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Man on a mission: Alex Richardson interview part 1

One of the most 'in form' domestic riders on his stellar season so far, his ambitions for the Ronde van Overijssel, and his philosophical response to not riding the Tour de Yorkshire

Arguably the best domestic rider not riding the Tour de Yorkshire this year – at least on current form – is Alex Richardson. Richardson, 28, joined Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes this season after an impressive year (including a storming win at the Lincoln Grand Prix) riding mostly as an independent rider.

He’s been quick to impress in his new team. He won two top ‘National B’ races in March: the Wally Gimber and the Severn Bridge road race. But it’s his performances abroad that have been most impressive. First, he won the Omloop het Waasland, a Pro Kermesse in Belgium that was until recently a UCI race. And then last month he won his first UCI race, the Arno Wallaard Memorial (UCI 1.2) in the Netherlands, a result which means he now leads the Holland Cup.

Richardson has a fascinating back story, one that involves his transformation from a shipping broker to a full-time cyclist in less than 12 months after he took up cycling in 2015. It’s a story we’ll touch upon in this multi-part interview with him.

In this first part, however, we discuss his stellar season so far, his ambitions for the Ronde van Overijssel (4 May), and his philosophical response to not riding the Tour de Yorkshire…

I wanted to experience that winning feeling that I experienced last year, and I was prepared to die for it

Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

How has the season gone for you so far?

It’s gone phenomenally well. If you had told me at the start of the season by April time I’d have won a UCI race, I’d be leading the Holland Cup, I would have won a Pro Kermesse, I’d been consistent in all my performances and backed it up with numerous National B wins, and that I’d have the current form that I’m having, and the sensations I’m having on the bike, then I would’ve probably bitten your arm off.

And how do you look back on those wins?  

The Pro Kermesse [Omloop het Waasland] win, that was something else. It was something to enjoy with the team as well, that was a key for me. I’d spoken a lot to Tom Stewart over the winter about how I looking forward to being in a team. I’ve ridden with Tom, he’s stayed with me a few times over the winter, and one thing I really was looking forward to was enjoying an experience together, and winning together, and really that day, I really felt that.

Anyone that can do well in a Pro Kermesse. Anyone that can fight and fend for themselves in those races and can finish towards the front, they’re good riders

It was awful, awful weather. It was a war zone out there, it was so cold. It was hailing, and then out of nowhere the weather gets better and you arrive at the finish line, and it’s sunny, and we’re all there. We had a 1-2 with Jacob Hennessy; what an outstanding team performance. It all just fell into place, and what better way to start the season, by winning the first Pro Kermesse, my goodness.

I seriously rate those races. Anyone that can do well in a Pro Kermesse –  because it’s a race that you can enter also individually, as a Conti rider – anyone that can fight and fend for themselves in those races and can finish towards the front, they’re good riders. They’re bike racers. They’re not just powerful, they know how to grit their teeth and get on with it.

And you said before that that one means the most to you out of your wins so far this season. Did you have any expectations going into the race?

I did have expectations. I wanted to win, but did I really think I could win at that level? I did, but I wasn’t sure. It was a relief as well. I wanted to experience that winning feeling that I experienced last year, and I was prepared to die for that feeling. It’s the most amazing feeling. Winning with your team is the most amazing feeling, and I want to experience that time and time again, just to be a part of it, in the team environment.

Richardson win the Omloop het Waalsand Pro Kermesse, 17 March 2019. Photo: Eric Noens

It must be a great atmosphere on the bus home…

Yeah, we had a really good laugh on the way home. Actually, the team van broke down on the side of the road, but we didn’t care. It was fine. We had a good laugh.

And you described the win at the Arno Wallaard Memorial as important to you, but you put a lot of pressure on yourself that morning to win that race…

With the Arno, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d pull it off. I was granted leeway from the team. But, having looked at the course, it’s a very fast course, and it’s quite open, so it does lend itself to a sprint. So, I was like, “it might not be the day for it today, for that kind of move.” So, yeah, I surprised myself actually.

As a rider you have an innate feeling, you can gauge whether the break is going to the line or whether it is a complete waste of time

And you took the win from a breakaway?

We were in a breakaway of ten, and it simply wasn’t fast enough. I knew we were going to get caught. The gap went out to one minute and forty, and then it came back down to forty seconds, 26 kilometres out, and I thought to myself, “I can ride faster than these guys by myself.”

So, I started attacking the break and eventually got away, and one rider came with me [Gianni Marchand], and then we stayed away. And, of course, the rest of the break did actually get swallowed up by the peloton because it wasn’t fast enough. As a rider you have an innate feeling, you can gauge whether the break is going to the line or whether it is a complete waste of time. That’s something you feel, and it comes through experience.

And when you were away with Marchand, did you sense then that were the strongest rider?  

He didn’t really give a proper turn. So I felt confident that I’d out sprint him anyway, even if I towed him round and took him to the line. I was confident that that would be the outcome. In terms of the timing how much time we went to the line ahead of the peloton, that was timed really well, but then I hadn’t really factored in that my chain would slip, but fortunately there was just enough margin in there.

You seemed to remain very calm though, even when that happened?

Oddly enough I did. I didn’t slam the brakes on and give up. It all worked out in the end, so I was pretty happy.

Alex Richardson wins the Arno Wallaard Memorial (UCI 1.2), 20 April 2019

You’re racing the Ronde van Overijssel this weekend, defending your Holland Cup lead…

Yes, it’s a race I would like to have a go at. I think there’s certainly an opportunity to be had there. I’ve looked at the start sheet and studied the opposition. One rider that I’ll be up against is Kaden Groves. I’m a little bit worried about him, but I’m confident I’ll up there or thereabouts. Whether I can win it though, let’s see.

What’s the parcours like?

It’s flat and windy and it’s quite a long day. It’s 200k, so with a bit of luck the distance will get some people. Hopefully something will spit in the wind. It’s quite a windy finishing circuit, so there’s an opportunity to slip off and try something there. If that opportunity arises, then great. If it doesn’t then, okay. I’d like to think I’ll be able to finish in the front group.

Are you the designated leader on Saturday? Have you discussed team roles yet?

I guess so, in terms of the fact that I’m leading the Holland Cup. So I’d imagine the team will try and help me if they can, but I’m not expecting any help. I can try and fend for myself as long as I’m granted leeway. I’ll be happy with that.

I will turn up fit on the day and give my best crack at any of the opportunities that I’m given this year

And when we spoke last time you took a philosophical view on not being selected for Yorkshire…

Would I like to do Yorkshire? I would’ve done it. But I was presented with a situation where I could do Ronde Van Overijssel and defend my lead in the Holland Cup. And if I do well there, and we have strong showings in both Yorkshire and the Ronde Van Overijssel, that looks great from a team perspective. I’m sure that’s the logical thing that Tim has looked at. And maybe there’s more to be had out of the Ronde Van Overijssel for me, because the level is slightly lower.

I’m just thankful for the opportunities that I’m given. So I will turn up fit on the day and give my best crack at any of the opportunities that I’m given this year. I’m very grateful for those. I’m super motivated for Ronde Van Overijssel, and yes, it would have been nice to have a crack at Yorkshire, because I think there was a possibility there, but by the same token, I’m in a very happy place.

Featured photo: Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

Part 2 of our interview with Alex will be published next week.