Nine of Rapha Condor Sharp’s 14-strong squad for 2012 have been recruited from the ranks of junior and under-23 racing.
Team manager, John Herety, has appointed mentors from among his senior riders to ease the path of his young recruits.
As the team’s longest serving rider, Dean Downing was an obvious choice for mentor, a role he first discussed with Herety last October. Roommate to 20-year-old Felix English on the team’s second training camp, Downing said he was able to pass on some of his experience.
“We didn’t sit down for half-an-hour and say, ‘Now we’re mentoring’. It was much more relaxed. We’d sit around the dinner table in the evening,” Downing told RoadCyclingUK.
“The young riders were all asking questions. We’re trying to teach the things that aren’t in the books. They’re asking about training, where to sit in the peloton, how to prepare for big races. The Tour of Taiwan and the Tour of Normandy will be two of the biggest races of their careers already. Those will be massive races for the young riders. Luke [Mellor] was doing junior races last year. It’s a massive step up. Obviously, the speed will be a lot higher. I’ve just been helping them out with day-to-day life in the team. They’re getting it really quickly.”
English and fellow under-23 recruit, Oliver Rossi, said their second training camp had been more physically demanding than the first, with entire days devoted to separate disciplines, including climbing, sprints, and time trials. “We’d ride out together and then make our own efforts,” said Rossi, who described working within prescribed heart rate and power zones. One of the days was spent riding as a team, English added, a ride of between 150km and 160km with some 3,000 metres of climbing.
Downing said the young riders’ willingness to take advice, with Rossi taking time out of the first camp to fend off the onset of a cold, had allowed them to make the most of their pre-season training.
“We have really gelled as a team. We were doing lots of race drills: time trials, sprints, lead outs, climbing. For the youngsters, they came through the second camp better than the first. The second camp was harder with an extra training day and every rider came through healthy. They’ve listened to what we’ve been telling them. It’s all about recovery,” he said.
Both English and Rossi said they had grown more accustomed to being part of a professional set up. “After the first camp, it was still a bit, ‘Wow, I’m on the team’ but now I feel part of it,” said Rossi. English recalled evenings at the team hotel spent following the London round of the UCI Track World Cup on Twitter, looking for the results of friends made on a track training camp in Mallorca: his Ireland teammate, Martyn Irvine, Mexico’s Sophie Ortiz, and America’s Sarah Hamer, who won the women’s omnium.
Downing said the team’s success rate would be difficult to match this year, but warned that the young riders may deliver a level of performance some may not expect from such a youthful squad.
“Maybe we won’t win quite as many races. We won over 40 races last year. Thirty of them were big, international, televised races. That’s a pretty good strike rate. The thing about this team is there are no egos. The youngsters may surprise a few people,” he said.
While Downing has qualified as a coach, he has yet to offer formal coaching advice, but his experience, and work with the Out of the Saddle cycling club he runs with brother Russell, which last year raised £14,000 for good causes, had left him well placed for his additional role with Rapha Condor Sharp, he said. “I’m relishing bringing something else into my cycling career. I’m looking forward to passing my experience on within races and outside of races.”
Despite his enthusiasm for his new role, retirement is far from Downing’s thoughts. He is focussed on the season ahead, in particular the Tour Series, which starts on Tuesday May 15.
“I’m still a racing cyclist. I’m an out and out racer. I’m looking forward to the stage races. The Tour of Taiwan and the Tour of Korea will bring me straight to the Tour Series. That’s my baby. I’ve ridden every Tour Series with the team. There’s ten races this year. In the winter I’ve been thinking about that all the time,” he said.