Pro cyclist interviews: Luke Rowe, Team Sky

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Pro cyclist interviews: Team Sky’s Luke Rowe

Luke Rowe (Team Sky) has told RoadCyclingUK he is ready for the Vuelta a Espana.

The 23-year-old Welshman, who turned pro with Team Sky at the start of 2012, will roll out in Vilanova de Arousa on Saturday (August 24) for the start of the 68th edition of Spain’s national tour.

Rowe, who raced as part of Team Sky’s Classics squad in the spring, and has competed in a series of prestigious week-long stage races this season, including the Tours of Switzerland and the Basque Country, said he was ready to take on his first three-week race.

Luke Rowe, pictured here on the opening stage of the 2013 Tour Down Under, is no stranger to heat and hills. He will face both in the Vuelta a Espana, his first Grand Tour

“It is another level, but I think I’m ready for it,” Rowe said. “It’s something else again. I’ve spoken to a lot of guys. They’ve told me what to expect and how hard it is. The main objective is to help the team and support the team as much as possible. Second to that is to get through the race. Not only is it the Vuelta, it’s a hard Vuelta.”

Team Sky will be led by the 25-year-old Colombian, Sergio Henao, one of the most exciting climbing talents in professional cycling, a rider with the Giro d’Italia already in his legs, and who finished third overall at the Tour of the Basque Country, a race whose challenges Rowe described as the closest of those he will face at  Grand Tour, despite finishing two Tours de Suisse.

It’s definitely going to be purely a supportive role. You’ve got to be realistic. I’m going to my first Grand Tour with one of the biggest teams in the world and one that I think has a realistic chance of winning it

“It’s definitely going to be purely a supportive role,” Rowe said of his duties at the Vuelta. But that support will not be solely for Henao. On the flat stages, Rowe will ride for team-mate, Edvald Boasson Hagen, the former Norweigian champion and two-time Tour de France stage winner, who will be seeking to get his season back on track after crashing out of the French national tour. “On a personal note, I won’t get any chances,” Rowe said. “You’ve got to be realistic. I’m going to my first Grand Tour with one of the biggest teams in the world and one that I think has a realistic chance of winning it.”

Rowe admits his heart belongs to the Classics, but believes the Vuelta will have a knock-on effect for his campaign next season

Rowe said he had told Team Sky’s management at the start of the year that he wanted to ride the Vuelta. His task this season had been to remain a contender “race-by-race” for one of just nine places in the team. Confirmation of his place  in the Vuelta squad had lifted a weight, he told RoadCyclinguUK. “It was a nice to get the final nod.”

Rowe began his professional career with Dave Brailsford’s WorldTour team only last January and after an impressive debut season, one that included victory on the opening stage of the Tour of Britain and with it ownership of the first leader’s jersey of the race, has continued his rapid development. “It really has flown by,” he said. “It only seems like yesterday that I was pulling on the Team Sky jersey for the first time.”

Rowe’s last race was the five-stage Vuelta a Burgos in northern Spain, one whose closing stage included six categorised climbs and an hors categorie summit finish

Fast forward little more than a year, and Rowe rolled out this spring for the most prestigious of the Northern Classics: Gent Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix. “The Classics are where my heart lies,” he said. “They suit my characteristics as a rider and I enjoy riding them,” he said, adding that completing races like the Vuelta will have a “knock on effect”, making him a stronger rider for a renewed campaign in the brutal one day races of the early season.

Luke Rowe, pictured here with David Millar, has ridden two Tours de Suisse. The Vuelta, he admits, will be “another level”

Rowe is under no illusions about the scale of the challenge that awaits him. This year’s Vuelta has just six flat stages: the remaining 15 days will take him into mountainous terrain, with two thirds of them classified as high mountains. “That’s where I’m most likely to struggle: on the long climbs,” he admitted. His strategy there, he said, will be “to find a pace, a rhythm, and get through day-by-day”.

“I’m fairly confident I can make it all the way to Madrid,” he added. “It’s a case of wait and see.”

The Welshman is one of several riders from the WorldTour peloton to have taken up residence on the Cote d’Azure. Rowe lives in Nice, and trains with another Welsh exile resident in the town, Geraint Thomas. Rowe described Nice as “one of the nicest places in the world”, if occasionally boring. “It’s a beautiful place to be, it’s a beautiful place to ride your bike, and to spend your time, but you’ve got to keep focused on the job at hand and why you’re out here,” he said.

When it gets that hot – I’m talking potentially over 40 degrees – it is going to be a factor. Spending as much time as possible in Nice is as much as I can do, and just grin and bear it on the day

Rowe is in Nice primarily to ride in the hills and try to acclimatise to the strength-sapping heat he will face in Spain, a world away from his native Cardiff. “When it gets that hot – I’m talking potentially over 40 degrees – it is going to be a factor,” he admitted. “Spending as much time as possible in Nice is as much as I can do, and just grin and bear it on the day.”

His last race was the five-stage Vuelta a Burgos in northern Spain, one whose closing stage included six categorised climbs and an hors categorie summit finish. Rowe considered the race good preparation for the Vuelta, and has since completed his preparations in the hot environment and hills of Nice.

He took a short break from his preparations to return to Wales for the Hitters Grand Prix, a charity event he had staged to raise funds for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, and to “give something back” to the racing scene in Wales that had supported his early career. “It was a massive, massive, massive success,” said Rowe.

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