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2020 review: breakthrough rides #1 | Max Stedman

The story of Max Stedman's Tour of Antalya win, a landmark moment for both him and his team

2020 was the oddest of cycling years. An upturned racing calendar helped to create intrigue and exhilarating racing. It was an environment that provided an opportunity for new British road racing stars to come forward, aka Tao Geoghegan Hart and Hugh Carthy. Their performances in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España respectively were arguably the biggest of many breakthrough rides by British cyclists.

For Continental and elite-level riders though, the chances to turn heads were far fewer. There was no domestic road race season to speak of. And a combination of race cancellations, travel restrictions and travel insurance issues meant that international race opportunities were limited too. Nonetheless, there were still a number of domestic-level British riders who impressed with stand-out rides. In this series, we pick out five lesser-celebrated breakthrough rides by British riders in 2020. First up is Max Stedman’s win at the Tour of Antalya in February.

Max Stedman signing on before stage 4, Tour of Antalya. Photo: Brian Black Hodes / Tour of Antalya

Max Stedman (Canyon dhb p/b Soreen) | 1st overall, Tour of Antalya (2.1) | 20-23 February

Canyon dhb p/b Soreen’s diminutive climber had already notched up four UCI road race wins before this year had begun, thanks to his stage and GC wins at the Tour of Quanzhou Bay (2.2) in 2017 and 2018. Back in 2018, he’d shown his promise in strong rides in the Tour Alsace and the Tour of Britain, impressing enough to be selected for the under-23 road world championships.

His overall win at the Tour of Antalya in February this year, however, was a realisation of that potential. Proof that he had sufficient legs and race guile to conquer a strong international field.

Now I know in myself I can do it with the right training and approach

With a startlist featuring a WorldTour team (Israel Start-Up Nation) and several Pro Continental teams, Canyon dhb p/b Soreen’s riders were not among the favourites at the Turkish stage race. But with two climbing talents in the team they were nevertheless aiming for a good result.

“Antalya was truly amazing for myself and the team, a breakthrough in so many ways. In my head, and the team’s, we were going for a top-five and we thought the podium was doable with me or Dan Pearson”, Max tells us.

The peloton on stage 1, Tour of Antalya. Photo: Photo: Brian Black Hodes / Tour of Antalya

The race began steadily enough, with both Stedman and Pearson safely ensconced in the peloton as Mihkel Räim (Israel Start-Up Nation) took the win in a bunch sprint on stage 1. The Belgian Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) finished third to pick up four bonus seconds. Remember him. He’s a name that will crop up again in this story.

Stage 2, a hilly 165km route from Kemer to Antalya, was more decisive. In atrocious weather conditions, the race split into three groups on the second climb. Stedman, Pearson and their teammate Rory Townsend all made the front group, which stayed away until the finish. They all finished on the same time as stage winner Italian Giovanni Lonardi (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) and, crucially, ahead of climbers including Ricardo Zoidl (Team Felbermayr – Simplon Wels) and Matteo Badilatti (Israel Start-Up Nation). That man Van Rooy was third again, picking up a further four bonus seconds.

Driving rain on stage 2, Tour of Antalya. Photo Steve Thomas / Tour of Antalya

The queen stage was up next, finishing atop an 8.8km climb to Termessos. On the final ascent, Zoidl broke clear with Italian Alessandro Fancellu (Kometa-Astra) and 18-year-old Briton Ben Tullett (Alpecin-Fenix), creating a 15-second gap. Stedman fought back, however, bridging across with Badilatti with two kilometres remaining. Zoidl escaped to take the win from Badilatti. Behind, Stedman lunged past Fancellu to grab third place. Stedman’s turn to take four precious bonus seconds. Van Rooy? He crossed the line in 16th, just six seconds down on Stedman. All this meant that Stedman had done enough to take the race leader’s jersey, just two seconds ahead of Van Rooy. Not that he realised it at the time.

All our faces dropped. A few expletives followed. And then it hit us that we were on the cusp of winning a 2.1 stage race

“It was literally a lunge at the top that got me into the leader’s jersey”, says Max. “But I didn’t know the stage winner and the guy in second place had both lost time the day before on a very tricky run into the finish. So we were all sat in the bus getting ready to head back down the hill to the hotel when Simon Holt [Ed: Canyon dhb’s DS] said ‘Max, I think you’re on the podium for coming third on the stage’. Then came, ‘Max, you’re in the leader’s jersey!”. All our faces dropped. A few expletives followed. And then it hit us that we were on the cusp of winning a 2.1 stage race”.

Ricardo Zoidl wins stage 3, Max Stedman in the background. Photo: Brian Black Hodes / Tour of Antalya

With just one stage remaining, the team’s attention soon turned to how they could keep the race lead. This was a complicated puzzle. Van Rooy was just two seconds behind and a further 12 riders were all within 10 seconds. Potential stage 4 booby traps included the bonus seconds available at an intermediate sprint after 49km and the bonus seconds for the first three placings on the finish line. “When we got back to the hotel we went through every scenario possible”, recalls Max.

Stage 4: 137 km from Side to Antalya. Objective: keep the race lead along the flat coastal roads. The day started well for Canyon dhb. Three riders formed a break; if they stayed away, that was the bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint taken care of. Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise had other plans, however, catching two of the three breakaway riders before the intermediate sprint line. Van Rooy was all set to take two vital bonus seconds until Stedman’s teammate Andy Tennant pipped him to the line for second. This limited Van Rooy to just a single bonus second.

“The last stage was stressy but my teammates set to work, closing stuff down, trying to control the uncontrollable, it was amazing effort by them”, says Stedman. “Our biggest win that day was Tennant outsprinting Van Rooy. It was a pure drag race and Andy got the better of him with his seated power.”

To the team’s relief, Van Rooy was not in contention in the bunch sprint, won by Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), and Stedman finished safely in the bunch. He’d won the race by a single second.

That’s how we won it: a huge team effort on the last day

“Unfortunately, Kenneth came down in the sprint”, Max tells us. “But Andy was man-marking him the whole way and they were about 10th wheel with 250m to go so it was pretty unlikely he would have swept up any of the seconds at the end. And yeah, that’s how we won it: a huge team effort on the last day.” 

Mission accomplished. Max and teammate Ryan Christensen at the end of stage 4. Photo: Brian Black Hodes Tour of Antalya

It was the biggest win of Max’s career. The team’s biggest win too. Never before had either of them won a .1 level race. It was all the sweeter for being such a team effort. And how did it change Max?

“It has given me loads of confidence going forward. I’ve won a few UCI races but nothing that level, with those teams involved. The first one is always the hardest. Now I know in myself I can do it with the right training and approach. It will be a case of working as hard again and putting the pieces together in the races! We’re an underdog team at these races, which Tim [Ed: Tim Elverson, the team’s manager] likes, but its shown we can take it to the bigger teams.” 

Endnote. Ben Tulett (Alpecin-Fenix), 18 years old at the time and competing in his first-ever senior race, finished 5th overall. Confirmation, if any was needed, that the two-time former junior cyclocross world champion is one of the brightest young talents around.