Dan McLay interview: “There’s no point having any fear about my Tour de France debut”

British rider remains grounded after Tour de France 2016 selection with Fortuneo-Vital Concept

British sprinter Dan McLay will make his Tour de France debut this weekend, hunting for stage wins with French UCI ProContinental team Fortuneo-Vital Concept and the 24-year-old will take a fearless attitude into his first appearance in cycling’s greatest race.

McLay becomes the 66th Brit to take to the Tour de France start line and it completes a journey which saw the New Zealand-born but Leicestershire-raised rider benefit from the backing of the Dave Rayner Fund as a junior before joining the Lotto-Soudal under-23 development team and then turning pro last year.

McLay’s first pro win arrived this season, with a brilliant sprint at the GP Denain, where he weaved his way through the bunch and squeezed through a seemingly impossible gap to take victory, and a second quickly followed at the Grand Prix de la Somme, highlight McLay as one of the riders to watch this summer.

The Tour de France is a very different beast, of course, and McLay will sprint shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel over the next three weeks – but he insists his best hope at the Tour is to banish any nerves and throw himself into the action.

Dan McLay has been selected to make his Tour de France debut in 2016 (Pic: Sirotti)

“I think, even if I hadn’t got results this season, there’d be no point in having any fear,” he told RCUK.

“It’s the chance to find out what you have got on a level with those WorldTour guys so I think we’ll just see how it goes and get stuck in really.

“I’ve not looked too far ahead, I just want to stay relaxed about it and take each stage as it comes. You don’t want to look too far forward or you’ll just give yourself more to dread.”

McLay was a later addition to the Fortuneo-Vital Concept team, one of three riders confirmed after last weekend’s national championships.

  • Dan McLay pro wins

    La Tropicale Amissa Bongo – stage win
    Otley Grand Prix 2015
    – winner
    GP de Denain 2016
     – winner
    Grand Prix de la Somme 2016 – winner

His late call-up may have caught some out, but it was no surprise to McLay himself who admitted the Tour had been on his mind as his form improved through the season.

It’s a stark contrast to countryman Simon Yates, whose late call-up in 2014, was – by the then 21-year-old’s own admission – something he’d not even considered a possibility that season.

But McLay has managed expectations by staying grounded throughout the season and only looking as far ahead as his next race – a mantra he is hoping to take to the Tour de France.

“It was a bit of a target for me,” he admits. “But in the same way I knew I’d have to get the results so I was just focusing on the races in front of me.

“I think, even if I hadn’t got results this season, there’d be no point in having any fear”

“As it got nearer, and became a little bit more of a possibility, that’s when I started thinking about it a bit more.

“It’s always been there at the back of my mind but in the same way you can’t look too far beyond your next race.

“I think the beginning of the year was a bit slow but then the legs started getting there. I got a couple of results, and was constantly up there in most races, so gradually thought it was more and more possible to get to the Tour.”

McLay will be joined on the Mont-Saint-Michel startline by Norwegian team-mate Vegard Breen and Frenchman Armindo Fonseca, both of whom will be tasked with delivering McLay to the front for the bunch sprints.

Where the likes of Cavendish can count on a well-drilled and dedicated sprint train, Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s budget does not allow for such a luxury.

Nevertheless, McLay believes the more they race together – Breen having been present for both of the Brit’s victories this season – the more chance they have of success.

“With the sprinting, at the back-end of the race, we’re still working on that,” he explains. “We’ve not got a full sprint train line-up, which is normal for a team of our level – you wouldn’t expect us to have that.

“We’ve been working on what we can do though, and this will be a good test of how we can set up, getting in the right places.

“In general, we’re getting better each race we’ve done and hopefully that will continue now.”

Fortuneo-Vital Concept line-up ahead of the 2016 Tour de France (Pic: Sirotti)

The form book reflects McLay’s ambition as, since his GP de Denain victory, he has been in the top five in stages of the Tour de Picardie, Baloise Belgium Tour, Boucles de la Mayenne and Route du Sud.

Now McLay will compete on an altogether different level but the Brit is keen to see what he can do when pitted against the likes of Cavendish,Kittel, Greipel and Peter Sagan.

“I’m pretty excited and I think the form’s there so I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve not picked any one stage in particular to target.

“It will be a case of just trying to be up there in every sprint, putting myself in a good position before it and hopefully I can be in a good place to really see what the legs have got.”

McLay admits his team are still fine-tuning their sprint lead-out, but says the target is to get in the right position to really test his legs at the Tour (Pic: Sirotti)

McLay will be one of eight Brits on this year’s startline – joining defending champion Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard of Team Sky, Dimension Data duo Mark Cavendish and Steve Cummings, and Orica-GreenEDGE’s Adam Yates.

  • Most recent British Tour de France debuts

    2016 – Dan McLay
    – Luke Rowe, Alex Dowsett, Adam Yates
    2014 – Simon Yates
    2013 – Peter Kennaugh, Ian Stannard

It’s two down on last year’s tally of ten, but reflective of the wider picture in recent years, which has seen more and more Brits selected for the Tour.

But McLay’s mind is fixed firmly on his own path first and foremost on his mind, rather than British success, as he prepares to add his name to the long list of homegrown talent at the Tour.

However, he jokes there will be one big advantage of having other British riders around should he find himself out the back when the big climbing starts.

“Every year there seems to be, in general, more and more British riders doing the Tour but I’ve not thought about it in that context,” he said.

McLay says there is no point fearing his Tour de France debut (Pic: Sirotti)

“I just want to ride it for myself, but it will always be good to have other Brits around and hopefully there’ll be a couple in the grupetto when we have the hard days!

“In some ways you look forward to the suffering in the mountains, but you do dread it as well.”

Still, dread and fear are far from McLay’s mind as he prepares for Saturday’s Grand Départ  – and a man without fear for reputation can be a dangerous prospect indeed.

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