Interviews Riders

U23 rider to watch: Matt Walls interview

Sprint prodigy aiming high on both track and road

At just 20, Matt Walls can already boast three UCI road race wins, a European track championships gold medal and a track World Cup gold in the omnium, the latter achieved by beating the reigning Olympic omnium champion Elia Viviani. It’s safe to say the powerful sprinter took a giant leap forward in his development in 2018, and if he continues this progression, 2019 could be even better. This is why he is one of our U23 riders to watch.

On the road, Walls took three UCI wins last season: two stages of the Flèche du Sud (as well as the points jersey) and a stage of the Paris-Arras Tour. He also won a Belgian kermess race, Templeuve. And on the domestic scene, he won the Otley Grand Prix (outsprinting our recent interviewee Matt Gibson) and took second in the Stockton Grand Prix.

Matt Walls wins stage 5 of the 2018 Flèche du Sud. Photo: Marcel Nickels / Flèche du Sud

On the track, he won two national golds (in the omnium and team pursuit), elimination race gold in the senior European championships and three U23 European championship golds. And then came his haul at the London Track World Cup in December, where he took silver in the madison, bronze in the team pursuit and the aforementioned gold in the omnium.

He’ll stay with the GB senior academy in 2019 and will continue to juggle both his track and road ambitions.

We caught up with him recently to reflect on his outstanding season and what he hopes to achieve this year and beyond.

It was certainly my best year to date, both on the road and track

Looking back at the recent track World Cup in London, the weekend was littered with stand-out performances by you: the dramatic comeback in the team pursuit, the storming madison silver and then the classy omnium victory against the reigning Olympic champion. Did you expect to have such a strong weekend?

After a good training block in Girona, I went to Portugal with Fred [Wright, his teammate from the GB Academy and another of our U23 riders to watch – Ed] and raced over three days on the track, which gave me some good track legs for London. I was targeting two podiums, which was quite ambitious, but as the weekend went on I felt good. I attacked each race as they came and fortunately things went our way in each race. It was a fantastic weekend and to come away with three medals, especially the gold, was better than expected. 

How would you sum up your 2018 season?

It was certainly my best year to date, both on the road and track. I managed a tough early season Belgium block which carried through to the stage races mid-season. I then focussed on the track for a month for both the elite and U23 European Championships. To finish the year with 4 National and 4 European medals, and a Gold at the World Cup, on the track, on top of 5 wins and 10 podiums on the road, it’s safe to say I exceeded all my targets!

Matt Walls at the London round of the track World Cup, December 2018. Photo: Tom Jenkins / Guardian

It was an impressive haul. If you had to pick a highlight, what would it be?

On the track, both the European Championships and then finishing the year off with the London World Cup. On the road, I would say the stage 5 in Flèche du sud, where I won my second race of the tour and the points jersey. This gave me the confidence for the rest of the season and showed I could compete at this high level.

In terms of your road success, what do you put that down to?

I had a good winter training block and no main injuries throughout the season. I benefitted from a good team around me and with Keith [Lambert] and the support team we targeted suitable races for all the academy riders.

Your UCI race wins were all bunch sprint victories. Do you see yourself primarily as a sprinter?

I have shown I can finish off a bunch sprint, but I am still progressing as a rider, and will look to develop into a classics and stage racer in the coming years.

You mixed road racing with track racing in 2018. And I understand you plan to do the same in 2019. How come you have that dual focus? And is one more of a priority than the other?

I enjoy both so want to continue developing in both disciplines. They both complement each other and the two seasons allow me to be able to work on both.

Matt Walls pips Filippo Fortin to Stage 1 of the Flèche du Sud, 2018. Photo: Marcel Nickels / Flèche du Sud

Do you know what your road race programme will look like at all in 2019? Which races might we expect to see you at?

The specific programme is not mapped out yet, but it’s likely to be similar to the last few years. We start with an early season Belgium block, then on to some stage racing. Then it’s likely to be full on for maybe the Giro or L’Avenir before we look at the worlds in Yorkshire to finish off the season. I may also do the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain. 

And what are your goals for the 2019 road season? Is there anything in particular that you are targetting?

I will be working with the team to get some results in the Nations Cup events during the season. In between these, it will be working towards one day and stage races wins that suit my attributes.

Finally, what are your ambitions longer-term in cycling?

At this stage of my career I want to aim high, so the Olympics and world championships on the track, with a World Tour road team over the next few years. Let’s see how I develop during 2019.