In interview with Alex Dowsett

After a year in which Alex Dowsett described to me as his most consistent and complete on the bike I caught up with Alex at the Porsche Experience Centre at Silverstone. I thought what better treat for Alex to end the year than in his dream car, the Porsche 911 GT2 RS.

You may think it odd but the current British National Time Trial Champion is a huge fan of the automotive, he is from Essex after all and his car history will tell you that too. Peugeot 206 with a GT body kit, Mk3 Ford Focus RS, a 510 bhp Jaguar XKR while at Team Sky which was only good for straight lines, not so much the bendy stuff, two Mercedes C63 AMG’s one of which was an Edition 1 and a Lotus Exige. Things have calmed down for Alex now though with a Volkswagen Golf R… remapped and with a Miltek exhaust, you can take the boy out of Essex, I guess. It’s fair to say he’s is a true petrolhead as well as a very talented bike rider.

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In 2019, Alex Dowsett went to achieve his 6th British National Time Trial Championship, a solid and strong performance at the Tour de France followed by a hugely impressive fifth place at the World Championships in Harrogate.

But how does Alex see his 2019, which has possibly been his best year on the bike: “I’ve been more consistent than normal that’s for sure, the personal results have been nice but I’ve been more happy with the work I’ve done for the team within races, I’ve been reliably there in leadouts when needed and executed my role within the leadout as planned.  Also Team time trials I’ve done more than just churned out a few solid turns, I did the bike fit for a few riders on the TT bike, and helped a lot with strategy there.  Often this kind of thing goes somewhat unnoticed if it doesn’t then end with a win which, it’s no secret we’ve struggled with. But that shouldn’t detract from the fact we worked as a great team these last 2 years.”

It’s interesting to know that the Time Trial specialist in the team will be helping other riders in the team on their positioning, you would assume there would be someone on the teams staff who was doing that already, not one of the riders.

So why would a cyclist be that in to cars? He’s not the only petrol head in the professional Peloton, Mark Cavendish for one and one day specialist Tom Boonen who has now retired and took up a new career in to motor racing. Cars and car racing is a lot closer to Alex than you would think, his dad Phil Dowsett was a very handy BTCC driver with 23 wins and 59 podiums from 104 race starts.

His dad’s success had inspired Alex to be a racing driver and even to this day he’d love to race cars “nowadays though just having talent and wanting it simply isn’t enough in the motor racing world, you’ve got to have the financial backing.  I saw a documentary on Verstappen, was in a kart having millions thrown at his career before he even registered that maybe he’d like to be a footballer or something.”

Given his dad’s success of being on the podium of over the half the races he started, you’d be forgiven for thinking maybe he should have tried racing a bit, Alex see’s it a different way though “I don’t resent those guys for a second, there’s no way I’d have had the success I’ve enjoyed as a bike racer in cars, I feel like I’m doing what I was born to do. I figured that out when I ran 2nd to Ian Stannard in the Schoolboys GHS final as a 14 year old, I was the only 14 year old in a top 10 of 16 year olds, seeing that was when it dawned on me that I’d found my calling.”

It can be conflicting though, everyone wants peace on the roads and I believe even drivers want an infrastructure which accommodates both drivers and cyclists without clogging up roads. “I think we’re all striving for everyone on the roads to get along, there’s a lot of people on the UK roads. You notice that when you go away.  I think that’s a large part of the problem also. Ironically that could be alleviated with cycling, less space taken.”

Alex’s take on the car driver Vs cyclist is an interesting one: “There are guilty parties on both sides, I think anyone would agree with that. But we are more vulnerable we’ll be hit from behind easily and the consequences of being hit are far more severe so the cyclist should naturally be more protected by the infrastructure than the motorist.  I also have a theory as to why motorists get so angry as well, I maybe wrong but it stemmed from riding TT’s.  Initially the course recon would be done in a car and it felt LONG, even 10miles id start questioning a pacing strategy from the car as it felt like eternity even though its taken 10-15minutes.  Then racing it on a bike it’d fly by even though it would’ve taken substantially longer.  This is because you are fundamentally bored behind the wheel but do need an element of concentration available, not nearly the same mental energy as what’s required to race a bike and so a busy mind is one where time is perceived to be faster and also travel is a nuisance, whereas a bike ride/race is a joy.  What I’m saying is, a driver has to ease up behind a cyclist for ultimately 5-30seconds, and then 9 times out of 10 drive back up to the queue of traffic they were part of in the first place. However this is perceived to be so much longer because of what I’ve stated above which is why they get so angry.  Just a theory and obviously only highlights the issues in the current UK climate which is a far cry from places like Holland, which is the benchmark. We all need to coexist on the road happily. It’s a mindset change all round.”

It was 48 hours after securing a bronze medal at the UCI World Championships Lauren Dolan was knocked off her bike from a car after he did what police called ‘punishment breaking’. Pulling in front of her and slamming on their brakes. Lauren broke her collar bone and suffered some soft tissue damage. Alex has had his run ins with cars on the road too, and it was only last Winter that he had his closest call, cycling around 20mph down a country road with an overtaking car coming the opposite way doing around 70-90mph. a collision speed of about 90-110mph  “I moved over to between the white line and the kerb and breathed in. I sat at the side of the road in tears in both anger that someone could be so reckless and the thought of what being a few inches to the right, I sent an emotional tweet out as that was all I could do, I didn’t have the guys reg plate number, I could only report the colour and make of the car and time of day/road it was which added to the frustration as he’d got away scot free.  The driver since got in touch and apologised, which was something, power of social media!”

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Alex will be staying in the Worldtour next season with an announcement to be made on that shortly – I did wonder though, which team Alex would like to go to: “I’d go back to Trek Livestrong, I think. Take a few new mates with me as well but mostly because it was the most fun year of my career.  Sadly you can’t be under 23 again though maybe Axel Merckx can introduce an honorary return place or something!”

This year we also saw Victor Campenaerts best Bradley Wiggins’ hour record by 563 metres. Bradley, of course, took the record from Alex after he held it for just a month. Afterwards Alex stated his intention to get the record back but since then, there seems to have been focus elsewhere, which is understandable. Asked whether he would go for it again: “Yes I would, for 2 reasons. The first is to break and hold a world record again, I’d imagine at the level it is now anyone that breaks it would hold it for more than a month as well.  Secondly and more significantly though we did so much prep for the last attempt but Jack Bobridge’s ride where he went fully into the red on lap 3 and then it was painful to watch afterwards gave us a scare of what happens if you don’t respect the hour.  So we rode far more conservatively than we could’ve, just enough to break the record.  It made it a very enjoyable experience as I wasn’t near my limit but I know there’s more to come.”

But timing to these attempts is key, Sir Bradley was able to set his own focus, setting up his own team for his successful attempt at the hour, Alex has an interesting idea as to when would be good to take on the hour for a second time “I think there’s something in riding a grand tour within a month or 2 prior to an attempt. I came out the tour strong and slow, as in I could do anything for as long as I wanted, but doing anything high intensity would cause some difficulties but that’s fine for an hour record attempt.” Which would be the stark opposite to Campenaerts who focused his winter fully on the hour and prepping to beat it.

To do it again though, the backing of a team or National Federation would be key, to break 55km in an hour (that’s 34 miles if you’re wondering – try that, try cycling at 34mph on the turbo next time you’re on it and see how long you can hold it there) it takes some serious effort.

2020 will see Alex’s tenth year as a professional cyclist and his 9th in the World Tour peloton, he doesn’t seem to be finished yet, either “I’m not finished until I’ve ticked all the boxes I wish to tick, then I think I’ll be happy to tap out on my terms and not someone else’s. When that is I don’t know.”

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