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Josh Whitehead interview: first-timer

James McKay speaks with the surprise winner of the Lancaster Grand Prix

Sunday was a day of firsts for the 21-year-old Team PB Performance rider Josh Whitehead. He lined up for the first time at the Lancaster Grand Prix, the first round of the HSBC UK | National Road Series. It was his first-ever National A road race, in his first full season racing on the road. And he came first. He is now first in the National Road Series standings. And his win earned the second cat rider his first cat racing licence. We dare say it was also the first time that many readers will have heard of him.

I’ve not even had a full road season yet. I was a second cat today, but after that race I’m a first cat now

Whitehead began the Lancaster Grand Prix as a relative underdog. Granted, he did turn a few heads winning ‘The Barnsley (Not in the Town Centre…) Races’ National B road race in July, beating Jacob Scott amongst others, but he certainly wasn’t one of the prime favourites (we neglected to mention him at all in our preview). Nonetheless, after beating some of the best domestic riders in the first top-level men’s road race in the UK for nearly two years, he won’t be flying under the radar any longer.

Keen to find out more about this relatively unknown National Road Series race winner, James McKay caught up with Josh after the race.

Josh Whitehead (Team PB Performance). Photo: James York

Can you tell us how you got into the sport?

I started off running aged 8 and moved through the ranks in that. I did a bit of track and cross country. Then I switched to triathlon, and I tried competing in the British Junior Super Series but my swimming was letting me down too much and I just wasn’t able to get the results.

Cycling was the strong point, so in 2018 I stopped triathlon completely and focused on road racing. About a month after I left triathlon I won the junior northwest championships, and have been competing ever since. In 2019 I got a knee injury so only raced half a season. Then COVID-19 cut the season short last year, so I’ve not even had a full road season yet. I was a second cat today, but after that race, I’m a first cat now.

The way things have fallen, it sounds like you’re a serious athlete but have been flying under the radar due to external factors…

I put in so many hours last year and had a massive winter of training. I work in a bike shop, Clee Cycles, and they’ve really helped me. The owner, Andy Jones, jumped on it every time my bike broke this winter, and I didn’t miss a minute of training. I work about 25 hours a week. I usually leave the shop at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon so it gives me some time to train. 

You’re still an under-23, so should still be physically improving, but is there anything particular you’ve changed in your training for this year?

No, I’ve just been more consistent. After the injury, I had a solid block of training. I’ve increased the hours slowly but consistency is what’s helped me so much this year. I’ve been able to hit some sessions hard every week. 

There are no secrets then, it’s just stacking bricks on top of each other?

Yep. This winter I was going out doing six and seven-hour rides and might include efforts after five or six hours.

In the winning break at the Lancaster Grand Prix (third from the right). Photo: James York

What is your ideal race then?

Something like today, where it is hard all day and the bunch slowly whittles down. Just let everyone else suffer.

I’m not the lightest person but I seem to go uphill pretty well

I seem to be stronger when it goes uphill. I’m not the lightest person but I seem to go uphill pretty well. I’ve got a pretty good sprint, but my sustained power is also pretty good. I wouldn’t say I’m a specific type of cyclist yet. But we’ll see how that pans out.

Where abouts are you based?

In the Midlands, about 10 miles from Wolverhampton, just in the countryside. Small lanes, and a mixture of hills and flats to train on. There are some decent cyclists about too. I’ve been able to train with Ben Healy, Andy Tennant and Jacob Tipper to name a few.

Do they keep you on your toes?

Definitely. Being able to ride with people like that just gives me confidence.

How has your experience with PB Performance been?

I joined the team in 2019 but didn’t race much due to my injury. In 2020 I moved to the Bridgenorth area so I joined Bridgenorth Cycling Club; they were just a load of local lads who I got on really well with. I raced for them that season but joined back with Team PB Performance this year.

Paul [Bennett] has been really supportive. He’s helped my training as well, giving me key sessions which have been perfect for today’s race. It’s been really good being on the team.

So let’s talk about today. You won a race midweek in the run-up to this?

I won a midweek road race week, and my legs felt pretty ace. I felt a little run down, I knew my legs were good, but just didn’t know if my body could handle it. But I got some energy and managed to do alright.

In the break. Photo: James York

Yeah just alright I think…!? How did the race today go?

It’s the first ‘prem’ I’ve done, so didn’t know what to expect. It was full gas on the first few laps when Canyon [dhb Sungod] were lighting it up. I definitely felt it on the hills at the start. My position wasn’t too great so I was having to work extra hard, burning a few more matches. 

It was a fight for position every time going into that descent. The group started to get smaller. There was a lull in the peloton and that’s when I attacked to make the break. I managed to get away with Isaac [Peatfield] from Crimson [Orientation Marketing]. Reece Wood from Canyon came over to us and there were two upfront [already]. Finn Crockett from Wheelbase [CabTech Castelli] joined us to make six up the road, and we all worked well together from there.

On the last lap, a couple went out the back, and it was down to four of us. It wasn’t ridiculously hard on the climb, but Jacob Scott attacked at the top. I managed to go with him but we dropped the other two [Peatfield and Crockett]. They managed to come back to us and we had another fight on the very last rise up. Scott and I got away again but the other two closed us down. Going into the final corner into the park I was placed in third, the most ideal place for me. The first two started sprinting, but I think they underestimated how far it was to go and I came round them both and got the win. 

Josh Whitehead wins the Lancaster Grand Prix ahead of Jacob Scott. Photo: SWPix.com

Happy days. What are your ambitions in cycling?

My ambitions are to get to the top level, see how far I can actually get. I’ve not even had a full road season. I’d like to get to the top level, and I’d like to move up next year to see what I can do. 

Are you talking to any teams in particular?

I’m just waiting to see what happens after this race.

And are you looking forward to any other races, in particular, this year?

Ryedale next week, and the national road champs. Being under 23 I can go for the national jersey as well. 

Featured photo: James York