Pro cyclist interview: Ian Wilkinson satisfied with form ahead of Rutland-Melton Classic

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Pro cyclist interview: Ian Wilkinson satisfied with form ahead of Rutland-Melton Classic

Defending champion previews race and discusses life with Team Raleigh

“Luck!”

Defending champion Ian Wilkinson jokes when asked to identify the key ingredient for winning the Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic.

Widely regarded as one of the toughest one-day races in Britain, the East Midlands race is set for its tenth anniversary edition on Sunday (April 27), with a slightly revised route and UCI status to boot.

Veteran rider Wilkinson, 35, who won the race for a second time last year while riding for the now-defunct Team UK Youth, returns this year with Raleigh – having signed for the Nottingham-based squad in the winter.

Ian Wilkinson will be defending his Rutland-Melton title having joined Team Raleigh in the winter (pic: Andy Whitehouse)

And the rider nicknamed Superman, who switched from Nigel Mansell’s team alongside Yanto Barker in the winter, believes you have to be mentally tough as well as physically strong to succeed in Melton.

Riding Rutland-Melton

“The mental stress is the toughest thing to overcome,” Wilkinson told RCUK. “The parcours is very difficult, bits of off-road and even the two laps of the reservoir at the start are pretty hectic.

“With the big fields you get and everyone wanting to be at the front or in the break, it can be pretty harum-scarum around there. There were a couple of crashes last year.

“You need to be strong, you need some extra luck on the day in terms of mechanical issues but usually you just need to be very fit and willing to keep fighting all the way.

The mental stress is the toughest thing to overcome. The parcours is very difficult.

“Even if you don’t find yourself at the front initially you can still find yourself there if you’re going strong on the heavy little roads.”

Strength is something which Wilkinson has shown plenty of during his career, and he has already kicked off his 2014 campaign in good form at the Tour of the Reservoir.

After Barker had taken third place on day one in the North East, Wilkinson claimed a podium spot of his own on day two as team-mate Evan Oliphant took the second stage.

And the Barnoldswick-born rider says he is satisfied with his form ahead of Sunday’s showdown.

Wilkinson says he is happy with his form so far this season (pic: Raleigh)

On form

“I’m pretty happy,” he said. “I don’t think there’s going to be anything too much to worry me really. It’s just one of those days where you can’t guarantee anything.

“You can do everything fitness-wise but you can still get a puncture and be out of the race. That’s the luck of it really but I’m really happy with where I am at the minute.

“I’m happy with my form. We’ve had the Tour of the Reservoir last weekend and I think I showed pretty well there.”

Raleigh’s historic place in professional cycling means switching to the Nottingham-based team, albeit in a much different incarnation, was a very easy decision for Wilkinson to make in the winter.

My first bike was actually a Raleigh. That heritage is a good thing. It’s nice that they’re continuing to fund the team

With ambitions to take Raleigh back to the top table of professional cycling – the patronage of Le Patron himself, Bernard Hinault, a clear statement of intent – the team has been keen to mix youth and experience.

And by joining the team in the winter, Wilkinson admits he is also delighted to be able to race on the Nottingham brand’s flaghship bike, the Militis Team.

He said: “I certainly knew about Raleigh’s history, of course. It’s true that my first bike was actually a Raleigh and it is now, of course.

“It is a good thing, that heritage with Raleigh. It’s nice that they’re continuing to fund the team at the minute and really push the top end bikes.

Wilkinson and Yanto Barker both joined Raleigh from the now-defunct Team UK Youth in the winter (pic: Raleigh 2014)

“Their top of the range bikes are very, very good now and it’s about getting them into the public eye.”

The next task for those machines will be at the Rutland-Melton Classic but the course has undergone a slight makeover since Wilkinson’s victory last year.

The climb of Cuckoo Hill has been added to the route, the finishing circuit reversed and an extra climb of Burton Road also included.

But Wilkinson insists the changes – while warmly received – hold no fears for him or his team-mates.

New route nothing to fear

“It’s really just a drag up the road,” he said of the new climb. “At that point in the race it could produce a couple of attacks, and I’m sure it will do, but I don’t think it’s quite going to be the make or break moment.

“That will happen naturally on the rest of the course. There’s still a lot of things happening – Cuckoo Hill, I’ve not had a ride on yet but I’ve got people down that way. My team-mate George Atkins is there and he’s had a wander round there.

It’s a nice little twist on the race but by the time you get that point you will find people’s legs are in a different place anyway

“But again, it can’t be that bad because the terrain isn’t that hilly down there. It can’t be any worse than the rest of the course.

“The bit they are now missing out, on Whissendine Road, was very grippy anyway. It’s a nice little twist on the race but by the time you get to that point, 150km in, you will find people’s legs are in a different place anyway.

“You will find even the flat roads can seem a bit grippy.”

Wilkinson is expecting an open race in the East Midlands (pic: Raleigh 2014)

After the frantic two laps of the reservoir, the race is known for its punchy, narrow roads but Wilkinson believes home advantage will suit the British riders.

“When you get on the narrow roads, you can actually settle down slightly,” he explained. “By the time you’ve got there, where you are you are.

“You don’t have to worry about moving up or moving back. It’s definitely a physical challenge but mentally it’s a tough race as well, to keep focussing on.

Hopefully the European riders will be getting lost – because that’s what usually happens us to over there!

“It helps to know the course as well. There isn’t a rider in Britain who will be competing who has an excuse for not knowing the course well.

“The shoe’s on the other foot for the riders coming over from abroad – hopefully they’ll be getting lost and not being able to find their way to the finish, because that’s what usually happens to us over there!”

In opposition

Of those British rivals, Alex Peters (Madison-Genesis), appears to be in the best form having won the Tour of the Reservoir.

But Wilkinson is expecting a close race on Sunday, with no one rider yet to mark themselves as a stand-out contender.

“There were a couple at the Tour of the Reservoir like Alex Peters,” he said. “The Rutland-Melton course is actually one which would really suit him pretty well – just constantly up and down. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on him if he’s in shape.

Wilkinson believes the new parcours will hold no fears for Raleigh (pic: Andy Whitehouse)

“Other than that, I don’t think there is anybody yet who has shown to be head and shoulders above the rest. It was a very strong field at the Reservoir but it was also very even, I believe, and I think that will make for some very interesting racing.

“There are the usual suspects but I think you just need to look at the race and see who makes the breaks and when they form and take it from there.

“Of course, you don’t know how anybody will be week-on-week. Someone who was flat out last week may not have the legs this time out. I think it’s very even this year.”

What next?

Alongside the prestige of winning a UCI-classified race – one of four in Britain this year alongside the Tour of Britain, RideLondon and the Beaumont Trophy – the CiCLE Classic also serves as valuable preparation for the coming season.

And Wilkinson has already set his sights on the latter stages of the season, with several domestic races on his agenda.

It was a very strong field at the Reservoir, but also very even I believe. I think that will make for some very interesting racing

“It’s all the regular stuff, which I’m sure you’d anticipate for someone like myself,” he explained. “Lincoln GP, Tour Series – that’s very important to Raleigh – and after that there’s that race down in Abergavenny, isn’t there? I’m sure most of the lads in Britain will be training for the Nationals!

“After that I guess it’s just hoping Raleigh have done sufficiently to warrant a place in the Tour of Britain again so we can focus on that.”

If, come Sunday, Raleigh get to enjoy the sight of Wilkinson celebrating victory with his customary Superman pose, the British team will certainly have taken a big step towards securing that.

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