”

Pictures by SWpix.com - 02/03/2016 - Cycling - 2016 UCI Track Cycling World Championships, Day 1 - Lee Valley VeloPark, London, England - Mens Team Pursuit - Great Britain - DIBBEN Jonathan, BURKE Steven, DOULL Owain, WIGGINS Bradley
Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - 04/03/2016 - Cycling - 2016 UCI Track Cycling World Championships, Day 3 - Lee Valley VeloPark, London, England - Great Britain's Owain Doull following the Men's Individual Pursuit Qualifying. Heiko Salzwedel
Owain Doull attacks a corner on the motor racing circuit at Caldwell Park (pic: Alex Broadway/SWpix.com)

From idol to team-mate

Doull has spent the past two seasons riding for Team Wiggins and the formation of the eponymously-named team came at an important crossroads in the 23-year-old’s career. As part of the team pursuit squad which finished eighth at the 2014 World Championships, Doull considered quitting the track to focus on his road career having been offered a contract with Europcar.

“We got quite a lot of stick for that result in Cali,” Doull says. “I thought I might drop it and concentrate on the road, but fortunately I went quite well at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and that persuaded me to stick with the track and the Olympic dream. I found out Brad was setting up his own team and it was going to be track-focused with a good environment for the team pursuit, so it just seemed to fit.”

Sir Bradley Wiggins was Doull’s idol growing up – now the pair are aiming to go for gold for Great Britain in Rio de Janeiro (Pic: SWPix.com)

Who were Doull’s idols as a young cyclist? “Bradley Wiggins,” he replies, before correcting himself. “Brad.” The pair are now on much more familiar terms than when Doull was an awe-struck junior and he describes Wiggins’ influence as “massive” – not least during his now team-mate’s annus mirabilis.

“When I first got on to the Academy it was 2012 – a golden year for cycling – and seeing what he did that year was incredible,” he says. “The year before, in 2011, my first Junior World Championships on the road was in Copenhagen, so to be there when Cav won was pretty amazing as well.

“I’ve gone from looking up to Brad to sharing a room with him on training camps or races – that took a bit of getting used to,” he adds. “But it feels natural now.”

Doull spent his childhood and early teenage years playing rugby, before he started racing at 14. Since then he’s followed the British Cycling blueprint to the letter, rising through the Olympic Development Programme, earning a place on the Academy, joining the elite World Class Performance Programme. Riders like Doull make that pathway look easy, but British Cycling is a tough breeding ground and only riders who are both talented and committed make the grade.

“You learn from the Academy pretty early that you can be as talented as like as a junior, but if you’re not willing to put the hard work in during those early years – from the off – then your chance has gone pretty quickly,” says Doull.

“On one of my first training camps in Majorca, we were doing efforts and I wasn’t going particularly well. I’d only been on the Academy a couple of months. Chris Newton had a few words with me after the efforts and I remember thinking: ‘Bloody hell, this is pretty full on, what have I got myself into here?’ He sat me down and said: ‘It might sound hard, but at the end of the day you’ve only got four years as a young rider to turn professional, get that contract and make that step up, so you can’t afford to waste anything.’”

Doull underlined his talent on the road with a third place finish at the 2015 Tour of Britain Pic: The Tour)

Reach for the Sky

Doull will complete the journey from talented junior to professional cyclist when he joins Team Sky after Rio – a decision he described as a “no-brainer”.

“When Team Sky was first formed in 2010, I was a junior and so have dreamed for riding for this team for quite some time. For me it’s a boyhood dream.”

As an under-23 Doull has found the greatest success in Classics-style races. His third place finish at the Tour of Britain came on a typically punchy course and saw Doull finish no lower than 11th on a stage. Last year he also came tenth overall at the under-23 Tour of Flanders and seventh at the ZLM Tour, a race which includes Fabian Cancellara and Doull’s fellow Welshman, Luke Rowe, as former winners.

“As a neo-pro the Classics are what I’d like to focus on,” he says. “Sky’s got quite a young Classics squad but a hugely talented one – it’s a great place learn and try and grow in the next couple of years.

“To see the transition Luke has made over the past couple of years at the Classics – starting by helping people like G and coming fifth in Flanders – is a massive thing for me.”

Doull hopes to emulate the success of fellow Welshmen Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas (Pic: Sirotti)

London calling… and Rio awaits

This weekend Doull will ride one of his final races for Team Wiggins at the London Nocturne, returning to the streets of the capital for the second year as part of a line-up which also includes Clancy and Tennant.

“It’s quite a unique thing to race in the centre of London on a floodlit course with a big crowd,” he says. “I haven’t done as much racing this year so I’m looking forward to a good workout on the bike. An hour-long criterium is going to be pretty full-on and a shock to the system, especially with the UK Continental teams heavily involved in the Tour Series at the moment and firing on all cylinders, but I’ll give it a good go.”

Doull will then return to Manchester before a two-week endurance training camp in Italy. The selected squad will then travel to Newport for a pre-Olympic holding camp and on to Rio. “It’s really not long now – something like 70 days to the team pursuit – so it’s all getting very close,” Doull says.

“Back in 2012 it all seemed like a long way off,” he adds, “but now being in a position to achieve those goals which I set four years ago – as an 18-year-old who didn’t really know what it took to achieve that – is a nice but bizarre position to be in.”

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