James Knox: World­tour’s his oys­ter,

Hav­ing se­cured his first pro­fes­sional con­tract at Quick Step Floors for the 2018 sea­son, James Knox’s ca­reer is on the up

Cycling Weekly - - Contents - Paul Knott

Quick Step Floors Bri­tish neo-pro James Knox is doubt­ing him­self. But it’s not the prospect of his first sea­son in the World­tour pelo­ton, or join­ing the win­ningest team in the top flight, or work­ing un­der leg­endary team man­ager Pa­trick Le­fe­vere, who has over­seen the ca­reers of count­less cy­cling stars, that’s both­er­ing him — it’s his fail­ure to find do­mes­tic bliss.

“I moved out [to Girona] in 2016 with Dan Pearson be­fore he went to Aqua Blue, got more money and moved into a nicer place,” Knox says. “Then Jake Kelly and Mike Thomp­son, both on Wig­gins this year, moved out. There is some­thing wrong with me; ev­ery­one has one year and then they jack it in.”

In our time with Knox we can’t see any rea­son the calm, ma­ture and prag­matic Cum­brian would alien­ate his flat­mates. In­deed, he seems well equipped to deal with the pres­sure cook­ers of home life and the World­tour. Hardly sur­pris­ing when you con­sider he has al­ready been ac­cli­ma­tis­ing him­self to the strains he is set to face in cy­cling’s top flight.

“I put a lot of pres­sure on my­self to think that if I didn’t go pro af­ter my last year as an un­der-23 then I had ba­si­cally missed my chance,” he says.

“It’s strange be­cause for four years as an un­der-23 rider you put all your time and ef­fort in and you are sort of in the dark be­cause you don’t re­ally know what is hap­pen­ing. You are chas­ing this dream and then two weeks be­fore Tour de l’avenir I had three or four dif­fer­ent peo­ple con­tact me and you sud­denly think, ‘Woah, this is ac­tu­ally go­ing to hap­pen.’”

In­ter­est in Knox spiked in the time lead­ing up to the Tour de l’avenir. Af­ter his sec­ond place in the Liège-bas­togneliège U23 race, he fol­lowed it up with top 10 fin­ishes at the Tour Al­sace, Tour of Croa­tia and Ronde d’is­ard.

Climb­ing high

A sec­ond-place re­sult on the queen stage of the Tour de l’avenir be­hind Team Sky’s new sign­ing Egan Ber­nal con­firmed his po­ten­tial as one of the best young climbers around and helped se­cure an eighth place fin­ish in the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

Im­press­ing ea­gle-eyed scouts led to an in­vite to fit­ness tests at the renowned Bakala Academy. “Quick Step had a scout, [Jox­ean Fernán­dez] Matxin, at quite a lot of the races that I did well at,” Knox says. “He in­vited me to do the tests and I had my fin­gers crossed but didn’t know what to ex­pect. At the time I had a few in­ter­est­ing talks with other teams but in be­tween l’avenir and the Tour of Bri­tain I got the call from my agent to say there was an of­fer [from Quick Step] and it wasn’t some­thing I was go­ing to hang around with.”

This ap­pear­ance at the Tour of Bri­tain for the man from Levens was one of only a hand­ful on home soil all year, which is rare for a young Bri­tish rider yet to es­tab­lish them­selves in the pro ranks. “2017 was my sec­ond year with Team Wig­gins and I pretty much did an en­tire pro­gramme rac­ing in Europe, which is what I was pas­sion­ate about and felt I had the chance to do well in,” he says.

The 22-year-old says that this wasn’t a case of dis­ap­prov­ing of Bri­tish races and the scene it­self, but rather his slight frame wasn’t suited to the races at home — es­pe­cially when the end goal was to try and at­tract the at­ten­tion of World­tour teams.

“There is a part of me that is quite proud that I made my own way,” Knox says. “I haven’t taken the most fol­lowed route but rid­ing for Zappi’s in 2014, rac­ing in Italy with climbs was some­thing that was amaz­ing to do. Whereas, I wouldn’t get round a Tour Series, and I wasn’t go­ing to do well rock­ing up to Premier Cal­en­dar races with guys who have got 10-15-year ca­reers and are

in­cred­i­bly strong do­mes­ti­cally. So your de­vel­op­ment and con­fi­dence can be­gin to stut­ter.”

His de­ci­sion to sign for Bel­gian su­perteam Quick Step dis­plays a sim­i­lar con­fi­dence that he can carve his own path as he shuns the more com­monly trav­elled route through the Bri­tish Cy­cling sys­tem that of­ten ends up at Team Sky. That very route has been crit­i­cised in re­cent times for stunt­ing the de­vel­op­ment of young riders who ar­rive with po­ten­tial but then find them­selves forced to leave the team to get chances to prove them­selves, such as Ben Swift and Peter Ken­naugh.

Oman on a mis­sion

“A lit­tle part of me hopes that maybe I will get more op­por­tu­ni­ties here, that’s the way I see it,” Knox says. “Ob­vi­ously Team Sky is an amaz­ing team but who knows how they work. You’ll never get the op­por­tu­nity to ride for both Sky and Quick Step at the same time, so there is no point wor­ry­ing about it.”

The first op­por­tu­nity for Knox to test his climb­ing legs will be at the Tour of Oman later this month be­fore a busy rac­ing cal­en­dar up un­til May takes him around some moun­tain­ous stage races at the Tour of the Basque Coun­try and Tour of Cal­i­for­nia along­side the ‘home’ roads of the Tour of Cat­alo­nia near his Girona base. Quick Step di­recteur sportif Brian Holm says Knox will have “no pres­sure” in these races and that it’s es­sen­tial to give him time to de­velop.

“It’s im­por­tant to let the big boys take the pres­sure, they are paid to do it, whereas the young riders are not,” Holm says. “So it is just step by step; he needs his rest and I can­not say he is go­ing to win the Tour de Suisse or Dauphiné or make a podium but we will just have to wait and see.”

Vuelta ini­ti­a­tion

The temp­ta­tion with young climbers like Knox is to test their legs out over a three-week race at the Vuelta a Es­paña to­wards the end of the sea­son. How­ever, that’s un­likely to be the case here. “There is no point the team say­ing there is go­ing to be a place in the Vuelta,” says Knox. “Be­cause I haven’t even done a race with them yet, so that would be a wasted prom­ise. I’ve spo­ken to coaches and di­recteur sportifs and they first want to see how I go in races and then how I re­act. I might be on my last legs on day seven but if I look al­right maybe they might think I can han­dle a Grand Tour.”

Given the way he has han­dled ev­ery­thing that cy­cling has thrown at him so far, we wouldn’t bet against him be­ing on that Span­ish start-line. Knox might have a few nag­ging anx­i­eties about his ap­peal to his flat­mates but in ev­ery other re­spect he seems a com­posed young man ready to take the next step in the cy­cling world.

“Maybe I will get more op­por­tu­ni­ties at Quick Step, that’s the way I see it”

Knox (right) jumped at the of­fer from Quick Step

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