Interviews Riders

From newbie to pro in four years: Ed Hopper interview

Ribble Pro Cycling’s Crit King on his admirable 2018 and the step up for 2019

Few riders can say they’ve gone from never having raced a bike to being on a UCI Continental team within four years. That is a claim, though, that can be made by Ribble Pro Cycling’s Ed Hopper. The 32-year-old, who hails from Crewe, made quite the impact on the North West cycling scene last year and he has aspirations to go bigger for 2019.

With twelve victories, many of which were National B races, and a further eight podiums, Ed was undoubtedly one of the most successful riders on the British domestic scene in 2018. He bagged a number of early season crit victories, before lining up at the OVO Energy Tour Series rounds in Redditch and Aberystwyth. Strong performances in the Otley and Stafford GPs followed, and Ed concluded his first year in Ribble colours with victory in the fiercely contested Nateby Classic.

We caught up with him to see what this year holds…

Photo: Ellen Isherwood

What was your take on your 2018 season? Were your achievements a surprise or were they as a result of a lot of hard work and planning?

I was really happy with how 2018 went for me. My seasons before that were all based around getting as many races as possible under my belt, mainly for experience but also because I enjoy racing considerably more than training. I know some people love training (and I wish I did!) but that’s just not me.

Using racing for training is great for hitting early season form but the downside is I used to burn out by July. My goal for 2018 was to have a longer, more consistent season, which I feel like I achieved by winning my last race of the year, the Nateby Classic.

I think most people would say their results are from hard work and planning, but in my case it’s focusing on what I’m good at and being consistent. There’s no point in me going to mega hilly road races and getting belted every weekend. I know my strength lies in the crits and the road races with fast finishes, so that’s what I focus on.

I may be on a pro team now but in many ways I still feel like a 4th Cat as I have the same excitement and willingness to learn

The first time you raced a bike was in 2015. Since then you’ve gone on to gain your Elite licence in three years, and now for 2019 you’re riding for a UCI Continental team. What was it about that first race that got you hooked on the sport? And what has it been like to go from a newbie to a pro in just four years?

I actually used to compete in Olympic weightlifting as a 94kg lifter and I got second in the 2012 English Champs, and I qualified for the British Champs. Unfortunately I sustained a bad shoulder injury, so I had to give it up. In a bid to save money, I started riding to and from work, and I then started going out on actual rides in the summer of 2014. After some Strava bashing, I thought I’d enter a 4th Cat winter series near my in-laws’ home. I just found it really exciting – in fact I remember having sore shoulders the next day from being so tense!

I went back two weeks later but the 4th Cat race was cancelled so I had to do the E/1/2/3/4 Handicap. I got dropped the second we were caught by the Elites. After that I was determined that it wouldn’t happen again and that was it, I was hooked. Ironically, most of the Elite riders in that race are now my team mates at Ribble.

In terms of newbie to pro, it’s just a steep learning curve. You can only really make mistakes once then you have to learn from them. I may be on a pro team now but in many ways I still feel like a 4th Cat as I have the same excitement and willingness to learn. I think it’s easy to get a few good results and start thinking you know everything but I turn up to races now with the same mindset as I did when I started. I just really love riding and racing my bike and I want to do everything I can to keep learning and developing.

The sprint finish at the Danum Trophy Road Race. Photo: Alex Reed

In 2017 you and your wife welcomed a wonderful addition to the Hopper family. How are you finding balancing racing at such a high level with being a new dad? Have you mastered changing nappies whilst on the turbo?

It’s difficult. I have an amazing support structure. My wife does a disproportionately large amount of the parenting. I work a full time job so I do 45-55 hours a week there, and then to come home and fit training in too makes for a challenge. Without my wife’s blessing I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, and I am so so lucky in that respect. It does mean my time in the sport is limited, though. As much as cycling means to me, I don’t want to miss my boy growing up. Having a definite end point helps to keep you focussed on your goals.

In some ways, I’m lucky I’m more anaerobic so I can get away with 8-10 hours a week of more intense training, rather than doing loads of volume like some people do. I still don’t understand people who do 6+ hour rides regularly. If I needed to pack that much volume into my training, I’d very much struggle.

Luckily I haven’t had to change nappies on the turbo yet, but 3+ hours on it are becoming more regular. Thank god for Zwift.

Work, life, and responsibilities are all a stress. The last thing you need is for cycling to become one too

Speaking of Zwift, the online turbo training game has taken the cycling world by storm over recent years, and it shows no sign of slowing down. 2019 has seen the launch of the KISS Super League, and you bagged an impressive victory on the second week, beating some strong competition. Do you just see Zwift as a bit of fun or do you think it can be a genuine training tool for professional riders?

I think it all has to be fun, otherwise what’s the point? Work, life, and responsibilities are all a stress. The last thing you need is for cycling to become one too. As a training tool, it’s made long turbos so much more enjoyable for me, and I go harder on intervals trying to get lap jerseys. I did get a message from my coach calling me an idiot for banging out 1000 Watt intervals on a Zone 2 ride trying to hit 100kph!

With the racing, it’s brilliant. It’ll never replace real racing but then I don’t think it’s trying to. I don’t see why people view them as mutually exclusive. There are some huge positives from e-racing; we’ve all driven hours to a race and had some sort of mechanical or puncture. If something goes wrong in an e-race then so what, I’m in my garage! They’re outrageously fast off the start line too, which is really good at getting you used to the initial kick. Plus you get to race against people you would never even meet in the real world, which is cool.

You’ve just got to look at how many World Tour guys are starting to use it. Years ago, if you lived in a bad climate you’d have to risk riding in ice or snow. Now you can hop on and bowl round with anyone in the world. The most overlooked aspect is the Zwift community; the people there are all really welcoming.

I know some people have their reservations about Zwift but my view is it turns riding on the turbo into a pleasure rather than a chore, and that can’t be a bad thing.

The Stafford Grand Prix, where Ed rode to fifth place. Photo: Gary Main

The 2019 season will be a big one for you, and indeed Ribble Pro Cycling as a whole. What are your ambitions for the year?

I don’t have any particular races that I’m targeting. I’d just like to win a couple more road races and be a bit more influential in the Elite crits.

With the season proper just around the corner, what does your training consist of at this time of year? And do you know when your first major race will be?

At this time of year, the intensity starts increasing, but not full on top end just yet. I’ll be heading out to Calpe soon to get a bit of volume in.

I’ve already done a couple of E/1/2/3/4 Handicaps and of course the KISS Super League races. It’s always nice to get a couple done before the season properly starts, to help tune the bike handling. Hopefully the weekend of 9/10 March I’ll get something done, but we’ll see how I’m going and what happens in the meantime.

Victory in the Nateby Classic. Photo: Ellen Isherwood