20-year-old Jacob Vaughan has had a challenging start to his under-23 racing career. But moving back to Belgium this year has given him a new lease of life. He’s enjoying bike racing again and has already notched up a win.
I felt I needed to take this step to enjoy racing my bike again and prove to myself and others I can win and get good results
As a top junior, he won the British junior road race championships and the Guido Reybrouck Classic, as well as picking up plenty of other impressive results. That earned him a spot on Lotto Soudal’s under-23 team. But he endured a tough year out in Belgium, so he took the opportunity to return to the UK when Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes came calling.
His 2019 started well. Very well. He won the Perfs Pedal road race, was second in the Severn Bridge road race behind teammate Alex Richardson, and then picked up 10th and 11th places respectively in two early-season pro kermesse races. But illness and bad luck meant he struggled to find form after that and his season ended early due to a bad crash.
This season he has returned to Belgium with the Indulek-Doltcini-Derito team where his race programme – COVID-19 permitting – will include a good dollop of UCI 1.2 races, top UCI under-23 races and top amateur races in Belgium and Holland. Importantly, he should frequently get opportunities to race for himself. His season started promisingly. He was the highest-place Brit in the Ster van Zwolle in his first race of the season and then won the Lierde kermesse race. If he can build on this solid start, when and if the season resumes, this could be the year he begins to truly demonstrate his potential.
In this interview, Vaughan, one of our under-23 riders to watch, looks back on a difficult 2019 season, discusses his switch to a Belgian team in 2020 and explains why he has set up a GoFundMe page to help him raise funds for the year.
[Note: this interview happened before the recent mass postponement of races across Europe]
Describe how last season went for you?
It was a year of up and downs. Things never really clicked. There were some really good parts, where I had good form, like at the start of the season in February and March. I felt really strong and had some good results. After that, though, I had a bit of a bad April and May with a lot of illness and bad luck. I struggled to find form.
From mid-June, I was a lot more consistent in training and racing. I took more opportunities where I could, predominantly in pro kermesse races where I was going pretty well. I had good legs in team races but usually, it led to having to work for other riders. Unfortunately, my season came to an end earlier than I would have hoped due to a bad crash. I took a chunk out of my elbow and had to get the dressings changed every day. By the time I was recovered the season was over, which was a shame as I was still up to continue racing.
Why do you think it went the way it did?
I went into the season really well. Maybe a bit too well as I perhaps overdid it in January on the training camp. Towards the end of March I got ill and that took me quite a few weeks to get over. I ended up losing fitness and that put me in a bad place mentally.
One thing I personally struggled with was communicating with the team when I had good legs
One thing I personally struggled with was communicating with the team when I had good legs and that meant I wasn’t really ever able to ride for myself in a team race. However, I still got some good experience last year in some really big races and I’m very grateful to the team for the opportunities they gave me.
What led to you joining a Belgian team again this year?
Last year I stayed in Belgium for a large part of the season and I really love the scene. I missed being able to do the under-23 races out here. Pascal, my current team manager, had made me a great offer with no pressure and the chance to race for myself. I felt I needed to take this step to enjoy racing my bike again and prove to myself and others I can win and get good results.
Are you based out in Belgium? If so, whereabouts, and what kind of set up is it?
Yes, I’m based in Belgium all season. I’m living just outside Zottegem and it’s a brilliant location to train and close to a lot of races. It’s a really relaxed environment and very peaceful.
In 2018 I had a rough time being on my own in Belgium so I know how important it is to be with people
When we spoke last season you said you’d found it difficult living in Belgium in 2018. What will you do differently this time around to try to make things easier for you?
I’m very lucky to be living with my girlfriend and some great friends this year. The family that we rent from really look after us and always support us at races which is really nice. It really makes a big difference having people around you to train and socialise with. In 2018 I had a rough time being on my own in Belgium so I know how important it is to be with people.
Will it make a difference having a couple of other British riders on the team? How well do you know Lewis and Oliver?
Yeah it’s really nice to have two other Brits on the team, I know Ollie and Lewis from junior racing with John Barclay. They are both a great laugh but we also know when we need to take it seriously. I’m living with Ollie this year so it’s nice to have each other to train with most days.
You’ve set up a GoFundMe page to help raise funds for the season. Tell us about why you set it up and what difference raising your target of £2500 will make to your season?
I’m super grateful to everyone who has donated to my GoFundMe, it wouldn’t be possible for me to financially do this season without everyone’s support. With the money I’ve raised so far and the money I’ve managed to save over the past year I should have enough to cover the season. It will go towards my food, rent and overall living expenses.
Are you still looking for people to donate to your GoFundMe?
I’m very thankful to have reached my initial target, but if I would be able to get to £3000, it would really help me be able to stay for the full season without any stress.
Do you know much about your race programme yet? What kinds of races can we expect to see you competing in?
My race programme has a really big mix of races this year which I’m really looking forward to. It’s mainly in Belgium but also branches out into the UK, France and Holland.
I have quite a few UCI race days, which range from UCI 1.2 to the top under-23 UCI one day and stage races. We are also in the Belgium and Holland road series which consists of lots of different one-day races across both countries. I can also do all pro kermesse and normal kermesses so I’m going to have plenty of race days which I’m looking forward to getting stuck in to.
I’m just really looking forward to having the feeling of enjoying racing my bike and being able to hopefully recreate some success
It might be fair to say you’ve had a difficult first two years at under-23 level. Does that create added pressure for you going into your third year?
Yeah, I think it is fair to say that. It puts pressure on slightly, but good pressure, not a negative one. I don’t think it’s ever good to have negative pressure or put that on others. I’m just really looking forward to having the feeling of enjoying racing my bike and being able to hopefully recreate some success similar to a few years ago.
What would a successful season look like for you in 2020?
I’ve set some goals out for this season, the biggest being to win a UCI under-23 race or a pro kermesse. It’s a big goal to achieve but it motivates me every day. I would love to be back at the front end of races week in week out and enjoy riding my bike in between. I also had a smaller goal to win a kermesse race which I was able to achieve last weekend.
Speaking of wins, describe your win at the Lierde kermesse. How did the race unfold. And what does that win mean to you?
I knew it was a tough course with a lot of draggy parts in it, followed by a steep 500-metre climb, then a technical descent before a 250-metre drag to the finish line. I was pretty keen to try and force the move away, so within the first lap, I was away in a small group. However, that came back after a lap and a move went straight over the top. I didn’t panic as I had a couple of teammates in there and the gap was never really growing. Then for a couple of laps, there was a lot of attacking but nothing was sticking.
A four-man break finally got away and at about 50 kilometres in I saw an opportunity to go. I hit it with another rider and it took us just over a lap – 8 kilometres – to bridge what was roughly a 50-second gap. A lap after we had bridged, though we could see a larger group coming across and eventually there was a group of almost 20 of us. But it wasn’t long before attacks started coming and the group dwindled. I was always towards the front, especially on the climb, to make sure to make the right move.
Everyone started watching each other with one and a half laps to go I knew everyone would expect an attack on the climb, so I held back until after the finish line and three of us got away. We kept our heads down and worked fairly well together. We had two riders bridge with two kilometres to go and attacks started coming into the final climb. Four of us were together on the descent. I laid off the back as I knew I would be able to rush the gap and hopefully get a jump on the drag up to the line. I wouldn’t say I was the quickest sprinter in the group so I had to be smart about it. They swung to one side of the road and I went without hesitation. It was a fairly long sprint so I ended up seated for the later part. I didn’t want to risk being rolled on the line, hence not the best celebration!
I was quite emotional at the end as it felt like I’d come out of the end of a long dark tunnel
This win means so much to me. It was a really local race to where I live and had a big field. I was quite emotional at the end as it felt like I’d come out of the end of a long dark tunnel, finally proving to myself that I do deserve to be here, giving it my best shot to try and turn pro.
Featured photo: Giel in ‘t wiel. Jacob Vaughan wins the 2020 Lierde kermesse
Jacob’s GoFundMe page