Leo Hayter has a bright cycling future. So bright, in fact, that it won’t be long before he steps out of his brother Ethan’s shadow and is regarded as talent in his own right.
I think in terms of raw power – and this sounds a bit cocky – but I feel like I’ve got what it takes to be a pro rider. But I know there’s a lot more to it than that
We sat down virtually with the talented 19-year-old Rayner Foundation rider just before he began his current block of racing out in Italy. In this second and final part of the interview with Leo, we discuss how he finds the structured set-up at Development Team DSM, his debut season as an under-23, the high expectations he sets himself, his goals for 2021, his dreams of racing the Tour de L’Avenir this year and how soon he could turn pro.
And if you haven’t read the first part yet, click here to read about what kind of rider he is developing into, how he feels about being compared to his brother Ethan, how his success as a junior came as a surprise to him, his proudest achievements as a junior, setting new power records at the Sunweb talent days despite being sick, and the tough decision to turn his back on the GB Senior Academy to join Team Sunweb instead.
What’s the set-up like there at Development Team DSM?
I’m in Sittard, in Limburg. Basically, I live in a small town and there’s a row of houses, which are all owned by the city council. And all of us in the development team are living there, with about half of the women’s team.
The coaches and nutritionists come and go. They have apartments in stay in too. There’s a gym and all of that kind of thing. There’s a coffee machine – which is quite important as well! – and a caretaker that stays here full time.
What about language?
It’s an English-speaking team, you have to speak English all the time. So it’s quite easy for me.
Are you picking up any Dutch?
I know some bad words and that’s about it!
Okay, fair enough! And how’s it been going? Obviously, there weren’t many races for you to go to last year. It must have been a bit of a strange time, essentially stuck there in Limburg?
Last year that’s definitely how it felt. There was a lot of uncertainty about whether I could travel, and whether I could then come back. In the end, by the time I was thinking about going home last year, it wasn’t really possible. So I was in Sittard from January to October last year. I didn’t go home once. So yeah, that was quite a long time.
It must have been. So what were you spending your time doing?
I find it quite easy for the time to pass here, to be honest. I train, cook, eat, clean, go shopping to buy food. I have a PlayStation. I feel like the day does go by every day. I don’t find myself bored.
And then when you finally did get to race, how did you think things went?
Mediocre. The results were okay in the end but I feel like I could have done a lot more. We started in Savoie. Now that is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I think none of us were in any real race shape yet. We’d just been doing a lot of longer, steadier blocks because there was so much uncertainty about when we would be racing. So that was a wake-up call.
And then after that, I had a few one-day races. And those were just about building my confidence a bit. But actually, my training was going really well at that point. All my numbers were really up on where they’d ever been before. And then the only big goal was the Ronde de L’Isard.
On the morning of the first stage, I still couldn’t walk properly
Two weeks before that we had a training week, a small race week with us and the women’s team, where we were doing races every day. I had quite a bad crash. We were doing loops of one of the climbs here. It was raining quite hard and I just flew out on a corner. I had to have a few days off then and then I just about made it back on the bike for Heistse Pijl. I was basically just going there for the experience and to sharpen up a bit. And then I crashed there as well! I literally landed on both my knees and they both swelled up like balloons. I couldn’t walk the next day or the day after that, or the day after that. And then the day after that was the first day of L’Isard. So actually, I traveled to L’Isard still uncertain if I‘d race or not. One of the team doctors said, “I don’t know”, the other said “yes”, so we just risked it. On the morning of the first stage, I still couldn’t walk properly, and in the days before I hadn’t ridden for more than 45 minutes. But I got through the first stage okay and then I was actually fine after that.
You finished 12th overall in that race, and won the team time trial. Are you pleased with how it went?
Yeah, but I think those two crashes did take quite a bit out of me. Not just in terms of the legs, but mentally as well. In that race, for example, I was getting dropped on every descent possible. Every day. It was really shit. I feel like I could have just done so much better. Like, the first mountain stage was the short day where I finished 8th. That day, I got dropped a bit before the last climb, but I was able to make it back into that front group before we start climbing properly. I was actually really happy with that day, I didn’t expect to be so high up. I don’t know how strong the field really was, but 8th in a U23 mountains race is nothing to be laughed at. And then the same day, we won the team time trial, which was really, really nice.
I could have had a really good result that day, but instead I got dropped on the downhill and just rode up on my own
But then the next mountain stage was the first day I really had problems. It was a mountain and then a descent and then the finishing climb. And I got dropped by a minute and a half or two minutes going into the last climb. So I literally went up it completely on my own with just the sports director in the car behind me, smashing the horn. And I don’t think I was that far away from the front group in the end. I think I was the second-fastest on that climb that day. The only guy faster won the stage. I could have had a really good result that day, but instead I got dropped on the downhill and just rode up on my own.
So I guess you can take some encouragement from that? You weren’t a hundred percent, you’d had those crashes, and yet you still showed that you could compete against some of the best U23s?
Yeah. But it happened again on the last day. And at that point, I’d already spent too much energy doing it the day before. And that was it. I was still in fourth going into the last stage. But that kind of repeated effort, which no one had to do, was a bit taxing on my legs.
You sound disappointed Leo. I guess that means you must have high expectations of yourself?
I guess I do. Yeah. I really do think I could have done so much better. But we’ll do it all again this year!
I think the structure is a good thing, especially as a young guy. I feel like I need more guidance than a professional rider
Before we move on to this year, the other question I wanted to ask was about the team. It has a reputation from the outside of being a very structured environment. You might not have much compare it with, but is that true? Is very structured and regimented?
I would say it is structured but I don’t find it unnecessarily structured. Like, it’s not normal for me to find something [in my regime] where I think, ‘that’s not right’ or ‘I don’t want to be doing this.’ Everything seems to make sense, so I don’t really argue with it. For example, Henri [Vandenabeele], who has come to our team from the Lotto development team said that it’s like two different worlds. He was the guy who came second to Tom [Pidcock] in the Baby Giro last year. He said, basically, all he was doing last year was wearing the jersey for race. So, yeah, I think the structure is a good thing, especially as a young guy. I feel like I need more guidance than a professional rider.
So looking ahead to this season, do you have any specific targets or goals?
I would say, as a rider, just to improve my racecraft in the peloton, and also to improve my descending. It sounds like quite a simple thing, but it’s probably what affects my racing the most.
With race goals, I don’t know. I know I’m capable of doing but I don’t really have a specific target.
Do you think you’ll have opportunities to target some GC races?
Definitely. At the same time, as a team, we actually have a lot of cards to play this year for those GC races like the Baby Giro or Tour Alsace. There are maybe two or three of us that could potentially win in those races, it’s not like there’s a clear leader in our team. I think that’s quite a good thing.
What would a successful season look like for you Leo?
Good question. It’s hard to say. I want to win something, obviously, but also it’s not that easy. I’d say I’d like to be part of a team which wins some of the big under-23 races. Not necessarily myself winning, but being part of a winning team.
First time in the same pro race for these two today at Coppi e Bartali – good luck 👍👍👍 pic.twitter.com/sV1NEPBjDf— tim hayter (@Willowman66) March 23, 2021
You’re up against your brother Ethan at Coppi e Bartali. How are you feeling about racing against your older brother?
I’m looking forward to it.
And what do you think you can each get out of the race?
It’s a mid mountains kind of race. It’s hilly but I don’t think we go above 600 metres, or something, the whole race. So although there are a lot of altitude metres, I think he fancies his chances for the overall, but we’ll see.
For me, I’m just riding as a stagiaire for the pro team, so realistically, I’m going to be playing more of a support role. The way the race looks, though, it’s going to be like an elimination race, so we’ll see how far I can go.
And looking ahead to the season as a whole, you were part of the GB setup at the junior level. Do you hope to get chance to ride for GB again this year?
Definitely. The route for the Tour de L’Avenir was announced recently and I was looking at the mountain stages and thinking, ‘these look so good.’ There’s one stage which is basically 100 km of flat roads with the Grand Colombier to finish.
I feel like if I was given the opportunity, I could win that stage
I feel like if I was given the opportunity, I could win that stage. But, yeah, I don’t know if I can get selected or not. Realistically, I know that the Academy guys aren’t going to have many races, so they’re going to have priority. And if there are one or two guys from outside of the programme going, it’s going to be quite tight. There’s Ben [Tulett], Tom [Gloag], Mason [Hollyman]…
The GB Academy itself hasn’t got any real climbers as such though, so could that mean more opportunities for external riders?
No, they haven’t. But if they haven’t got many races themselves this season, I don’t see any reason why they would take more than just one or two guys from outside of the programme. And that’s what makes it quite tight. So, it’s hit or miss. I would really, really like to do it this year, but I don’t know if it’s possible.
Is it something you’ve had a chance to speak to the GB Academy coach Matt Brammeier about?
Last year I had a few talks with him, but it was the same comment back: ‘maybe we’ll take a GC leader or something’. Realistically the priority is going to be to the Academy riders, which is a shame but it makes sense. Like last year, for example, with the European road race championships, the GB under-23 team didn’t have any riders from outside of the Academy programme.
And looking even further ahead, is it as a GC rider that you see yourself developing into?
I guess, although I don’t think I’ve done enough races to really know. I don’t know how I can perform in a really long stage race, I’ve never read anything like that. So, I just don’t know yet.
Is it too early to be thinking about turning pro next season then? Do you think you’ll be in the under-23 ranks for a little while longer?
I would say so. I would say I’ll be an under-23 at least until next season. I think in terms of raw power – and this sounds a bit cocky – but I feel like I’ve got what it takes to be a pro rider. But I know there’s a lot more to it than that. And it would be harder for me to learn my craft as a pro as it would be riding as an under-23 for another year, so I don’t think that’s a hard choice.
And I guess the benefit of being on a team like DSM is that you’ll get opportunities to ride with the pro team too?
Absolutely. I can ride as a pro without the pressure of being a pro.