Fresh from the biggest win of his career at the Giro d’Italia, Alex Dowsett (Movistar) will return to the scene of his 2011 IG London Nocturne triumph next Saturday (June 8).
The British national time trial champion will race for only the second time on British soil since adding a Grand Tour stage win to his palmares.
And the Essex rider can expect a hero’s welcome at the Smithfield circuit where on his last appearance in 2011 he lapped the entire field en route to an emphatic victory.
We caught up with the Movistar rider this week on one of his first engagements since returning from one of the world’s greatest bike races – a day’s work in his local bike shop.
“A good friend of mine opened up a bike shop over the winter, Athlon Sport in Chelmsford, and I said I’d come down and help out for the day.
“It’s hard going all this work stuff. Spending all that time on your feet doesn’t half play havoc with the muscles in your legs. I’ve not been used to it for the last three weeks,” jokes Dowsett.
Dowsett has, of course, spent the last three weeks in the saddle having completed his first Grand Tour, riding more than 3,000km and surviving a weather-hit edition of the Giro which will go down as one of the toughest in recent years.
“It’s such an emotional rollercoaster while you’re doing it,” he tells RoadCyclingUK, “then you get home and you’re like, ‘oh, that’s it, it’s all done’.
“It’s not dissimilar to a time trial. You bloody hate it while you’re doing it because you’re just in a world of hurt, but the moment you cross that finish line you want to do it again.
“It that’s sense of satisfaction you get from completing something, whether it’s a time trial, where you’re going as hard as you can, or in this instance, just getting through it.”
It’s a narcissism Dowsett has become well attuned to. The 24-year-old has made his name to date as a time trial specialist, having won back-to-back national titles in 2011 and 2012, and it was the Giro’s ‘race of truth’ on stage eight which saw Dowsett step into the spotlight.
Most pre-race predictions saw Bradley Wiggins winning the stage to move into the overall lead but the Olympic time trial champion, who would later abandon from the race, was forced to settle for second and it was instead another Brit on the top step of the podium with the Union Jack draped around his shoulders.
“I thought 55km would have been too much,” says Dowsett. “I thought I’d do alright – top ten maybe – but I thought it’d have been too much to do a good result against the Grand Tour time triallists, like Bradley Wiggins, who are used to riding so many days back-to-back.
“I knew I wasn’t going to win it on outright power and speed on the flat against the likes Wiggins, nor on the climbs against Cadel Evans and Vincenzo Nibali, so I had to attack the course smartly.
“My power figures weren’t through the roof, certainly not anything to write home about, but I just rode a smart race.
“The wait to find out if I’d won lasted a lifetime but I had my mum, dad and sister Lois there, so they went through the turmoil with me.”
Dowsett returned from the Giro as one of just 16 Britons who have won a stage of a Grand Tour. It’s an elite club which reads like a who’s who of British cycling past and present, with members including Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Boardman, Robert Millar and Tom Simpson.
“It’s a bit surreal,” says Dowsett. “There are some of the top names in the pro peloton at the moment who haven’t won a Grand Tour stage.
“I haven’t suddenly become a better bike rider or something that I’m not. It might improve my confidence and when I go into some races I might think ‘I can win this’, but the beauty of a time trial is you don’t have to think about your competitors at all.”
The victory was the biggest in Dowsett’s career to date by some margin but it came as reward for a brave move from Team Sky to Movistar at the start of the season.
Some observers raised an eyebrow when the Essex-born rider left the sanctuary of a British team for a squad where he would be the only rider not to speak Spanish.
But Team Sky’s focus on winning the biggest stage races in the sport limited Dowsett’s chances of breaking into a Grand Tour squad packed with stars and, having moved to Movistar, he was handed a start at the first available opportunity.
It proved a fruitful race for the team, with Dowsett’s stage win supplemented by victory for Beñat Intxausti on stage 16 and a brace of wins for Giovanni Visconti on stages 15 and 17.
“Apart from winning a stage of my own, being part of such a successful team was an amazing experience,” says Dowsett. “Movistar had one of the most successful Giros they’ve ever had and to come out of the race with four stages wins, with three different bike riders, shows our strength in depth.
“It was really cool being a part of it and helping the boys on some of those stage wins. I helped position Beñat Intxausti right near the front when we hit the bottom of that climb so he was really grateful for that.
“You get riders in the pro peloton who barely win races but they carve a very good career out of helping out and that’s the buzz you get – about doing your job and then a team-mate finishing it off.
“With me winning the time trial I could probably have done whatever I liked for the rest of the race but obviously I wanted to get stuck in.
“That’s the thing about Movistar, it’s a really easygoing environment. Everyone’s got each others backs, there are no egos at all. Everyone pitches in and gives 100 per cent.
“That goes for everyone. On some of the really rough days the sports directors were helping out with the mechanics. Everyone was chipping in.”
Dowsett had rough days of his own and the former British Cycling Academy rider realised the scale of the task ahead of him after stage four.
“There were a fair few low points,” he recalls. “I would say the worst was after day four – the first 250km day – and I was unexplainably tired.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been like that. I was absolutely wrecked. I was sitting on bed thinking ‘how am I going to do another 17 days of this’ but then you come round, have a good night’s sleep and the next day you have fresh legs.
“It can be down to anything. I was put it down to hydration and I don’t think I was drinking enough of some of the really long days.”
Bad weather dogged the 2013 edition of the race, with the routes of stages 14, 15 and 20 altered owing to snow in the mountains, and stage 19, which was due to take in more than 4,300 of climbing, cancelled altogether.
But the adverse weather and the subsequent flattening of the parcours played into the hands of a rider on the verge of completing his first three-week race.
“It was unpleasant but everyone was in the same boat,” he says. “One benefit of based in England is that I’ve ridden in worse. On a lot of the stages in the grupetto there wouldn’t be many riders without gloves on but some of them would be British.
“When stage 19 was cancelled it was music to my ears. Those were the two days [stages 19 and 20] that would have put a lot of people out of the race and it could well have been me. After winning the time trial I just wanted to finish and I was all for making it a bit easier to finish.”
Dowsett is now enjoying a week’s rest but, having ridden one of the biggest races in the world, his next competitive engagement will be a club ten-mile time trial on Tuesday night, before returning to the IG London Nocturne, which he won in 2011 by lapping the field, on Saturday June 8.
“The club ten was my last race before the Giro as well,” Dowsett says. “I’m interested to see how I go. I’d have had some good rest after the Giro by then and I’ll be able to see if I’m going better or worse than before. I’m sure it’ll also to give my body a bit of a jump start to get back in to things.”
It’s a low-key return to action for a Grand Tour stage winner but Dowsett says it’s time to “take stock” ahead of the second half of the season, when he will aim to gain selection for the World Championship time trial – and improve his eighth place finish from 2012.
“I think I’m capable of getting on the podium,” he says. “You never know what the course is going to be like, or what’s going to happen, but I showed last year that I can go top ten without really preparing.
“My race programme before that wasn’t really ideal for training for a time trial so my preparation wasn’t great but hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to do this year’s worlds and attack it as hard as I can.”
Dowsett may have flown under the radar at the Giro d’Italia but few will underestimate the threat he poses when the world’s best time triallists assemble in September.