Published: 7 May 2013
Feature: Eddie Allen
Image: Tom Hodgkinson
Following an excellent team display by Great Britain’s junior endurance squad at the weekend’s Course de la Paix in the Czech Republic, British Cycling Olympic Development Programme Endurance Coach Matt Winston insists that it’s the learning experience more than the results that he’s most encouraged by.
Winston took a six man squad, comprising Tao Geoghegan Hart, Zachary May, Scott Davies, Chris Lawless, Germain Burton and Jake Ragen, and came away with a one-two for Burton and Lawless on stage two and a second place for Geoghegan Hart on a difficult mountain stage which the GB team did much to animate.
Hart, who scored a fine third place in the Paris Roubaix Juniors in April, was also the GB team’s highest placed rider on GC, finishing fifth, with the whole team taking the fight to the dominant Danish junior squad over four days of racing in the Czech Republic.
However, Winston is ever keen to foreground the process of analysing the fine detail of the team’s performance in a constant quest for improvement.
“On the whole the race was really positive from our point of view. We always go to learn and develop on all aspects of bike riding,” said Winston, who is guiding is development squad through a series of UCI juniors Nations’ Cup events, with the ultimate aim of honing their racecraft and qualifying for the Junior Road World Championships.
“We’ll go into the stage with a plan of how to win the bike race and we’ll set up for every stage to try to win it. But if we don’t win, we go back and review it and look at what went wrong, what we can do better. It’s our philosophy – as long as we go through the process – if the results come, that’s great and we celebrate that and if we don’t come that’s also OK.”
This philosophy is exemplified by his team’s performance on the opening stage of Course de la Paix. With a flat stage finish, the plan was to deliver Germain Burton to a sprint finish. However the squad missed the stage-winning six-man break, which went away with 10km to go.
“We still went through the process of doing the leadout for Germain and he won the bunch sprint for seventh place,” said Winston, pleased that the learning ethic that he’d instilled in his team had been played out on the road.
In the process of taking control of the bunch, the GB squad carved 32 seconds off the gap to the leading group, cutting their advantage to just eight seconds at the finish. Despite disappointment within the squad, Winston took the positives from his team’s display on the opening stage; “We looked at it afterwards and the lads were really disappointed that they missed the split – heads were down a little bit. But we’d won the bunch sprint so we know that the form’s there, we know we’re doing the right things and have the potential to get a result.”
Following a difficult time trial stage on day two, when the team were further down the standings than their coach expected, the young squad as motivated on stage 2b, another sprinter’s stage, where they were determined to right the wrongs of stage one. This time, their collective learning paid off in spades, with a Chris Lawless leadout for Germain Burton working to perfection, the two Great Britain riders going clear to take first and second on the podium.
“Chris kicked really hard at the top of the climb and Germain was sat on his wheel and had a look and they had a gap,” related Winston. “He was shouting at Chris ‘keep going, keep going’ and they both crossed the line first and second which was a great result. The lads were really happy about it and it was certainly the first time we’ve had a one-two on a stage.”
Buoyed by their success on day two, the squad was guided to take the fight to the leading Danish team, headed by eventual winner Mads Pedersen, on a hard 80km stage which featured two ascents of a tough 10km climb to a ski resort.
Winston’s advice to his team was to animate the race early on and unsettle the Danes. “We needed to force the Danish team onto the back foot early doors. Chris and Jake were really active in the first 30km before we got to the bottom of the climb to force Mads Pedersen (the yellow jersey) to chase and soften the Danes up a little bit.
“The lads were doing a fantastic job – getting themselves into moves and attacking and kept the pace really quick. Scott and Tao were sitting pretty and didn’t really have to do very much.”
Once again the tactic paid off, the GB riders instrumental in exploding the race on the first climb and splintering the Danish team. By the second ascent of the climb and mountain top finish, Pedersen was the only Dane left in contention, with GB’s Zach May and Tao Geoghegan Hart for company.
In the end the talented Dane took stage victory with Hart second, elevating him to fifth on GC in the process. “It was a really pleasing stage and the lads learned a lot from it,” asserted Winston. “A lot of riders seemed happy to sit and follow the Danes. The lads tried something new and aggressive in terms of the racing and take the fight to them. It shocked the Danes and caused panic in the bunch. Once we started doing it other nations started attacking. Everyone raced the whole stage which was really good to see.”
The final day saw another podium finish for GB, with Chris Lawless repeating his 2012 performance and finishing 3rd, as Pedersen consolidated his position with a stage win. It was the team’s reaction to the result which perhaps illuminated how far they’d come in that intervening year, as Winston described. “The difference in the team was we got third last year and everyone was delighted. This year, we got third and everyone was gutted.
“The lads have come on so much that they were gutted with 3rd in a bunch sprint. They want to win; they’re really enjoying riding as a team and getting stuck in.”
With the high days and school days of Course de la Paix behind them, Winston and his squad now turn their attention to Trofeo Karlsberg in two weeks’ time, their final outing in the Nations’ Cups before they turn their attention to Junior Track World Championships preparations.
Despite the team sitting in second position behind France in the UCI Nations Cup rankings at this point, the Winston’s eye is on the bigger picture of qualification for the road worlds. As it stands the team’s Nations’ Cup campaign has been impressive and their qualification looks to be a safe bet; “We’ve had eight days of racing at Nations Cup this year,” said Winston, who will take his squad to the Axel Tour next weekend before Karlsberg the week after. “Three days at Croatia, four days at Czech, plus Paris Roubaix and we’ve only had one day when a GB rider hasn’t been on the podium.”