Cycling Sheffield’s Kieran Savage is one of a clutch of elite-level riders to have grabbed our attention this season. After seven rounds of the National Road Series, he is one of just seven riders from elite teams to have bagged a top 10 placing in the Series. It was no lucky break either. His 10th place came in the Lincoln Grand Prix, the ‘monument’ of domestic road racing, a race in which only the most powerful riders thrive.
22-year-old Savage is no one-hit wonder. In the early season he followed up 5th in the Severn Bridge Road Race with a win in the Roy Thame Cup (both National B races). Guesting for Holdsworth Zappi, he looked strong in the break at the Grand Prix Criquielion (1.2) until he unfortunately crashed out. And until the Stockton Grand Prix he’d finished inside the top 30 in every National Road Series race since Lincoln. These results are no mean feat for a rider on a smaller team without the resources or team strength of some their Continental counterparts.
We caught up with the Leeds-based strongman to find out about his journey into cycling, his season so far and his future goals.
Everything I’ve done this year is the result of a lot of hard work
Tell us about how you got into cycling…
The story that I always tell people is that I was flicking through the channels and couldn’t find anything good and eventually settled on ITV4 when the Tour de France was on. It was that stage where Andy Schleck’s chain slipped and Contador attacked. In reality it took a few years before I actually started riding regularly and from there it was a slow transition from running races to becoming a cyclist.
I see you were a Dave Rayner Fund in 2016. How did that come about? And how did your season in Belgium go?
I actually only found out that the Dave Rayner Fund was even a thing the day before the application deadline on Halloween. Somebody had mentioned off hand that I should try and get in after winning the under-18 National Hill Climb Championships. So I applied thinking it was a bit of a longshot as that and 9th at the Junior Mendips were my only results. I went to Belgium for just 10 weeks in the summer because I was in my first year of uni. The guys I stayed with were really helpful, but I was so ridiculously clueless and a little homesick. My best result was 26th in a pretty hilly kermesse and I probably DNFed half the races I started just from not being very strong. I think it has made me mentally a lot tougher because even the few UCI races I’ve done seem a lot easier than those first few kermesses I did.
For readers not familiar with you, can you tell us about a bit about yourself?
I studied maths at the University of Sheffield and graduated last summer. Outside of cycling I am a big lover of music and a big sports fan. I like to read a lot a gain knowledge in a wide variety of subjects.
How would you describe yourself as a rider?
I would say that I am resilient in races. I consider myself an all-rounder and a good puncheur up ‘little ring’ climbs.
As an elite rider, do you need to work alongside riding?
To fund my cycling, I get a lot of support from my family. I worked full time during December which helped. The team offer their support as well.
Do you train with some of the other elite riders living up your way?
I often train alone due to the lack of elite riders who are really close. But the Doncaster chaingang on Tuesdays is a ride I occasionally do. It’s a good hit out with a few Conti riders and occasionally guys from the levels above too.
How did you end up riding for Cycling Sheffield?
When I entered the final year of university I was looking to take my riding more seriously and Cycling Sheffield were simply the best team in the area.
And tell us about your season so far…
I’ve enjoyed the season so far. I think the highlight was definitely Lincoln. I’ve had success in the National B races too. Winning the Roy Thame Cup and Yorkshire Regional Champs were moments I’ll always remember, but feeling competitive in the Prems, the CiCLE Classic and the GP Criquelion (where I crashed out of the break on the final lap) has been fantastic.
Your Lincoln GP result was particularly head-turning. Talk us through the race…
Lincoln was a chaotic race. I think any one of 20 riders could have won. A few times early on I was caught on the wrong side of splits but so were other riders who beat me. The important thing was to not panic and be near the front on the final few laps.
In the run-in I knew the best place to be was in first place going on to Michaelgate. Unfortunately I got swamped and started it near the back of the group. The crowd motivated me though, and I managed to pass about 10 riders up the climb. I can barely remember the race to be honest.
Ryedale is particularly hilly, and so is the Isle of Man stage race. They are both races where I’d like to see just how good I can really be
Is the success you’ve had this season a surprise?
Not at all. I had a fantastic winter. My goals at the start of the season weren’t necessarily about getting a top result in a Prem because I’ve still got a lot to learn in terms of race craft. Instead I wanted to put myself in race-winning positions. This year I’ve trained harder and recovered better than years before, so although you should never take anything for granted, everything I’ve done this year is the result of a lot of hard work. The team believes in me, giving me the motivation to keep pushing for more.
What are your goals for the rest of the season?
I marked the Tour of the Reservoir and the Ryedale GP as targets at the beginning of the year as they were the National As I did well in last year. This year I think that I’m much more rounded as a rider, so I would like to get a top 20 in every National A race that remains. Ryedale is particularly hilly, and so is the Isle of Man stage race. They are both races where I’d like to see just how good I can really be.
A step up to Conti level is the goal that I strive for
You must have turned a few heads amongst the Conti teams with your results. Have you begun to think yet about where you might end up next season? Is a step up realistic?
I would hope that teams can see my potential. A step up to Conti level is the goal that I strive for. I’d like a chance to do bigger races. Cycling Sheffield is a fantastic development team and will help me make a choice about next season. For now I just want to get results and keep moving in the right direction.
Where do you see yourself as a rider in five years’ time?
Every single day I have little doubts but every season I have been a better rider. I want to keep doing that and see how far I can get. Doing the Tour of Yorkshire and Tour of Britain would be awesome, racing through places that mean a lot to me. In 5 years’ time I hope that cycling is my career and I can make a living from doing what I love.