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U23 rider to watch: Jacob Vaughan interview

The 19-year-old on his year in Belgium at Lotto, his great start to the season, why he's happy to be back racing for a domestic team and his hopes for the year ahead

19 year-old Jacob Vaughan returns to the UK scene this season having spent his first year as an under-23 rider with the Lotto Soudal development team. As one of the brightest young talents on the British scene, he is one of our under-23 riders to watch this year.

As a junior, he won the junior British road race championships and the Guido Reybrouck Classic, came 5th in the E3 Harelbeke junior race, and picked up podiums in top elite races in the UK (2nd in the Perfs Pedal and 3rd in the Jock Wadley Memorial).

Jacob Vaughan crosses the line for second place in the 2017 Perf’s Pedal race

In 2018 (his first season as an under-23), supported by the Dave Rayner Fund, he moved to the Lotto development squad. It’s a team that has helped many a rider reach the World Tour ranks, including Brits James Shaw and Dan McLay. But, interrupted by an iron deficiency issue, and then a broken collarbone, and struggling to adjust to life living in Belgium, he endured a challenging year.

This season he has returned back to the UK. He now rides for Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes, a team who have successfully helped young talents to develop in past seasons (think Harry Tanfield and Max Stedman). They have a strong Belgian-focused race programme that should suit him, and enough under-23 riders in their squad that they should also be a regular feature on the under-23 race circuit in Europe. His team boss Tim Elverson has high hopes for him and it will be fascinating to see if he can also thrive under Tim Elverson’s leadership.

I tried to sign Jacob Vaughan out of juniors but he went to Lotto. So he’s somebody that I’ve had contact with for quite a few years and I was really pleased when I convinced him to come back to the UK

Tim Elverson, team manager, Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

Vaughan has certainly started his season off with a bang. Thrown into the Mallorca Challenge races at the end of January and beginning of February, he found himself rubbing shoulders with riders like world champion Alejandro Valverde and Dan Martin. And then back on home soil, he won the Perfs Pedal, the traditional opener to the domestic season.

Jacob Vaughan wins the Perfs Pedal race 2019. Photo: Phil O’Connor

We caught up with him a few days after his Perfs success to find out about his year in Belgium at Lotto, his great start to the season, why he’s happy to be back racing for a domestic team and his hopes for the year ahead…

Last year I learnt a lot. I learnt that you can’t perform to your best ability when you’re not feeling 100% off the bike

What kind of rider do you see yourself as at the moment?

It’s hard to say because I’m still quite young. Coming from juniors where I just did every sort of race, from flats to hilly, it’s hard to say. I’d say I’m a sort of puncheur. I’m nowhere near as good as him, but someone similar to Greg Van Avermaet. He can climb okay, prefers the classics and has got an okay sprint.

Is that what you’d like to develop yourself into then, that kind of rider?

Yeah. I’d really like to be a classics rider. I don’t know whether that will be slightly hillier classics or the flatter Roubaix and Flanders-type races.

When I spoke to Tim Elverson, he said that you were quite similar in characteristics to Tom Stewart. Would you agree with that assessment? Have you got to know Tom as a rider at all?

Me and Tom did a couple of rides in Calpe together, so I got to know him quite well. He’s a really nice guy. He’s ten years older than me so it’s hard for me to say whether I’ll go on and do as well as he’s done. He’s had a different approach to how he’s come through it all. He came to cycling a lot later than me. But riding wise, I think we could be quite similar. I could see myself targeting the races that Tom’s targeted and possibly be there to support him in the big races.

Jacob after winning the Perfs Pedal race 2019.
Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

Last year obviously you were at the Lotto development team as a first year under-23. How did that move come about?

I was in conversation with a couple of teams. There are quite a few big under 23 teams, and I was talking to Wiggins and I was talking to a couple of others. Lotto were waiting for quite a big rider to know whether he was going to their team or not. Then they found out that rider was turning pro, so that opened up the slot for me to go there.

Why did you choose Lotto over the other teams?

I had a couple of offers, and I was just really keen to get signed. I thought out of all the offers I had, that would be the best for me, looking at it from their calendar, just because it had so many Belgian races, compared to say a more Italian calendar.

Obviously, it’s one of the biggest development teams. I mean, from the outside of course looking in, I thought it would be a perfect team. There’s been a lot of success for a lot of other guys there. I thought it would suit me really well.

There are other British riders who have been through that development team. James Shaw being one of the most recent but also Dan McLay, for example. Had you spoken to any of the other riders that had been on the team before you’d joined?

No, I hadn’t actually really spoken to anyone who’d been on it previously. I spoke to John Barclay [a man who has helped the careers of Cavendish, Millar and Stannard amongst others] who I knew really well from my time as a junior. He used to take me over to Belgium most weekends. He thought it would definitely be the best option for me, so I listened to him because he’s just so experienced with it all.

Jacob at the Gullegem Koerse, May 2018. Photo: unknown photographer
Photo: Martine Verfaille

Then how was your year in the end?

I mean it started off and we had a two-week training camp in in Valencia in Spain. It was going quite well at the camp.

Then when I moved to Belgium towards the end of Feb, I did all right for a couple of races just doing my job for the team. I picked up a ninth place in a UCI race [the Dorpenomloop Rucphen in Holland] after leading out my team mate.

I had quite a good start to the year. Then I sort of struggled. I wasn’t feeling myself a lot of the time. I ended up having low iron levels, so I had to recover from that which took a bit of time to back to where I wanted to be. Then I broke my collarbone. That was about another four weeks away.

Then I came back, and I started to build back up again. I had some okay results, but I never got back to feeling myself. It was just quite hard to ever feel like I was performing to the level I wanted to be at.

When did you discover the iron deficiency?

That was towards the end of April. It wasn’t really bad, I just had to go on supplements. I came back within about three weeks, back to normal. And then at the start of June I did my collarbone, so it was hard to get back to good form.

Jacob (fifth from left) with teammates at the Gullegem Koerse, May 2018.
Photo: Martine Verfaille

Were you out in Belgium the whole time after you had your collarbone break?

No. So I had my deficiency when I was out there and I went for a blood test with one of the Lotto doctors. I stayed over there and then I came home for a week, and then went back out. To get my funding through the Dave Rayner Fund you have to be in Belgium, so all the time I was home they wouldn’t pay me and so I had to try to cover my rent myself. It was quite sad to go back out earlier than I would have liked.

I just didn’t think I would find it that tough at the start, but I did. I missed my family quite a bit, and my girlfriend. It was hard not having anyone around me

And how was living in Belgium? You were just 18, moving to a new country. Was that a challenge?

Yeah. I mean I had the conversation with my parents before I signed. I didn’t think I would find it as hard as I did. I moved there and I moved in with a really nice guy who was the soigneur for the team, but I was just on my own a lot of the time, I had no one to ride with. It was quite tough. I just didn’t think I would find it that tough at the start, but I did. I missed my family quite a bit, and my girlfriend. It was hard not having anyone around me.

I can imagine. Were staying with any of the other riders?

So I lived with one of the staff members and his girlfriend, and then his parents were really good to me because they took me to every single race. They really helped me because I couldn’t drive either. I was supported a lot by the guy’s parents actually.

Did the team help you settle in at all? Was that why they set you up with that accommodation?

Well, it wasn’t through the team that the accommodation came about, it was from James Shaw. He had stayed there. Initially, I thought there may be a team house, or something with the other riders where I could go, but that wasn’t the case. It was a bit unfortunate.

Did you pick up any Belgium or Flemish when you were out there?

Well, their English was really good so I never had the incentive to learn it. Of course, they spoke to each other in Flemish, but you could then speak to them in English. But when they were speaking Flemish you never knew what they were really saying. I used to have to sometimes get one of the other guys to explain what was going on. It was quite tough at points. I should have learnt it really, but it’s quite a tough language to learn.

I thought it would be a lot better for me to come home, to be around the people I know, to be speaking the same language as everyone and just enjoying it a lot more

How did your move to Canyon come about? How early on did you have those conversations with Tim and Canyon?

I spoke to Tim when I was coming out juniors, so I was talking to him about possibly signing that first year. I ended up deciding against it just because I wasn’t sure what their calendar would be like for under 23 races. And then I found out last year that they were riding a lot of the races we did at Lotto, so there wasn’t so much reason to be on ta Belgium team. The environment I could see within the team was a lot happier, there was a lot more banter in the team.

In Calpe, 2019. Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb
p/b Bloor Homes

I spoke to Tim probably in May or June time. He was quite interested in signing me. I just thought it would be a lot better for me to go to Canyon. I thought I’d be a lot happier there. Last year I learnt a lot. I learnt that you can’t perform to your best ability when you’re not feeling 100% off the bike as well. I thought it would be a lot better for me to come home, to be around the people I know, to be speaking the same language as everyone and just enjoying it a lot more.

And when did you actually sign and make the decision to join them?

Tim was pretty keen to sign me. We kept talking a lot. I ended up signing early September. I came back from Belgium and went and saw Tim at the service course and signed the contract.

How well do you know your new Belgian teammates, Alex Colman and Stijn de Bock? Having spent a year in Belgium, do you have any connection with those two?

I know Alex pretty well because we did a lot of the same races last year. I get on well with Alex. I knew Stijn from races, but I wouldn’t really say we were mates at first just because I didn’t really have time to really hang out. I get on really with Stijn now though, and I spoke to him a lot more towards the back end of the season when I found out he was also coming to Canyon.

What do you think the biggest differences will be riding for a domestic team compared with your year in Belgium?

I imagine I’ll do a bit more of the British stuff. There are some really good races here and I hope I can get selected for the Tour of Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain, because they would be really good races to do. Also, the advantage with Canyon is that we get to ride the UCI 1.1s [the Lotto development team is an elite team so cannot ride races higher than a .2 categorisation]. It’s going to a higher level of race. This year they’ve also taken on a lot of under-23 and under-25 races, so it won’t be like I’m just completely moving away from the under-23 stuff.

It’s obviously a big squad, but it sounds like you’ve got a big race program meto go with it, so hopefully you won’t be short of races to ride in. Do you have any idea of your race programme yet and what it might be looking like?

I’m not entirely sure yet. We should be finding out in the next couple of days what races we have coming up. I’m hoping to be selected for Le Samyn on the 5th of March [Jacob is not in the provisional line-up for the race, subsequently anounced by his team]. That’s a quite big classic which was won by Terpstra last year. Hopefully I’m going to be able to do that. Then after that, the following weekend I’ll either at the Dorpenomloop Rucphen [UCI 1.2], where I came 9th last year, or I’ll be going to the GP Jean-Pierre Monseré [UCI 1.1] in Belgium.

And beyond that you’re not quite sure yet?

No. We’re meant to be finding out soon what we have coming up and then I will have a better idea of what I have planned. Then if I have a weekend where I don’t have a race then I’ll probably fill that in with a kermesse in Belgium, or possibly another National B race.

Jacob (far left) lining up with his Canyon dhb teammates at the Mallorca Challenge. Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

How did you find riding in the Mallorca Challenge?

Yeah, it was a really good experience, but I didn’t have the best of luck. On the first day I punctured in the neutral zone. I had an unlucky puncture. I didn’t get back until after it was de-neutralized, and then it went straight up a massive hill. I was sort of on the back foot from the start. Then there were crashes left, right and centre after the climb and the descent.

It’s hard to get to the front of the race because you’re always battling at the back. Maybe with a bit more luck I would have been able to position myself better. I helped out climber Dan Pearson a bit, just to try to move him up a little bit after the crash. By that point, my legs were running quite thin with all the climbing.

Then stage three, I dropped my chain on the start line, so I lost my position again. I was chasing back on, and it went straight up a massive climb. A few guys, even Dan Martin, were struggling on it. A group of us were out the back there, quite a big chunk of the race split in half. A lot of guys were lost on that first climb because they put the pace up so high. But it’s a really good experience to go and do it.

You rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in cycling, like Dan Martin and Alejandro Valverde. Did you get a chance to see how they ride first hand?

Yeah. It was quite good to race them, I think it’s almost the best field we will race all year, with the names that were there. It’s hard to go into that race not knowing what your form is going to be like.

It was a really good experience to race the likes of Valverde, Wellens, Dan Martin. They’re the world’s best and it’s quite good to be able to compare yourself to them.

Jacob wins the Perfs Pedal, 2019. Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb
p/b Bloor Homes

Tim had really put quite a lot of pressure on because he loves to win that race and he said he’d want it to be a young rider

Then you had a very different race at the Perfs Pedal, which you won. You were second there in 2017 and were many people’s favourite to win the race this season. Was there a lot of pressure on you going into the race to try to get that win?

Well yeah, Tim had really put quite a lot of pressure on because he loves to win that race and he said he’d want it to be a young rider. So he started putting the pressure on me in Calpe, saying we had to win. I felt quite a bit of pressure going in.

I thought I’d be okay though, because it would be me and then we had Charles [Page] if it came to a sprint, or we’d have Alex [Richardson], or Alex Paton as well. Then Alex Richardson got ill, so we were down one man there.

Then how did the race go itself? It was the usual, aggressive affair by the sounds of it, and you got into the break with Alex and a few other guys. Was the plan that Alex was trying to ride for you to set you up? Was that the idea once you were in the break?

Yeah, once we initiated the break and got away, I think me and Alex spoke a bit but it had always sort of been the plan that Tim wanted a younger rider to win. We were both pulling through quite hard and pulling the break along, especially at first, pulling it through quite hard to get away.

At the end, Alex just kept attacking and making the break work a lot harder so I could have a free ride almost.

The winning break, Perfs Pedal 2019. Photo: Phil O’Connor

It obviously worked out for you, you won the race and put your hands in the air. Is that your first win for a while?

That’s my first win in about a year and four months. I had a win in September 2017, so yeah, about a year and four months. I didn’t have any wins last year, so it was my first win since being a junior.

Does that give you a lot of confidence going into the new season?

Yeah. I’m hoping I can build on that, because it didn’t feel like I was in great form going into the race. I mean, I was in quite good shape, but I’m hoping I can build on that level for the bigger races to come and show myself in the UCI races coming up and in the Premier Calendar races [now called the national road series races].

If I spoke to you again at the end of the year, what would a good season have looked like to you do you think?

I would love to podium in a UCI race. We’ve got a couple of under-23 Italian races coming up, so I’d love to podium in one of them.

Why the Italian races in particular?

I’ve spoken to a couple of people who have done them and they sort of come down to a reduced group sprint which I think could suit me if I can get over the climbs. And they are quite good races to spotted at and get into the World Tour because they’re always watched by big teams.

Warming up before the Perfs Pedal, 2019. Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb
p/b Bloor Homes

Jake Stewart got third in the Trofeo PIVA race last year, a race which your Canyon team will be doing this season. He seems like a similar rider to you in some senses…

Yeah. Me and Jake were fairly similar at junior level. I sort of got the better of him in most of the big classics we did against each other, but he can climb a bit better and went a bit better towards the end of the final season.

Then I worked for him at the junior world championships as well, where he was fifth. That was a bit annoying because I still had to commit to [working for Jake] when we’re quite similar riders. Hopefully, I can do well in the Trofeo PIVA because we’re fairly similar.

I expect you’ll be up against each other a few times this season. It will be interesting to see how you both get on.

Yeah, it will be interesting to see how we’re both going now he’s gone to Groupama FDJ, so it will be good to see how we compare.

Do you hope to ride for the GB team this year? I know that when I spoke to Jake he was quite keen to ride some of the races that the GB team ride, like Gent-Wevelgem for example.

Yeah, I’m hoping I can get some selection into some of the Nations Cup races, but it’s always quite tough to get into the system with GB because they favour their own riders a lot. It gets better at under-23 level though, so I’m hoping I can get a selection into a couple of races.

Max Stedman got a race or two last year for the GB team, so it’s not unknown for Canyon riders to do that…

I think if you get the results to justify it, then you’ll definitely get a ride. I’m hoping I can justify my place.

I’d love to do the under-23 Flanders and under-23 Roubaix, because I think they’d really suit me

Which of the Nations Cup races would you like to ride?

I’d love to do the under-23 Flanders and under-23 Roubaix, because I think they’d really suit me. It’s tough when you’re going up in the UCI against guys who’ve been pro for a number of years. It will be good to see where I am compared to all the other under 23 riders.

I guess with the way Canyon’s race programme is shaping up, if it works out for you and you get selected, you’ll have a nice combination of tough UCI races against some of the world’s best, and then riding some of the best under-23 races as well.

Yeah, the calendar Tim and Simon have put together is looking really good. I think the races they’ve got us into will really suit me. I’m hoping I can pull off some good results.

Celebrating the win at the Perfs Pedal, 2019. Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes