Sam Watson is one of Britain’s brightest cycling prospects. In his final year as a junior, he’s already experienced much success. And now he heads to the world championships in search of more…
The youngster from Roundhay, Yorkshire, has ridden this season for Tom Pidcock’s former junior team, Fenshaw Howes -MAS Design. Part of British Cycling’s Junior Academy, he has also regularly represented Great Britain in junior Nations Cup races.
His season started with a bang. He won the UCI Guido Reybrouck Classic race (won by Jacob Vaughan in 2017) in March, quickly followed by 3rd in the junior Gent – Wevelgem. He’s continued to rack up results since, including a win in the junior CiCLE Classic, a stage victory in the Junior Tour of Wales and third overall last week in the UCI stage race, Keizer der Juniors.
Things haven’t been all plain sailing. He crashed out of two big targets: the junior Paris-Roubaix and the junior national road race championships. But even so, his results have been strong enough for our friends over at First Cycling to rank him 5th in the world in their junior rankings this season.
I’m hoping to win the rainbow bands, which is possible. That would be perfect
Next week, he represents Great Britain on home roads in the junior men’s road race at the Yorkshire world championships, just two days after he turns 18. He forms part of a very strong Great Britain that also includes Lewis Askey, Leo Hayter, Alfie George and Max Walker. There has never been a Brit on the podium at the junior worlds road race. Collectively, they have a good chance of changing things.
We caught up with the eye-catching Yorkshireman to find out more about him, how his season has gone and where he’s heading next…
For readers not familiar with you, can you tell us about a bit about yourself?
I am Sam Watson 17 years old from Yorkshire. I ride for Fensham Howes – MAS Design and I am also on the GB junior academy programme.
The Pidcock family were a massive help, they basically taught me everything about cycling I needed to know
How did you get started with cycling?
I’ve always had a passion with anything to with wheels since a young age. I actually went to school with Joe and Tom Pidcock and we used to ride our bikes there together. They persuaded me to go to Chris Young’s Go-Ride sessions with them, which I loved. I then started to race at the Richard Dunn cycle circuit in the under-10s and I knew that’s what I wanted to do from there. The Pidcock family were a massive help, they basically taught me everything about cycling I needed to know.
And you’re now on Tom Pidcock’s former team, Fensham Howes. How did you end up there?
I ended up on Tom’s ex team from Neil Hendry (former team manager). When I was an under-16, we started talking to each other and he asked me to ride for them when I became a junior. I obviously said yes as it’s the best team out there in terms of the support you get and it’s my most local team. It’s now been taken over by Giles Pidcock and Sonja Harper.
Tell us about the first half of your season. How would you describe it?
The first half of the season was great. This year I said I wanted to really get my name out there as the year before I was winning on a national level but never had that stand out international win. Not many people knew my name!
I then went on to win my first road race of the season in Belgium – the Guido Reybrouck Classic. The week after I got 3rd in the Gent-Wevelgem Nations Cup race, so the season had started just how I wanted it too. It allowed me to start to build a reputation. I then went into Paris-Roubaix with high hopes but unfortunately I had a nasty crash. It took me a while to recover from that and regain the form I’d had.
What have been the highlights, on track and the road, and why?
The Guido Reybrouck win on the road and winning European team pursuit champs on the track. Guido Reybrouck because that’s when I realised, ‘wow, I could do pretty well this year’, and it was my first big international win on the road. Then the European champs because it’s a side that nobody sees. The amount of training we’d done for this race for the past two years, it just felt amazing to pull off the win and to put the European champs jersey on with my best friends and teammates.
There was a period of time where I didn’t feel myself and had my head kicked in every race I did
And the big disappointments?
Obviously Roubaix was a big disappointment, as it’s just such an iconic race to win. But once I had crashed I thought, ‘it’s only one race, I can move on and race my next races fighting for the win’. The most disappointing thing for me was the time it took to recover and gain my form after this crash. There was a period of time where I didn’t feel myself and had my head kicked in every race I did.
And you crashed again at the junior national road race championships? How did your recovery go from that?
Yes, I did crash at the national champs unfortunately. The crash was completely unavoidable, so whilst it was a shame, there was nothing I can do. At the time I thought I had broken one or both of my wrists, but I hadn’t and it was a very quick recovery.
And how are you feeling about riding the worlds on home roads?
It has been a massive motivation all year, as it’s very rare you get to race a world championship race on the roads you literally train on every weekend. It’s pretty surreal and doesn’t feel real yet. However I’m sure it will kick in once I move to the team hotel and am in that environment.
I think it will certainly be a small, select group at the end of the race
You know the roads well then! What kind of race do you think it will be?
It’s 100% going to be a tough race. The roads in Yorkshire are just grippy and either up or down, no flat. There are two categorised climbs but there are also many climbs which aren’t categorised that could blow the race up. I think it will certainly be a small, select group at the end of the race.
And what are your hopes?
Well I’m hoping to win the rainbow bands, which is possible. That would be perfect. However everyone in our team is capable of winning as it’s so strong. So a win for anyone in the team would also be great.
You seem to have done well in classics-style races but you’ve also had track success. How do you see yourself developing as a rider?
I do like racing on the track and so far I have been alright at it I guess. I would like to carry on riding the track for as long as I can, both for the training benefit and the racing. Both the road and track benefit each other so it is possible to do combine them. My ultimate dream, however, is to have a professional road career. I am still quite young but the classics are definitely my favourite style of racing.
Have you begun to think yet about where you might end up next season?
I have sorted something for next year, however I’m not sure I am allowed to say yet!
Featured photo: SWPix.com. Sam Watson at the 2019 Tour Series