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On the up: Adam Hartley interview

The Dave Rayner Fund rider on his season so far, his outstanding Giro Valle d'Aosta performance and his ambitions for the rest of the year

Adam Hartley is one our U23 riders to watch in 2019. With his recent second place overall in the fearsome Giro Valle d’Aosta, the SEG Racing Academy rider is beginning to show why.

Now in his third year at under-23 level, his season didn’t start as he’d hoped. When we interviewed the 20 year old at the end of 2018, he had earmarked the big under-23 stage races (Ronde de L’Isard, Baby Giro, Giro Valle d’Aosta, Tour of Alsace) as key targets. Illness meant he failed to finish both the Ronde de L’Isard and the Baby Giro, however. So he went in to the Giro Valle d’Aosta unsure how he’d measure up.

The Giro Valle d’Aosta has a formidable reputation. Stacked with some of the toughest climbing stages of any race on the calendar, a high-calibre field and not even a whiff of a sprint finish, this is a race deserving of that over-used adjective ‘epic’. Unsurprisingly, it’s race used by World Tour teams to spot the stars of the future. Pavel Sivakov, Enric Mas, Davide Formolo, Fabio Aru and Thibaut Pinot are amongst the many riders who have graced the race’s podium and gone on to succeed at World Tour level.

Mark Donovan (Team Wiggins Le Col) won a stage of the race last year, but no Brit has ever finished in the top three spots of the race overall. Until now.

I feel like I showed my true potential as a climber with GC ambitions

We caught up with Hartley, who is supported by the Dave Rayner Fund, to talk about his season so far, his Giro Valle d’Aosta performance and his ambitions for the rest of the year.

Adam Hartley, second from left, on the podium at the Giro Valle d’Aosta. Photo: SEG Racing

We last caught up with you before the season had started. How would you describe your season, up until the Giro Valle d’Aosta?

I think the first part of my season was good and as I expected. The early races in Belgium were about laying the foundations for later races. I had a few interruptions and a high-speed crash in the Ardennes, but on the whole I was happy with my condition.

I really enjoyed Le Triptique des Monts et Châteaux and gained a lot of satisfaction from supporting the team, and in particular Kaden Groves, with stage wins. This was also very much the case at the Tour of Bretagne where we supported Albert Dainese, who wore the yellow jersey in the first half of the race after snatching several stage wins.

A kind of mini disaster struck at the beginning of the Ronde De L’Isard though, when I felt an illness coming on with a cough developing on the first stage. I ended up pulling out on Stage 3. This was a huge disappointed as the parcours is similar to Aosta, with mountain stages up to 2000m, and the race was a big target of mine. After the race I decided to return home to recuperate and find some morale.

With only a short time to the start of the Baby Giro this became a difficult period because I was struggling to shed the virus and the race was fast approaching. I started the Giro but I had no form, so it was back to the drawing board.

I am in a team of very talented bike riders and personal ambitions have to be balanced against team ambitions

What were your hopes and expectations going into the Giro della Valle d’Aosta?

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it was a tough race with a strong field. My blocks of training leading up to the race were designed to deliver me in good shape and it seems that the plan worked. I definitely felt really good in training around one week before the race and I was chomping at the bit once we arrived in Italy.

My hope was of course to perform well, to try and win a stage, and finish high on GC. I am in a team of very talented bike riders and personal ambitions have to be balanced against team ambitions. Until you get into a race you do not know how you or your team mates are going to perform, so hopes and expectations evolve.

Hartley on the front at the Giro Valle d’Aosta. Photo: SEG Racing

Stage 1 was where you made some big GC gains. Talk us through how it happened?

Yes, it was an interesting situation. I have to be honest, I was off the front after 15 kilometres and I never saw the peloton again.

Ide [Schelling] joined our group and then attacked to eventually win the stage. A great outcome for the team. I finished 4th on the stage after attacking my breakaway companions on the final climb, finishing the race solo.

I heard about the peloton being taken the wrong way 20 kilometres from the finish, and we were also stopped towards the end of the stage so as to redirect the peloton and maintain the original time gaps.

The main controversy appears to be the fact that a large number of dropped riders were able to return to the peloton when the race was stopped. It also became clear that some teams decided to protest and obstruct the front of the peloton, but I think this was stupid. In bike racing, sometimes things happen and you have to deal with them in a sensible way and understand the challenges facing organisers.

I’d have preferred this situation not to have arisen, I am all for fair play, but it was clearly out of my control.

Was GC the focus after stage 1? 

The main focus after stage 1 was to keep Ide Schelling in yellow, defending the jersey. We had cards to play with both Ide and myself high on GC. Every stage is an opportunity for a stage win or to move up on GC and that is what the team focussed upon.

Adam Hartley. Photo: SEG Racing

And you were consistent throughout the race and moved yourself up to 2nd overall. Talk us through the rest of the race.

It’s a long story but each day was a mountain stage. Stage 2 was slightly longer than stage 1 but finished on a category 1 climb. An early break of non-GC riders established a lead and stayed away to the finish. Ide experienced a mechanical and suffered later on the final climb. I led the peloton going up the final climb and moved up to 3rd on GC.

Stage 3 was the longest stage at over 180 km and included a category 1 climb and 3 category 2 climbs. An early break established a lead of nearly 5 minutes before my team reduced the gap at the bottom of the final climb to around 2 minutes. On the final 2 climbs the gap to the leaders continued to fall and they were eventually caught by a select group of climbers and GC contenders, including Ide and myself. I was only slightly distanced with 5km to go, finishing 13th on the stage and moving up to 2nd on GC.

My legs felt good and I had ambitions to try and crack the yellow jersey

Stage 4 was the queen stage, with 5 categorised climbs and a total elevation of 4000m. My legs felt good and I had ambitions to try and crack the yellow jersey. The race played out in a similar manner to Stage 3, except we had Ide and Alex in the break. On the final climb I had managed to reach the head of the race but with 6 km to go I had to ride at my own pace as I was struggling to stay with the GC threats. I limited my losses and passed a few dropped riders as I approached the final sectors of the climb. I finished 9th on the stage and maintained 2nd on GC. 

Stage 5 was grippy in parts, especially up the final climb. The stage included an intermediate category 2 climb and then finished up a category 1 climb in Breuil Cervinia. The break went on the first descent and the team of the yellow jersey then controlled the race. Around 5 km before the last climb Barnabas [Peak, Adam’s team-mate] helped to position me going into the start of the last 25 km climb. The first half the climb was super-fast, with Groupama-FDJ setting the pace. Dimension Data took up the pace setting higher up and went real hard. I couldn’t manage the pace they set. Barnabas paced me for about a kilometre before I left him to go at it alone.

I rode back to the front group of 10 on the steepest part of the climb. The group continued attacking each other and I decided to ride the climb at my pace and I kept returning to the head of the race. Approaching the flamme rouge, the course went slightly down and there was a lull in the action, so I took the opportunity to attack. I was brought back with 500m to go and then sprinted to 8th on the stage, finishing 2nd overall.

The result must give you a lot of confidence. How are you feeling about the rest of the season now?

Yes of course. I feel like I showed my true potential as a climber with GC ambitions and I am super delighted with the outcome of the race. It’s results like this that make all of the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile. There are plenty of races to come and I hope to continue to show my capabilities at the highest level.

The Tour of Alsace was a race you did well in last year. Is that another goal this season?

Yes, Alsace is a beautiful race. I did it with the Great Britain Academy the previous two seasons. In my first outing I crashed on a descent and had to abandon but last year it became another breakthrough race where I managed to finish 8th on GC.

This year I ride with SEG and we have a strong team that includes Thymen Arensman, Alex Evans, and Ide Schelling, all formidable climbers and GC contenders, so we’ll have to see how it plays out!

Adam Hartley. Photo: SEG Racing Academy

And how about Tour de L’Avenir and the Yorkshire world championships. I know you were hoping to gain selection for those races. Is that still a possibility?

I really hope so. I still have my sights set on selection for the Tour of L’Avenir and the worlds in Yorkshire, where I think I could play an important role for the designated leader. It’s always a great privilege to wear GB kit and races like L’Avenir are iconic. The worlds is a no brainer – everyone wants to be there! 

And is it too early to ask what your plans for next season are?

At the moment I am only focussing on upcoming races and the remaining season. I know that together with SEG we can make a good plan for the future.

We would like to thank David Soteras at SEG Racing Academy for helping to facilitate the interview.