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Island Express: Sam Culverwell interview

18 year old from Guernsey, 12th at the National Road Championships road race, on how he got into cycling, the Guernsey cycling scene, his stellar 2019 and his hopes of earning a Continental-level contract

At just 18 years old, a virtual unknown at the beginning of 2019, Sam Culverwell capped an incredible first half of the season with 12th place in the National Road Championships men’s road race.

The young rider from Guernsey, who has only recently completed his A-levels, started the season with the aim of earning a contract with a Continental team. He’s been going the right way about it so far. He has already beaten some of country’s top Continental riders this season, with no less than three National B race wins, as well as a 3rd at the Severn Bridge road race and 6th at the Perfs Pedal. His 12th at the National Road Championships road race though, besting a string of top class pro riders, was on another level.

After I crashed with 20 km to go, I never gave up and managed to get back on to finish 12th

We caught up with the rising star from Team Estera to find out about how he got into cycling, the Guernsey cycling scene, his stellar 2019 and his hopes of earning a Continental-level contract.

Sam Culverwell after winning Bec CC Road Race Photo: Dave Hayward

Can you tell us a little bit about you got into cycling…

I started cycling when I was 7 years old on the mountain bike at a Wednesday night summer race league that was set up for primary school children in Guernsey. I really enjoyed the experience from the get go, and from then I was hooked. 

What’s the racing scene like in Guernsey for an aspiring pro?

The racing scene in Guernsey is quite small-scale, with the occasional inter-island racing against fellow channel island Jersey. The cyclists in Guernsey are strong and train really hard to be selected for, and race in, the biannual Island Games. So whilst the standard of racing is very high, it is generally accepted that if you want to try and go pro you have to race elsewhere. 

And what kind of racing have you done up until now? I understand you mixed road racing and mountain biking during your junior years, is that right?

I raced pretty much entirely mountain bike until my junior days, as I was on the British Cycling Olympic Youth Program for this discipline. However as I progressed into my first year at junior level I started to mix the two: road and mountain bike. I quickly made the switch to predominantly road racing from about July in 2017, with just one mountain bike race since at the beginning of 2018. Now I am fully committed to the road. 

And the question most young riders find difficult to answer: how would you describe yourself as a rider?

As a rider I would probably describe myself as aggressive. I’m not afraid to try an attack and get stuck in. Although I have limited experience on a variety of courses, I’d say I am suited to lumpy, punchy courses. I’m definitely not a mountain goat! 

Culverwell behind Adam Blythe (Lotto Soudal) at the 2019 HSBC UK National Road Championships, Men’s Road Race – Norwich, Norfolk, England
Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

It’s your first year as a senior rider this season. How have you found it?

Personally, having ridden a few National B races as a junior, I didn’t find the jump too severe, as these are the races I started my season with. The National Road Championships was an eye opener, however, both in terms of the distance and the competition!

You’ve certainly turned quite a few heads with your results. What have been the highlights for you?

I’d say getting my first National B win at the Coalville Wheelers race was pretty special, especially as I went solo from 16 km out, which I never would have dreamt of being able to pull off. Repeating the feat one week later [at the Fast Test Spring Road race] was pretty surreal as well!

The national champs is definitely a result I am proud of, riding with esteemed company at the front and feeling strong, getting in the decisive moves and still being able to pull my weight in the group at the end. I’m proud also because after I crashed with 20 km to go, I never gave up and managed to get back on to finish 12th. 

Have you exceeded your own expectations, getting the results you have?

Yes, I would say I have because I was aiming to try and get consistent top 10s in National Bs at the start of the year. And for the National Road Championships I was just aiming to hopefully get a ride and try and get round, having not done that distance before. 

Sam Culverwell at the 2019 Island Games in Gibraltar. Photo: David Parody

You must spend quite a bit of time going backwards and forwards between Guernsey and mainland GB. Is that a tricky juggle for you?

It was quite a tricky juggle, what with being at school and doing my A-levels at the same time, occasionally studying on the boat! However after a couple of years of doing this I have become accustomed to managing my time well to minimise any impact travelling may have on my school work, and performance in races. 

As a rider from somewhere like Guernsey, is that the only way to get noticed and prove yourself? Did you ever consider testing yourself in France instead?

Because I started my cycling career with mountain biking in the UK, I was familiar with the racing scene and what the different standards of racing were like at different events. Also, travelling to the UK by boat is easier than travelling to France, and the boat only goes to St Malo, so to go further afield than France – Belgium, Holland, etc – involves a lot of driving!

How were the recent Island Games for you? Are they a big deal for an athlete from Guernsey?

The Island Games are not widely recognised elsewhere, but for the small islands this event is massive, with many athletes across a whole host of sports having this as the pinnacle of their career. The Island Games were really successful. I won the Crit, and was second in the TT which finished up the infamous Rock of Gibraltar. Unfortunately, a mechanical hindered my chances in the road race, but it took nothing away from a great week of racing.  

There is still plenty of the season left. Do you have any goals for the rest of the year? Where can we expect to see you racing?

I plan on racing the South Coast Classic and the Ryedale GP, as well as the Bourne Cicle Classic. I may potentially be racing in Belgium in September, however this is not yet confirmed. 

You said earlier this year that a big goal for you is to earn yourself a Continental contract for 2020. Are you any closer to achieving that now?

I feel I am closer to earning a Continental contract for next season. We will have to wait and see…

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Photo: Adrian Miller, 24267128 / Guernsey Press