Felix English is a young man in a hurry.
The 20-year-old, still in his second season as a professional, has delivered a series of strong performances in crit races this season, a discipline to which has become increasingly adept.
He is the Irish champion in the discipline, and added the Milk Race title to his palmares earlier this month after the iconic British race returned after a 20-year hiatus in the short from, city centre format popular with spectators.
“I want to try and win a round of the Tour Series before the series is up,” he says simply, and smart money might be placed on him doing so. He has threatened the podium twice already this season, and turned in an aggressive performance in almost every round.
English credits his track background for his ability in crit races. He is a member of the Irish national squad, as well as pursuing a road career with Rapha Condor JLT. The full gas effort of the crit, racing in close proximity to rivals, is clearly an environment in which he feels comfortable.
The Tour Series, arguably the most important commitment for his team and their five British rivals registered as UCI Continental squads, has begun well for English. Six rounds in, and he has delivered a series of impressive performances.
Spectators at the opening round in Kirkcaldy would have seen much of English, who rode with the breakaway group headed by eventual winner, Yanto Barker (Team UK Youth), for much of the race, before cramp forced him to drop back, but still finish fourth.
Two rounds later, and English was back in the break in Stoke-on-Trent, despite suffering food poisoning in the days leading up to the race. With four laps remaining, the quintet was hauled back, but his performance spoke of a growing confidence.
“I’ve gone from just being able to get round in these races to being able to compete at the front of the race and get results,” English says. “It’s nice to be able to race again. It’s the first time that I’ve been involved in the race since I was a junior really.”
A season of adjustment to the “much harder” racing of senior level seems to have paid off. He attributes much of the accelerated development witnessed in 2013 to his experiences in Australia, where an early-season victory appears to have given him increased faith in his own abilities.
Victory at the Milk Race came at the expense of the experienced Alexandre Blain, now riding for Raleigh and a former member of the Endura Racing and Cofidis squads. English followed Blain clear of a bunch containing his Rapha Condor JLT team-mate, Ed Clancy, leaving the double Olympic champion to control matters while he resolved matters with Blain. “He attacked me three or four times, but with two laps to go, I got away and stayed away until the end of the race,” English recalls.
The week ahead promises to be another grueling one. Two further rounds of the Tour Series will take him to Redditch and to Canary Wharf, and he will race again in the capital on Saturday, at the IG London Nocturne. He admits to surprise at the demands made by the schedule, and identifies the lack of sleep at the most taxing aspect. “You’re not asleep before 2am or 3am, and that catches up with after about a week or so.”
Recognising limits and learning when to back off is one of the greatest lessons English learned in his first season with Rapha Condor JLT, he says. He attributes growing strength to his new ability to compete at the sharp end of senior races, as well as increased tactical awareness.
The Irish national road race championships will follow the Tour Series on his agenda, and victory in the under 23 race “would be good,” he says. Saturday’s Nocturne represents a more immediate challenge. He identifies the race, held on home soil for the team’s sponsors, as “a big one for the men in black. “It’s one of the only ones we haven’t won in the last few years, so we’ll be out to try and win there,” he says.
The odds will be stacked heavily in favour of Movistar’s Alex Dowsett, a rider who lapped the entire field en route to victory at his last visit to the Nocturne two years ago, but Rapha Condor JLT and their rivals among Britain’s UCI Continental squads can be relied upon to try and tear up the script. English, whose growing strength and confidence has already brought him success this year, is likely to be among those on the attack.