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Man on a mission: Alex Richardson interview, part 3

Richardson on why he remained an independent rider in 2018, the domestic riders who 'blag it' and his ambitions to step up to the Pro Conti or World Tour ranks

Alex Richardson is one of the most on-form riders in the British domestic peloton. When we published parts 1 and 2 of this interview, he’d already won the Omloop het Waasland (a pro kermesse) and the Arno Wallaard Memorial (1.2) and was leading the Holland Cup. Since then, he has continued to impress. He won the Puivelde Koerse pro kermesse in May, beating a strong field of riders including a certain Mathieu van der Poel and took a second UCI victory by winning a stage of the Tour de la Mirabelle (2.2). He then sealed the Holland Cup with a strong ride in the Midden Brabant (1.2) in mid-June.

Our first two interviews with Richardson covered his difficult to start to 2018 (when he left One Pro Cycling for health issues and become an independent rider), his comeback win at the Lincoln Grand Prix, his views on weight loss in cycling and his stellar start to this season.

In this final part of our three-part interview, Richardson talks openly about why he remained an independent rider in 2018, how he joined Canyon, his views on the national road race champs, why there are riders in the domestic peloton who are ‘blagging it’ and why he thinks he has the ability to step up to the Pro Continental or World Tour ranks in the future.

In life I think it is always good to be ambitious and strive to improve. Complacency is a bugger!

Catch up with Part 1 of this interview here. Part 2 is here.

Alex Richardson at the 2019 Chestnut Homes Lincoln Grand Prix
Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

After your Lincoln Grand Prix win last season, you rode the rest of the year as an independent. Did you have the opportunity to go back to a Continental-level team? Would One Pro have taken you back?

I did speak to One Pro about going back later on in the season, but it wasn’t a possibility because the position wasn’t really there anymore. 

I think they actually wanted to look after me as an athlete and give me the time to enjoy being away from a team environment, really learn to enjoy it. There was an element of that. There was also an element of them not having the calendar that they thought would have, or the budget they thought they would have. So I can completely understand why.

I think last year was really good for me, and I think they made the right decision. They protected me by not having me back also, because I learned to enjoy the sport again, and I’m much better this year for it. I didn’t rush back into anything. It’s great, so I thank them for that as well. They managed me very well.

And your coach is still Steve Benton, and you’re still talking to many members of the One Pro team today?

Yes. I talk with Matt Winston. I talk with Matt Prior. I talk with Steve Benton. I’m very friendly with all these guys, and why wouldn’t I be? I’ve got a lot in common with them. I think they’re great people. They share a similar interest in cycling. We love the sport, so yeah, of course. 

And how did you end up at Canyon this season?

I knew Tim very well, he’s local to me. I trust him. I know that he’s very logical. I know that he’s very fair. And they’ve got a great race programme, so it was an opportunity to show myself. It was a no-brainer.

And, what’s the environment like at Canyon?

Fantastic. There are no egos. No-one thinks they’re ‘God’s gift’, everyone has a joke. We wind each other up, and it rarely gets personal. And the key with Canyon is everyone wants to win, which is only going to yield results.

Everyone’s determined. The squad has been selected very carefully. If you’re good, if you are very talented as an athlete, but you’re not ambitious, Tim will not put up with it. He’s got no interest, and that’s what I really respect about him. He requires the same from the athlete as he puts in himself, which I think is great, and it should be no other way. There are top riders in the UK that would not get into Canyon on that alone. 

Alex Richardson at the 2019 Chestnut Homes Lincoln Grand Prix
Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

You said when we spoke previously that you have a sense of how good riders are when you race with them…

Yes, you know a good rider when you race with them, whether that’s in a National B or a UCI race. You may see a surge, ride through and off, or witness a move where you think, ‘hmm that’s pretty impressive’ or ‘no I reckon he’s on the limit a bit here, a bit out of his depth’. And there are riders who seem to get contracts year in year out from being in the sport a long time and who seem to blag it a bit.

There are riders who seem to get contracts year in year out from being in the sport a long time and who seem to blag it a bit

How do you think riders manage to get contracts year after year, if they’re not up to scratch, as it were?

The reality is, sadly, and I hate to say it, there are, let’s say, ten to fifteen riders in the UK that deserve contracts on merit, but a lot of it is who you know and being in with the right cliques of people. Even at the World Tour level you can see there are people who have been in the system, know the right people and they get rides year in, year out. There’s more to it, they play the politics well et cetera, but I can see how it all works. It’s just like working in a company. There’s a lot of similarities.

All that said, there are other riders that are completely worthy of places in Continental team in my opinion. They are there for other reasons such as development, team roles, etc. Let’s not ignore that because that is important as well. I’m all for people getting opportunities, being encouraged, and pulling people through to be better at something they want to be better at. But there is, by the same token, this band of riders in the UK that are happy doing what they’re doing, being okay at domestic level and not really wanting more.

Personally, I’d never like to be one of those people. It’s just not the way my mind works. I wish I did work like that sometimes, because maybe having less pressure on myself would be quite nice, a more relaxed day to day approach: the level’s good, you race with your friends every week, there’s good cameraderie, and you can get away with doing a good amount of training. In all fairness the UK scene is a pretty nice place to race and can certainly see the long term attraction. 

You’ve had a great start to the season so far. Are you targeting any other races for the rest of the season?

The really nice thing is we’ve got so much in the calendar that there’s no pressure to win any one race, and that will be very beneficial to the mindset of the riders on the team. If it doesn’t go our way in one race, there’s always another race, and that’s the great thing about bike racing. All I need to do in the meantime is keep doing my training, keep eating sensibly and just stay on the straight and narrow, enjoy it, take each day as it comes.

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

When we spoke you previously, you mentioned the nationals as potentially one of your targets this season, something you’d like to do well in?

Of course. I came 20th there last year. At the nationals you’re constantly rolling with a lottery of moves, and as we saw on the results sheet last year, there were a lot of riders that finished ahead of 20th place that you arguably wouldn’t expect to see there. And by the same token there were a lot of riders behind 20th place, behind where I placed, that you would’ve thought, “bloody hell, I thought they were going to win that.

The trouble with nationals is, you’ve got 40 or 50 riders that can win, and you’re constantly rolling with a lottery of moves

The trouble with nationals is, you’ve got 40 or 50 riders that can win, and you’re constantly rolling with a lottery of moves. There’s no obviously right move to go with. That said, Adam Blythe did spot it, so fair play to him, and he’s a very clever bike racer, so maybe I did miss something, but last year I wasn’t in the front move, so I rolled in first of the second move.

I’d definitely like to go well at nationals, as every British rider would, but it’s just one race and it’s certainly one of those races where really, anything can happen. I’d certainly be confident of finishing towards the front of that race though.

One of the things that struck me when we spoke last time Alex, was that you’re very ambitious. You have a lot of self-belief. And you really want to make it up to Pro Continental or World Tour level. You said before, that as an older rider, you think you’ll need five to six UCI wins to achieve that?

Yes, I think you’re seriously turning heads with five or six convincing wins. I think team managers would be silly not to look at that, and I’m just trying to put myself in the shoes of the team manager. It also depends on how you are winning those races.

What gives you that belief that you have the potential to ride at that level?

I think when you ride at those higher levels you get an internal gauge of where you are at comparatively. Even at Tro-Bro Leon, where I was 35th, there were a few World Tour teams there and loads of Pro Continental teams that ride the Tour De France. It was a grippy race and there were only 80 finishers out of 160 starters. I had mechanical issues throughout the day, and when I got the final mechanical issue the guy that I was with at the time went on to finish 10th.

In life, I think it is always good to be ambitious and strive to improve. Complacency is a bugger!

Read more

Read Part 1 of this interview here

Read Part 2 here.