Team Sky’s Luke Rowe is relishing the chance to pull on the Welsh jersey at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but the 23-year-old insists the cobbled Classics remain his biggest target.
Cardiff-born Rowe, 23, is one of a number of Welsh cyclists making their mark at the top level of cycling, with team-mate Geraint Thomas and double world champion Becky James among the others set to represent the principality in Scotland next year.
But Rowe, who has spoken of his love of the cobbles before, told RCUK his primary target in 2014 is a solid showing in the spring.
“For me it’s all about the Classics next year,” he said. “I’ve not even looked beyond the first week of April. Between now and then I just want to do the best I can in the Classics.
“If that means just being a better supporting rider, maybe in the odd race getting a chance, I don’t know, but whatever it is I just want to be able to do the best possible job in them.”
Rowe first showed his potential on the cobbles as a member of the British Cycling’s academy, finishing fifth in the Tour of Flanders espoir event in 2010 among a field including Ramanus Navardauskas (now of Garmin-Sharp), Michael Matthews (now Orica-GreenEDGE) and John Degenkolb (now Argos-Shimano).
This year the Welshman was handed his professional debut in all of the cobbled Classics with Sky, and also competed in the Omloop Het Niewsblad, Across Flanders and Scheldeprijs.
And having enjoyed his first taste of the races at the highest level, he admits the chance to ride in them is what inspires him to take part in the sport.
“I’m not sure what it is about the Classics,” he said. “I think it’s just the style of racing I enjoy.
“Maybe it’s living back in Wales, weathering the storm, going through some crap weather – I’m sure that’s got to contribute to why I love them so much!
“For me though, there are no other races that come close to the Classics. I eat, sleep and breath what I get from my bike, and the reason I get on my bike is for the Classics. That’s just the way I am.”
Alongside his debut in the spring monuments, Rowe was also handed a Grand Tour debut this year, his second with Team Sky, when he started the Vuelta.
And while his target of finishing remained unfulfilled when he was forced to withdraw in the final week, he hopes his experience on the demanding route will serve him well come next season.
He explained: “It definitely takes you up a level, and gives you a step forward.
“Obviously I didn’t finish, I pulled out on the 15th day. That was a big shame but I think it will definitely help me step up next year, and put me in good stead heading into the classics.”
While he is yet to look beyond Paris-Roubaix as he assesses his targets for the coming year however, Rowe is determined to play a part in Wales’ Commonwealth Games efforts in July.
At the last Games in Delhi, in 2010, Rowe was the highest-placed Welsh finisher in the men’s road race, coming ninth.
And though he has also achieved success on the track – twice winning the national madison title – Rowe believes his ambitions on the road mean he is likely to forego the boards in Glasgow.
“At the moment I’m thinking it will just be road,” he said. “With the track you have to put so much into it and so many hours that my road season could suffer from it.
“But it’s quite a big target. It’s the only time every four years that I get to ride for Wales and pull the Welsh jersey on.
“Being a patriotic guy, for me it’s definitely quite a big goal to go there and ride in the road race.
“I’ll have a stab at the time trial too probably, it is definitely a massive goal.”
Next year will also provide Rowe with the chance to ride in front of a home crowd, with the national road race set to take place in Abergavenny.
The Welshman finished fifth in the race in Glasgow last year, missing the early attack from which Mark Cavendish went on to win the overall title but attacking off the front of a pursuing quintet to match his earlier time trial placing.
Rowe insists he could have done even better however, and hopes a Welsh crowd will spur him on to do exactly that next time out.
“In the last few years I’ve been there or thereabouts,” he explained. “I’ve got quite a few top tens, and I think last year if I had raced it a bit better I could have got better than fifth.
“So looking forward, I definitely want to go to Abergavenny and try and get a result, whether it’s another top ten or a podium or a win, it’s just getting the best out of myself.
“With it being on home soil, that’s an even bigger incentive.”
The race will be just another example of Wales’ growing position in cycling, and with Rowe an example of the glittering Welsh generation coming to fruition at the moment there is reason to be optimistic about the 23-year-old’s hopes in 2014 too.