The Di- Data rider talks Yorkshire, his rise through the ranks and his Flanders ambitions
Classics specialist Scott Thwaites on his ambitions
The buzz around cycling in Yorkshire is massive.
We’ve got a lot of iconic figures from here. Lizzie [Deignan] grew up in Otley, which is a couple of miles away from where I grew up. I had a lot of mentors, people like Sid Barras and Keith Lambert who were top pros in their day.
They passed down their knowledge: how to be in a group, what training to do. They taught me how to ride smoothly in a group which translates well into racing and saving energy. They also taught me respect. I grew up in Burley, a small village, but I live on the outskirts of Leeds now. I love the area, and it’s a friendly place. The roads around Yorkshire are perfect for Classics training
– they’re very tough roads with lots of short punchy climbs where you can get your effort out. I’m proud of where I come from but maybe I don’t appreciate it as much as people visiting the area.
You ride past some amazing places, like Cow and Calf rocks, but I went to school at the bottom for years so it’s just daily life for me. I came from mountain biking and riding smaller road races and crits. I joined Endura and started riding the Tour Series and the Premier Calendars. As the team grew, bringing in better riders, I grew with the team. When the team merged with NetApp it was the right time for me.
I’d reached the limit of what I could achieve in Britain – I’d won the crit nationals, the U23 nationals and the Premier Calendar, so there wasn’t much more I could do. When that team changed to Bora that was when I knuckled down and said I wanted to be a Classics rider. I love the Classics.
They are stressful but that’s part of cycling – you have to fight to be there. There is action all day, rather than some grand tour stages which can be a slow-burning war of attrition. I was probably one of the top sprinters in Britain,
but when you are up against guys like Cav and Kittel you realise you’re not actually that good. In my first few years of cycling it was always Flanders and Roubaix that I watched.
As a pro you want to ride the Tour but the Classics really caught my eye. The guys who won those were who I looked up to. I wanted to be like them. Flanders is the race which I hope one day will be my big win or big result in the future. I love the race, I love the course, I love the fans. I’ve started to get a bit lighter to help on the climbs.
In Flanders I’m getting stronger and I’ve progressed every year. I’ve been in the 70s, 60s, 20th, and this year I was sprinting for fifth. Every year I’m learning where I need to be and how to use my energy. In the final part of the race, positioning almost becomes less important.
It’s your legs. If you have the legs, you’ll be in the right position. I haven’t won a race yet, but I’ve been close.
I think it’s my confidence. I’ve come to the finish in the smaller classics and I’d usually have a good chance but I’ve hesitated in the sprint instead of backing myself. I hope if I crack it once and get the win, a few more will come along. I have a few more years to come, and it will happen. I got a seventh at last year’s Vuelta. I went in three breaks in the race and all three went to the finish – I don’t know whether that was skill or luck. Each one finished on a mountain, which didn’t suit me. When you are in there with guys like Darwin Atapuma and Pierre Rolland it’s difficult to win, but it was nice to get a top 10 in my first grand tour.