‘Scout report’ is a new series in which we highlight some of the lesser-celebrated-but-nonetheless-notable performances from British riders.
It was good to see how far I have progressed from last year
Stuart Balfour, 23 years old.
Rider type: It’s perhaps a lazy characterisation to make, but Stuart is a true all-rounder. He has proven he has the strength to win solo on tough days out, has performed well in mountain stages without being an out-and-out climber, and he can also time trial well.
Background: A former Rayner Foundation rider, Stuart was one of our under-23 riders to watch in 2019. He has spent most of his elite racing career in France, spending three seasons at the Côtes d’Armor-Marie Morin team before joining Bourg-en-Bresse Ain Cyclisme last year. During that time, he has made appearances for the Great Britain team, including the U23 road race at the world championships in Yorkshire. Top results to date include a win at the GP Plouay Elite Open in 2018, 11th overall at the Kreiz Breizh Elites in 2019, and then a stage victory at the Tour du Pays de Montbeliard and 7th overall at the Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc last season.
Team: Swiss Racing Academy (Switzerland). A UCI Continental team that has been running since 2018. The team features a mix of under-23 riders and slightly older riders with future potential. The riders are predominantly Swiss, although the squad does include two riders from France, a Kiwi and a Scot (Stuart himself). Stuart tells us he has settled in well since arrived at the team at the start of the year:
“The contract was worked out through my agent Christophe Le Mevel who I have been working with for a couple of years now. The team is really welcoming and I have found it one of the easiest teams to settle into. The team works in English so that has definitely helped me to find my place in the team and be able to express myself a bit better than I can in French, even though I can speak French to a good level now.“
Name & date: Grand Prix L’Échappée, 11 April 2021
Status: National Elite
Course: Organised by VC Excelsior, the race involved four laps of a course taking in the Produit and Chamason climbs. According to Stuart, the former was a seven-minute climbs, the latter a five-minute one. Stuart tells us, “from there it was pan flat for the rest of the lap.”
Further details: “It was a Swiss national race but was mainly made up of French teams. Due to the lack of racing availability elsewhere, it was a high level. As with every race this year, everyone turns up to it ready to race and give it everything to show themselves, as we never know what race might get cancelled next.”
Stuart has had a high-quality race programme so far and is pleased with the way the season has gone so far. Before the Grand Prix L’Echappée, he raced the Tour du Haut Var, the Faun-Ardèche Classic, La Drome Classic, the GP Cholet – Pays De Loire, and La Roue Tourangelle.
“I think it has been a solid start, even though it has been a tough one. Starting off at Tour de Haut Var was a really tough start. With such a strong field it was a bit of a baptism of fire for the first race back but I started to settle into it after that. I had some strong showings in the breakaways at the Ardèche Classic and at Cholet, winning the KOM jersey, which was a good confidence boost. The time in the break also meant I got some solid kilometres in the legs.”
In terms of the race itself, Stuart won solo, as he explains:
“We had the whole team there so we tried to take control of the race and were constantly being present and offensive. Coming into the last lap a break of five guys got caught and I went on the counter-attack with an AG2R U23 rider with around 40km to go. Both our teams blocked behind and we managed to get a good gap into the two last climbs. I wasn’t confident about leaving it to the flat roads and the sprint, so I attacked on the climb and managed to get a gap. That was with around 25 km to go, so I just tried to manage my effort and time trial to the finish knowing it would be flat, with a tailwind, for the last 15km or so.”
What did the result mean?
“It was a solid result for me. It was good to be able to get a nice confidence boost early in the season as it often takes me a while to find my legs at the start. It was good to see how far I have progressed from last year, racing again at an elite level, so it has given me some real confidence that I am going in the right direction for the bigger races to come.”
“For now it is quite open with all the changes with the COVID situation so we have to keep adaptive but, for me, the next goals will be either the Tour de la Mirabelle or the Rhône-Alpes Isère Tour. Then later in the season, there will be races like the Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc and the Tour de Bretagne which I will want to show myself well in.”
Featured photo: Swiss Racing Academy Facebook