“I’m the old man of the team now,” Mike Cuming laughs. “I’m washed up and done!”
His year as British under-23 champion ended less than a week ago when he raced for the first time as a senior at a national championships, but such is the youthful make-up of his Rapha Condor JLT team, the 2013 Tour de Korea winner jokes about his ‘veteran’ status.
There is little doubt that Cuming is one of John Herety’s senior riders, a status underlined by his hugely impressive overall victory in Asia earlier this month. Modest almost to a fault, he limits his ambition to promotion to the Pro Continental tier, but with a national title and international stage race victory already on his palmares, Cuming clearly does not lack ability.
You learn how to suffer that little bit more. It was a painful last couple of days, but I managed to dig in and get the job done.
He will roll out on Friday for the Leazes Criterium, the opening event of the four-day Virgin Money Cyclone, and on Sunday, he will contest the Beaumont Trophy, one of the most prestigious races on the domestic calendar. “Wiggins won it a couple of years back,” Cuming recalls. “Hopefully, one of the team can get up there: maybe myself, or one of the other lads. I’m pretty sure we’re capable of getting on the podium. Hopefully, I’ll be going well there and put in a good ride.”
“A good ride” accurately describes his performance in the 30-degree temperatures of Korea. With eight grueling stages, this year’s course was hillier than last, Cuming reveals. No stage race newcomer, with last year’s tours of Korea and Britain under his belt, he drew on previously untapped reserves this year to win in Asia, a victory completed with the assistance of just two team-mates during the final two stages.
He is quick to credit those who helped to defend his leader’s jersey against relentless attacks from the Pro Continental squads defeated by his British team. Richard Handley receives Cuming’s unstinting praise.
Journalists are fond of the adage that ownership of the yellow jersey gives its owner an edge. Cumings concurs. “I’d say so,” he says. “It definitely gave me that little bit extra.”
“It’s a funny feeling. It was a proud feeling. It was the first time for me, and I got a bit of adrenalin from it.”
Adrenalin will only take a rider so far, however. Cuming attributes the greatest portion of his victory variously to “learning how to suffer that little bit more”, “digging in and getting the job done”, and conserving energy at every possible point in the race”. His victory is a testament to the speed with which he has learned the stage racer’s craft.
He began the race with hopes only of “getting up there on a stage”, and assisting Handley in a bid for GC. Flickering form in the Rás Tailteann, enough to bring Cuming the king of the mountains jersey for two days, had been extinguished by illness and left him with no serious ambition for the Korean tour, a race he describes as “really competitive”, and one in which each team started with a realistic chance of overall victory. The fact that it was Handley and Rapha Condor JLT speaks volumes for the British riders’ determination.
“It was a bit of an eye-opener to see those boys just absolutely rip it to shreds.” Cuming is in little doubt of the talent exhibited at cycling’s top tier. The visitors to the national championships from cycling’s elite UCI WorldTour put on a dominant display in a race the describes as one that reached its fullest intensity “from the gun”.
I did my best to go with Cav and Millar and Stannard and Kennaugh. It was a bit of an eye-opener to see those boys just absolutely rip it to shreds
Rapha Condor JLT’s Kristian House, winner of the national road race championship in 2009, was the first rider home from outside the WorldTour, a result Cuming says the team was satisfied with. “I did my best to go with Cav and Millar and Stannard and Kennaugh,” he adds, “but I couldn’t quite hold the wheel.”
Cuming will resume battle with the WorldTour heavyweights in the Tour of Britain this September. It’s a race targeted by Bradley Wiggins and one whose increasing status looks set to continue this year when many of the international peloton will seek an opportunity to race on British roads before next year’s Grand Depart in Yorkshire.
Competition in week-long stages races is where Cuming finds his best form. A training schedule of around 20-hours a week, begun in December at a training camp on Tenerife with travel company, Neon Velo, includes “easy days, long rides, and a bit of intensity”. But it is the relentless schedule of seven consecutive days of racing he regards as “definitely the toughest” part of his programme.
Shorter engagements will fill Cuming’s time until Sunday September 15, when the Tour of Britain peloton rolls out of Peebles for eight days and 1,045km of racing. Premier Calendar races, rounds of the National Criterium Series and this weekend’s Leazes Criteriums and Beaumont Trophy represent more immediate concerns.
Thousands of spectators are expected in Newcastle for the four-day Virgin Money Cyclone festival of which the Leazes crits and Beamount Trophy, along with the Curlew Cup, will represent the high points. Cuming, fresh from the biggest victory of his career, will be among the riders attracting the greatest attention.
The Virgin Money Cyclone festival of cycling opens today in Newcastle. For more information on a four-day programme of racing and challenge rides, click here.